The blog of Dr Glenn Andrew Peoples on Theology, Philosophy, and Social Issues

With justice and liberty for liberals (like us)


A couple of nights ago on TV I watched with interest a news story about the actions of a group in Papatoetoe, Auckland, called “Papatoetoe Reclaiming Our Streets” (PRO). You can see the story yourself here.

It’s a group that has been patrolling the streets, telling street sex workers in Papatoetoe that their trade is not welcome on the streets, that it is immoral, that it is disgusting, making fun of them, telling clients that they are “sleazy,” taking note of the car registrations of clients and sending letters to their homes, letters that warn of the risks associated with street workers. PROS does not take part in violence or force of any kind against those involved.

In response to the public reaction and fresh attention drawn to the plight of their neighbourhood, PROS has agreed to put their activities on hold for a month.

Depending on what your thoughts are about freedom, you might look at PROS and think “what judgemental busybodies, they have no right to do that!” By that I mean, if you do not believe in liberty, you might think that. What’s more, if you’re not a believer in liberty, my saying that might surprise you. Perhaps you thought that it was the people who might side with PROS who don’t believe in liberty. If you did, you were wrong.

When the Prostitution Reform Bill was passed into law, one of its key proponents, Labour MP Chris Carter announced that it was a positive step in ushering in a “good free liberal society.” If he really meant what he said and liberty is his thing, I don’t expect to see him trying to silence anyone over this. Here’s why:

If you don’t believe in liberty for those people that you don’t like or agree with, then you don’t believe in liberty at all.

Just think how absurd it would be to say that you’re such a liberty lover that you’re prepared to let a man dress as a woman and perform whatever sex acts are requested of him by a paying married man with a faithful wife and three kids in some dark alley in Papatoetoe, but you’re not prepared to let someone open her mouth and express to those involved what she thinks about it all.

The loudest supporters of the supposedly liberty loving party that made prostitution legal in this country have, it seems, not yet managed to wrap their heads around the concept of liberty. Here’s an absolute howler from John Kingi at their website:

While I sympathize with the residents who may or may not have been affected by the prostitutes and their clients, this is not the way we as a society want to go about settling our differences! Mocking and abusing those less fortunate? Abusing people’s legal rights! Making moral judgments without knowing the full facts! It reeks of a time long gone and I for one will definitely be writing to this group to express my outrage and I hope many of you watch the video via TVNZ on Demand and condemn this as well!

So let’s see, this person admits to not knowing how much local residents may have been affected by what happens on these streets, expresses apparent shock at the fact that people would make “moral judgements” about people without knowing the full facts (just what type of facts Mr Kingi might be alluding to, he does not say), and then after making his own moral position clear announces that he is going to make a strong moral judgement in writing to this group and urges others to make the same moral judgement.

I have to wonder whether this poor guy even realises what a moral judgement is. One thing is clear about the outrage I’m seeing. The people behind the outrage don’t really want a liberal society – that is, one where everybody has liberty. What they want is an anti-conservative climate where their moral judgements are cushioned from criticism and the views of those who disagree with them are anathematised. Why are they so afraid of letting the free market of ideas sort this one out?

In saying all of this, I’m not saying that I think open slather prostitution is alright, harmless, victimless or even that it’s the kind of thing that the principle of liberty should allow. I make absolutely no comment on that here. My point is just that these folk attacking PROS apparently do think that. Sorry folks, you can’t have it both ways.

Glenn Peoples


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  1. Dan

    I read a great op-ed piece once that reacted to the supposed dichotomy between Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. As the op-ed pointed out, the dichotomy was false because each of thes dystopias promotes and protects the other. If the only thing that people are worried about are their sexual and other hedonistic fulfillment, that short term, immediate gratification focus limits their ability to see the consequences of that focus in other areas of human life. In fact, they will demand greater and greater restrictions on political freedoms generally in order to support their worldly lifestyles. We already see this in the U.S. with the push for gay “marriage” and hate speech legislation.

  2. Derek

    Agreed. Merely talking to prostitutes and their clients(even if what they say is harsh) and using other entirely non-violent means to communicate with these people in no way undermines their civil liberties. Even a state-sanctioned right to engage in an activity does not(and cannot, in a truly free society) come with protection from criticism. The people against the tactics of PRO would only have a case if PRO was employing force in order to stop the activities, which they’re not.

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