This story represents one of those areas of the liberty movement that I find difficult. It proves not only a difficult moral point for me but a difficult humanitarian point as well. At the bottom of the linked article we read, “”Deep down, we all know that prostitution is harmful to women, physically and emotionally, to have sex with strangers,” says Karin Werkman. She argues that facilitating the sex business – requiring the women to register and pay taxes – essentially makes the government the pimp.” I can’t argue that she’s wrong. Even if someone were to set aside any moral implications of legalized prostitution it leaves us with emotional and psychological implications. It is harmful to women. I argue it is also harmful to men.
I don’t want to see people harmed. I don’t want them to engage in behaviors that we know are harmful. I’m an emotional and soft-hearted platypus and to see those whom I consider to be my brothers and sisters run headlong into something bad brings me woe. But at some point – I’m honestly not sure of the exact moment – I realized that them having their agency means that they get to choose. We often say “we can’t force them” (which is true) but what I realized (the thing that was the epiphany) was that not only can’t we, we shouldn’t. We do a wrong when we force people. We don’t make them righteous or wise, we just make them either criminals (because they will do it anyway) or they begrudge us. We make ourselves unwise because we take away their choices to be who they want to be and make ourselves the arbiter of their life.
That kind of behavior is unhealthy for everyone involved.
There are times when we really do “know better” what is good and helpful for someone else than they know for their own selves. When I was a kid I wanted to jump off the roof holding an umbrella just to see if it would slow me down. The answer to that question is – it would – but not to any degree that would make the landing anything but hard. My dad understood how this would turn out. He was right of course in suggesting that it wasn’t a wise thing to do. I did it anyway.
While my dad could see that this was a bad thing to do, what he couldn’t foresee was how my making this choice affected me in other ways. How having the rush of leaping, the thrill of experimentation, and the tunnel vision inducing effect of having the wind knocked out of me would change my world view. It made me more brave and more cautious at the same time.
I can’t say for you how you will end up in 20 years.
Maybe the choices you make today will end terribly and set your life on a path of despair and pain. With many choices that much is likely. Maybe that’s the thing that will make you better in the long run. I don’t know.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t share the wealth of our experience and try to persuade people.
I think we have a moral obligation to share what we’ve learned in life. To tell someone “when I did that, this happened. That doesn’t mean it will happen that way for you, but I thought you should know that this bad thing is one of the possible outcomes of your choice. I experienced it, and it’s a really crappy outcome I wouldn’t wish on you.”
Then they go ahead and do it anyway.
My dad was there to check me for blood and broken bones. There were none. He was there to tell me how not to panic until my breath came back. He was there. We should be there for each other, during the times of decision-making and during the times of regret. We have more to gain as human beings by living this model than we ever could by using the means of force. All we do is rob each other of useful experience and the opportunity to serve and make ourselves angry and dictatorial instead as we alienate those whom we seek to help.
Women who sell their bodies have gone from being called “whores” to “prostitutes” to “sex workers”.
As a society we are slowly starting to understand that prostitution is called “the world’s oldest profession” for a reason. It has existed for all of recorded history and likely for much of prehistory as well. It has always been the thing that is frowned upon and frequented at the same time and (hypocritically) often by the very same people.
Never in the history of the world has a behavior been stopped by banning it or making it otherwise illegal.
Even when the penalty for being a prostitute was being stoned to death there were still prostitutes. Even when doing illegal drugs get you put in jail there are still those who do illegal drugs. When the United States made alcohol illegal it didn’t get rid of alcohol. Instead it created a black market in the stuff. A black market that was run by gangsters and violent men engaging in much worse behavior than a sip of brandy ever caused. The same is true of drugs. They have been illegal for decades to no avail. Making them illegal has just given rise to cartels full of evil doers. The prostitute has her pimp and the crime rings they run in.
So at some point we have to wonder why not just let people live their own lives, even if we hate the choices they make.
When we talk about living your own life we don’t mean that the world becomes an anything goes kind of place. There will still be laws and people will still be expected to respect the rights of others. But as long as what you are doing doesn’t violate the rights of others it should be your choice, even if it is a terrible one. Even if watching someone make that choice is painful. Even if you really do know better.
I don’t think anyone should be a prostitute. If anyone asked me I would advise them against such action. I would give them sound reasons why I think it’s a bad idea that will likely turn out poorly for them. But I will know they are going to do it anyway. I just hope to be the kind of person that is there to dust them off when they fall and get the wind knocked out of them.
The Dutch worry that part of central Amsterdam is now just a sleazy tourist trap.