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Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Battle Pursuit of Happiness - The Challenger - First Rebuttal

"Rights," You Say? "Victimless," You Say?

by Dean Esmay

I'd like to tell a story which I think relates to the subject of petty vices such as prostitution, drug use, and gambling.

Just a few years ago, leaving my gated community for work in the early morning, I had a young lady approach my car as I waited behind some other cars at the community exit. She told me she was stranded and asked if I could give her a ride to her friend's house so she could get her car towed. I, being a soft touch, told her I'd be happy to oblige if it wasn't too far.

When she got into the car I got a better look at her and realized I'd just picked up a prostitute, one whose face had obviously been ravaged by years of hard living.

Well, I'm not a religious or particularly judgemental man. I wasn't interested in her services, but I didn't hate her, didn't think she was going to be tortured in hell for eternity or any of that foolishness. I did rather regret not thinking harder before picking up a hitchhiker, and shifted my body posture a bit in case she should be insane and try to pull a knife or gun on me. But I otherwise calmly asked her to show me where we were going so I could quickly drop her off. She sweetly offered to "take care of me" in exchange for the ride, but I said no thanks, and repeated that she should show me where to drop her. She gave me some directions, and within about five minutes she had directed me into a neighborhood I recognized as pretty rough. But I used to repossess cars in the area, so I knew it pretty well and how to handle myself. Then she asked me to stop so she could talk to a "friend" and I, rather foolishly, did so--and a man she obviously knew well promptly ran out to the car and sold her $20 worth of crack cocaine as she sat there in my passenger seat.

Of course I immediately pulled away, drove about a half mile, and told her to get out of my car. As she got out, I told her that crack was going to kill her, and she said she knew it and hoped to enter treatment soon. From the ravages of her face, I had to wonder if she'd live that long. I drove away feeling used by this person, but also rather sad for her. $20 a day was all it took to feed her crack addiction, which she could easily make turning tricks--but I had little doubt that she would probably not be alive in a few years, because crack addicts die young a lot, and this girl didn't look healthy at all; it was pretty obvious that she depended on the cover of night in order to look attractive enough to ply her trade, because drug use had so ruined her looks. She already had that wafer thin, wasted look that hits so many late-stage crack addicts.

I didn't hate her. But I would find it a little surprising if she were alive right now. As I noted in my opening piece, many prostitutes don't live long. As a rule, whores die at about three times the rate of the normal population, quite often from sexually transmitted diseases, drug addiction, or outright murder. Ask any cop and he'll tell you, being murdered is an occupational hazard for all but the most high-class and expensive whores. Ask any gynecologist or emergency room doctor about the rate of STDs among whores. And drug addiction, especially addiction to cheap, easy-to-obtain drugs, is common in the industry. It's not a pretty thing.

By the way, in case there is any doubt: my story of about the woman above is completely true, and without embellishment. I did not make it up for dramatic purposes. I think it's quite illustrative of what the real world of whores and drug users is like, and I'll have even more to say on that in a moment. But first let me first note that I get around a lot, and I could tell you similar personal stories about families I've seen destroyed by having a member with a gambling addiction, by people whose addictions were so powerful they sold the family car and home and lost their jobs and wound up divorced and on the streets because they coudn't give up gambling. But let's just acknowledge the truth: gambling addiction is horribly destructive and exacts a direct cost on more than just the gambler. And, as with pimps and drug pushers, those profiting from it are often profiting at the expense of innocents.

Now, in the comments to my opening piece where I mentioned some of the social costs to the vices under discussion, some in the audience said I needed to prove that having these vices illegal is a better choice than having them legal. To be blunt: I have to show no such thing.

No. The questions we face is whether these vices are "victimless crimes." Clearly, as I have already demonstrated, they are not victimless. The question is also whether these vices are a "right." I have already demonstrated that by the commonly understood definition of "rights" at the time of America's founding, they were not viewed as rights--and I assert now that it is obvious on the face of it that they are not considered "rights" now because they are still illegal and no court in the United States has declared that laws making them illegal violate anyone's rights.

The onus is on those of you who claim that these crimes are victimless to show why they are victimless, and upon those of you who claim that these behaviors are "rights" to show that they are rights. Whether you or I think such laws are constructive or not is immaterial; clearly they are not victimless and clearly they are not "rights" by any commonly understood definition of that term.

Now, in his quite thoughtful opening statement, the esteemed Iron Blogger Libertarian gave us a philosophical treatise on a rights-based vs. utilitarian-based approach to government, and repeats a standard libertarian axiom: your right to swing your fist stops at my face.

