How would you react to the following scenario: The government introduces a complete ban on buying all alcohol because it aims to stop any illegal smuggling of alcohol into the country. Buying a bottle of wine would be considered a felony. The wine shops would still be open and regarded legitimate business, but it would not be allowed to buy anything there. Would this prevent people from acquiring alcohol elsewhere? Hardly. Would the illegal market flourish? Definitely. Would this demonstrate the absurdity of a fervent prohibition initiative? Certainly. What logic lies in punishing the customer for any smuggling carried out by an external party? None.
You are probably thinking that it’s ridiculous to criminalize innocent people to combat an external problem. Yes, you may well do so, but in Norway we are subject to a law that doing precisely that – convicting an innocent group. Gaining support for such a ridiculous law is all about convincing your audience that a prohibition is the right way to go. Norway is a small country where moralizing has become popular and fanaticism is experiencing a renaissance.
Some thoughts on fanaticism
A good friend of mine once said: «To comprehend the mindset of fanatics you ought to have been an insider; a part of their movement. When discussing with fanatics it is useless referring to statistics or research, this just spurs them to further resistance and strengthens their faith. To expose fanatics you need to show the world their true nature; how they use suppressive arguments and ensure that their toxic prejudice and contempt spread like an epidemic – until the virus they carry is transmitted. If you manage to disclose the fanatics’ nature, you can see them for what they really are – and turn your back on them. Do not let them get to you. That may be sufficient resistance.»
I asked who she defined as fanatics. She replied: «Well, everyone can become fanatical. But some are viler than others, and they will not flinch from their obsession. The end justifies the means and the means are brutal enough. It all boils down to a cynical play on the target’s conscience and, of course, they stay insensitive to criticism. I’ve been there myself – so I should know. But I actually managed to identify and acknowledge my own mania and turn around. First, one must understand that the fanatic’s message affects absolutely everyone around them. Then you have to expose their true horror. That may help.»
She continued: «Fanatics are often blind to their own errors, but incessantly look for the erroneous in others. Alternative lifestyles seem to be preferred targets. Often they have adopted a doctrine which gives them a sense of vocation; something fundamental to fight for – or against. They meticulously seek allies who can nurture the alluring dramaturgy of mass suggestion, and, not unlike the influence of alcohol, they are inclined to absorb each others animated arguments. But the real hallmark of fanatics is how they promote own views. They somehow assume that they cannot be wrong, and they are experts at derailing debates with a familiar rhetoric in which they insinuate that their adversaries must be vicious, misogynous, selfish, too damaged to recognize their own situation, not knowing what is best for them, or must have been brainwashed. The irony is that fanatics often possess these characteristics themselves.
Fanatics battle what they do not like; what they despise. Nothing can surpass the density of patronizing complacency – for their complacency is immune to logic. Worst of all, the fanatics affect everyone around them.»
Let us return to the current situation in Norway, and the imaginary alcohol purchase prohibition. Is the analogue dawning on you? Well, Norway is a small country, saturated with fanaticism where one least wishes to find it: in legislation. It would appear that we are dissatisfied with the number of criminals in this country since politicians introduce legislation that creates new criminals out of common people; ordinary men and women.
The Sex Purchase Law is a blatant example. This law clearly demonstrates how far bigotry can extend and how wide-spread fanaticism actually is. It is scattered in all directions and dismal consequences spread like ripples in the water. Why didn’t the Parliament catch the vileness of the proposal four years ago? How could a small alliance force through the controversial proposal – albeit with a narrow majority? Indeed, Parliament’s perplexed members fell for the fanatics’ tactical agenda: «We will stop the immoral sex buyers, for it will surely benefit the prostitutes in the long run», not to mention their intolerable mind-games: «Don’t you want what’s best for the prostitutes?», «Perhaps you are a client, yourself?», «If you vote against the law, you are indirectly in favor of human trafficking!»
Buying sex was made an illegal act overnight and sex clients were suddenly turned into criminals. Politicians let their own contempt for sex clients and an acute urge to «save» sex workers overrule warnings from specialist fields, protesting sex workers and more sober parliamentarians – who came with clear predictions in advance. Thus, dissidents were denounced and innocents criminalized.
How to deceive a whole nation
Obviously, the government did not speak loudly of the very large number of men and women willingly selling sex in this country, and enjoying it. And few dared to admit that there are thousands of clients in this country that do not resemble the stereotypical portrayal of the «wretched man who cannot get laid for free» or «the misogynist abuser». Of course, when such an admission would have undermined the bill’s validity. However, the horror stories of alleged trafficking we were told repeatedly. The fanatics used these stories to keep fellow politicians, the public and the media in check. And all were readily seduced.
This is the treacherous undermining of a whole people.
