Postmodernism, Ethics, and Sex Trafficking

Progressive news blog Think Progress reported on the Family Research Council including postmodernism in its list of causes for sex-trafficking. The core of their claim is that:

the post-modern view of morality that essentially says there is not right or wrong

This claim is dubious, both because of the lack of specificity of how postmodernism becomes an active subject capable of enabling sex trafficking and because it ignores postmodern and poststructural views of ethics. We could cite here Bauman’s Postmodern Ethics. However, for my own research I am interested in Deleuze’s ethics. Much of Deleuze’s later work focuses around the question of how one might live. Daniel W. Smith, a Deleuzian scholar I admire, argues in “DELEUZE AND THE QUESTION OF DESIRE: TOWARD AN IMMANENT THEORY OF ETHICS,” that :

What is an immanent ethics? Throughout his writings, Deleuze has often drawn a distinction between “ethics” and “morality”—a distinction that has traditionally been drawn to distinguish modes of reflection that place greater emphasis, respectively, on the good life (such as Stoicism) or on the moral law (such as Kantianism). Deleuze, however, uses the term “morality” to define, in very general terms, any set of “constraining” rules, such as a moral code, that consists in judging actions and intentions by relating them to transcendent or universal values

What he calls “ethics” is, on the contrary, a set of “facilitative” [faculta- tive] rules that evaluates what we do, say, and think according to the immanent mode of existence that it implies. One says or does this, thinks or feels that: what mode of existence does it imply? “We always have the beliefs, feelings, and thoughts we deserve,” writes Deleuze, “given our way of being or our style of life.”

The implication of Deleuze’s ethics is that there are ways of life and codes of conduct that are immanent and intimate with regard to the affective states they induce. One is accountable for one’s actions. Not for the purpose of pleasing a transcendent philosophy, but out of careful consideration of the type of life one lives and its impact on those you come in contact with.

For my part, it is when we think at each moment, and in each moment, about the material impact we have on all things around us that we discover a revolutionary form of living.

How might we think through the dangerous and shameful practice of sex trafficking from the perceptive of Deleuze’s ethics?


Update: I want to emphasize that I intentionally made the move from postmodern to poststructural thinking. Not because the two are indistinct, but because the FRC is using the term vaguely to assault thought in our contemporary moment.


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Filed under Cultural Studies, Deleuze, news and Culture

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