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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  • 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.

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

  • 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.

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