But, as I have already stated, it is rather fatuous to assert that these vices are a "right" or are "victimless." As commonly understood at the time of the declaration of Independence, prostitution, drug use, and gambling were certainly not understood to be rights. And, given that these behaviors are still illegal and still upheld as crimes by the courts today, clearly they are not rights now. Rights are commonly understood to be such things as freedom of speech, freedom to petition the government for redress of grievance, freedom to worship. No commonly understood right to prostitution, gambling, drinking, smoking, or other drug use exists now or has ever existed.

Indeed, let us say for the sake of the argument that "rights" are involved in the question of petty vices such as prostitution. My assertion is quite simple: If you're working as a prostitute in my neighborhood, you're impinging on my property rights by making my neighborhood a seedy place that other families would not want to live in. You're also endangering my family by creating an image of men and women and a lifestyle that I consider deeply dangerous and destructive to my children's long-term well-being, and that I don't particularly want my children exposed to on a daily basis.

Now it may be your position that my kids would be better off seeing such people and having me explain to him how destructive that life is. But I assert that it's my right to have a neighborhood where I don't have to worry about such things on a daily basis. I have a right to demand laws which keep such behaviors away from my property and out of sight.

In fact, let's put it in plain English: I don't want crack whores hanging out in my neighborhood, and I have at least as much right to demand an environment clean of such people as you have a right to sell your hiney for others' sexual gratification--however cute your hiney might be!

You don't agree? You think your right to be a crack whore trumps my right not to have my kids exposed to crack whores on a daily basis? Well there's the crux then: Who decides which idea of what is right in this circumstance?

I can already tell you, and it's based on another right enshrined in our system of government: voting.

We have a Constitution which recognizes certain basic rights: free speech, free assembly, firearm ownership, freedom from harassment by police without warrant or probable cause, and so on. These are enshrined in the Constitution and cannot be trumped by voters without a rigorous amendment process. Beyond that, we have certain commonly-understood rights which extend from America's early Common Law tradition, such as the right to free association or the right to travel. Furthermore, our state Constitutions can grant additional rights.

Anything else is left up to one of the most basic rights of all: the right to vote, and the right to representative government.

Which, flatly on the face of it, means that you and I must live with democratically enacted laws which do not conflict with rights recognized by the Federal or our state governments. Even if we find those laws foolish. Even if we find them counterproductive. Even if we argue until we're hoarse from screaming and blue in the face about how much we don't like those laws. Because that right to government which respects Constitutional rights but otherwise respects the will of the people through democratic means is what's most important of all.

So even if you think prostitution should be legal, your only recourse is the democratic process, not some farcicle claim about your "right" to be a crack whore if you want to be one. If you think that's a "right," then you should do your duty as a citizen and help start a process to amend your state Constitution, or the U.S. Constitution. Otherwise, you should see your elected representatives, and petition them to change the laws.

And if your fellow citizens disagree with you, they have every right to keep saying so. "No, we don't like having crack whores hanging out on our street corners, and we want the police to make them go away." Whether you find we voters' reasons valid or not is immateral. You either work to change our minds, or you live with the fact that our minds won't be changed and that we are exercising their constitutional rights to free expression and representative government.

As I've noted earlier, prostitution, gambling, and most forms of drug use are dangerous, seedy, nasty businesses. Are they worse than tobacco and alcohol? I find the question immaterial; I assert that I have every right to say that I don't want to live in a neighborhood where that's around, that I don't want my kids seeing that as they play in front of my house or at their nearby friends' house. I have a right to find that offensive and to say I don't want it around, and I have a right to vote for political leaders who will keep such nuisances away from me and my home and my family. And the same is true for loud noises, billboards, or anything else which affect my property values and the desirability of my neighborhood to me and those who share my values.

Should these things be legalized? Offhand I'd say yes, but they should be tightly regulated and restricted to areas outside of residential neighborhoods, or at least my neighborhood. If you want to vote to have it in your neighborhood, fine, just don't expect me to live there. In any case, I find the question immaterial: it remains that these vices are neither victimless nor a "right" in any commonly understood sense of the term "right."

Will it make me a hypocrite if I then crack open a beer, light up a stogie, and watch a porn movie in my living room? Perhaps. So what? That's not the question before us, is it?

You don't like what you view as my hypocricy? Tough. Based on my personal values, prostitution, gambling, and narcotic use are more socially dangerous than the manageable legal vices we have now. Maybe I'm wrong. Okay, then go on and exercise your rights in the matter--I mean your real rights, your right to tell me I'm wrong, and to go out and vote. But don't pretend you've got some divine right to sell your hiney and smoke crack rocks that trumps my right to a neighborhood I like, and my right to representative government.

And please don't forget the victims. Because all these vices have victims. All of them.

Mr. Chairman, I yield the floor to the distingushed Iron Blogger Libertarian.

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