Every once in a while a thought just strikes me as odd. And this time I got thinking about sex work and why it’s illegal. Selling yourself for money. Well, isn’t that what we all do?
Separate the moralizing and lessons hammered into us since Sunday School. Trading your skills, abilities, intellect, and time for pay–it’s basically what every occupation boils down to. Trading your life for a slip of paper that says you can buy things.
Let’s step back for a second to get at why some things are prohibited. Penal code evolves, in theory, to serve the social well-being, to punish the behaviors that cause a drain on the overall health and productivity of the people. Theory is sound, at least to me. When you consider Prostitution, you see it often brings ugly externalities with it. Physical and mental abuse. Pimps. Addictions. Rape. Horrible, horrible living conditions. Seldom is it just the thing itself that’s considered awful, it’s everything that comes with it. So to combat the problem, the behavior is outlawed and punished. Like taking the handle off the pump of a poisoned well so no one can draw tainted water.
Selling narcotics is a lot like that. The problem isn’t just the junky passing out in your apartment’s stairway. It’s the meth-head crawling through your window. It’s disease. Malnutrition. Destruction of personal relationships. Inability to hold regular work. Neglect of children. And theft to support the habit. There are good reasons for wanting to control the availability of addictive substances.
So where’s the line between a street pusher and big Pharma? Often the product is nearly identical (especially opiods). How many millions are hooked on their prescriptions for one reason or other? Mood enhancers. Muscle relaxants. Pain relievers. Stimulants. Anti-depressants. The cycle is backwards. The individual may live in poor fitness and nutrition. Maybe they can’t concentrate. Can’t sleep. Maybe they’ve endured loss, injury, sickness…who knows what happened in their lives? But they are suffering from the reality of it and drugs are prescribed as the answer. This is legal.
How do we not see the hypocrisy in this? It seems the only distinction between legal and illegal is in who profits. Don’t get me wrong, street hustlers are thugs. Wouldn’t shed a tear to see one in an acid bath. Likewise, I’d love to see executives of Pharmaceutical companies on trial for the side effects of a questionable product they greased through FDA to market. It’s all a hustle, one way or other; but one way is legal, the other is not. So follow the money. Political contributions. Political Action Committees. Shareholder value. Corporate bonuses. It isn’t being a drug pusher, it’s being a pillar of the business community and a job creator. See the distinction?
We don’t have to look hard to see other industries with a nebulous boundary between legal and criminal. Is it a pyramid scheme, or is it a risky legal investment? Is it fraud, or creative finance? Is it a bribe, or is it lobbying? Is it environmental devastation, or is it development of vital economic resources?
Think about a variety of crimes. Larceny. Drug abuse and distribution. Assault and murder. Corruption/extortion/racketeering. Fraud. Most are crimes of impulse. Desire for escape. Impatience for wealth and instant gratification. Satisfaction of ego. Feeding hunger without delay.
Hmm. doesn’t that sound like every major ad campaign of the last forty years? The very same impulses are exploited to get the consumer to consume. Where is the distinction between street thug and marketing executive?
And the products, overall, keep getting cheaper through brutal competition. Poorer quality. Less rigorous testing. If a product is found to be harmful there is a formula applied: if fines, legal fees, and class action settlements are greater than expected profits, the product is recalled. If profits remain greater than all the costs, the product will remain on the market. Willful infliction of an addictive, deadly product on the American people… That has to be illegal and immoral, right? Not if you’re Big Tobacco.
We’ll never legislate our way out of this. The Romans said it best: When the Republic is most corrupt, the laws are most numerous.* But we can educate our way through this. Setting priorities in life early. Guidance toward good life choices that serve the mind, body, and soul. Physical and mental health renders useless the need for escapism and chemical props to face a new day.
A job. Paid or unpaid, legal or illegal, we all have one in some form. Some of us are paid better than others. And the line between moral/immoral, legal/illegal gets harder to resolve. But it all boils down to this: what are you willing to trade for your income? How much of your life will you swap for a slip of paper that says you have numbers in a bank account? And how much of your dignity will go with it?
I can’t imagine a more important or more personal decision (except maybe the decision to have a child). Me? I want to serve and do no harm. And I know, the pay will never be high as a result. But if I can keep it up, my payoff will be a clear conscience and deep, untroubled sleep.
* Corruptissima Republica plurimae leges.