PROSTITUTION [Editor's note: This column was one of a series I composed in response to the controversy generated by Jesse Ventura's interview with PLAYBOY. It originally appeared in THE TWIN- PORTS PEOPLE (February 2000), p. 6.] Non-Random Thoughts WHAT ABOUT JESSE'S VIEWS ON PROSTITUTION? Jim Fetzer Probably no one in the English-speaking world is unaware that our Governor has spoken out on subjects where lesser mortals, especially politicians, have held their tongue. His opinions on the assassination of JFK appear to be well-founded (November '99), however, and his views about the religious right seem equally appropriate (Holiday '99). Perhaps his proposals for the legalization of pot and prostitution also deserve some second thoughts. The strongest argument against prostitution, no doubt, is its alleged immorality. If this means no more than that most people THINK prostitution is immoral, that appears to be correct. But if this is taken to mean prostitution actually IS immoral, then an argument is required. Believing something doesn't make it true. That the Sun revolves around the Earth, which is immovable, are examples of false beliefs that once were widely held. That an activity is illegal does not establish that it is immoral, any more than than its legality establishes its morality. Ownership of slaves, among the most immoral of all activities, was legal before the passage of the 13th Amendment, but illegal thereafter, even though its moral status did not change. What is legal can be ascertained from statutes in books of law, while the morality of an action presupposes a suitable standard. There are many claimants to that role, including subjective theories, family-value theories, religious-based theories, and culture-relative theories, according to which actions are right when you (your family, your religion, or your culture) approve of them. So if you (your family, your religion, or your culture) approve of incest, cannibalism, or sacrificing virgins to appease the gods, those actions cannot be immoral. They are moral, necessarily! All of these approaches make morality a matter of power, where right reduces to might. If someone approves of killing, robbing, or raping you, you have no basis to complain on the ground that those actions are immoral, if subjectivism is correct. Similarly for family, religion, and culture-based alternatives. Every person, every family, every religion, and every culture is equal, regardless of their practices, if such theories are true. As James Rachels, THE ELEMENTS OF MORAL PHILOSOPHY, has explained, on any of these accounts, the very ideas of criticism, reform, or progress in matters of morality no longer apply. If attitudes about right and wrong differ or change, that is all there is to it, even when they concern your life, liberty, or happiness. If some person, family, or group has the power to impose their will upon you, these theories afford no grounds for you to object. Philosophers have therefore sought to establish some less-relative and more-objective framework for understanding morality, including what are known as consequentialist and non-consequentialist theories. According to consequentialism, an action is RIGHT when it produces as much GOOD (usually taken to be happiness) as any available alternative. But the problem remains of deciding FOR WHOM that happiness ought to be produced. According to Ethical Egoism, for example, an action is right if it brings about as much happiness for you personally as any available alternative. Consequences for others simply don't count. So Ted Bundy, John Gacy, and Jeffrey Dahmer, for example, are home free--morally speaking--though few juries would be likely to be impressed by the argument that killing gave them more happiness than any available alternative. According to Limited Utilitarianism, moreover, an action is right when it brings about as much happiness for your group as any available alternative. This is good news for The Third Reich, the Mafia, and General Motors. If no available alternative would produce more happiness for Nazis than territorial acquisition, military domination, and racial extermination, then those qualify as moral actions, if Limited Utilitarianism is correct. Classic Utilitarianism, among consequentialist theories, is the only one that dictates encompassing the effects actions have upon everyone rather than some special class. But this virtue does not guarantee the right result. If some social arrangement with a certain percentage of slaves, say, 15%, would bring about greater happiness for the population as a whole--because the increase in happiness of the masters outweighed the decrease in happiness for the slaves--than any available alternative, that arrangement would qualify as moral, necessarily! So if theories that qualify manifestly immoral behavior as "moral" ought to be rejected, perhaps a non-consequentialist approach can do better. According to what is known as Deontological Moral Theory, actions are moral when they involve treating other persons with respect. More formally expressed, it requires that other persons should always be treated as ENDS (as intrinscially valuable) and never MERELY as means (instrumentally). This does not mean that persons can never treat other persons as means, whch usually happens without generating immoral results. The relationship between employers and employees is clearly one in which employers use their employees as a means to conduct a business and to make a profit, while employees use their employment as a means to make a buck and earn a living. Within a context of mutual respect, this is moral conduct. When employers subject their employees to unsafe working conditions, excessive hours, or poor wages, however, the relationship becomes exploitative and immoral, which can also occur when employees do not perform their duties, steal from their employers, or abuse the workplace. Similar considerations apply to doctors and patients, students and faculty, or ministers and congregations, which may explain our dismay at their betrayal. There appear to be no inherent reasons why prostitution should not qualify as moral so long as hookers and their tricks treat one another with respect. Hookers are immoral when they do not provide the services agreed upon, steal their trick's money, or subject them to venereal disease, while johns are immoral if they do not pay for services rendered, engage in physical abuse, or infect them