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Archive for May 28th, 2013

The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind small.  –  Sextus Empiricus

The Sphinx at GizaSome years ago, after I retired but before I started writing this blog, I found that my perspective on human affairs had undergone a dramatic shift toward the cosmic.  I don’t mean that my opinions changed at that time (though some of them undoubtedly did, at least subtly); what I mean is that my viewpoint suddenly receded, as though I had stepped away from a magnifying lens through which I had always viewed the world.  I believe it was triggered by a period of very intensive study of biological history; since then I have been unable to view the timescale of any human life as “long”, and in fact often catch myself talking about stretches of many decades as “brief periods in history”.  Most of you have probably noticed it when I discuss moral panics and make statements like “they never last longer than about 20 years,” in the same tone most people might say “I’ve only been waiting for 20 minutes.”  I think the shift was necessary to prepare me for rights activism; an advocate who expects major change to occur within a relatively brief span of years is almost certainly doomed to disappointment, while one who understands that she is working not for herself but for generations yet unborn is much more likely to go to her grave with a sense of accomplishment as long as there has been some noticeable progress during her tenure.  This isn’t to say that change never happens within a human life, because it certainly does; the surviving veterans of Selma and Stonewall can attest to that.  But it is equally true that many generations stretching back to the Gracchi and beyond have worked to secure the rights of the individual against the state, and that without the efforts of those legions of fighters now gone to dust, the efforts of their modern descendants would have certainly come to naught.

So though the pace of change is usually glacial, it is inexorable.  As generation follows generation and the knowledge and thoughts of each who troubles himself to think is made available to those who follow him, more and more people come to realize that society must respect the rights of individuals who themselves respect the rights of others, and that the use of state-sponsored violence to suppress individual rights is therefore indefensible.  We live in a time where information can be shared more quickly and widely than it ever has been before, and though that means disinformation can also be shared more quickly, history demonstrates that, as fictional detectives are wont to say, “the truth will out.”  Good ideas eventually win out over bad ones, though it may take centuries and there will inevitably be periods of retrogression.

We seem to be slowly moving toward the end of such a retrograde period.  For the past two centuries, Western civilization has experimented with the bizarre and evil notion that it is both possible and desirable to force non-violent people to conform to the rulers’ definition of “moral behavior” by violently suppressing consensual behaviors of which the state officially disapproves.  And while those whose power and wealth depend upon prohibition have convinced a large fraction of the populace that evil is kindness, ignorance is wisdom and slavery is freedom, the self-evident absurdity of the belief becomes apparent to a larger number every year, and must eventually result in the consignment of the entire prohibitionist dogma to the ash-heap of history.  The week does not pass now in which we don’t see more and more people turning away from belief in the beneficence of bans, even while governments and their sycophantic worshipers push for ever-more prohibitions on consensual behavior.  These people are never swayed by moral arguments, and only rarely by practical ones; however, they do respond to political pressure, and many of those situated to apply that pressure do respond to solid practical and ethical argumentation.

So it’s very heartening to me to find a book like Prohibitions from the Institute of Economic Affairs.  Though it was published in 2008, it seems not to have attracted the attention it deserves; I only discovered it via an article in Thinking About Freedom, the German-language blog of The Liberal Institute.  But it is evidence of a seismic shift in society to see such a large number of scholars from such a diverse group of fields – philosophy, political science, economics, ethics, history, sociology, and law – come together to argue against the prohibition of drugs, boxing, guns, types of advertising, porn, prostitution, gambling and organ transplantation.  Editor John Meadowcroft wrote the chapter on prostitution, in which he absolutely demolishes most of the typical anti-whore arguments and concludes thus:

An optimal legal regime…must legalise prostitution and all the activities that facilitate it, including the actions of third parties who manage sex workers or provide services to them for financial gain.  Such a legal framework will ensure that prostitutes may employ agencies to screen clients or work together in brothels that employ appropriate security and provide other services, such as healthcare.  The complete legalisation of prostitution would bring the industry within the tax system and facilitate the detection of criminal behaviour.  Where there is criminal exploitation of people who do not enter prostitution through choice, such crimes can and should be dealt with via existing legislation dealing with kidnapping, sexual offences and employment practices.  Moving prostitution from the black and grey economies into the white economy would greatly facilitate this…The prohibition of prostitution is an example of bad public policy founded upon a series of fallacious arguments that have gained wide currency, in part because relatively few people are willing to challenge them in public.  This chapter has shown that prostitution is a mutually advantageous exchange voluntarily entered into by adult women and men.  Many of the harms associated with prostitution are in fact the result of its quasi-legal or illegal status…Prostitution should fall within the private sphere of personal morality rather than the public sphere of government legislation; it is morally wrong for government to dictate the sex lives of consenting adults.

grinding millI’ve uploaded the book in PDF form  so you can read the chapter in its entirety (or better yet, the whole book).  I think we’ll be seeing a lot more books and essays of this type in the near future; ever-increasing numbers of educated, articulate people are refusing to be cowed into silence by the spurious arguments and public shaming of moralists, and within the next few years we may begin to see a real debate unmarred by the mealy-mouthed disclaimers some of our spineless “allies” feel compelled to utter.  And once that happens, there will be no way for the prohibitionists to turn back the clock; though our quest to be treated as free people should be has been a long and arduous one, the wheel of time must eventually grind the false arguments of our enemies to powder.

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