by Mary Harrington
Wednesday, 16
December 2020
Response
07:00

The trouble with the ‘intellectual porn star’

Hyper-liberalism has few winners, and Aella is one of them
by Mary Harrington

It’s commonplace nowadays to observe that globalisation produces winners and losers and that this drives populist politics. Watching Freddie Sayers’ Lockdown TV interview with OnlyFans superstar Aella, it struck me that this individual — a rationalist, self-described ‘moral nihilist’ and happy porn star — is one of the winners in modernity’s moral liquefaction, in much the same way as a hedge fund manager is in the economic sort.

Aella makes repeated references to how her brain is ‘different’ from ordinary brains. She doesn’t elaborate much on this, but uses the phrase ‘high decoupling’, unpacked in these pages by Tom Chivers, which means roughly ‘capable of considering ideas without becoming emotionally overwhelmed by their implications’. “The person I am who has sex on a personal level is different to the person I am who produces sex on a business level”, she explains.

There’s no reason not to believe that, as Aella puts it, “It’s possible to do this and not be dying inside”. Certainly she is well-remunerated, earning over $100,000 in July alone, and seems perfectly content to discuss her pornography work. But where her body language is less relaxed, all jumpy hands and face-touching, is when Freddie probes gently into how ‘consent’ may be complicated by economic pressures or other vulnerabilities.

Her words and body language are visibly more defensive, for example, discussing Nicholas Kristof’s NYT story on Pornhub and child rape. Perhaps it’s a moral panic, she hedges; she doesn’t have enough information to make a judgement. It’s perhaps understandable that she wouldn’t have spent much time gathering more information.

Aella is keen that people who do ‘survival sex work’ should not be judged. A lot of people are so poor, she correctly observes, that even “being on the flat end” of the OnlyFans earning curve “could still be a life-changing amount of money, and it could be they don’t have any other options”. But she seems to see this kind of economic pressure as a phenomenon that just is, like the weather — not something that could itself be critiqued or ameliorated.

From this perspective, individuals’ responses to the economic weather shouldn’t be judged morally, but seen as informed choices. “I still tend to try to stay on the side of: people know what’s best for them individually,” she says, “and it’s not our right to tell them they shouldn’t do this, it hurts them”. Perhaps as a byproduct of her evident intelligence and high-decoupling mindset, she seems unable or unwilling to consider how economic pressure plus the drive to de-stigmatise sex work could produce quite a different experience for someone who is not just poorer but also less intelligent, rational and high-decoupling than she is.

Aella is clearly well-adapted to a culture in which traditions, moral strictures and what Patrick Deneen calls the social ‘guard rails’ are dismantled, leaving individuals increasingly free to set their own moral standards. In this sense, she is one of social hyper-liberalism’s winners. But the question her rubric of choice and individual agency leaves hanging is: what about those who lack her advantages? In a world with liquefying sociocultural ‘guard rails’, how are we to have regard for those less naturally intelligent, those less emotionally self-contained, or those too scarred by emotional neglect or a history of abuse to make a clear-sighted calculation of their own risk of further emotional or psychological harm?

Economic hyper-liberalism produced a populist reaction, that has in turn been responsible for a slow but steady turn toward de-globalisation. As life outcomes continue to diverge between social hyper-liberalism’s winners and losers, we may yet see an equivalent populist moral reaction, with the aim of restoring behavioural guidelines for those who cannot navigate as effortlessly as Aella without them.

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Toby Bray
Toby Bray
1 year ago

Aella seems like the inevitable end-product of our dystopian blend of capitalism (let’s make money), liberalism (don’t judge), individualism (I can do what I like) and the internet (I provide engagement & ‘intimacy’ via a screen).

And in her case, mixed up with the rationalist outlook. (I have a calculated, logical justification for this behaviour which over-rules any vague and discomforting moral intuitions you feel)

I’m old-fashioned and don’t like it. But I’m not sure what’s going to stop it.

Peter Ian Staker
Peter Ian Staker
1 year ago
Reply to  Toby Bray

Yes. Surely, the liberalism and individualism have to come into conflict though. It seems that you are only allowed to do what you want (individualism), if you present yourself as oppressed and woke. This means it is important to present yourself as woke. But then are you oppressed if you make £100,000 a month?

