Rights, Wrongs, Prostitution and Justice??

19 05 2011

Recently, this Tuesday, around 450 prostitutes and pimps went on protest with white burial robes or underwear with red and white body/face paint. The development of former red light districts into apartments and office building has caused a big hit towards business for the pimps and prostitutes. There seems to have been much progress in ousting the illegal business as the Korean newspaper, Daily Chosun, reports (titled ‘Prostitutes, Pimps Rally for Right to do Business‘):

In the once notorious red light district in Cheongnyangni, which at one time was home to around 700 prostitutes, only 60 remain. The red light district in front of Yongsan Station near central Seoul used to house around 120 brothels, but only six or seven remain and even they will be shut down next month.

Here is another article from Huffington Post, ‘South Korean Prostitutes, Pimps Rally Against Police Crackdown‘, and another from Washington Post, ‘Masked South Korean sex workers rally against police crackdown on brothels‘. And a youtube clip from AP at the bottom of this post.

As one who sees prostitution as a clear ‘wrong’ this crackdown on prostitution seems to be a very good thing, and it may appear that justice is being well served. But to merely stop at that and be content is to miss the purpose of the law. The law, in a secondary sense, exist for people not people for the law (adaptation from Mk 2:27). We must (particularly if you are a Christian) surface the question that is begged yet can be so easily hid in the shallow meaning of justice. For what are these prostitutes rallying? To be able to prostitute themselves legally? Not really. What they are rallying for is the right to work. It is just this situation that prostitution has been the only or easiest option for them (and sometimes not an option as they are coerced). So then, are we to be happy that prostitution is disappearing at the expense of these people ability to sustain themselves (Of course, individual motivations and responsibilities are involved but I refrain from that discussion for the sake of focus and space)? Is it proper justice that the rich landowners become richer at the expense of joblessness and poverty of others? This situation reminds me of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, when the peddlers on the streets were force out of the city to allow for a more presentable atmosphere. To see justice as merely rights and wrongs will only lead to patchwork enforcement. It will never get to the deeper more entrenched issues of holistic justice. Possibly through these events justice can find its original meaning, not just for the sake of etymology, but for the sake of people, people who deep down are just looking, though misguided, for dignity and significance.

**Warning** Some of these images may be disturbing and explicit.


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9 responses

19 05 2011
Charlie

To say the rich landowners got rich at the expense of the prostitutes is not really correct. First of all, it implies that economies are zero-sum-games, which they are not. Secondly, the prostitutes shouldn’t have been conducting their business on that land (or anywhere) in the first place. So if anything, the government victimized the prostitutes, the landowners just happened to profit (they could have made similar profits in many other ways).

As you know, morality can’t be legislated. People will only understand and conform to the spirit behind laws when they see other people live out said spirit.

19 05 2011
Paul Park

Charlie, the main point of this post was concerning justice and the shallowness of seeing merely rights and wrongs in the current events; economic issues (though not unimportant) were secondary.

But to respond to you comment: One, I was not drawing a direct relationship of cause between the rich and the poor, it usually never is. But in a distanced manner, productivity and profit as an idol causes harm to someone usually the weaker in the socio-economic spectrum, this is undeniable. Two, the government and landowners are not two separate entities… especially in the Korean economy. Third, the Korean economic history is a bit different from American economic development with the huge conglomerates, i.e. ‘jae-buls”, and of course, real estate is also quite a different animal there. Forth, there may be something to when you say that morality can’t be legislated, but ironically, only in the spirit of that statement. My question for you would be what were the ten commandments? Was it not legislation?

19 05 2011
Charlie

I am actually aware of the jae-buls role in the Korean economy (thanks Economist!), so if government/corporate collusion can be proved in this case, then it is worth noting when speaking about justice for the prostitutes. Selective enforcement of laws for the profit of corporations in bed with government is never a good thing. However, man-made governments cannot equitably or judiciously deal with things like prostitution or drug use. Trying to outlaw these acts only results in more injustice than the laws themselves were meant to exact in the first place.

The best thing a government could do is to bring the industry as a whole into the light, and treat it like any other “above board” business. That would result in more justice for more people.

As far as the Ten Commandments being legislation, I beg to differ. They were a mandate from God. They weren’t haggled over, voted on, or constructed in the minds of a man. They were simply handed down as the supreme law. God of Jacob style dispensation of justice is simply not achievable in any man-made government. Not that trying to achieve justice in our individual lives isn’t worthwhile, in fact, THAT is a mandate from God. But thinking we can coax it out of our current systems of government is delusional at best.

19 05 2011
Paul Park

I comment on the last paragraph. Well, the ten commandments are legislation. The process of making laws, whether by one (king, divine or not) or many (democracy), doesn’t nullify that ‘law making’ is legislation by definition. What your last paragraph is actually arguing is the “validity” of each law. The remedy here, in part, is to grasp a correct perspective that the legislation of God is archetype, and our legislation as ectype.

Just a side question, it seems you want a society with laws but with no government (correct me if this isn’t your position). Instead of always arguing against current forms, what do you propose in place of them?

19 05 2011
Charlie

Because sin is a zero sum game. When we sin, or fail to uphold justice, it always hurts someone else! The world at-large doesn’t understand biblical justice, and neither do man-made forms of government. The world only understands self-interest. That is why I think a Christian can personally disagree with prostitution for reasons of faith and morality, but support a government that doesn’t try to outlaw the practice, opting instead to regulate the practice in such a manner where prostitution’s traditionally coercive and unjust nature is mitigated.

