The middle class is shrinking. Those in power have run up enormous debts on public credit while shoveling most of the money into private pockets. The corporations that have benefitted from this borrowing binge, meanwhile, leverage the global trade system to transfer their profits beyond the reach of national governments.

Meanwhile, we have been told lies by Democrats and by Republicans, divided into artificial camps and led into debates that are either irrelevant or so dramatically scripted that we fail to realize every choice leads to the same result: the dismantling of the social framework that defined and sustained the opportunity of the last century. National mobilization of resources has given way to radical individualism under a narrative that, in the wealthiest nation in the world, we must always expect less.

In this tumultuous time, we search for a way forward - a new Square Deal for the American people.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

What's wrong with prostitution?

Many people see prostitution as a victimless crime.

These people generally do not deny that human trafficking exists, mind you, nor are they generally forgiving of exploitation.  Many opinions that I've seen defending prostitution are in fact sharply opposed to "pimping," whether it takes the form of direct exploitation or simply extracts from prostitutes a high portion of earnings while delivering few if any benefits (as is the case with the legal brothels in Nevada, where the de facto pimps who operate the brothels take up to 50% of all earnings even though the prostitutes are contractors who are responsible for their own healthcare arrangements and expenses).

No, the majority of opinions I have seen regarding prostitution consider exploitation by a third party a genuine problem and want to see it stamped out.  (I trust most if not all of us can agree with that.)  Where the defenders rally is when the prostitute is truly self-employed, in which case the transaction is predicated on the notion of a willing buyer and willing seller. 

I used to support this position.  To me, there was little justification for society treating prostitution as a criminal offense when promiscuity was not -- that is, when choosing anyone at any time as a sex partner is free choice, but offering cash in exchange for that pairing leads to a criminal record (potentially for both people involved).

Recently, however, I have come to see this matter quite differently.  I now oppose prostitution, not necessarily as a matter of criminalization but certainly as a matter of moral behavior.

And, it should be noted, I generally do not take issue with promiscuity.

The issue lies in the nature of sexual relationships as an exercise of power.  Since the dawn of our species, humans have been drawn to mate in diverse patterns that promote the spread of our genes in new and different combinations.  Fascinating research into this matter has examined everything from the nature of human fertility to the shape of human sex organs (distinct from those of primates) and even the peculiar human male "sleep reflex" just after mating, all as features of our behavior that promote this genetic diversification.

So, not only are we (like all animals) designed to reproduce, but humans are specifically suited to diversified mating.  I don't expect or request that everyone engage in such behavior today, mind you; there are now quite a few humans on Earth, far more than was true when humans set out on their quest to be fruitful and multiply.  But the point is that diversified mating is normal.

The thing is, diversified mating is supposed to follow from attraction, and attraction is not random.  Every one of us may have millions of possible mates to whom we'd be attracted, but only some of those mates would be attracted to us.  That leaves us lots and lots of possible willing sex partners, but the criteria remain biological.  Everything from how someone looks to how we react when we kiss tells us whether a particular pairing is a "good" one, and in this regard, the sexual pairings that follow from nightclubs, bars, and parties are perfectly normal.  Even if someone has a different sex partner every day, the behavior is biologically sensible (inference like disease notwithstanding) if each is a partner with whom mutual attraction is shared; this is a feature that allows humans to repopulate from limited stock, and it is a trait to be appreciated if not always embraced.

Prostitution is very different. Prostitution allows those with money to spare to short-circuit the need to measure up by offering money in lieu of having to be a good sexual match.  In our world, however, money is a negative force, not a positive one: we value it not because it allows us to do things but because its absence denies us things that we want and usually need, like food and shelter. Someone seeking to trade sex for money is therefore generally seeking subsistence rather than gain, and someone negotiating the price for the transaction is not so much offering payment as threatening to withhold the ability to live (i.e. "You give me sex or you won't be able to pay rent").  That the prostitute can seek another client is of no importance, because the choice with that client will be the same as long as the driving factor is payment.

Sex is a gift, among the most significant gifts humans can offer one another, and it is its own reward.  We should never condone its definition as a commodity, to be bid down to the lowest price that desperate people will accept as a means of surviving in a debt-driven and exploitive society.  Prostitution, overtly exploitive or not, is an affront to the basic value of humans to one another, and that's why it is wrong.

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