Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do

PART II: WHY LAWS AGAINST CONSENSUAL ACTIVITIES ARE NOT A GOOD IDEA

PROBLEMS SOMETIMES ASSOCIATED WITH CONSENSUAL ACTIVITIES CANNOT BE SOLVED WHILE THEY ARE CRIMES


Here the great art lies,
to discern in what the law
is to be to restraint and
punishment,
and in what things
persuasion only is to work.
JOHN MILTON
1644
NO ONE WILL DENY that the reason some people take part in consensual crimes is personal problems. No one will deny that, for some, taking part in consensual crimes can also create or exacerbate problems.
As long as certain consensual activities remain illegal, it is difficult for people who take part in those activities to know whether or not they have a problem (that is, a bad relationship) with any of those activities.
It wasn't until after Prohibition was repealed that people began to face up to their drinking problems. Total abolition automatically creates its opposite: total abandon. When both extremes were removed from consuming alcohol, people could see clearly where they fell on the spectrum of "normal" alcohol consumption. Prohibition ended in 1933; the first chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous was founded a few years later. Had the cultural stereotype that everyone who drinks is a hopeless drunk and the counter-cultural stereotype of hard-drinking hero not been eliminated by Prohibition's repeal, it's doubtful that Alcoholics Anonymous would have gotten off the ground.
As long as drugs, for example, are illegal, it's hard to say to a friend, "You might have a problem," without sounding like a bad drug-education commercial. People taking drugs have become immune to criticism: there's so much criticism, and so much of it is nonsense. (Please see the chapter, "Education, Not Legislation.") "Drug education" seems to be developed by people who know nothing about drugs. It's propaganda and justification, not education. People taking drugs eventually stop listening—even to their friends.

When we remember
we are all mad,
the mysteries disappear
and life stands explained.
MARK TWAIN
This is not the case with, say, alcohol. Yes, alcoholics tend to deny they have a problem (denial is a symptom of addiction), but alcoholics cannot wrap themselves in the garb of the social martyr: "My only problem is that drugs are illegal."
Among social groups where most drugs are equally available and equally acceptable, more people can see that they have a problem. This has led to the growth of Cocaine Anonymous, Drugs Anonymous, Potsmokers Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, the Betty Ford Clinic, and the many other drug treatment centers.
Some people don't know why they take part in illegal consensual activities, other than they're not going to let any damn busybodies tell them what to do. As St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions (circa A.D. 398),

Near our vineyard there was a pear tree laden with fruit that was not attractive in either flavor or form. One night, when I [at the age of sixteen] had played until dark on the sandlot with some other juvenile delinquents, we went to shake that tree and carry off its fruit. From it we carried off huge loads, not to feast on, but to throw to the pigs, although we did eat a few ourselves. We did it just because it was forbidden.

If the "forbidden fruit" temptation were removed, people could choose to take part in a consensual activity or not—as they do now with alcohol—based on the risks and merits of the activity itself. When consensual activities are illegal, it's hard to tell if the motivating factor is (a) simple rebellion, (b) the natural desire for recreation, or (c) a deep-seated personal difficulty.

Appeasers believe that
if you keep on throwing steaks
to a tiger, the tiger
will turn vegetarian.
HEYWOOD BROWN
Problems are caused when the balance is off, when the relationship with something (often ourselves) is not good. When activities are prohibited, it's difficult to explore that balance; it's hard to evaluate the relationship. The laws against consensual activities tend to hide the potential problems from the people who need to know about them most: the people taking part in the activities.
If one doesn't realize he or she has a problem, one will not seek effective treatment. (Being sentenced by a court to a treatment center does very little good except, possibly, to keep someone out of jail.) Solving a problem takes personal commitment, and that commitment comes through recognition. Keeping consensual crimes crimes, blocks that recognition.
In the words of Shakespeare, ". . . all are punish'd."

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