Philosophy, as the modern world knows it, is only intellectual club-swinging. – H.L. Mencken
I’ve often referred to Maslow’s Hammer, the principle that “If the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail.” But the concept of “trafficking” has become so vague, so broad, so misshapenly obtuse, that it doesn’t even really qualify as a hammer any more. A hammer, after all, has a definite shape and is really only intended for one purpose, while “trafficking” can mean nearly anything and is used by governments to beat down a wide variety of opponents. It has become what would more accurately be termed a blunt instrument, an object which, though designed for some specific purpose, is effective as a weapon due to its size, weight and hardness in comparison with living tissue. Hammers, baseball bats, two by fours, crowbars, monkey wrenches, pipes, walking sticks and frozen legs of lamb might all be intended for different uses, but when applied with sufficient force to the human skull they will each accomplish more or less the same thing (though perhaps to different degrees of efficacy and efficiency). The same thing could be said of “trafficking” rhetoric; it might not be the best weapon with which any given “authority” can beat an opponent into submission, but it’s more than large, heavy and blunt enough to do the job.
Today we’ll look at two examples, one small and one large. The first is from New York City, and involves a law originally intended to persecute Asian massage parlors. Many old laws with that same intention have been dusted off again in the past few years and employed to harass small businesses the fanatics label as hotbeds of “trafficking” (i.e. prostitution by immigrants), especially because the cops are being given money to do so and catering to moral panics is always good PR. But in the Big Apple, a club intended for the delicate heads of Asian ladies is instead being used to attack people interested in working out or doing yoga:
…the…1978 [law] banning sexual massage businesses…requires “physical culture establishments,” such as gyms, aerobics studios, martial arts and yoga studios — as well as massage parlors — to undergo a rigorous review process. But [many of the gyms and studios are angry because they have to go through the lengthy and expensive process, while few massage parlors do]…“The amazing thing is that [officials] are generally not asking you questions about prostitution…but [rather] about noise and soundproofing,” real estate attorney Joshua Price…said…As a result of complaints about the statute’s application, the city is reviewing the regulation for possible changes, Rachaele Raynoff…[of the] Department of City Planning…said…Raynoff declined to comment on the low percentage of massage parlors passing through the review process…One landlord-representative broker active in Midtown South…said spa tenants were not taking a substantial amount of space in the area, which is popular with tech tenants. “In my experience, they are not competing with our typical office tenants for space, at all…If you are operating a facility like that, you would probably want to be in a building as inconspicuous as possible”…
I’ll translate this from the bureaucratese for you: most business regulation is designed to attract squeeze by allowing large, wealthy companies to pay for harassment intended to shut out new competition; the businesses that are “inspected” most often and most thoroughly are those a bribe-payer wants gone. In this case, the gyms are in prime locations that other companies covet, so those who will profit by the deal encourage the department to harass them. Massage parlors, on the other hand, tend to be in cheaper, less conspicuous buildings that the big boys don’t want, therefore it’s less profitable for the city to inspect them. The weapon originally intended to smite those hated by prudes and racists is instead now hired to the highest bidder, and the prudes are furious about it; if you have time take a look at the hilariously uptight language in that article (complete with an obligatory but totally irrelevant mention of Backpage).
But graft isn’t the only time-honored crime for which politicians have found “trafficking” useful; France has recently employed it for warmongering:
…French forces drove the Ansar Dine militia from the city of Konna after deploying warplanes and hundreds of troops…to Mali, its former colony…[at the] request [of] the Malian government…Mali, long seen as a stable democracy in a volatile region, was split in two last year when Tuareg rebels who had fled Libya after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi seized the major northern towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. The Tuareg fighters were swiftly outflanked by Al Qaeda-linked militants who imposed a severe form of Islamic law in the north…France has been playing a more interventionist role in Africa, declaring that it would fight terrorism anywhere on the continent…[but it] sees Mali as a particular concern because human traffickers and drug smugglers have been able to cross the region’s porous borders and get to Europe without difficulty. The fear is that terrorists based in northern Mali could use the same routes to cross into Europe and launch devastating attacks…
I hope you followed that “logic”: there are African prostitutes in France, therefore they must have been carried there by “human traffickers” (rather than arriving under their own power) by way of Mali (and not anyplace outside of Africa, or that we have no invitation to bomb). Ergo, terrorists!
I’ve often warned that laws against prostitution harm everyone and invariably lead to expansions of government power. But even before those powers expand, there is no guarantee that elected thugs will not use the weapons given them by a credulous populace for a totally different purpose than that for which they were originally intended.