The most absurd apology for authority and law is that they serve to diminish crime. Aside from the fact that the State is itself the greatest criminal, breaking every written and natural law, stealing in the form of taxes, killing in the form of war and capital punishment, it has come to an absolute standstill in coping with crime. It has failed utterly to destroy or even minimize the horrible scourge of its own creation. - Emma Goldman
My column of January 9th spawned a lively debate about male infidelity among several escorts and other interested parties; the central issues seemed to be whether a husband’s infidelity is different whether he sees a whore or has an affair, and whether it bothers us that we facilitate that infidelity. Those of you who read that thread probably noticed that, with the exception of the factual issues of comparative frequency, I largely stayed out of the discussion; that was a conscious choice on my part. When new reader Joyce made her very passionate post, I suspected it would inspire strong and interesting responses and so I decided to keep my big mouth shut for a change and let things develop without my influence. I was gratified to notice that, despite personal variations on the details, all the prostitutes who contributed were largely on the same page as I am, and I think that’s a good thing for reasons which will soon become clear.
“Harm reduction” is the modern name given to an ancient idea: Since neither the world nor human beings are perfect, there will always be evil and misfortune, and all we can hope for is to reduce the level of harm caused by those negative factors. In my column of November 26th I pointed out that the Catholic Church “recognized that human beings are imperfect and incapable of total adherence to any code of behavior. So rather than setting up impossible standards which many if not most people would often fail to meet (as we do today), the Church fathers recognized the need for safety valves which would allow people to blow off steam and thereby avoid great wrongs and mortal sins by tolerating lesser wrongs and venial sins.” This pragmatic view fell into disfavor after the Reformation, when Protestant views on “progress” and the perfectibility of man first appeared; those views, reinforced by the many scientific discoveries and technological innovations of the period, gained in popularity throughout the Age of Reason and by the 19th century practically constituted a cultic belief that tomorrow would always be better than today and that mankind and society could be “perfected” just as scientific theories or technological devices could be. Tolerance for prostitution, alcohol and other “vices” were replaced by a rigid, punitive belief that these “social ills” could be eliminated entirely, and governments (which never pass up an excuse for repression) responded to the popular belief by prohibiting just about every “vice” imaginable and empowering police and courts to harass, arrest and imprison people for behaviors which were previously considered outside the purview of government.
So widespread did this belief-system become that the First World War was commonly referred to as “The War to End All Wars”; many people actually believed that it would purge the very desire for war out of mankind and result in a new world order of peace and prosperity. Clearly, that did not happen, and many intellectuals realized it even before the war was over. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s a growing number of people realized that just as the Great War had not eliminated armed conflict, and just as Prohibition had not ended the demand for alcohol, so the war against prostitution had not curtailed it in the least. And out of that philosophical soil eventually grew the doctrine of “harm reduction”, the realization that our ancestors had it right in the first place: Human beings are not perfectible and attempts to threaten and beat vice out of them do vastly more harm than good. The philosophy of harm reduction was further bolstered by the growing popularity of cultural pluralism: If people have the right to differing ideas, beliefs and political views, what is the moral basis for banning behaviors which harm nobody else and are not even viewed as vices in some cultures?
Those mired in the traditional Protestant or secular authoritarian mindsets argue that harm reduction is defeatist; while they usually admit that neither humanity nor society is perfectible, they argue that giving up on restricting vices “sends the wrong message” and actively encourages such behaviors. I’m not going to address this position’s underlying assumption that the prevailing idea of rectitude is the correct one, nor the abhorrent notion that any government has the right to enforce its ideas of “correct” behavior on citizens who do not harm others; either of those would be a full column in itself. Instead, I would like to call the reader’s attention to an aspect of game theory called “conditions of victory”; though this may sound esoteric it refers to the simple concept that the participants in any contest may have different criteria for winning that contest. In a child’s game of tag, the condition of victory for “it” is to tag someone, and the condition of victory for everyone else is to escape being tagged. More complex games such as war have much more complex differences; King Leonidas knew he could not possibly defeat the vastly larger Persian force at Thermopylae, so he did not try to do so. His strategy was intended to delay Xerxes, not to stop him, and in that he succeeded. Thus, though the Greeks lost the battle they won the game; the limited resources which would not allow victory under one set of conditions did allow it under another. The United States has defined victory in its “Drug War” as the total elimination of all recreational drugs; under these unrealistic conditions victory is completely impossible. But if those conditions were changed to “reduce the social and economic impact of recreational drugs below x level”, victory is not only possible but can be achieved at a very reasonable cost and in a fairly short time.
Because men are biologically programmed to seek sexual variety, most men will do so; at least two-thirds of married men will at least occasionally seek extramarital sex. No woman has any way of knowing whether the man she chooses will be a member of the minority who is able to resist temptation, so if she defines a “successful marriage” as one in which her husband never strays she is playing Russian Roulette with at least four bullets. But if she defines it as one in which her husband’s probable infidelities cause no overt damage, difficulty or social consequences, all she need do is keep him from getting involved with amateurs. As I wrote in my column of July 21st, whores allow men to cheat in a managed fashion and thereby minimize harm to their wives and children. Far from being a “social evil” as it usually referred to in the United States, prostitution is a positive good because it provides a controlled outlet for male sexual impulses which might otherwise cause tremendous problems, including (but by no means limited to) rape and broken marriages. While it’s true that for a wife to discover her husband has been patronizing whores might damage their marriage, would an affair or constant pressure for unwanted sex do any less? Prostitution is not a panacea for the differing sexual needs between the sexes, but it does greatly reduce the problems; it is the definitive example of the principle of harm reduction.