Fanaticism’s calculating play does not only concern sex workers and their rights, even though the workers time and again have stated how they would be better off by not criminalizing clients. Fanaticism’s calculating play does not only concern how human trafficking is forced underground by the sex purchase ban. Fanaticism’s calculating play does not only concern how sex workers themselves should be involved in designing sensible regulation that could provide them with safety, labor rights, indoor facilities and the opportunity to pay taxes. Fanaticism’s calculating play does not only concern how the workers would feel better without the additional stigma, which always comes in the wake of laws that cultivate intolerance.
Furthermore, fanaticism’s’tactics do not only concern the clients who have been stigmatized by a moralizing, one-sided debate and their being criminalized. Fanaticism’s tactics do not only concern the clients not being responsible for any human trafficking or forced prostitution. The latter is indeed a case of convicting the innocent; letting clients take the heat for any misdeeds someone may have committed; just because it is convenient. In Norway, many citizens voted for politicians who later prohibited consensual sexual relations between adults.
Although the above-mentioned examples of contempt and miscarriage of justice ought to be sufficient enough to pulverize the Sex Purchase Law, it is obviously not enough to convert the staunchest fanatics.
Still, there is more to it than this.
The law invades all
This very moment, the fanatics’ morality, religion and personal contempt bleed into your, my, your relatives and friends’ personal lives and choices. We must realize how the effects of the statutory arguments are invading our privacy: the freedom to choose how to conduct consensual sex is replaced by a forced ban. The joy of consensual sex is replaced with shame’s smoldering iron grip. The recognition of others’ choices is replaced by prejudice and misconception.
At the heart of the matter lies another issue which concerns all. A sexual act is always a transaction – and payment comes in the form of tangible or intangible values. And there’s nothing wrong with that, we are all in the same boat. Put another way: sex is never free – although one might like to cling to this idea.
Let me exemplify briefly:
Picking someone up for casual sex is never free. An ordinary Saturday evening in an average city often contains these ingredients in advance of a sexual transaction: a taxi ride to a nightclub, entrance fee, drinks, a light meal, a taxi home and then sex. Ever been there? Feel free to summarize the costs of having «free» sex.
In a quite ordinary relationship (or marriage) there are an infinite variety of components leading to sexual transactions. You pay for example with the promise of security, support, love, shared financial commitments, holidays and the occasional gift. Feel free to summarize the costs of having «free» sex in a relationship.
A client goes to a sex worker for a consensual sexual transaction. The sex worker clarifies what services are available. The money for the services is paid in advance and the transaction takes place. The sum to consummate sex? In this case $300.
In light of these examples, is it not a tad ironic that the State in reality has introduced a general ban on sex; a ban including politicians also? If you choose to neglect the ban, I certainly will not judge you. Remember though, that this prohibition will always be at the expense of someone around you; in their subconscious lies a jarring notion that sexual transactions have become something illicit and sinful, and that the ban has deprived them the opportunity to engage in an activity vital for health and well-being, both physically and mentally.
The law has left a trail of grounds for civil actions in Norway: the sex workers’ lost revenue, their damaged working conditions, unjustly penalized clients and an increased harassment and stigmatization. It is not unlikely that such lawsuits will emerge in the future. A government-initiated stigmatization shows clear parallels with racism; instances of cruelty and deliberate discrimination – whether in private or public sectors – are frequently tried in court, and compensation is claimed if the defendant is found guilty. What if the politicians in favor of the law were made personally responsible for all the suffering they have caused an entire people? What consequences would they face?
Moreover, it is easy to lose respect for the police who harass sex workers and pursue common people that are branded as criminals. There are more than enough genuine criminals to catch in Norway. When the police enforce such an obvious moralizing and violating law, a diminished respect will be difficult to regain. In a so-called free country like Norway, officers who find it uncomfortable to enforce this law are entitled to seek another profession. Very many would recognize such an action and find it easy to sympathize with.
The ideal solution, however, would be if the government sat down and acknowledged the legislative debacle, repealed the ban and concentrated on finding good solutions for sex workers and their clients, which is possible to do. If this does not happen, just remember the upcoming general election in 2013, and that a vote for the current government is also a vote for the Sex Purchase Law’s further existence.
To prevent similar future disasters, it would be wise to appoint a group of highly educated, politically and religiously neutral people in Parliament whose mandate would be to stop bill proposals clearly rooted in moralism, religion and a lack of fundamental respect for the individual’s uniqueness. The UN’s clear recommendations on such legislation should not be ignored without serious repercussions. Why? Because the law applies to everyone, and because fanaticism knows no bounds.
The main point is plain and simple: If you want to engage in consensual sex – whatever means of transaction – then no one should stop you. If you don’t want to, let it be. The core here is free will, but the opposite of free will is the Sex Purchase Law.
This is the Nanny State’s callous prescription: misery for the whole population of Norway. An example not to follow.