The other night I dropped in on the O'Reilly No-Spin-Zone. He was in the middle of an interview, and the spinner at the plate was ABC's John Stossel, who sometimes makes sense, just as O'Reilly is sometimes Catholic. They were discussing the current case of the D.C. Madam, who, it seems, is threatening to ruin some prominent reputations. She claims not to have been involved in prostitution, but O'Reilly and Stossel took it for granted that that is in fact what she was providing. But, said Stossel, so what? Who was getting hurt? he asked. Why are we trying to put people in jail for this sort of activity? Don't people own their own bodies? He lays his thoughts out at more length here.
I think he would say that his main thesis is given in the article's subtitle: "Outlawing Immoral Behavior Doesn't Make It Go Away." But who would make the claim that it does? We have laws against more serious immoral behavior, and we don't keep any of them on the books because we think the targeted behaviors are going away. So I think he's spinning there. He also says that he, like the rest of us, wishes to discourage immoral behavior, and that his preferred means of doing so is to legalize it:
...prostitution is plagued by violence and disease and often run by thugs because it's illegal. In much of Nevada, the sex business is legal. The sky hasn't fallen. In fact, Las Vegas keeps appearing on those "best cities to live in" lists. The sex business in Nevada is relatively safe and clean.(I'm not sure what the "relatively" means. Maybe only unclean whores get prosecuted.) His primary concern seems to be with the best means of minimizing the ill effects of an undesirable behavior. But this begins to seem a guise in light of other evidence, as when we examine his contempt for the mores of former times:
Some who had sex outside marriage were whipped. And there really was a scarlet letter. Adulterers were forced to wear an "A," usually for life. The laws didn't stop adultery, cursing, or idleness any more than today's laws stop prostitution.And he positively glows with admiration when Norma Jean Almodovar of COYOTE (Call off your old tired ethics) responds to his assertion that "this is degrading to women." Says she: "I don't think a lot of women would choose to scrub toilets for a living. Nevertheless, [even though] a lot of people might think that's degrading, we don't put them in jail."
Stossel thinks this is great stuff, apparently unaware of the insult that has just been delivered to every poor woman's honest labor.
Near the end, when he finally gets around to asserting that, "If adults want to rent their bodies to other adults, that should be their choice," the jig is up. I don't think that he thinks that prostitution is immoral at all. It's an adult, consensual transaction between two people who "own" their bodies and have a right to do with them as they wish as long as no one is getting hurt.
I guess it's the kind of 'hurt' we're talking about that would most divide us. I find it hard to believe that he would consider that what happens between him and his wife to be no different in kind than the bargain struck between a whore and her john, that the former relationship would not be injured by his indulging the latter. "But," he would respond, "illegalizing all immorality is unwise. Just as laws criminalizing fornication and adultery have, in most places, been de-activated, so in the case of prostitution should we apply this wisdom."
But I think he goes further than that. I think he believes, as regards certain immoralities, that not only should they not be illegal, but that we have a right to them. He says as much, and is far from alone in this opinion. I was just wondering if there were something, some injury, consequent to prostitution that justifies our demanding that the vice squads keep their night jobs.