Paul Givan’s ungentlemanly conduct

© MIKI Yoshihito

© MIKI Yoshihito

As regular readers will now know I spent much of the last week or so analysing the details and the context of a single act of ungentlemanly behaviour and interviewing the lady involved. Paul Givan, Chairman of the Justice Committee in Northern Ireland’s Assembly suggested, during a live web-cast formal evidence session, that a woman – Ms Laura Lee – should perform sexual intercourse with disabled strangers for the sole reason that they are disabled: “Would you not rather do it for free?” he said.

I’d like you to try something. Try and put yourself into the emotional shoes of a woman asked to do such a thing. Lets put a face to the partner too. Let’s imagine a famous actor – a real style icon at home on the red carpet – they take a fall, break their back and end up lonely and living on four wheels. Such a person may not be bad looking, is not infectious or deformed, but may have ended up very emotionally needy. How would your wife or your daughter (for Laura Lee is both of these to someone) handle such a request? What would be required of them emotionally?

It takes approximately half a second to realise that such an act would be emotionally very difficult. In fact it might be difficult even if you were married to the person, nevermind if they were a stranger. Asking someone to do that is a huge ask. Something of the person performing such a service is going to be lost. Some kind of emotional energy drained.

When you suggest that something like that is done for free, you are naming the value you place on the person you are asking to do it. You are calling that person a whore, or worse, a robot. A resource to be allocated to your purposes.

How could a senior politician (don’t laugh) be such a callous and ungentlemanly idiot? What vexes me is that, within all the philosophical theories about what is proper or not, I don’t think he did a single thing wrong. What he said was not only okay, it was in fact virtuous. It was not ungentlemanly at all, it was Saintly.

As it happens, calling Laura Lee a whore in a live web-cast, transcripted formal session of Government has a certain basis in fact. She is a part time call girl. She set’s a price for the service, and because she also seeks to be virtuous, she sets a lower one than normal for the disabled. It is obvious from understanding all the theories, that this is perfectly wrong. Let’s unpack why that is:

There are three basic moral theories:

Altrusim – we should all live for others, and sacrifice all that we can bear to the needy either becuase nature allows us to or because God gave us the faculty to do so. In other words, becuase we can, and wouldn’t it be just dandy if we did?

Utilitarianism – the greatest good for the greatest number. Society should be organised in whatever way has the best mathematically calculated outcome, weighing quantity and quality.

Egalitarianism – some people are unlucky others are very lucky, and we need to even that out. We should do whatever it takes to even out the outcomes, usually by taking the good and putting it where there is less good.

There is also a pseudo theory namely “what God said”, and if you can be bothered to read the Bible (I haven’t) it probably frowns on sex workers. Over all “what God said” is basically Altruism, and thats true whoever your God happens to be.

Under “Altruism” and “Egalitarianism” the analysis is pretty simple. The ethical thing to do is for the healthy professional sex worker, who has no particular vulnerability, to dish-out the goods to the needy guy. I don’t think I’m missing anything there. In utilitarianism it’s a bit more complex, but if you imagine that a professional sex worker is – by definition – a specialist then you can assume that the act is less costly to the sex worker than it is valuable to the disabled man, so the ethical thing to do is work for free. A fee would simply upset the calculations in the wrong direction.

In summary: “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”, now get to work!

Obviously, this is utterly wrong. You don’t have to be an expert on ethics or economics to figure out that something is missing from the picture. I may be speculating, I am not a sex worker and am not female, but that something is Laura Lee’s soul. Asking someone to work for free, in such a personal way, in aid of the disabled is asking them to give up their soul and attaching zero value to it. Paying a fee however, attaches some kind of value to the soul, and allows for the establishment of boundaries to protect it (read the interview to understand that). I don’t think the amount of the fee matters so much as the fact that there is one. We are dealing with spiritual values so these values are ordinal: a fee implies the soul is worth more than nothing and the intimate act is less than the fee. The soul is enhanced and the act diminished by the fee.

The conclusion I want to draw is this: that the basic ethical theories we work with are bullshit. You cannot apply them consistently and also behave in a way that is empathatic and decent and gentlemanly. Respect for an individual’s personal sovereignty is not a feature of any standard moral theory. You have to look elsewhere for that.