David Fitzsimons
David Fitzsimons
1 year ago
Reply to  Toby Bray

Or to summarise that, she is American.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

because her way of thinking does not extend beyond US shores? Sure, go with that.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago

Better to summarize her talk as she is a West Coast American.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 year ago
Reply to  Toby Bray

You are free to be old fashioned, and you are free not to like it. But I hope you will respect others freedom and not stop it (whatever “it” may happen to be at the time).

Tom Graham
Tom Graham
1 year ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Do you have young daughters?

If you do, maybe you would feel differently about simply respecting other people’s freedom to do exactly what they want.

Saying that as someone who is usually pretty liberal – in the old fashioned sense – it does occur to me that the relentless “pornification” of society is not a good thing, and is particularly harmful for the young, and maybe the complete lack of any moral taboos will lead us to a bad place.

Steven Farrall
Steven Farrall
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom Graham

Indeed. I do have daughters – not so young now – and this is not a ‘lifestyle’ choice that I would want them to adopt. Luckily my own mores seem to have rubbed off on them.
Also, there a lot of porn stars on records as saying just don’t get involved. Don’t ever start.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

But I hope you will respect others freedom and not stop it
if only this sentiment cut both ways.

Toby Bray
Toby Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Funnily enough I have no power to stop either Aella or Only Fans doing what they’re doing.

That aside, “respecting others’ freedom” is good up to a point, but has its limits. I don’t let my children do whatever they want. And if a friend was doing something I considered harmful or destructive, I would try to persuade them out of it. (Again, whether I’d have the power to ‘stop’ them is unlikely).

Another old-fashioned (and extremely unfashionable) view for you: people aren’t always the best judge of what’s good for them, when left purely to “do what they want”.

J StJohn
J StJohn
1 year ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

theft? assault? are there any ‘its’ where we are allowed to step in?

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
4 months ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Without limits?

Jasmine Birtles
Jasmine Birtles
1 year ago

A great unpicking of this interview. Thank you!

I do wonder if Aella’s apparent equilibrium is temporary. Sometimes it can take years for the effects of a hyper-liberal lifestyle to ‘catch up’ on one.

Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
1 year ago

But she seems to see this kind of economic pressure as a phenomenon that just is, like the weather ” not something that could itself be critiqued or ameliorated.

Okay, but then maybe we should focus on that, and table the sex work discussion for later? I am against sex work as a matter of principle, but I’m a lot more bothered by the fact that someone might have to take up sex work just to survive than that sex work exists in the first place. In fact, most of my objection to sex work is that the more socially acceptable it is, the more socially acceptable it is to deny financial help to people since they could just take up sex work.

As for the “but what about the dumbasses?” angle… ehhhhhh, I am not entirely unmoved by it, being in many ways a dumbass myself, but that’s the question that turns up when it comes to any kind of freedom, isn’t it? A lot of people are helped by rules that a lot of other people are harmed by. And again, I think it’s a lot more important that people who want out of sex work has a way out of it than that they never try it in the first place. People can live with a few bad experiences, the important thing is that they don’t get stuck with a bad situation forever.

Vivek Rajkhowa
Vivek Rajkhowa
1 year ago

In all honesty? Who cares. This is life, it’s not easy, it’s not equal.

Simon Ault
Simon Ault
1 year ago
Reply to  Vivek Rajkhowa

Vivek you’re talking about people who have no choice but to allow themselves to be raped to survive, what is wrong with you

Caitlin McDonald
Caitlin McDonald
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Ault

‘Allow’ and ‘rape’ are incompatible here. Either the person allows the sex that they are involved in OR is rape.

Tough, unhappy decisions are decisions nonetheless and rape is not a decision for the rapee, by its very definition.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago

Not really. We have situations where one may not make the judgement to have sex and it is rape. Mostly it is for age, and varies widely, but also intoxication and mental condition, and these can be rape even with consent. And I would think an argument exists also for economic desperation, drug dependency, and so on, to be fit into those in some circumstances as withholding consent is a choice you cannot make. This is often true in the Third World, and the source of sex based people trafficking.

