Bruce Momjian

Why Can't Society Agree on Victimless Crimes?

Narcotics.  Alcohol.  Gambling.  Prostitution.  Pornography.  Abortion.  These issues fall in and out of favor with surprising regularity.  Narcotics were common in the early part of the 20th century, then fell out of favor, surged in popularity in the 1960s, and fell out of favor again in the 1980s.  Alcohol followed a similar path with prohibition.  Gambling has come and gone, and come again.  So has prostitution and abortion.  Why can't society make up its mind?

While these issues are different, they surprisingly have a common set of forces that determine their social acceptance.  The social groups involved are:

The first group sees these as true victimless crimes and believe society has no right to interfere with personal decisions, even if they are harmful.  The second group believes these are not true victimless crimes.  To the extent that participating individuals act irresponsibly, their actions affect their family, neighbors, and friends.  The third group is harder to classify.  They object to these behaviors because "God says so."  While these are powerful arguments for believers, they can not be accepted by non-believers.

Premarital sex, extramarital sex, divorce, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and deviant sexuality also fit this pattern.  However, they deal with amorous relationships, and are therefore regulated more by social stigmatization than by government control.

So, where does this leave us?  It seems society is trapped in an endless cycle of discovering personal freedom, then understanding the cost of that freedom.  Pick your victimless crime.  Alcohol is in.  Drugs are out.  Gambling is in.  Prostitution is out.  Those emphasizing personal freedom and social responsibility will argue forever.  Religious believers will say it is just wrong, and the first two groups will never understand that.