19 05 2011
Paul Park

One comment here. Sin is NOT a zero sum game. One, the theory is too individualistic. Two, sin is an immensely negative game (though I think this quantifying of sin is more than an inadequate and limiting metaphor). Sin hurts oneself, someone else, and further. This is why I can understand (I don’t know if I completely agree) Piper when he says he is a one-issue voter based on abortion. You and I both underestimate sin, Piper does not and that I can respect. But back to prostitution, your prescription for mitigation is very nebulous. What would the alternative to outlawing be?

Another question. What would you say is good to outlaw?

19 05 2011
Charlie

Defining the Ten Commandments as “archetype legislation” doesn’t really add a whole lot to what we’re talking about, which is how governments should handle prostitution. Governments should not even pretend to enact prototypes of Ten Commandment-style laws, because if they did, we would be killing prostitutes, and the married people who sleep with them. Once we know we shouldn’t be trying to exact Old Testament justice on the masses, we can get somewhere with this issue. Outlawing prostitution has done nothing except victimize the prostitutes, let the pimps off easy, and create a black market. Let’s hope a war on drugs style bureaucracy never forms around the prostitution industry.

A truly nuanced look at the issue would be for a government to take an official stance against prostitution (without making it illegal), but legislating and monitoring the freedom-depressing aspects of the industry (human trafficking, physical abuse, child abuse). Off the top of my head, Germany comes closest to doing this. This might sound hypocritical, but it lets people know the government isn’t trying to micromanage lives, but it is trying to preserve individual freedoms. This is a framework which allows people to make reasonable decisions minus the coercion.

I was wrong in calling sin a zero sum, but like we both said, it’s bad for everybody.

There is very little that should be outlawed. Most of the obvious things. But I’m of the school that thinks government should be outlawed from doing more things than individuals. Think Bill of Rights.

Portugal has legalized heroin. Heroin use has declined dramatically, as well as the associated violent crimes. We can pretend like outlawing prostitution is the pious thing to do, but it’s really not. Until evil is no more, we have to work with what we’ve got. Until then, we have to enact a framework that plays off humans’ innate selfishness, and uses it for the greater good. As convoluted as that sounds, it’s the best thing that’s been invented to-date. You benefit massively from the selfishness of others. Doug in Chicago doesn’t give a crap about you, he just wants you to buy his hot dog so he can send his kids to private school and put his wife in a BMW.

A constitutional republic carried out by a limited government is clearly the best type of government that has ever existed. The overbearing arm of the state and the ridiculous power being accumulated by governments over individuals will be a terrible thing God will use to bring about the end of the world. More legislation is never a panacea. It’s usually the problem. God let’s people make the determination whether to choose Him or not. Governments should let people make determinations how they want to live their lives in most cases (abortion being an exception, for instance).

21 05 2011
Paul Park

We digress yet again from the main focus of the post, so I’ll keep it short. If you really understand the nature of archetype-ectype, it does more than add, it changes your perspective entirely, but that discussion you can ask me another time. And one comment on the use of OT law (which has very little to do with the archetype-ectype), very few (except Theonomists) would actually hold to such a hermeneutic. To say “we would be killing prostitutes” is rather a straw-man argument.

I agree with your general sentiment that government should not be overbearing but more of a facilitator (we probably disagree on degree but again, I will not discuss that here). But one comment I’d like to make is that you once again underestimate sin. In your example of Doug in Chicago, it gives an example of big problem of the western economy: idolatry of progress/productivity/profit (to read up on, see Goudzwaard or Wolterstorff). Given that (and I know this world will not become perfect and we have to ‘work with what we have’) there is a level we cannot condone such idolatry. Because such leads to ignoring the ‘foot-tracked’ nature of sin and what Lewis illustrates when he says the Grumbler becomes a Grumble. It sees the ‘small’ yet inevitable sin as innocuous, an underestimation (which is why I respect Piper, he knows this). Such idolatry, institutionally AND individually, each eats away at us in visible and invisible ways. That is why, though I do not state a position on any particular legalizations here, legislation of such laws hold a certain place.

And lastly, God letting people have the freedom to “choose” Him has nothing to do with him commanding laws. It’s a poor comparison. But I do see your point on gov’t letting people make determinations.

22 05 2011
Charlie

The role of Christians in politics, and how God’s justice interplays in a given form of government is a complicated issue. Also, the science of politics is up for debate. What’s not up for debate is that the bigger the government, the more horrific and widespread the evil (China, former Soviet Union, NK). Another thing that isn’t up for debate is that creating black markets by outlawing certain illicit activities creates greater opportunity for widespread, unseen evil to occur (war on drugs). Having said that, would you ignore the undeniable scientific evidence that says bringing illicit activities out of societal darkness into the mainstream benefits society, and stubbornly continue to grow bureaucracies and outlaw certain activities just to say you are trying to uphold God’s justice?

I think it’s a mistake to pretend that any secular form of government can even come within a sniff of upholding biblical justice, but still claim to understand the evil of sin and the seriousness of God’s justice. That is why I think it wouldn’t be unreasonable for a Christian in politics to support legislation that simultaneously allows prostitution to occur, but minimizes the evil and nefarious characters/aspects of the trade. However, it’s akin to the Jew-hider lying to the Nazis about harboring escapees. This is why I don’t fault theologians who say Christians shouldn’t get involved in politics, because it puts the Christian in a difficult spot. Follow where the scientific evidence leads for the good of mankind while voting in opposition to biblical truths, or uphold biblical truths but risk creating greater evil/corruption while technically remaining pure in biblical convictions? Tough choice. Glad I’m not in politics.

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