Liberals and libertarians tend to agree in opposing political conservatives on matters of vice law and sexual ethics. I have often said that I would like some time to meet a libertarian who got at least as het up about the fact that a contractor with only a plumber's license cannot make a free contract to hook up a new dishwasher as he is about the fact that some conservatives would like to pass effective laws against strip joints. It seems that the sexual freedom "thing" is a much bigger deal to most libertarians than other forms of freedom of contract and free exchange.
It's not original with me to notice that liberalism in its libertarian and libertine aspects has a problem with children. But the fact was brought home to me some time back by this story, and I'm just now getting around to blogging about it.
In Providence, RI, police have been upset to learn that teenagers can legally work as strippers. There is no state or local law to stop it. Worse, this isn't actually new. The city solicitor researched this issue twelve years ago and decided that under then-current law, nothing could be done about it. And nothing has changed.
The solicitor's reasoning is interesting:
State law says that anyone who employs a person under 18 for prostitution or for “any other lewd or indecent act” faces up to 20 years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines. But that isn’t enough to prevent underage girls from working in strip clubs, said senior assistant city solicitor Kevin McHugh, who researched the issue a dozen years ago when a teenage dancer was found at a raided strip club.
The term “lewd or indecent” is subjective, McHugh said, and is applied to behavior that’s protected by the First Amendment. “Since we have strip clubs in Providence,” McHugh said, “citizens don’t consider [stripping] lewd.”
So, see, if it's legal, it can't be lewd or indecent. Get that? Neither do I. But City Solicitor McHugh may well just be stating the interpretation that would be put on the state law if the City of Providence did try to stop teens from stripping.
And it's logical, in a twisted kind of way: You can think of it this way--If "legal" is taken to imply "not terribly bad" and if "lewd or indecent" means "terribly bad," why then, nothing legal can be lewd or indecent.
Most of us were sold libertarianism with the line, "It may be wrong, even very wrong, but that doesn't mean it should be illegal." But evidently it can't be "very wrong" if "very wrong" means, even indirectly, that even minors aren't permitted to do it because it's very wrong.
And there's the child problem. Most sane people realize that certain kinds of wrong things are wrong in ways such that, if nothing else, it should be illegal for children to be involved in them. (And by the way, though the particular girl strippers mentioned in this article were sixteen, it appears that there is no reason why a younger girl could not have been involved. The story mentions the case of a 12-year-old stripper in Dallas, TX. Dallas managed to find a way to stop this, but Providence just can't get its act together to do so.)
So, suppose you buy into the premise that pretty much anything should be legal when it involves "consenting adults." Then you have to start wondering about that "consenting adults" part. Because, you see, when it comes to the law, another sometimes-unstated liberaltarian premise is this: Sex is just like any other activity.
Try talking about outlawing pornography or prostitution and what do you hear? It's just a job like another. As long as there is consent, there is no problem. Children are supposed to be protected because children are assumed not to be able to give consent.
But hold on: No libertarian I know of thinks that children, especially teenagers, are unable to give meaningful consent to working in other areas. No one believes that a 14-year-old with a paper route is automatically enslaved and exploited or that a 15-year-old working a summer job bagging groceries was incapable of giving meaningful consent to taking on the work.
So how about that idea that prostitution and stripping are just work like any other work? If the girl teen grocery bagger can give consent to that work, why can't she give consent to stripping?
Nor is the prostitution example all that far-fetched, given that the age of consent in Rhode Island is 16 and prostitution is legal ("indoor" prostitution). The article makes this point expressly.
The article also quotes a slightly smug Attorney General's employee in Nevada:
“Everybody buzzes about ‘Nevada and Sin City, tsk, tsk,’ ” said Edie Cartwright, spokeswoman for the Nevada attorney general’s office. “But we regulate it.”
That's nice. Why? Why, as the article later states, is it illegal there for a minor even to deliver mail to a brothel?
Don't get me wrong. I'm certainly not urging that Nevada be more consistently libertarian and remove these regulations. They represent the last vestige of a recognition that sex isn't just like anything else.
The bottom line is that when things are legal, there is no impermeable barrier between the adult world and the child world. What adults do makes a difference to the world children live in in a whole host of ways, and that must be reckoned with. The effect upon Rhode Island law ("We have legal strip clubs, so they are not lewd or indecent [by community standards], therefore it is not illegal for a minor to work in one") is just one example.
Most liberals and libertarians will deny that they are trying to sexualize children. For some, this is an honest denial. For others, it is not. In Germany, a recent report says that eight fathers have been jailed for refusing, inter alia, to allow their children to participate in a school play called "My Body Belongs to Me," with, apparently, predictable content for a play with such a name. And by this time I imagine my readers know even more than I do, or than I want to, about the horrific recommended book list GLSEN has in mind for America's school kids.
But whether it's admitted or not, the truth is that the sexualization of society means the sexualization of children. And the elevation of what our old friend Zippy calls the free and equal Supermen as the only fit citizens plays a role in making the process nearly inevitable. For in the end, the young will be seen as the next generation of Free Choosers, and the nearer they get to legal emancipation, the more arbitrary and undesirable it will seem to block them from the opportunity to express themselves with their fullest range of choices. (A judge in Iowa, according to the Providence article, ruled in 2008 that a 17-year-old's striptease dance was artistic expression protected by the 1st Amendment.) And if their bodies belong to themselves, well, then that's that.
The point of all of this is fairly simple: If you are a liberaltarian now but don't like the idea of teen girls doing strip acts, it's time to rethink.