Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Rethinking Professional Army

I read a worrying article on the BBC News web site yesterday. It made me seriously rethink my views on professional versus conscription based armies. 

Until yesterday, and the actually scary article, I was firmly in the camp supporting professional only armies. The reasons for this position of mine were numerous. For one, a professional army, training day in and day out, year after year, as a career choice, seemed to offer better prepared soldiers, who would also be highly motivated - not least because they'd be doing it of their own free will. At the same time, expecting half of the population - or even the whole, as is the case in e.g. Israel - to put their otherwise civilian lives on hold for a considerable amount of time while they learn soldiery (which they'd quickly forget anyway) seemed like a rather wasteful, even oppressive, activity. In such an army you'd also need greater numbers to make up for what's probably a below average training and readiness level. 

So, a case for professional army seemed to have been open and shut, the professionals winning hands down. Then I saw the article about professional soldiers who seem to be itching all over for some action, and it got me thinking. Could it be that sometimes - and it only ever need be sometimes, even one war is a war too many - the governments are talked into military action for no better reason that itchy fingers of military establishment? I know you'll now say that this happens even when you don't have a fully professional army, all the way down to ordinary soldier level, but I think it's different if you do have one. Or rather, if you don't the military establishment may not feel so cocky, knowing they have to deal with a bunch of civilians instead of regiments of well trained, and apparently combat - if not blood - thirsty soldiers. Plus, they'd also know they have support of the troops, something emphatically not present in an army of conscripts.

After all this, do I now believe that a return of good old days of national service for all (or at least all men) would be a good idea? Well, yes - and no. Yes, because I now believe that an all-professional army may be too dangerous a weapon to keep in one's cupboard (here, I am reminded of an old army wisdom: an empty rifle fires once a year!). No, because I am acutely aware that modern warfare requires skill that may not be possible to acquire in a short time - and then have to re-learn, or even augment, in time of need. What I'd like to see is standing armies composed of just enough professionals, on all levels, to be able to quickly train, re-train, and control conscripts,  but also the bulk of the manpower to be provided by those same conscripts. If the ratio is carefully adjusted this may even not be more expensive option.

A final note: yes, I am aware that there are parts of the military - most notably air-force - which will still need to remain all-professional. What I am talking about here are the corps not unlike the ones the BBC article talks about - and they do constitute the bulk of any army. And, just as an ordinary foot soldier reflects the views of his superiors, it is also always the case that the flow of influence exists in the other direction, too - especially in an all-professional army. Therefore, I don't believe that any amount of official army "philosophy" can really cure the itchiness to put to use what you have trained for.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Ich bin ein Hure... und so sind Sie

Yes, you read it correctly. Do you disagree? If you do, I may have something to console you with: I could have also said that that none of us are - including the prostitutes.

No, the two are not mutually exclusive - they are the exact same concept represented in two different ways. You should already start to get where I'm aiming with this, but I'll expand on it anyway...

The main question is this: How, and why, is being a sex worker different from being any other kind of worker? I submit that it is not.

But first I need to address the obvious links prostitution currently has with crime, slavery, human trafficking, and last but not least, drugs. I strongly believe that this is the case mostly, if not only, because a) prostitution is rarely legal, at least not in all of its forms, and b) because it lacks respect of a "proper" job in the public eye - to say nothing of those who are always happy to throw the first stone, then the second, and even happier when they can also throw the last one, too. I am positive that fully legalised, and not burdened with public scorn, prostitution would quickly become a safe occupation, both for the public and the sex workers themselves. If it were well regulated, just like any other occupation, it may even cease to attract drug users. Regulation and rules of trade are, after all, best barrier to entry into the occupation of those unfit to practice in the first place. How this would work in practice is a whole other discussion, and the one I do not intend to have here.

What I do want to discuss here are the reasons why prostitution is not at all different from any other occupation. Usually the first thing people shout is that prostitutes sell their bodies. But so do I, and if you've ever worked in your life so did you. Take a bus driver, for example. He's paid to sit in his vehicle for a prescribed amount of time, and perform actions with both his body and his mind that enable a bunch of strangers to get from A to B. If he's employed to service one and the same route every day, he may not even need his mind. After a while, it will be just his body, and its muscle memory, that he hires out. He's also not free to drive just any bus on any route he chooses, not even if he drove his own bus for his own company. In the end he needs to perform what his customers want, and when they want it. True, it has nothing to do with sex, but his body is truly at others' disposal. How different is that from a prostitute? Not much, if at all, I say.

Next, and with all due respect to bus drivers, at the other end of the workforce spectrum - the so-called knowledge workers. They're usually seen as selling their brains (the little grey cells, if you want) rather than their bodies. I'd beg to differ here, as most of the time they are required to be present at the employer specified place for the employer specified time - but I won't as I want to stress that they are selling something most of us hold much dearer, their minds. The knowledge workers are regularly required - in fact that's what makes them knowledge workers - to put their minds to use for their employers' purposes. Yes, it is true that most knowledge workers love, or at least like, their jobs, but that does not change the fact that they are putting their minds in the service of someone else, when and in the way, that someone else requires them to. It's vanishingly rare that you can get paid to do whatever takes your fancy these days. And while a bus driver can let his mind wonder while his body drives the route, a knowledge worker has his mind fully engaged with somebody else's business - and where the mind leads the body follows. Again, not that much different from a prostitute, is it?

Finally, lots of issues people have with prostitution is the fact that prostitutes sell something very intimate, not just their bodies, but sex - the ultimate intimacy. For one, if people really wanted to be grown up about it, they'd have to admit there's not much, if anything, magical about sex. This is not to say that it is not probably the best and greatest thing you can use both your body and mind for. It's just that it is just another pleasant way our bodies can serve us. The pleasure, even ecstasy, is surely grander than for other physiological activities, but it is essentially of the same nature. Then there is the undeniable fact that, not unlike bus drivers, prostitutes can switch off and not have their minds enslaved - quite unlike the knowledge workers, whose minds are hijacked for prolonged periods of time, and with them their bodies, too. And, at least for me, my mind is a much more private, intimate place than my body. I've no reason to believe a lot of other people would feel the same - possibly provided they were not confronted with the prostitution dilemma.

So, in the final analysis, for me, prostitution is a job like any other, possibly even less intrusive than being a knowledge worker. As such, it deserves being fully legalised, and then also properly regulated. The former will, eventually, remove the social stigma, the latter the criminality. And that can only be a good thing, right?

I am not discussing - or even want to discuss - whether your regular partner, spouse, whatever, will be happy with you partaking of the fruits of prostitution, legal or otherwise. This is for you - and your partner - to figure out for yourselves. But what I want for you - and your partner - is to be able to partake safely and without false moral outrage. And with this I mean partake both as a consumer and the provider - if that's your cup of tea.

For those curious about what finally prompted me to write this post, look here. And you thought people can't be bought and sold these days, eh?