Misadventures in logical reasoning -- and lessons learned from the Spitzer scandal

Nothing obliterates rational discourse like a titillating sex scandal.

By Glenn Greenwald
Published March 12, 2008 5:01PM (EDT)

Misadventures in logical reasoning

* Sometimes, people get drunk and drive, or get drunk and abuse others. Therefore, we should outlaw all alcohol (rather than just outlaw drunk driving and assault).

* Sometimes, the media libels people and destroys their reputations. Therefore, we should outlaw all freedom of the press (rather than just proscribe libel).

* Sometimes, children get a hold of cigarettes or pornography. Therefore, we should outlaw all smoking and pornography (rather than just outlaw the act of selling cigarettes or porn to minors).

* Sometimes, men rape women or molest minors. Therefore, we should outlaw all sex (rather than just outlaw rape and child molestation).

* Sometimes, people use drugs (prescription or recreational), get addicted and then steal or act violently. Therefore, we should outlaw all drugs (rather than just outlaw theft and violence).

* Sometimes, people force women against their will to work as prostitutes. Therefore, we should outlaw all prostitution (rather than just outlaw forced prostitution and human trafficking).

* * * * *

Things I learned over the last 48 hours

* It's possible to eliminate recreational activities that people have engaged in privately for thousands of years simply by making it illegal and then imprisoning the people who do it. Thus, we criminalize prostitution and drugs to ensure that nobody does those things.

* People who work at an unpleasant job in order to support themselves, rather than because they enjoy it, are the functional equivalent of brutalized, exploited slaves and therefore should be barred by others from choosing that job -- when the job in question is prostitution, but not when it's factory work or fast food cashier or large corporate law firm associate or massage therapist or porn actor.

* Sometimes, adults make choices for their own lives that other adults perceive to be bad choices. When that happens, the adults who know better have the right to step in, pass laws to restrict the bad choices, and even make the bad choices criminal -- all for the good of the adults who don't know what's good for them.

* People who respect the judgments which adult women make about their own lives and believe in their right to choose for themselves how they live are sexist and even misogynistic. People who believe that adult women don't really know what's good for them and need to have choices made for them by others are the people who respect women.

* The way you protect someone who is doing things you don't like is to turn them into criminals and force them to do it underground.

* Among liberals, Barney Frank is one of America's most admired and respectable public servants, despite this. Among many in the same group, Eliot Spitzer is a lowly piece of trash not fit for decent company.

* Among conservatives, David Vitter is someone who should be applauded and supported. Among the same group, Eliot Spitzer is dirt that needs to be thrown away.

* All decent people agree that what Eliot Spitzer did is repulsive, morally disgusting and totally nauseating -- which is why it's so important to learn about and report on every last titillating detail about what he did, the kind of sex he had, with whom he had it, how many times he had it, and what his partners looked like -- because it's all so completely appalling that it's critical that we stay fully informed.

* Because Eliot Spitzer is a wretched hypocrite who mercilessly and cruelly prosecuted others for the very acts in which he himself engaged, and because he's so very sleazy, there's no reason to question the vast, extraordinary law enforcement resources expended -- under highly unusual circumstances -- by the Bush DOJ and FBI to investigate a crime that the Federal Government almost never prosecutes. Therefore, here's what we should ignore in order to focus on the much more important matters of Spitzer's sex life and his relationship with his wife (which is very much our concern), from today's The Wall St. Journal:

It isn't clear why the FBI sought the wiretap warrant. Federal prostitution probes are exceedingly rare, lawyers say, except in cases involving organized-crime leaders or child abuse. Federal wiretaps are seldom used to make these cases; search warrants usually suffice. Wiretap applications generally are reserved for serious crimes, such as drug, weapons and terrorism-related cases. There typically are no more than 1,400 wiretaps in use nationwide at any given time.

* Governors who hire adult prostitutes must resign immediately lest the public trust be forever sullied. Presidents who break the law by spying on Americans with no warrants, who torture people in violation of multiple treaties and statutes, who start hideously destructive wars based on false pretenses, who repeatedly proclaim the power to ignore laws, and who imprison people -- including Americans -- with no charges of any kind, should remain in office for as long as they want. Anyone who suggests otherwise is an irresponsible, shrill, partisan radical.

UPDATE: Caveats that should be unnecessary but won't be:

Yes, prostitution is against the law in New York. No, Eliot Spitzer is not entitled to break the law. Yes, Eliot Spitzer should be treated the same as any average citizen who hires prostitutes (neither better nor worse). No, I have no sympathy for Spitzer personally given how aggressively he prosecuted multiple prostitution cases and how guilty he is of rank hypocrisy and overzealous prosecutions.

None of those issues pertains in any way to the points above.

Glenn Greenwald

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