I got into a debate with my Pops yesterday about Gladwell's piece and whether his argument that football and dog-fighting are of the same piece, was valid. I argued for free will. Pops, who's loved to poke at my opinions since I was two or three, argued that, in both cases, conditioning and programming is essential, and thus Gladwell was correct.

His big point was where does free will actually begin? One thing Gladwell does really well is show how pro athletes are basically conditioned to play with injuries, which they shouldn't, not simply out of bravery, but out of fear of losing their job. So, does that conditioning, along with all the conditioning they've recieved since Pop Warner, nullify free will? We talked about Earl Campbell and how busted up he was at the end of his career, but how he insisted that he'd do it all over again. Is he conditioned to believe that? How much social programming has led him to believe it was all worth it? Like I said, I argued for free will, and basically believe in it.

Anyway, all of this came back to me today reading this piece in the Times about child prostitutes. There's a meaty section where pimps describe how they get a girl on the street:

After using court records to compile a database of over a hundred convicted pimps and where each is incarcerated, The New York Times wrote letters to each more than two years ago. In the ensuing interviews by phone and in letters, more than two dozen convicted and still incarcerated pimps described the complicated roles they played as father figure, landlord, boss and boyfriend to the girls who worked for them. They said they went after girls with low self-esteem, prior sexual experience and a lack of options.

"With the young girls, you promise them heaven, they'll follow you to hell," said Harvey Washington, a pimp who began serving a four-year sentence in Arizona in 2005 for pandering a 17-year-old and three adult prostitutes. "It all depends on her being so love-drunk off of me that she will do anything for me...

The pimps view themselves as talent managers, not exploiters.

"My job is to make sure she has what she needs, personal hygiene, get her nails done, take her to buy an outfit, take her out to eat, make her feel wanted," said another pimp, Antoin Thurman, who was sentenced in 2006 to three years for pandering and related charges in Buckeye, Ariz. "But I keep the money."

Wayne Banks Jr., a pimp serving at least 40 years in Hazelton, W. Va., for the sex trafficking of a minor and related charges, wrote that the girls have to be convinced that the pimp is best equipped to handle their clients and finances.

"Seems more despicable to me to give something so valuable away as opposed to selling it," he wrote, describing his pitch to persuade girls that prostitution was a smart business decision.

When recruiting, some pimps said they prowled homeless shelters, bus stations and shopping malls or posed in newspaper advertisements as photographers and talent scouts. Others said they worked Internet chat rooms and phone-sex lines.

"I'll look for a younger female with a backpack," said Mr. Thurman, describing how he used to drive near schools after hours. "I'm thinking she's leaving home, she's leaving for a reason, she had a fight with her parents or she just wants to leave home."

Leaving aside the naked ruthlessness and mental bullying, this was amazing to me. It's also worth noting that for all the psychological tricks, there's a serious element of physical coercion. But I was left with impression that I kind of demonic possession was necessary to make it all work--a conditioning, a bending of free will. I want to state loudly and clearly that there are serious differences between professional athletes and child prostitutes. But for whatever reason, I thought back to Gladwell's piece and how pro athletes, and like fight dogs, are conditioned to do things that often weren't in their interest.

The similarity between pimping and certain aspects of certain NFL coaches is the cold dismissal of the person as any sort of human being. You read these guys talking about women, and its almost cannibalistic--they regard the young women as meat. And you read Ted Johnson's account of his relationship with Bill Belichick and it's kind of the same thing.