Monday, November 16, 2009

No Harm, No Foul?

I had a conversation the other night with a friend from my old stomping grounds who was in town for a national conference. We had about an hour chat over soft drinks before she had to get back to her hotel room.

The interesting part of our conversation was when we discussed a mutual friend who has been forced to deal with circumstances beyond his control. Our mutual friend is worthy of great respect for many things, including his decision to structure his life around taking care of his daughter.

The reason why that part of the conversation was interesting was I came face to face with a phenomenon I hadn't thought that much about in recent days. It's a specific flag that some human beings fly regarding freedom: absolute freedom for freedom's sake.

My friend who was attending the conference is of the opinion that as long as adults are consenting, and their behavior doesn't outwardly hurt anyone else, that it's not only their right to pursue this behavior, but no one should judge their decision to do so.

On the surface, I agree with this precept. I agree that human beings should be free, and that freedom should include the right to do whatever they want to do, as long as others aren't harmed in the process. The founding fathers of our country also seemed to be in agreement, because they featured this sentiment in the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Be that as it may, as in most cases of black-and-white thinking, gray that is ignored can bite you on the posterior.

My friend from out of town is a libertarian, and I am also. This means we both place individual liberty very high on our list of things that are important in life. Where we disagreed the other night, however, is how far one may follow the letter of the law before reason is lost.

The crux of my argument was based on a simple observation. While I agree that (for example) adult women should have the right to be strippers or prostitutes if that's how they wish to earn a living, I also believe there are good *reasons* why those kinds of vocations are not wise to pursue. The "judgmental" opinion of the average person regarding these vocations is typically based on these reasons, not merely on a personal vendetta against the morals of the practitioners.

To give honest evidence of this concept, I merely asked my friend if she would endorse her daughter's possible future decision to become a stripper. When my friend said yes, I admit I was surprised. Call me delusional, but I would venture that if she is ever literally faced with this possibility in the future, she would recant her consent for the sake of her daughter's well being. I may be way off base, but I think she said yes merely to remain in line with her conceptual convictions.

Now, is it judgmental of me to assume that persons performing those jobs are living lives that usually become unnecessarily complicated, stressful and sometimes dangerous, therefore making the career choice an unwise one? Certainly. My opinion *is* a judgment. Therefore, anyone performing that job would be subject to my inclination to judge his or her career choice as unwise, unhealthy, and generally foolish.

However, despite the defiant response that free people have toward anyone who supposedly rains on the parade, is my judgment actually wrong?

You tell me. We don't have to include sex workers in this discussion. There are many, many non-professional devotees and practitioners of alternative lifestyles, such as BDSM, fetish and other "underground" communities. We can simply observe that it's common knowledge that everyone is wired differently, sexually speaking, and our buttons are all different to some degree. Therefore it would be inappropriately judgmental to comment on someone else's decisions behind closed doors.

Fine, but riddle me this:

How much thought is truly given to what spurs individual deviant sexual behaviors in the first place? Is being "good and right" really just a matter of letting people enjoy their personal freedoms in any way they wish, or are there elements in the world that gratify in the short term while simultaneously reinforcing negative or detrimental views of ourselves and others?

I have no desire to prevent anyone from pursuing whatever they wish under the banner of "no unwanted harm done to others." What I would like to see though, is more forthrightness regarding the reasons why we do what we do, and more integrity regarding the actual long-term results of incorporating perversions into the basic human drives for touch, propagation and love.