Democracy feeds on argument, on the discussion as to the right way forward. This is the reason why respecting the opinion of others belongs to democracy. - Richard von Weizsacker
Those who wish to control others, to attack consensual actions with criminal laws, and to eliminate options which make them uncomfortable, believe that morality is set in stone; they think that right and wrong are as separate and distinct as black and white, and that they and only they have the direct proclamation from Godhead about which is which. Nor is this kind of thinking limited to traditional religions; most mass movements, including political parties and various “-isms”, have the same type of rigid and unyielding perspective on human behavior. Rational people, however, understand that morality is a process of weighing out various factors, comparing the relative right and wrong of each, in order to come to the most just, least harmful decision possible; it is not merely a matter of blind, robot-like obedience to some ultimate moral authority which instantly excuses any cruelty, harm or absurdity as long as “The Law” is followed to the letter.
Because the real world is an unimaginably complex, constantly changing set of phenomena, it is literally impossible to control it with a rigid set of laws; attempting to establish such a regime inevitably causes far more harm than good, and therefore it’s a pretty safe bet that any movement whose members all spout the same rhetoric, make the same moral pronouncements and otherwise march in lockstep conformity is not on the side of Good. Such mass movements want only to impose their own Order upon the chaotic universe, and for the most part dissent or disagreement within such a movement tends to be dealt with harshly. It’s absolutely true that this makes a doctrinaire, parochial movement much more efficient than one bound only by mutual goals and a respect for individual differences; while the former marches forward in mechanical synchronization, the latter tends to creep along like some immense amoeba, often attempting to go in multiple directions at once as its various independent parts disagree about nearly everything. This is of course why those who support individual liberty above all else have problems competing with groups whose leaders have no moral qualms about telling the rank and file what to do and how to think; it’s also the reason the cause of sex worker rights has so much difficulty in its struggle against the prohibitionists, who are unified by a shared dogma and thus need not concern themselves with moral judgment.
Efficiency, however, is not the same as moral rectitude; in fact, as I explained above it’s more often the opposite because a legalistic doctrine attempts to impose mechanistic order upon individual free-willed beings, thus robbing them of the opportunity for moral growth. Members of authoritarian groups are like battery hens, living creatures bound tightly into place to serve the needs of their masters rather than being free to follow their own paths. This is an abomination; it is anti-life, and I am committed to opposing it in all its forms. I believe every person must come to his own conclusions, which is why I’m so very careful about making pronouncements on complex moral issues. As I explained in “Change of Heart”:
…every parent, teacher, writer, celebrity or other person with an audience, however small, has the moral responsibility to ensure that any moral pronouncements he makes truly come from his conscience rather than from a misguided need to advance an agenda at the expense of others’ freedom, happiness and physical needs. Bloggers obviously fall under this stricture as well, so I always think long and hard about complex moral issues before taking a stand on them one way or another, for fear of inadvertently influencing people to embrace a wrong merely because it might advance a cause in which I personally believe.
About two weeks ago I made a moral decision regarding a course of action about the prohibitionist mouthpiece who calls herself Stella Marr; I decided that sharing some (though not all) of the information which had been given to me about her might help to undermine her ability to advance the prohibitionist cause through her lies. It was not an easy decision, but I believe it was the correct one, as explained in last week’s “Heart of Ice”; many others in the sex worker rights community agree with me to a greater or lesser degree, but some do not, and that’s a GOOD thing because if we all agreed about an issue as complicated and thorny as this one, it would mean we must be falling into the same kind of grotesque conformity as our persecutors demand of their followers. And that wouldn’t be good for either the individuals in our movement or for the movement itself; one of the three different sources who spilled the beans about Stella to me is a member of a large prohibitionist group, who told me that she and many others are soul-sick about their leader’s tyrannical insistence that all members speak with one voice. In other words the prohibitionist groups gain efficiency at the expense of their members’ emotional health and the long-term integrity of the organization.
Internal dissent, though it decreases efficiency, is a good thing; in the long run a group of allied individuals is far stronger than a mindless horde which falls apart should the leadership fail. That’s why I think it’s extremely important that you, my readers, decide for yourselves the morality of this issue. I’ve already laid out my own case in the aforementioned column, and though I’ve seen a number of arguments explaining why different people think I was wrong (including some in the comments to that column and the “outing” column itself), the best one in my opinion was “To Go Beyond is as Wrong as to Fall Short” by Jenny DeMilo. Jenny is no fan of Stella’s; her essay starts with “She’s nuts, that’s clear…tinfoil hat wearing, frantic OCD and inconsistent in her writing style kinda nuts…she uses all the language the abolitionists use, she…says she has seen prostitutes murdered before her and tells tales of pimps and hos that is the stuff of TV movies. She thinks we’re all trafficked victims and she’s called activists “pimps” for fighting for the rights of sex workers…She offends me as a sex worker, she offends me as a free thinking woman, she offends me as a human.” But despite Jenny’s personal dislike of “Stella” she still thinks my actions and those of others were wrong, and she wasn’t afraid to tell me in no uncertain terms. I respect that, and I think her voice deserves to be heard; please give it a read. Not in spite of the fact that she disagrees with me, but rather because she does; she says so not because an authority told her to believe it, but because her own moral compass pointed that way. Authoritarian systems become corrupt because nobody dares to disagree with the authorities, but free thinkers are kept honest by the open dissent of other free thinkers.