with disease. Respect works both ways round. Even when prostitution happens to be legal, of course, immorality can enter by means of other relationships. When husbands or wives commit adultery and thereby betray their commitments to each other, they are not displaying respect for their spouces and are acting immorally. But that remains the case apart from any fiscal aspects. Indeed, marriage itself has been described as "legalized prostitution" by George Bernard Shaw. The difficulties that arise in relation to prostitution are generated largely by its illegality, not its immorality. In those locales where prostitution is legal, such as the sites of Jesse Ventura's youthful indiscretions, women can freely choose this line of work without the intervention of pimps, who turn them into sexual slaves. When prostitution is illegal, no doubt, the consequences are often immoral for both hookers and their tricks alike. As our Governor observed in his PLAYBOY interview, "If it's legal, then the girls could have health checks, unions, benefits, anything any other worker gets, and it would be far better". Hooking, after all, is not referred to as "the world's oldest profession" for nothing. As long as men and women want to have sex and cannot locate suitable partners any other way, it shall persist and endure. The problem is to handle it properly. The situation with respect to pot, if anything, appears to be even more clear cut. Our nation is saturated with drugs, from aspirin, Advil, Tylenol, and Claritin, to cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and even cigars. You cannot read a newspaper or a magazine, watch television or listen to the radio, without encountering a plethora of advertising for drugs promising to reduce weight, to promote hair growth, or to overcome erectile disfunction. The Noble Experiment that endured from 1920 to 1933 with the enactment and repeal of the 18th Amendment by the 21st had devastating consequences for the history of this country. The prohibition of the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcoholic liquors for beverage purposes appears to have produced consequences that precisely parallel those that we are encountering today from prohibiting the sale of marijuana. The profound and enduring effects of Prohibition, as Peter McWilliams, AIN'T NOBODY'S BUSINESS IF YOU DO, has observed, included (1) generating disrespect for the law, (2) eroding respect for religion, (3) creating organized crime, (4) corrupting law enforcement, the court system, and politics, (5) overburdening the police, the courts, and the penal system, and (6) harming millions of persons financially, emotionally, and morally. It also (7) caused physical harm, because safe alcoholic beverages were not available, (8) changed the drinking habits of the country for the worse, (9) made cigarette smoking a national habit, (10) inhibited the treatment of drinking problems, (11) produced a new category of "immorality", and (12) consumed vast finanacial resources that might have been better used to promote education, eradicate disease, and help the homeless. Some of these effects are especially intriguing. Because Prohibition had been promoted by evangelists and others who wanted to control how other people choose to live their lives, the failure of Prohibition was interpreted as God's failure, especially in the eyes of those who think everything that happens happens in accord with God's will. If God had wanted Prohibition to succeed, after all, surely Prohibition would have been a success. Moreover, the cost of this social experiment may be difficult to calculate, but McWilliams estimates that it had to have run into the billions of dollars at a time when the average worker at Ford Motor Company made $5 per day. "In addition to this cost", he remarks, "let's not forget the taxes on alcohol the government lost because of Prohibition and the profit denied honest business people and diverted into the hands of organized crime". The situation with respect to pot appears to be precisely the same. Every consequence that attended Prohibition now attends the "New Prohibition". Marijuana is less addicting than nicotine and less harmful to health than alcohol. Yet cigarettes and alcohol are not illegal today: their use is regulated, their quality is controlled, and their sales are taxed, thereby drastically reducing or complete nullifying the effects attending Prohibition. The arguments that pot use leads to the use of stronger drugs, moreover, appears to be a red herring. This claim trades upon an equivocation because, while it is true that use of marijuana CAN lead to using stronger drugs, it is false that smoking marijuana ALWAYS leads to the use of stronger drugs. Those who use stronger drugs usually have smoked marijuana, but they typically also smoked cigarettes, consumed alcohol, and drank milk. The strongest opposition to the legalization of marijuana, I suspect, comes from self-appointed religious figures who consider themselves to be the custodians of morality, cowardly politicians who are unwilling to address controversial issues with candor, and the liquor industry, which does not want competition from those who want to smoke their high rather than drink it. Even the effects upon health appear to favor pot over booze. George Pataki, Governor of New York, has granted clemency to four first-time drug offenders, who were serving long prison terms under New York's harsh drug laws. But there are hundrends of thousands more. Anthony Lewis of THE NEW YORK TIMES has observed that operating costs for prisons, overflowing with non-violent prisoners, will be about $40 billion in 2000, which could be drastically reduced by legalizing the use of pot. Anyone who doubts that the New Prohibition is having even more profound and enduring effects upon our country than the Old Prohibition simply does not understand what the "War on Drugs" has been doing to our nation. When our Governor applauds another governor who has called for the legalization of marijuana, he deserves our applause as well. We know those who ignore the past are destined to relive it. Surely we can do ourselves better. __________________________________________________________________________ Jim Fetzer, a professor of philosophy at UMD, has used Peter McWilliams' AIN'T NOBODY'S BUSINESS IF YOU DO, which he highly recommends, in his course on Ethics and Society. It is available in bookstores and via amazon.com or buy.com.