Vivek Rajkhowa
Vivek Rajkhowa
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Ault

The people on only fans are beinf raped? News to me.

Peter Ian Staker
Peter Ian Staker
1 year ago

I have difficulty relating to this mindset because Libertarian and progressive are probably the opposite ends of the spectrum to me. I would question what society would look like if everyone had her view but then she would probably wouldn’t think too much about it (selfishness is good in some sense to libertarians). In some ways I do think it could be a reaction to conservative upbringing. It also seems very self serving: her politics line up with what she wants- money and multiple partners. I accept it maybe that she naturally thinks this way, because we do see things differently but it seems like she is living out her politics- polyamory, sex and the individual making money. It just seems depressing to me and would fear a society based on these principles.

Isn’t this like getting the one jackpot winner to represent all the gambling addicts? Their views may be affected by the huge payoff. Something of a survivor bias. Their positivity can be used to sell more tickets and promote an unrealistic image of the industry.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

A very interesting discussion with a very smart woman. She has thought her way out of Christianity and into a career where she is in control. I lived in the Netherlands for a long time and have a lot of friends called Hans. They have set up a site called OnlyHans and are doing very well.

Scott Carson
Scott Carson
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

A subtle build up to a rather good punchline. Nice work. 👍😁

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
4 months ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I suspect her control is apparent rather than real. Most of us think we have control until we get knocked over by a bus or have a stroke . . . .

Rob Austin
Rob Austin
1 year ago

Her mother deals with it (hardly a sense of acceptance) and the clear indication was that her father does not. Perhaps they were hideous parents, who knows? – but she does seem to have actively rejected them. Is she so at ease and laid-back about that?

Pierre Whalon
Pierre Whalon
1 year ago

I think you have to read or view the interview. This article is interesting but doesn’t really try to analyze the OnlyFans phenomenon other than in terms Aella lays down. For instance, the description of her father’s work seems to link with what she does now. That kind of “evangelism” is a lot like selling people a product, which is “fire insurance” instead of really traditional Christianity.

Anne-Marie Mazur
Anne-Marie Mazur
1 year ago

Such a GENIUS! Can’t work out what economic coercion is or solve world hunger though…..but her intellect…just WOW….without any productive problem solving about, well…..anything. Amazing. And yes, I AM still laughing….

emilywitherell
emilywitherell
1 year ago

There’s absolutely no way ANYONE could convince me with vast superior intellect that they’re able to ‘decouple’ their experience of prostitution. But I think it was another nice try to place morally reprehensible behaviors as beyond our inferior scope of understanding 😉, you know, from those who HAVE to do it. It’s the new paradigm in the United States: screw everyone else, I’ve got mine. I love this new, let them eat cake with that touch of ” because its MY cake” its acceptable and you’ll notice how she never takes personal responsibility for her own involvement and narcissistic actions, she affects no one. One self contained bubble of humanitarian masturbatory aid.

asma.benhenda
asma.benhenda
1 year ago

” restoring behavioural guidelines for those who cannot navigate as effortlessly as Aella without them.”

I am deeply troubled by this statement as it seems to buy into this idea that morality is for weak people and self proclaimed “highly intelligent” people (like this porn star) are too smart to need them.

Daryl Jones
Daryl Jones
1 year ago

Why do many have a problem with women having sex for money? I could argue it is always about money, as women find higher earning men more attractive.

And why is sex for money degrading? My brother pumps sewage into a truck and has had pumps blow up with sewage hitting his face. He is not paid 100,000 a month.

In this age of equality, why no pity for men working nasty, disgusting jobs?

And is it assumed that sex cannot be pleasurable? She can’t enjoy it?

Caitlin McDonald
Caitlin McDonald
1 year ago
Reply to  Daryl Jones

Brilliant comment!

