Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right. – Laurens van der Post
Though prohibitionists will vociferously deny it, all prohibitionism is the same. Oh, they’ll throw out all sorts of bogus reasons such as “morality”, “decency”, “health”, “public order”, “national security” and of course “the children”, but in reality they’re all based in one thing: a busybody desire to control the private behaviors of others because they make individual prohibitionists uncomfortable. Many of my columns tagged “welcome to our world” clearly demonstrate this; just change a few words and Presto! an argument against porn, gay rights, immigration or even a woman wearing a certain article of clothing or selling her eggs for research becomes an argument against prostitution. The closest parallel is probably the expensive, rights-trampling, unwinnable “War on Drugs”, and this article from the January 17th Huffington Post demonstrates it as clearly as anything I’ve ever seen. It’s called “How to Write a Clichéd, Unpersuasive Argument Against Drug Legalization” by Scott Morgan, and is a dissection of a (drug) prohibitionist article. Change a few words, and it’s equally applicable to those who support the War on Whores:
This piece by Manon McKinnon at The American Spectator is so perfect an exhibit in pompous drug war cheerleading that one can construct a fairly comprehensive crash course in bad drug policy writing based entirely upon its contents. Let’s take a moment to review some of the tactics on display here…
Step 1: Attempt to marginalize supporters of drug policy reform by claiming they are “pot heads.”
From the article: “Every so often, alas, the subject of drug legalization reappears. This time it is…one of many bad ideas from presidential candidate Congressman Ron Paul and is cheered on by the usual fans, from libertarians to pot heads”…Since recent polling shows that half the country supports marijuana legalization, you’ll immediately offend many of your readers by ignoring their legitimate public policy concerns and dismissing them as a bunch of self-righteous drug addicts. Huge numbers of non-users are interested in improving our approach to drug policy, so name-calling is a quick way to alienate well-meaning people and prove that you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Step 2: Frame legalization as a plan for “surrendering” or “giving up” and letting drugs defeat us.
From the article: “’Paul deserves full credit for endorsing drug legalization,’ writes Ms. Charen as she goes into all the reasons she thinks the U.S. should give up and give in to corrosive drugs.” This is a good way to show that you don’t understand the opposing argument. Supporters of reforming drug laws believe that the problems associated with drug use…can be better addressed [under legalization]…Referring to that process as a form of surrender will help to demonstrate that you aren’t listening and don’t understand even the most basic motivations behind reforming our drug policy.
Step 3: Insist confidently — but without citation — that no one actually gets in serious trouble for personal use.
From the article: “…the imagined wrongful incarceration of simple users (no — such prisoners have plea bargained down from major trafficking and violent crimes)” This is great for destroying your credibility, because examples of people being sent to prison for personal use are so numerous. A lot of people know someone who’s done time for drugs, without ever getting involved in “major trafficking and violent crimes,” so you can lose a lot of people quickly by speaking against their own experience…one of the main concerns people have…is that their own friends and family could be scarred for life by the criminal justice system…a minor marijuana arrest can [result in] lost employment opportunities, loss of public housing, child custody, professional licenses, and…other serious consequences. By implying that a drug arrest is insignificant unless it involves jail-time, you can show everyone how little you know about the real impact of the policies you’re promoting.
4: Insist that illegal drugs can never have medical value.
From the article: “…medical necessity (banned drugs are not medicine)”…Many Americans have seen firsthand the benefits of medical marijuana in their own families, and public opposition to medical use has dwindled into near invisibility. Meanwhile, the federal government itself is growing medical marijuana for select patients and the DEA is trying to change the rules so that pharmaceutical companies can begin growing marijuana plants and making medicines out of them…
Step 5: Compare regulating drugs to legalizing rape.
From the article: “[If] Drug prohibition creates drug crimes, so legalize drugs and, poof, no more crime. However, it should be pointed out that no one makes the same argument for rape.” No incoherent anti-legalization rant is complete without a variation on this classic theme. You can appear instantly and fundamentally clueless by suggesting that all criminal laws are equally sound…the “why not legalize rape, then?” argument could be made in defense of any law, no matter how stupid and unjust. Demonstrate your demagoguery and total lack of perspective by mindlessly comparing marijuana users to rapists.
Step 6: Mention something bad that happened involving drugs and ask smugly whether legalization would have prevented it.
From the article: “Two small children were found that night wandering alone in the storm with no coats. They were trying to find their grandmother’s house with food and warmth because their own parents had passed out on drugs. Would legalization have helped here?” Another trademark of the typical drug war supporter is the habit of pointing out examples of the failure of our current approach and then incoherently citing them as arguments for continuing the policies that produce these outcomes. Insist that legalization must be proven to be the indisputable solution to every single existing social problem on the planet before being considered in any form.
Step 7: Close with a sweeping, apocalyptic generalization.
From the article: “And here are the words of sociologist James Q. Wilson who once put it: ‘drug use is wrong because it is immoral and it is immoral because it enslaves the mind and destroys the soul.’ Let’s not legalize that.” In your closing statement, you’ll want to double-down on outrageous claims that defy the knowledge and experience of the general public. Hyperbolic concepts such as slavery of the mind and destruction of the soul will leave you plainly and hopelessly divorced from reality. If executed properly, your conclusion should result in…everyone…wondering what your problem is and doubting whether you’ve ever actually met a drug user in real life…
I couldn’t have written a better primer on “How to Write a Clichéd, Unpersuasive Argument Against the Decriminalization of Prostitution” if I tried. The seven steps are almost exactly the same:
Step 1: Attempt to marginalize supporters of decriminalization by claiming they are “trafficking apologists” or “rape supporters.”
Step 2: Frame decriminalization as a plan for “surrendering” or “giving up” and letting the “exploiters” win.
Step 3: Insist confidently — but without citation — that “real men” never pay for sex and only damaged or coerced women sell it.
Step 4: Insist that sex work can never be consensual or therapeutic.
Step 5: Compare decriminalization to legalizing rape.
Step 6: Mention something bad that happened involving prostitution and ask smugly whether decriminalization would have prevented it.
Step 7: Close with a sweeping, apocalyptic generalization.
See what I mean?
One Year Ago Today
“Real People” is a look at people (especially politicians and prohibitionists) who promote their anti-whore campaigns by working to dehumanize the real people involved in sex work.