Perspectives: Morality & Prostitution
Being Libertarian Perspectives will serve as a weekly, multi-perspective opinion and analysis piece by members of Being Libertarian’s writing team. Every week the panel, comprised of randomly selected writers, will answer a question based on current events or libertarian philosophy. Assistant Editor Dillon Eliassen will moderate and facilitate the discussion.
Dillon Eliassen: In “Why The Left Loathes Western Civilization” Dennis Prager writes, “So, then, the Big Question is, Why? Why is the Left hostile to Western civilization? After decades of considering this question, the answer, I have concluded, is: standards. The Left hates standards – moral standards, artistic standards, cultural standards. The West is built on all three, and has excelled in all three. It hates standards because when there are standards, there is judgment. And Leftists don’t want to be judged.”
I don’t disagree with Prager here. And I see this mirrored within the social libertine side of libertarianism. You could replace “leftist” with “libertarian.”
Martin van Staden: Excellent article. But where do you see it among libertarians?
Dillon: The conflation of personal freedom with morality. Not wanting to be judged for libertine behavior. The “We’re all the same” mentality, and that there is no such thing as immoral behavior, the only immorality is when government prevents you from doing something unsafe or immoral or indecent.
Martin: Well, on what basis do you judge morality? I had a conversation with a friend the other day who is also a libertarian. He says that Christian morality is the standard. But Prager just says there are standards. The moral standard he refers to I see wholly in a libertarian sense. My question relates more to: what is inherently wrong with smoking weed or sleeping with prostitutes?
Dillon: I don’t think, for instance, prostitution is such a great thing, but often libertarians will say something along the lines of “my body, my choice.” Which is just changing the subject.
Martin: Exactly. According to what logic is prostitution an immoral act? That’s basically what I’m inquiring.
Dillon: By my old fashioned sensibilities, LOL. I don’t know how much into Ayn Rand you are, but she and Objectivists say that prostitution is fine because your body is your property and you’re using it for trade, for economic benefit, but then she also says everyone’s moral obligation is to pursue their own rational self-interest, and prostitution seems to be a bit of a minefield through which to navigate towards a destination of rational self-interest.
Martin: I’ve never read any Rand, but that seems to be the default libertarian position. I don’t know where she gets this “obligation” though. It’s more of an instinct which comes to us naturally than an “obligation,” I’d say. Prostitution is much more of an economic issue than a moral issue in my view.
We can agree that there should be a moral standard, or objective morality, but then there must be a logical and objective way to determine it. There are aspects of “Western culture” which I do not at all regard as Western, which includes the illogical slapping of “immoral” on certain conduct which some people just find icky.
I am definitely not a libertine, but I recognize that my standards aren’t anyone else’s, insofar as they don’t relate to force.
Dillon: Yeah, I’m pro-life, but I don’t expect others to be just because I am. I think it’s immoral to abort during the third trimester if the mother is not in any health risks because the fetus is viable, but having gov’t criminalize it is not the solution.
The problem with prostitution is it is not the first choice prostitutes are making with what to do with their bodies. The “my body, my property” argument does not apply as much when a person finds herself in the position of trading sex for money because prior decisions have lead to this point, and then the prostitute is often surrounded by predators.
Again, criminalizing prostitution is not the answer, but neither is venerating them like they make equal contributions to society and economies.
Martin: Well, that same logic can apply to virtually any career choice. Few people end up janitors because it’s their first choice. They end up there because of unfortunate circumstances. Unfortunate circumstances are part of life, especially economic life.
With my Christian hat off, I don’t see a reason to treat prostitutes as being any lesser individuals in their economic or personal capacities than basically anyone else. They are involved in a market where there is demand.
Dillon: Hookers shouldn’t be treated as second-class citizens in the eyes of the state, but they shouldn’t be equated with hedge fund managers and engineers.
Martin: Of course not, but that has to do with skill level and associated prestige. With that same logic, they are superior to shit shovelers and traffic cops. Objectively there’s nothing “wrong” with what they do. We sell our labor every day using our minds and bodies. They simply do so with different parts.
Dillon: I see it as degrading because it prevents the prostitute from achieving a higher quality of life. Prostitution does not lead a person to self-actualization and transcendence. And what the john is receiving does not improve his life either, it’s instant gratification for him (speaking in general terms regarding the sexes of the prostitute and the john). But his life is not made better or easier or more convenient because he visited a prostitute. Most sex workers (I’m assuming at least) are not of the “I’m just doing this to pay for college” variety. So they are engaging in transactions that carry some very high inherent risks, of their personal safety as well as STDs, and precluding them from having an occupation in which they are actually able to employ talent. The janitor and traffic cop you could say are at least taking part in a productive enterprise. The janitor more so than the traffic cop.
Martin: That’s acceptable if you apply the same logic consistently. A lot of other jobs provide instant gratification (producing sweets) which do not make people’s lives better. Many jobs also carry inherent risks, such as security guards or electricians. You are also attempting to step into the shoes of the john by declaring his life isn’t made better. One of the great things the Austrian school has taught me is that I cannot make that judgment at all.
Dillon: Unless the john is visiting the prostitute with the proverbial heart of gold in order to win her over and they fall in love and run away together, how is his life made better by visiting her rather than masturbating?
Martin: I don’t know. That’s the point. I also don’t know how people’s lives are improved by going to music festivals. I’ve never attended one. But they definitely get something out of it – who am I to judge?
Dillon: They’re great!
Martin: That’s likely what a frequent customer of a prostitute will also tell you.
Dillon: Yeah, prostitutes and music festivals are quite similar: bare breasts, drugs, and pungent smells abound.
So, is there any objectively immoral behavior that falls within the realm of “social issue” for you?
My list of objectively immoral acts include prostitution, third-trimester abortion when the mother is not in any health danger, and hardcore drug addiction. I’m OK with recreational drug use, but I would label an addict continually destroying himself with drugs or alcohol, or even food, as immoral.
Martin: As of yet, no. I haven’t been convinced of any objective standard. That’s with my Christian hat off, of course.
Dillon: Of course.
I don’t really like that there wouldn’t be some non-religious objective moral code within the sphere of social issues, something beyond the typical protection of life, liberty and property. It rubs me the wrong way. I’d prefer civil society to not be so unmoored from a few simply declared definitions of right and wrong. But again, criminalizing those acts would probably still cause more problems than they’d solve.
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