A Founding Father’s Response to Obama’s Controversial Statement

Many times in American political discourse, we accept that references to the founding fathers, if they are truthful, are a sort of trump card in many arguments.  We all delight at quoting a founding father to help us make a point or win an argument.  Recently Obama made a statement during a campaign speech that got the right-wing riled up, and was the catalyst to many attack ads from Romney and right.  Here is the main part of what Obama said:

“If you got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.  If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.”

I want to make it clear that Obama was not talking exclusively about the government being the the main helper, he was talking about the larger societal context and the people that exist in that context as being essential to any one man’s success.  No man is an island unto himself.  This is a point many on the right simply cannot grasp, apparently.  However, since this has become such a big controversy in the last week or so, I have been thinking about it alot and remembered that my personal favorite founding father, Thomas Paine (who wrote Common Sense, The Age of Reason, and The Rights of Man, and helped start the revolution against the British Monarchy), wrote something about this very topic over 200 years ago.  John Adams famously said of Paine: “Without the pen of Paine, the sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain”, so quoting him is a trump card in my opinion.  Here is what Thomas Paine had to say on this idea that no man makes it on his own:

“Personal property is the effect of society; and it is as impossible for an individual to acquire personal property without the aid of society, as it is for him to make land originally.

Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do not exist the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man’s own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.”

Thomas Paine
From his essay Agrarian Justice

We can debate over how much one is entitled to give back, but we cannot deny that the words that Mr. Paine spoke all those years ago still ring as true now as they ever have.  Hats off to Thomas Paine!

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Why prostitution should be legalized, asap.

Prostitution is often referred to as “the oldest profession in the world”.  It is no secret that in virtually all societies (since the dawn of civilization) prostitution, in some form or another, has existed.  Many people are repulsed by the idea of prostitution and many others have deep seeded moral objections, yet prostitution exists, and for the sake of this blog-post, lets assume that prostitution is not going to end any time soon and that it would be useless to try and eradicate it.  The next question is whether or not we as a society should make “the oldest profession on earth” illegal, and punish the people who consensually partake in it.  My answer is a resounding and confident: NO.

Sexual repression, shaming, religion and morality

Why is prostitution illegal in America?  Well, that question and the subsequent theories, opinions and historical facts could fill up three blog-posts.  So without going too far into this interesting question, I have a brief point to make on the subject.  I think the main reason that prostitution is looked down upon, seen as immoral, and ultimately made illegal is patriarchy.  It stems from the archaic notion that women are the property of men, and thus their sexuality is the property of men.  A woman who expresses her sexuality freely, and partakes in casual sex, makes many men feel insecure on some fundamental level, and this insecurity manifests itself in a myriad of ways, ranging from slut-shaming to hardcore hatred of women in general.  We can see the legacy of this patriarchal mindset in our own culture today.  Woman are valued by society based on their physicality, they are routinely objectified and dehumanized, and women who behave like an average man does sexually is shamed in virtually infinite ways.  Patriarchy infects almost every aspect of our culture, but it is especially obvious in… wait for it… yup, you guessed it: religion!  It is 2012 and women still cannot be priests in the Catholic Church, women’s rights to things like safe abortions and contraception are fiercely opposed by religious institutions exclusively, and in almost every religion in America women are inherently seen as secondary to men.  Since many people derive their morality from their religion, and religion is a derivative of patriarchy, it comes as no surprise that they are “morally opposed” to things like prostitution, and in America our laws are many times based on the majorities morality, unfortunately.  That is why it is seen as totally fine to mutilate the genitals of our baby boys, torture and kill animals for our food demands, and inflict physical punishment on our children, but two adults exchange 5 dollars for a consensual sex act and my god, frogs and locust rain down upon the multitudes!

Do no harm, violate no rights

Regardless of why prostitution is illegal, or why women are de-valued in our culture generally, the fact remains: you can go to prison or be heavily fined for engaging in consensual sex for money.  Unless, of course you film it, but I will get to that in a second.  I have a tried and true principle for determining what things should be illegal for a person to do and what things should be legal for a person to do.  It is this: you should be able to do whatever you want to do as long as it does no harm to anyone else and as long as it does not violate the rights of anyone else.  Beyond that simple maxim you are simply forcing your morality on others, and that is extremely immoral indeed.  If two consensual adults agree, under no coercion or threat of any kind, to exchange a few pieces of green paper for a blowjob (or, to be fair to both genders, for a good old fashioned eat-out session) than that is their business and the government, the priests, and your woman-hating uncle you see every thanksgiving who gets drunk and lets his views on what “women’s roles should be” slip out of his mouth like a greasy turkey leg, need to stay the fuck out of it.

Porn is legal, but not prostitution?

And than there is porn.  What a marvelous way to view the absolute absurdity, hypocrisy, and lack of critical thought in our culture!  In America it is 100% ILLEGAL to exchange money for sex, UNLESS YOU VIDEO TAPE IT AND SELL THE TAPE.  Than it is 100% A-OK!  How any human being can look at the contrast in our culture between porn and prostitution and not laugh out loud is beyond me.  Of course, I am not implying that just because this hypocrisy exists that it is, in and of itself, an argument for legalizing prostitution, it is just a hilarious contradiction that I think is important to point out.

Economy

       It may seem a little crude to bring up the economy here, but I think it is a valid point to make.  We are emerging from the worst economic collapse in this country since the Great Depression.  Unemployment is high, the economy is fairly stagnant, and there does not seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel anytime soon.  Admittedly, legalizing prostitution would not single-handedly save our economy, but it is a crucial piece to a larger economic theory, of which I advocate, that suggests that legalizing things like drugs and prostitution would create a massive amount of jobs and economic growth.  It would help the free market by producing jobs and new areas in which entrepreneurs could invest, and it would help fund the government via taxation.  I do not know the exact effect of legalizing prostitution (and some drugs), but I sincerely doubt any thinking person can convince themselves that there isn’t a HUGE market for these things and that the economy wouldn’t be effected in a positive way.

 Girls safety

       Having laid out most of my argument pretty clearly, I come to what I believe is the most important aspect of the argument, namely the safety of women.  When anything is made illegal it does not prevent people from partaking in that thing, it merely pushes it underground to where far more danger exists.   We have seen it with drugs, we have seen it with abortions, we have seen it with alcohol prohibition, and we have clearly seen it with prostitution.  When you make prostitution illegal you are hurting women.  Instead of a C.E.O in a business suit with hired security you have lovely people called “pimps”.  Instead of regular STD checks you have women hoping the condom doesn’t break.  Instead of police officers protecting women from violent clients, they arrest the women and throw them in a cage.  My argument is simple: if you legalize and regulate prostitution less women will be hurt, less women will be diseased, and less of societies resources will go to hunting down and imprisoning women.  It will be safer for women, and it would be safer for society because you would effectively de-fund gangs and criminals who use prostitution, as well as drugs, to fund their unsavory activities.  Also, you can think about the fact that on the street, many women have pimps and those pimps are often time physically violent towards the women and take the majority of the women’s money at the end of the night.  It is economic oppression, and as usual, men get the better deal than women do.   ((Disclaimer: I do not want to assume that only women are prostitutes, there is undoubtedly men, gay and straight, who partake in prostitution as well.  I just use women because they are what most people associate with the profession, and it works colloquially.))

In conclusion, all thinking people should critically examine their own views on this issue and think about what their motivations are for holding their position.  I sincerely believe it is not only sensible, but moral to legalize prostitution.