The operative ethical principle in our society seems to be: "Anything goes, provided there's no coercion. If it's between consulting adults, it's no one else's business."
I had a conversation with a Catholic libertarian friend along these lines not long ago, when I linked this article about how Sweden has managed to dramatically reduce prostitution by adjusting its laws to focus on the problem of the exploitation of women. The clients are punished by law; the prostitutes are offered help getting out of the "profession," if they want to. (It turns out that most do.) My friend was skeptical. As a Catholic, he thinks protitution is immoral, but as a libertarian he thinks that since it's between consenting adults, the law should have nothing to do with it.
That conversation, together with the horrible flood of stories of women charging Bill Cosby with rape, and the books I'm reading about addiction and co-dependency and narcissism and dysfunctional family systems, plus the question of the burqua, has me mulling a lot lately on the problem of consent with respect to the master/slave dynamic.
The libertarian notion assumes that the only relevant distinction is between adults and minors. It grants that minors aren't really capable of consent in the morally relevant sense, but it otherwise assumes a basic peerage among adults. And yet, experience shows us that reality is a lot more complicated than that, doesn't it?
Are the women in Islamic countries (or families) who "choose" to wear burquas really making a free choice? Are the young would-be stars, dazzled by a celebrity's money and attention, who take all his favors, really free to resist his sexual advances? Are they free to make their story known if they have 1) a lot of shame for having been duped, 2) an embarrassing personal history, 3) no money for a lawyer? Is an addict free to take drugs or leave them? Is a person raised in a dysfunctional, abusive family free to make a vow of marriage? Is a person in a cult free to leave?
The answer to all these question is yes on one level, no on another.
A favorite claim of the left is that blacks can't be racist because they're not in power. I think this claim is false, but not entirely so. Its kernel of truth is that a power differential matters in adjudicating wrongs, on both the individual and social levels. Parents intuitively recognize this principle when they blame an older child more than a younger one for something that goes wrong between them. It would be false for the parents to assume that the older child is guilty and the younger one innocent. But it's not false to expect more from the older child, or to think that his greater power entails a greater responsibility for good relations between siblings.
This principle needs to be better accommodated in our laws and customs.
The article on prostitution opened a fascinating thought avenue. After detailing the stunning success of Sweden's new approach, the author asks why it hasn't been tried before, and why more countries aren't yet following its lead.
Why, then, with Sweden's success so clearly lighting the way, aren't others quickly adopting the plan? Well, some are. Both Finland and Norway are on the verge of making the move. And if Scotland takes the advise of its own study, it will go in that direction too. But, the answer to the question of why other countries aren't jumping to adopt Sweden's plan is probably the same as the answer to the question of why governments haven't tried Sweden's solution before.
In order to see prostitutes as victims of male coercion and violence it requires that a government first switch from seeing prostitution from the male point of view to the female point of view. And most, if not virtually all, countries of the world still see prostitution and every other issue from a predominantly male point of view.
I think she's exactly right. It's a prime case in point of what Pope John Paul II had in mind when he called for "the genius of woman" to be better realized and more influential in society and culture. He meant that "the structures of society" should be adapted from the feminine perspective.
Historically, the master/slave hermenteutic has meant that men have been dominant over women. Our laws and customs have been developed from a pre-dominantly male perspective. That perspective tended to overlook the discrepancy between consent and "consent," which is easier to see and feel from the "slave" side of the dynamic.
I don't mean to suggest that the feminine perspective is better than the masculine, only that both are needed for the fullness of human goodness, and that we still have a ways to go before we've achieved the kind of equality and complementarity (true) feminism aspires to.