On Victims and Libertine Oppression
Today’s epiphany — which I wouldn’t be surprised to find to be common understanding among a great many people more insightful than myself — is the intellectual proximity of those who would erase from the books any “victimless crime” and those who see a “victim” of a social crime in every unhappy circumstance. The first believe that an act must directly harm an innocent party in order to be a crime, and the second, agreeing, qualify the circuitous, unintentional effects of social movements as adequate evidence of victim-producing acts.
For my part, I find it more practical to consider the presence of a victim to be only one factor in determining whether something ought to be a crime, and not necessarily the definitive one. After all, any undesired consequence can be reformulated as an imposition on a victim, reducing the debate over appropriate laws to a tug of war across the sliding scale of victimhood and, then, pitting one claim against another.
The thought arises in response to a comment from Dan to my most recent post on the matter of legal prostitution in Rhode Island:
Justin, I have been a long-time reader of Anchor Rising. I fully support your efforts to reduce the size of the state, out of control spending, corruption, and intrusion into the private lives of citizens. Which is precisely why these isolated pet “moral” issues of yours and Matt Allen’s bother me so much, they are such transparent hypocrisy and they undermine all of the good that you do here. How do you determine what private consensual conduct should be regulated by the state and what private consensual conduct should not be? And why should you be the one who decides these “moral” issues for everyone else, banning any conduct which you don’t think a righteous person should engage in? I submit to you that the most positive philosophical and practical change you could make for yourself would be to drop these moral crusades against victimless crimes. If somebody isn’t harming anyone else, and a transaction is consensual by all parties (human trafficking/slavery/abuse aside, we already have laws against that) then the state should not have the right to intervene. A victimless crime is no crime at all, and the state certainly does not need an excuse to grow itself, spend money, and regulate its citizens further, I think we would all agree on that. The kindest thing you can do for someone is stop trying to save them from themselves. We, as people, all have the God-given right to do as we wish with ourselves as long as we do not harm others in the process. Any coercion that infringes upon that right, whether it is by the state or some private action, is an abomination.
For the presentation of a direct rejoinder, it might be sufficient to note that the essential observation of the post was the concession by the progressive legislators who oppose closing the prostitution loophole that it is not a “victimless crime”:
Where does this leave the remaining women, likely the large majority of prostitutes, who engage in sex work by choice, whether out of  economic hardship or because of  substance-abuse problems?
Even a conservative can discern a fair degree of victimhood in either of those circumstances, as emphasized by efforts of those who profit from the women’s condition to perpetuate it. To wit, it is not enough simply to declare that no victim means no crime; one must prove the prior point that there is no victim.
Of course, even believing the women to be victims, I’m not inclined to rely on that conclusion as the basis for supporting legislation to criminalize their profession. Therefore, I’m even less inclined to construct the argument that would prove society to be the victim, although the case would be strong. Instead, let’s focus on the core proposition of Dan’s comment, which he poses rhetorically as questions:
How do you determine what private consensual conduct should be regulated by the state and what private consensual conduct should not be? And why should you be the one who decides these “moral” issues for everyone else, banning any conduct which you don’t think a righteous person should engage in?
The plain answer is that I determine what conduct ought to be discouraged, what conduct ought to be encouraged, and how that direction ought to be pursued based on the rational application of principles that are inherently and wholly religious in nature. The mildly less plain extrapolation of that statement is that everybody performs a similar assessment — unavoidably, as a consequence of self-cognizance.
It won’t surprise readers, even as it may shock them to read it stated, that my judgment is primarily guided by the efficacy of the various possible policies at drawing the maximum number of people toward the realization of Christ’s divinity, with all of the spiritual and material benefits that I believe to be consequent to that revelation. Others judge the possibilities against a scale of emotional satisfaction, whether the social average or their own, and a multitude of other options and combinations thereof exists.
With respect to Dan’s second question, I can only explain that my rational application of Christian principles leads to the conclusion that I should not — cannot — “be the one who decides these ‘moral’ issues for everyone else.” However, it is the most fundamental of assumptions, in any democratic system of government, that individual citizens must possess the freedom to define their own societies to the greatest conceivable degree. The liberties involved with private behavior pale in significance when compared with the right to apply one’s judgment to the system under which one must live.
Balancing the inevitable contradictions of such an imperative quickly becomes a complicated matter — impossible absent a tolerance for disagreement. The fullest expression of that tolerance (true tolerance) comes in the acceptance that fellow human beings will congregate elsewhere to live an incompatible manner. That is why I would oppose an international or national ban on prostitution. The inverse of that opposition, however, is an insistence that we be able to ban the practice at a lower tier of government; as things stand, the lowest feasible tier is that of the state.
From there, the issue becomes a persuasion of preferences, and I want my society to be one in which sex is not available for commerce. We could have a very interesting discussion about the reasons that should be the policy, which would bring the degradation of the women (and men) back into the conversation, as well as introduce the cultural diminution of sex, marriage, and ultimately human life. The immediate point, though, is that I think enough of my fellow Rhode Islanders agree with my final conclusion that the law ought to be changed.
I’ll debate the intricacies right down the dregs of disagreement, but public opinion probably would not require such debates prior to a decision to ban prostitution outright. Those who take Dan’s point of view seek to present the question in such a way as to declare the preferences of that majority invalid, and the likes of Rep. David Segal undertake the slithering strategy of preventing the question’s ever being directly put based on one prevarication or another.
Either way, the dark underbelly of bold libertarianism rolls around to expose the moral sclerosis by which libertines would impose their vision of society on everybody else. A philosophy that would declare even “private actions” to be “an abomination” if they seek to affect the behavior of others is not, in the end, concerned with rights and civic freedom, but with coercing the state to protect its own immorality.