Andre Lower
Andre Lower
1 year ago
Reply to  Daryl Jones

Well Daryl, what you described in your post is inequality itself – if there were women interested in paying to see your brother naked on a website, he would likely dump his sewage pumping job…
This is all a question of supply vs. demand, and yes your brother got the short straw.
I don’t think anyone would sympathize with the predicament of the men yearning for some eroticism and paying for a meagre simulation of it via OnlyFans. The modern, silent consensus is that these men failed to find any other means to get what they want, and therefore they somehow deserve their fate. As someone wrote in another comment here, life is not supposed to be fair. You play with the cards you are given.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago

‘Moral Nihilist’, not sure what that means as it needs to be punctuated to make sense.

is it ‘I am a nihilist, yet moral’. or ‘I believe in Nihilist Morality.’ I mean nilos = nothing and nihilism is that there is no meaning to anything, thus no morals at all, because there is no meaning, and thus no morality as all is and means nothing.

So does she believe in morals yet believes death is it, and nothing beyond that and thus morality is just a choice, no different to immoral, or even she is Amoral, and thus has no moral code she believes in at all, except where she chooses for some aesthetic reason or other.

I find secular humanism is amoral as there can be no actual reason for morality where all is Nilos at the end.Therefore, unless you are a Dawkins where one’s selfish gene is the only reason for morality as they mean your selfish gene has a better chance of going on to reproduce its self if society functions, but good and evil are mere constructs.

Because her exceedingly thought out secular mind rationalizes all, as that seems to be the only thing which gives meaning. You do that which makes sense, and not that which does not make sense, there being no other true motivation. It is amorality. And it is the most logical position I think, of a sex worker, because most people who believe in anything ultimate would find the sex work industry to leave too many broken people in its course, or to use already broken people and likely damaging them more.

Simon Sharp
Simon Sharp
1 year ago

is this kind of like when that msic video came out with women rapping about how wet their p***y was and presenting themselves a gyrating pieces of meat – and people engaged in some impressive mental gymnastics to portray this as some kind of statement on female empowerment?

Peter Ian Staker
Peter Ian Staker
1 year ago

Are we to assume that these beliefs would be the same if she wasn’t in the industry; if she wasn’t making a lot of money from it? I can see why she ‘doesn’t want to be judged’ but people are going to inevitably judge you for it. Does she mean not judge herself? She should be able to make all this money and not have to judge herself? There is a problem with pretending that this is just the way you are and not just forced to do it by circumstance. Some of the cleverest people do the most amoral things because they are able to justify it to themselves, with fancy theories, but at the end of the day you’re just making money from porn.

‘capable of considering ideas without becoming emotionally overwhelmed by their implications’

No one is ‘overwhelmed by ideas’, just put off something because it doesn’t morally feel right.

‘modernity’s moral liquefaction’

This is good. But the problem is that people buy into the idea that in order to make money and survive it is necessary to give up morals and this shouldn’t be frowned upon and you shouldn’t think too hard about it. The economics determines the limits of morality.

Peter Ian Staker
Peter Ian Staker
1 year ago

Are we to assume that these beliefs would be the same if she wasn’t in the industry; if she wasn’t making a lot of money from it? I can see why she ‘doesn’t want to be judged’ but people are going to inevitably judge you for it. There is a problem with pretending that this is just the way you are and not just forced to do it by circumstance. Some of the cleverest people do the most amoral things because they are able to justify it to themselves with fancy theories but at the end of the day you’re just making money from people watching you naked.

‘capable of considering ideas without becoming emotionally overwhelmed by their implications’

No one is overwhelmed by ideas, just put off something because it doesn’t morally feel right.

‘modernity’s moral liquefaction’

This is good. But the problem is that people buy into the idea that in order to make money and survive it is necessary to give up morals and this shouldn’t be frowned upon and you shouldn’t think too hard about it. The economics determines the limits of morality.

Peter Ian Staker
Peter Ian Staker
1 year ago

Are we to assume that these beliefs would be the same if she wasn’t in the industry; if she wasn’t making a lot of money from it? I can see why she ‘doesn’t want to be judged’ but people are going to inevitably judge you for it. There is a problem with pretending that this is just the way you are and not just forced to do it by circumstance. Some of the cleverest people do the most amoral things because they are able to justify it to themselves with fancy theories but at the end of the day you’re just making money from people watching you naked.

