Trolling the Drudge Report tonight, I came across an interesting link to a news story about a ballot initiative, Proposition-K, that will be up for a vote next month in the city of rice and fog. If passed, the measure would forbid local authorities from investigating, arresting, or prosecuting anyone for selling sex. It would not, the article goes on to say, technically legalize prostitution since state law prohibits it, but it would eliminate the power of local law enforcement officials to “go after” prostitutes.
Oh yeah, and one more thing: The measure would likely free up $11 million the police spend each year on arresting prostitutes. Come on everyone, do your best Dr. Evil with me. That’s eleven meellion dollars…a year! Do the math. That’s a lot of bank, folks.
Look, for those of you who know me, an endorsement of this measure will probably not come as a surprise, as I have always been of the mindset that our government (locally and federally) already possesses far too much control over the degree to which we can exercise our inherent, victimless vices. I have long been of the mindset that this control is not only insulting, dangerous, and severely hypocritical, but also a provenly absurd waste of time and resources—and I believe precedent is on my side here. For an example, simply survey the effectiveness of the so-called “war on drugs.”
This multi-billion dollar effort on the part of the United States government has not yielded any quantitative decrease in the use of drugs in this country and has only served to continually drive up the financial and criminal consequences of an inevitable black market and the criminal activity it inspires. It has overflown our prisons with unnecessary inmates, ruined the lives of those who need help (not jail) and wasted our tax dollars in the process. And why? Because the pale, ignorant, ghostly bastards and bitches who roam the halls of Congress like moaning spectres of intolerance are beholden to the monstrous masters of the money that flows in and out of their fusty campaign offices like endless blood down a drain. There are no principles at the core of these efforts to wage witless wars on our so-called depravities. There are no convictions at the center of these ineffective laws that seek to limit what we, as free individuals, can and cannot do at our leisure. If there were, the NFL’s chief sponsors would not be beer companies. If there were, pharmaceutical companies would not be bombarding our prime-time television hours with myriad chemical solutions to spiritual problems. If there were, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.
But I digress.
Look, the philosophy of just and righteous law is based on the necessity to govern a society in as much as that society wishes to legislate and live within the basic tenants of universal morality, and the first (and probably only) tenant worth considering in this regard is how our individual behaviors affect others not voluntarily associated with the choices we make. Speed limits exist because the roadways are public spaces filled with individuals who should not be forced to inherit the potential dangers of others driving recklessly. Murder is illegal because no one has the right to take another individual’s life without his or her consent. Rape, theft, drunk driving, witch hunting—all of these actions are illegal because each of them involves the victimization of an innocent individual. Drug use, prostitution, euthanasia—these, most certainly, do not.
To be sure, I am not in favor of the decriminalization of prostitution because I endorse the practice itself (no more than I am in favor of the decriminalization of certain drugs because I partake in them). My support of measures like Proposition-K is grounded in a belief that a society is not fundamentally harmed or devalued because of individuals who choose to engage in behaviors that, while potentially not in line with my own standards of character, have no direct impact on the course of my life. In other words, if my next door neighbor is visited by a different prostitute every night for the rest of his life, that action does not affect my life in any measurable way.
Now, I can already hear the rebuttals: But Nick, prostitution leads to a dangerous and damaging lifestyle for countless women every single day, and the legalization of the practice would only further encourage that spiral of desperation and damage! And to that, I ask a very simple question: Has the historic illegality of prostitution lead to its demise? The answer is no. They don’t call it “the world’s oldest profession” for nothing. And if we are resigned to the inevitability of its continuance (and really, I don’t see how we can’t be), shouldn’t we strive for a system that “legitimizes” and regulates this potentially dangerous profession in order to make it as safe as possible? Since there will always be women (and heck, I suppose men as well) that choose to earn their living through the sale of sex, is it not morally imperative to provide them with the protection they deserve?
And to the point that legalization inevitably encourages previously illegal behavior, I ask another question to those of you who have never sought out a lady (or gentleman) of the night: Is that because it’s been illegal? I am willing to guess the majority of you would answer “no.” Speaking from my own experience, the reason I have never been with a prostitute has absolutely nothing to do with its illegality. I’m 27 and have lived in a major city several times throughout my life. If ever I wanted to purchase sex, I certainly could have. Without trouble. But I didn’t. Not because it was illegal. Not because I feared getting caught. But because I did not think it was right to do so. This is the standard of character and personal integrity toward which we should be striving as a society, and no amount of legislation will ever be able to bring that about. I have heard it said many times that the true test of a man’s character is what he will do when he knows no one is looking. Note that the government’s watchful eye plays no part in the truth of that axiom.
It is a dangerous and slippery slope down which we slide when we endorse legislation based not on the potential victimization of a behavior but instead on the relativistic and shifty ethical concerns of a few in power. Prostitution is as victimless in its execution as the publication of a particularly incendiary novel or piece of journalism. It is as wholly harmless to a society as a work of disagreeable art. Would we not shudder at the thought of our government prohibiting these expressions? Why then do we not shudder at its odious assumption of moral authority when it comes to matters of individual sexual choice?
Here’s to hoping Proposition-K passes next month, as it will make this country a safer and more humane place to live.