Thursday, October 25, 2012

When the Leviathan needs to come crashing down

I watched a little video a few days ago where some folks were talking about the idea of legalizing prostitution.  One of them was very much for it and the other was obviously squicked out by the idea - he had no concrete reason why prostitution should be illegal but felt like keeping it the way it was made sense.  I completely disagree with his conclusion because even if you don't like prostitution it is clear that making it illegal causes hideous problems for the people involved in it (mostly women, of course), funnels money to organized crime and most importantly doesn't prevent prostitution at all!  The real issue though is not prostitution or the legality thereof but rather the idea that it is reasonable to make things illegal simply because they make you feel uncomfortable.

There are an awful lot of people out there who really buy into that.  The reasons for many things being illegal are flimsy at best or nonexistent at worst but because people believe that it is necessary to inflict horrendous punishments on others who do not conform these things persist.  Somehow the leap is made from "I wish people didn't do that" to "It is necessary to spend enormous sums to ruin people's lives when they do that".  It comes from the notion that some things are inherently sacred and that certain actions, despite the fact that they hurt no one, are inherently wrong.  I talked about this before, the idea that left wingers tend to believe that morality comes from being fair and helping people and right wingers tend to think that morality is also derived from following orders, helping your tribe, and accepting things are inherently good or evil.

One tremendous benefit to deciding things based on fairness and helping is that we can usually agree on what that would entail.  Mostly people can sit down and figure out roughly what would help people and what would be just and come to a reasonable compromise but when you introduce tribal thinking, following orders, and sanctity into the equation it is normal and expected that people will come to completely incompatible solutions.  I think that we should help Torontonians, you think we should help Vancouverites.  I think we should do what my boss says, you think we should obey yours.  I think we should worship crosses, you think we should sacrifice bulls to Thor.  There is no middle ground nor any chance of compromise - when we make decisions this way we are bound to come into irresolvable conflict with anyone outside our own social group.

When we make decisions about law we need to make them not based on what makes us feel weird nor what we think of as wrong.  The law, if it is to be consistent and just at all, must be based on preventing harm.  This is a relatively new thing as law for most of history was largely a way for the powerful to oppress the weak.  At one point the *entire* Toronto police force was fired because they had become entirely political thugs who fought for one candidate or the other!  These days we know better and we can be better than that.  When we make something illegal it must be based on preventing the harm the action would cause, not fruitlessly trying to prevent people from doing things that make us feel uncomfortable for no good reason.

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