‘capable of considering ideas without becoming emotionally overwhelmed by their implications’

No one is ‘overwhelmed by ideas’, just put off something because it doesn’t morally feel right.

‘modernity’s moral liquefaction’

This is good. But the problem is that people by into the idea that in order to make money and survive it is necessary to give up morals and this shouldn’t be frowned upon and you shouldn’t think too hard about it. The economics determines the limits of morality.

Peter Ian Staker
Peter Ian Staker
1 year ago

Are we to assume that these beliefs would be the same if she wasn’t in the industry; if she wasn’t making a lot of money from it? I can see why she ‘doesn’t want to be judged’ but people are going to inevitably judge you for it. There is a problem with pretending that this is just the way you are and not just forced to do it by circumstance. Some of the cleverest people do the most amoral things because they are able to justify it to themselves with fancy theories but at the end of the day you’re just making money from people watching you naked.

‘capable of considering ideas without becoming emotionally overwhelmed by their implications’

No one is ‘overwhelmed by ideas’, just put off something because it doesn’t morally feel right.

‘modernity’s moral liquefaction’

This is good. But the problem is that people by into the idea that in order to make money and survive it is necessary to give up morals and this shouldn’t be frowned upon and you shouldn’t think too hard about it. The economics determines the limits of morality

Peter Ian Staker
Peter Ian Staker
1 year ago

Are we to assume that these beliefs would be the same if she wasn’t in the industry; if she wasn’t making a lot of money from it? I can see why she ‘doesn’t want to be judged’ but people are going to inevitably judge you for it. There is a problem with pretending that this is just the way you are and not just forced to do it by circumstance. Some of the cleverest people do the most amoral things because they are able to justify it to themselves with fancy theories but at the end of the day you’re just making money from people watching you naked.

‘capable of considering ideas without becoming emotionally overwhelmed by their implications’

No one is ‘overwhelmed by ideas’, just put off something because it doesn’t morally feel right.

‘modernity’s moral liquefaction’

This is good. But the problem is that people by into the idea that in order to make money and survive it is necessary to give up morals and this shouldn’t be frowned upon and you shouldn’t think too hard about it. The economics determines the limits of morality.

Peter Ian Staker
Peter Ian Staker
1 year ago

I have difficulty relating to this mindset because Libertarian and progressive are proabably the opposite ends of the spectrum to me. I would question what society would look like if everyone had her view but then she would probably wouldn’t think too much about it (selfishness is good in some sense to libertarians). In some ways I do think it could be a reaction to conservative upbringing. It also seems very self serving: her politics line up with what she wants- money and multiple partners. I accept it maybe that she naturally thinks this way, because we do see things differently but it seems like she is living out her politics- polyamory, porn and the individual making money. It just seems depressing to me and would fear a society based on these principles.

Peter Ian Staker
Peter Ian Staker
1 year ago

I have difficulty relating to this mindset because Libertarian and progressive are probably the opposite ends of the spectrum to me. I would question what society would look like if everyone had her view but then she would probably wouldn’t think too much about it (selfishness is good in some sense to libertarians). In some ways I do think it could be a reaction to conservative upbringing. It also seems very self serving: her politics line up with what she wants- money and multiple partners. I accept it maybe that she naturally thinks this way, because we do see things differently but it seems like she is living out her politics- polyamory, porn and the individual making money. It just seems depressing to me and would fear a society based on these principles.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
1 year ago

A very good interview. I think she is playing games with her life for money. It sounds exciting now but I don’t believe her style of life will work in the long run. Pornography is one of the biggest killers of marriage however exciting it feels at first.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
1 year ago

Do women like Aella grow the audience for porn or do they just redirect it? Without prejudging the answer, assume for a moment it simply redirects it. A porn industry run by actresses in it like Aella would probably be preferable to a PornHub run by men. Aella said that she refuses to have a**l sex in her videos. She didn’t give a definite no to having videos where she gets beaten up, but it is clear that she has never produced such a video and it isn’t in her plans.