[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


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

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

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

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

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 

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

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 or 




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