As I said, this is based on a lot of speculation. I am considering the basic facts about a case, and some a priori knowledge of moral theory and epistemology and producing a theory about what went on in the head of someone I never met and never sought to correspond with. By publishing I am asking for it to be challenged and corrected.

There is, however, a little evidence. Consider the tesimony of Dr Brooke Magnanti and Laura Lee as they write elsewhere:

Magnanti, the Belle de Jour, watched the live web-cast:

As this was the first justice committee hearing in Britain to invite a current sex worker to testify about the proposed legislation, one might have expected a lot better. But instead the committee were inappropriately hostile, insufficiently objective, and forewent listening to Laura’s testimony in favour of mean-spirited point scoring and blatant attempts to break and shame a witness whom they had invited.

And Laura Lee, the lady in question recollects:

The chairman of the committee Paul Givan, began by undermining my credibility as a representative, saying that because I am from the IUSW I am effectively the face of pimps. Very calmly I explained that the person they were repeatedly referring to may have had links with an escort agency but that I was there in my personal capacity as an Irish sex worker with twenty years experience. That was completely ignored and Jim Wells MLA went on to allege that I receive funding from pimps and that’s why I speak out.

Frankly, you don’t have to rely on these accounts. The transcript and the video make clear that the thrust of the questionning was to undermine, contradict and reject the arguments she was putting forward, not to get more evidence or information. This represents a malfunction in the democratic system of Northern Ireland, but it’s also important for our moral theory. Givan was pointing to a moral transgression – behaviour contrary to the theories above – in order to show up Ms Lee as an evil outsider. To reject her along with her knowledge and her opinion.

In doing so, I believe he highlights his own evil, that having self-worth and acting to preserve it aren’t normal or proper in his view. In his view, individuals have no fundamental value.


The Mistress Contract

Incoming from Ed: the “Mistress Contract“, a play at the Royal Court Theatre:

She and He are the pseudonyms of a real-life couple who live in separate houses in the same city on the west coast of America. She is 88. He is 93.

For 30 years he has provided her with a home and an income, while she provides ‘mistress services’ – ‘All sexual acts as requested, with suspension of historical, emotional, psychological disclaimers.’

They first met at university and then lost touch. When they met again twenty years later, they began an affair when She – a highly educated, intelligent woman with a history of involvement in the feminist movement – asked her wealthy lover to sign the remarkable document that outlines their unconventional lifestyle: The Mistress Contract.

Was her suggestion a betrayal of all that she and the women of her generation had fought for? Or was it brave, honest, and radical?


It seems odd to me that the term “radical” is applied. That is word belonging to politics, and this seems like a personal story, what relevence is it to politics? Nevertheless, it seems essential to many to discuss the issues arising from this agreement. The Royal Court is hosting a panel discussion on March 12th:

Chaired by broadcaster, journalist and theatre critic Libby Purves, the panel debates how and why we form sexual partnerships. The panel includes playwright Alecky Blythe, anthropologist Professor Sophie Day (Goldsmiths, University of London), academic and activist Lynne Segal and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Ed writes:

I’m not sure what angle they’ll take […] but contracting generally has a pro-liberty flavour? I’ll be interested to see how they interpret it.

Moral inversion over disabled taxi fares

Deputy mayor of Middlesbrough Dave Budd said companies ‘have a moral obligation to treat everybody the same’.

© Mars Infomage

© Mars Infomage

In this context treating everyone the same means giving them a larger, scarcer minibus instead of a smaller more common car. I seem to recall driving a minibus commercially also requires a special licence, meaning scarcer staff are also required. The disabled passenger is asking for a naturally much more expensive product for the same price.

In response to this unreasonable demand – and withdrawn subsidies from the Council – Boro Taxis withdrew from taking disabled customers, and have been roundly and comprehensively condemned for it.

This is a great example of a couple of things:

  • Rand’s observation that need is used as a “pass key” for the lives of others.  In standard altruistic ethics a needy man is entitled to the object of his needs regardless of the costs to others. Care for the needy is not weighed against the harm to others who are not needy, and who can be harmed arbitrarily to help the needy. Standard ethics also do not endorse an individual right to decide if their own needs allow for a generous donation to another, while Rand’s alternative ethics are based on the right to make those decisions. The Metro article is a great example of how society fails to endorse that right, and condemns those that exercise it.
  • Heidt‘s analogy between moral calculus and taste buds, wherein different people are sensitive to different kinds of moral question to varying degrees. A liberal, typically, is attuned to “care and harm”, and the liberal author at the Metro, and the deputy mayor quoted are clearly focused on that. Libertarians are uniquely attuned to “justice” and “liberty”, and will note the rights of the taxi operator and weight them evenly.

