Thursday, February 03, 2005

Telegraph | News | 'If you don't take a job as a prostitute, we can stop your benefits'

A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing "sexual services'' at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year.

I recently read a comment to the effect that to tolerate something is to make it compulsary, which I thought at the time was obvious nonsense. Now I'm starting to understand how the problem can arise.

A friend raised the interesting question - is religious sanction all that comes between us and compulsary prostitution, as an inevitable consequence of tolerated prostitution?

My boring answer would be, in a word, no. The penalty cuts in benefits are presumably intended to prevent the benefits going to people who did are not genuinely seeking employment. The fact that a person has turned down work as a prostitute is not compelling evidence that she is work-shy, any more than a vegan declining work in a slaughter-house or, similarly, a pacifist refusing military enlistment.

So what happens when there is a gap between the acceptable moral argument and an unacceptable adminstrative reality? If you believe, with Protagoras, that man is the measure of all things then we - and she - should stand side-by-side with the vegan and the pacifist in a common fight (obviously non-violent, involving no harm to animals and with no trading of sex for favours) for the law to be amended to permit all to exercise their various credible moral convictions.

But what happens if I have a credible conviction that I should not pay tax? Or that there should be compulsary eugenics (as opposed to merely supporting unrestricted advertising for fast food and tobacco companies) - perhaps some of these convictions are more tolerable than others?

Ah, tolerance again. Like the dust under the carpet, you can move it round but the bump remains. The price of freedom may be constant vigilence, but price of tolerance seems to be constant moral choice and debate.

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