Nov 7, 2010

Laws and social disapproval

Speaking of the war on drugs, Yglesias (ironically enough), pivoting off a post on the economics of prostitution, lays out a fundamental difference between the technocratic- and the moral-minded:
...a big part of the point of prostitution prohibition laws is to express social disapproval of prostitutes and prostitution. Indeed, people seem generally quite unconcerned about whether prostitution is occurring someplace out of sight and out of mind. But they want to reserve the right to strongly disapprove of both the prostitution and especially the prostitutes. You can analogize a person who engaged in a form of sexual or commercial conduct of which you disapprove by referring to that person as a “whore.” It’s an insult. Its insult status reflects and upholds a social consensus that whores are bad people, not just that whoring is a kind of undesirable nuisance.
In conversations with conservatives about the war on drugs, the debate often runs aground on precisely this territory. A drug policy reformer names statistics and arguments that show the ungodly cost of the war and total failure of its stated aims. The conservative doesn't care about any of that. Drug use doesn't concern him. What concerns him is society countenancing the use of drugs, giving up on that agreed social stigmatization of the drug user.  When people say, "what will the children think?" that is what they're really saying.

The response there is that it's the duty of our society and culture to instill what is right and wrong, not the government's.  Conservatives, after all, claim to loathe big government.  It should be up to our schools, families, and churches to define acceptable behavior.  I've never been able to convince anyone with that reasoning, though.

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