As a Randian libertarian, the both the initial ban on “discriminatory” pricing, the crack down and the public condemnation of Boro Taxis represent an inversion of morality on the “justice” and “liberty” criteria. I would also point out that expecting Boro Taxis to subsidise the disabled (as has now happened) is a harm to them, and it is a harm which is neither simple bad luck, nor justified by their conduct. In contrast the tragic bad luck of disabled passengers is a morally neutral happenstance (since it did not involve choice). Overall then, my sympathy is firmly behind Boro Taxis. This is not becuase I have no empathy with disabled travellers, I do, but because society seems to be choosing to take too much from Boro Taxis – and is not respecting their rights.

BBC Teeside are also carrying this story and have a longer quote from the taxi operator:

“The simple fact is if you order a car and four people jump in you are charged for a taxi. If you order an eight-seater minibus and eight people jump in you are charged for a minibus.

“If you order a minibus and there’s only one person you will still be charged for a minibus because that’s what you ordered.

“But because we are charging for a minibus we are breaking the law.”

The suspension was, ultimately, a case of unintended consequences. The law banned charging extra to disabled passengers so the operator refused to carry them at all. The chickens came home to roost for advocates of disabled privileges and only a twitter mob saved disabled travellers on Teeside from the unintended consequences of their ideas. This is also an interesting example of libertarian economic consequentialist thinking, but if is first and foremost a moral inversion.




The video of Aiden Gregg on speaking on psychology and moral taste buds of libertarians is delayed because, over the weekend, some prat reversed into my car and drove away. I spent much of the weekend working on forms and diagrams for the Police.

Self-Righteous white kids and moral calculus

© frontierofficial in Ghana

© frontierofficial in Ghana

David Hansen writes powerfully and honestly about his experiences helping at a children’s home in the Philippines and why he ended up feeling he had been self-righteous:

I wanted people to see me as a righteous person more than I wanted to do charity work itself, and this greatly influenced my motivations for working abroad. With my motivations, it was important that people were aware of the work I was doing, and also that they knew I had sacrificed a lot in order to do it. These two together would make me seem like an extremely benevolent person; an all-round top bloke.

We can all criticise the economics of kids flying out rather than donating the air fare, and the kind of irrational self-opinion that drives it, but I’m interested in why David felt he would earn society’s high opinion while doing this. I think this is another example of the kind of flawed moral calculus I see at work in public discourse, last spotted giving the NHS a free ride over death and disease in its hospitals.

Imagine a scale: on the one side, people heap up what was sacrificed to make something happen, on the other the kind of dishonesty, negligence and fraud we all despise. Having more of the sacrifice than the dishonesty and negligence makes you an okay sort, if not exactly wonderful. This is why the NHS has managed to retain the image a morally decent thing despite fatally failing thousands. Missing from the picture is all the good stuff that gets gone in a non-sacrificial way, like grocery stores, or residential construction, and (especially) pharmaceuticals.

In David’s case the flight out and the weeks of hard work was the sacrifice, and there was no dishonesty involved so it’s a pure and virtuous thing. The fact that his actions made no economic sense, and the way he was forced to confront that cleared the scale on the virtuous side. Does anything belong on the other side? Well, David perhaps lied to himself and he perhaps chose to show off in a way that might be considered dishonest to the people he expected to praise him. This is a small matter, but now David is left wondering which way the scales tip.

I have some sympathy for David. His economic decision was flawed and re seems to think too much of the opinion of others, but why shouldn’t he enjoy visiting an exotic location for his gap year? Why shouldn’t he, for that matter, aspire to feel pride and receive praise for his actions? Is moral ambitiousness a sin? Is investing your own money in that ambition a fraud? On who?

In my book, these are not bad things. Seeking to achieve something and be proud is a good thing. Seeking to learn for the sake of developing your mind is a good thing. Seeking a win-win outcome for you and the people you deal with is a good thing.

This flawed calculus, this procedure for moral evaluation that condemns rational self-interest and condemns morally ambitious conduct has to go.