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Scoop Feedback: Compassionless People Fight Back

In This Edition: Maxim: Prosituting the Truth - In Defence Of Libertarianism

Scoop welcomes reader feedback. Please post your views to editor@scoop.co.nz

Both the items that follow are a response to…. Maxim's Greg Fleming Gives a Libertarian critique

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Maxim: Prosituting the Truth

The right-wing Maxim Institute has been in the forefront of the campaign to oppose the reform of prostitution laws. With their somewhat transparent Religious Right sentiments this is not surprising. Nor is it surprising that when they wish to justify their campaign that they try to sound like hard-core Lefties justifying coercion in the name of compassion and attacking anyone who disagrees with them.

Greg Fleming, a Maxim representative, was particularly upset regarding a column I wrote, on prostitution which responded to a piece Deborah Coddington wrote. Using typical smear tactics he simply announces that Deborah’s critics, who are unidentified are “almost entirely from those on the far right”. And then says that “of particular note was the attack by Jim Peron”.

My column on the issue, which was published on Scoop and in my newsletter Free Exchange, is not an attack by any means. It is respectful of Deborah, mentions that I sympathize with many of her sentiments, but thought she was wrong on some aspects of her opinion. I then explained why I thought she was wrong. There was no name-calling, unlike in the Fleming piece. Nor was there any attempt to smear an opponent with pejorative labels, again unlike in the Fleming piece.

Mr. Fleming seems to think he has now discerned the real difference between a libertarian and a classical liberal. The classical liberal, he says, has heart. How Mr. Fleming would know this escapes me since he is neither a libertarian nor a classical liberal. He is a full fledged anti-liberal conservative. He may have liberal sentiments on some issues but his basic premise is that he knows best and his morality should be enforced at the point of the gun by various state agencies. I don’t think I know best how other people should live and thus I’m unwilling to force them to follow my morality. Yet Mr. Fleming calls me “far right” and lauds himself as the epitome of compassion.

I, for one, hope I’m never a victim of Mr. Fleming’s compassion. He argues that a classical liberal does not “pass by the beaten traveller (sic) on the side of the road.” (Once again his Religious Right roots are showing since no doubt he’s referring to the Good Samaritan parable of Jesus.) Now nothing in my Scoop column said that we should pass by people in need.

I have no opposition to anyone who wishes to help prostitute’s find other options that are more fulfilling—if that is what the woman (or man) is seeking. I do oppose efforts to make their life more difficult by criminalizing their profession and second quessing their choices. Contrary to Mr. Fleming’s distortion of my column I said that Ms. Coddington was on firm ground when she questioned the morality of prostitution. I agreed with her analysis but disagreed with some solutions she was floating as a possibility.

Fleming says “the law has a role in protecting downtrodden women and children from sexual exploitation.” First, he’s smuggling children into a discussion that was only about the choices of mature adults. Second, he seems to imply that women and children are co-equals. In other words women are immature beings who need big brother to protect them from themselves. Such condescension is typical of the Religious Right.

The law does has a role in protecting people but only in protecting them from rights violations by others. It is not there to protect them from the choices which they make themselves, even when those choices are wrong.

Mr. Fleming waxes, less than eloquently, about responsibility to others. He paraphrases more Scripture and advocates using the Nanny State. He tries to pretend his conservative theology is classical liberalism.This totally ignores that Liberalism was a secular movement. If anyone doesn’t fit the classical liberal tradition its those who wish to impose their religiously motivated morality on others who are not of their theological persuasion. Fleming’s anti-Liberal views are clear and obvious. He says that he had good parents and this lead him to having the “character to in turn make good decisions.” There’s nothing like extolling your own moral virtues in a public column is there? But, he laments: “Many of my neighbours have not had that privilege.” And those people who aren’t privileged to have Mr. Fleming’s good character “need our protection.” And they need that protection even if they don’t want it! At the core this is Fleming’s argument: he’s moral; others aren’t as moral nor do they share his sterling character; therefore government should compassionately step in and make those people into mirror images of Mr. Fleming.

Mr. Fleming, like his big government allies on the Left, assumes that compassion is only real when its coercive. Conservative’s like the Maxim Institute are not compassionate. True compassion doesn’t come at the point of a gun. It comes when people voluntarily and freely help one another. Using the police to strip prostitutes of the right to make a living is not compassion. If Mr. Fleming wants to be compassionate I’m all for it. But that requires him to do something. But it’s so much easier to have the Nanny State do it instead.

I’ll believe Mr. Fleming’s flowery sentiments about compassion and caring when, instead of calling for government controls, regulations, and policing he actually makes a personal effort. Mr. Fleming is compassionate at arm’s length. He’s compassionate with other people’s money and he thinks compassion is substituting his own “character” and morality for the choices of others. That’s not compassion. That’s control.

One of the real differences between conservatives and classical liberals is that liberals realize that governments are not compassionate nor caring. Only individuals exhibit those traits. And liberals advocate private compassion and honest caring instead of second hand charity using government coercion.

Jim Peron is an author, editor of the liberal journal Free Exchange, and owner of Aristotle's Books in Auckland.

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In Defence Of Libertarianism

Dear Editor

Greg Fleming's definitions of 'libertarian' and 'classical liberal' and their respective approaches to the decriminalisation of prostitution are very interesting. Greg says that libertarians don't have a heart. I am not much on labels but I identify with the libertarian philosophy and I care about people. As yet, I haven't experienced an inherent contradiction.

Liberty is the highest value but it does not, as Greg claims, 'entail a concern for your neighbour equal to the concern for yourself.' This statement reminds me of the advice we are given should there be an emergency on board an aeroplane - if oxygen is required, don your own mask first. I will not be able to save my child if I lose consciousness, and furthermore, having donned my mask, I am going to attempt to save my child before I attempt to save my neighbours child. It is natural and instinctive that we put our own interests first. It doesn't follow that I don't give a damn about my neighbour.

Greg gives us another example of a libertarian 'failing' in that we would refuse to give aid to the beaten traveller on the side of the road and mutter 'would love to help, but you made your own choices'.

This libertarian is not against helping those in need, even if they are in need because of their own choices, although a repetition of bad decisions might make me feel less inclined to charitable thoughts. What we want is the liberty to choose to help. In New Zealand society, which is far from civil, we are coerced, through taxation, to help people the majority of us would balk at . An obvious recent example is the years of 'welfare' we have accorded Jules Mikus. Given the misery he inflicted I can hardly be judged hardhearted for making this observation.

What we have to do is find some principles that can be consistently applied. Difficult, emotive issues such as decriminalising prostitution tax our steadfastness in applying these principles.

Making activities illegal never stamps them out. Making people criminals for something they are going to do anyway just increases hardship and suffering.

I think Greg misses the point that decriminalising prostitution is not to give it moral sanction nor to normalise it. It doesn't prevent individuals from assisting prostitutes who need and want help. Indeed if prostitution were decriminalised people would be more able to express and demonstrate concern for those women (and men) who are being marginalised by this practice. And those who want help will be more able to access it.

Finally, I know Greg has the best intentions but in stating his overriding responsibility for his neighbours welfare, without qualification, he has emulated the left. This is the assertion that drives us away from being a civil society.

Lindsay Mitchell

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