As you may recall, we last left Jonathan Gullible on a remote Pacific island after his boat was tossed about by a terrific storm. One day …
No sooner had he exited the building than he nearly tripped over Mices, lying in wait outside with a dead rat at his feet. Eyeing the revolting rat, Jonathan mused, “I can imagine where this came from, Mices. Thanks, but no thanks.” The yellow cat scratched his torn ear, unconcerned by Jonathan’s rejection of the juicy rat.
Across the street, Jonathan noticed a woman wearing heavy makeup and a tight fitting, bright red dress. As a gentleman passed her on the street, she smiled and tried to engage him in conversation. She didn’t appear to be begging. No, Jonathan thought she was trying to sell something. When unsuccessful in her efforts with the man, she abruptly turned to find another customer. Jonathan wondered if Lord Ponzi had declared this gaudy woman a public good, too.
Then, coming toward him, he saw another outrageously dressed woman. She, too, wore vivid lip paint and a low-cut black blouse that showed off her ample cleavage. Her short skirt revealed lithe legs that gave no hint of ever doing knee walking. When she stopped and gazed boldly at Jonathan, he practically stopped breathing. She was on the verge of speaking, when a police wagon barreled around the corner and jerked to a stop between the two women.
Several men dressed in black jumped out, grabbed both women, leering and pinching as they hauled them shrieking and kicking into the wagon. Before Jonathan had time to protest, the policemen slammed the doors shut, the driver cracked his whip, and off they went. One of the officers remained behind, writing some notes in a little black book that he pulled from his pocket.
“Excuse me, sir,” said Jonathan, “I’d like to report a robbery.”
“That’s not my department,” replied the policeman, without even glancing up from his notebook.
Jonathan was stymied. Glancing at the name tag under the man’s badge, Jonathan asked, “What’s your department, ah, Officer Stuart?”
“Immorals,” said the man.
“Beg your pardon?”
“Immorals Department. At our Department we’re concerned with immoral behavior.”
“Surely robbery is immoral.” Getting no further response, Jonathan asked, “Why were those women arrested?”
Officer Stuart finally looked up from his notations and saw Jonathan’s perplexed look. “Couldn’t you tell by their clothes? Those women were guilty of giving men sexual favors in exchange for cash. It would have been much better for them if they had bartered for those favors instead.”
“Barter? What do you mean by ‘barter’?” asked Jonathan, who was less concerned about his own troubles at the moment and increasingly curious about those women.
“I mean,” said the policeman, emphasizing every single word, “those women should have entertained their associates after receiving dinner, drinks, dancing, and a theater ticket instead of cash. It’s better for community business and perfectly legal.”
This confused Jonathan even more. “So cash must never be used for sexual favors?”
“There are exceptions, of course. For example, cash may be paid for the activity if it is filmed and shown to all the people in town. Then it’s a public, not private, event and permitted. Instead of getting arrested, the participants may even become celebrities and earn a fortune from a sell-out audience.”
“So it’s the trading of cash for purely private sexual activity that’s immoral?” asked Jonathan.
“There are exceptions for private cash transactions, too, especially when the women wear nicer clothing than those streetwalkers,” said Officer Stuart with disdain. “Short-term deals, for an hour or overnight, are illegal. But for a permanent, lifetime contract between a couple, cash may be used. In fact, parents sometimes encourage their children to make such deals. Aspirants to nobility have often been revered for this kind of behavior. Properly done, such contracts provide legitimate means for improving social status and security.”
The policeman finished making his notes and reached into a bag. He pulled out a stoneonastick and some nails. “Mind giving me a hand over here?”
“Sure,” said Jonathan uncomfortably. He tried to reconcile these strange moral standards.
Officer Stuart turned and walked to a store nearby. He took hold of some loose boards piled on the sidewalk and motioned to Jonathan. “Here, hold this end up. I need to board up the windows of this shop.”
“Why are you boarding up this shop?”
“The shop is closed,” he said in a voice muffled from holding the nails in his mouth. “The owner was found guilty of selling obscene pictures and got sent to the zoo.”
“What’s an obscene picture?” asked Jonathan, naively.
“Well, an obscene picture is of some foul and disgusting activity.”
“Was the shopkeeper doing this ‘disgusting’ activity?”
“No, he was just selling the pictures.”
Jonathan thought about this carefully as the man finished nailing the top board across the door. “So selling pictures of an obscene act makes one guilty of the act?”
Now it was the policeman’s turn to stop and deliberate. “Well, in a way, yes. People who sell such pictures are guilty of promoting the activity. Consumers are easily influenced, you know.”
Jonathan struck his palm against his forehead. “I get it. This must have been the newspaper office. You have arrested the news photographers for taking pictures of warfare and killing. But are your newspapers guilty of promoting warfare and killing just because they print and sell the pictures?”
“No, no. Ouch,” exclaimed the officer, shaking his thumb in pain and letting fly a string of violent curses. He had missed a nail and struck his thumb by mistake. Officer Stuart glanced around self-consciously to see who might have heard him swearing. Picking up his tools, he started again. “Obscenity is sexual activity — only performed by perverts. Decent folk condemn such behavior. On the other hand,” said the man, “warfare and killing are things that decent people and perverts may all read about and do together. In fact, graphic reporting of these things can earn journalistic awards.”
As soon as the last board had been securely hammered in place, Officer Stuart picked up his tools and walked away. Jonathan looked down at his cat Mices. “Guess he’s too busy with immorality to help me with a mere robbery.”
”’Ken Schoolland is an associate professor of economics and political science at Hawaii Pacific University.”’
”’The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible began as a radio series on KHVH in Hawaii and was later broadcast as a dramatic production in Alaska.”’
”’The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible, A Free Market Odyssey, is in its third, revised and expanded edition, 2001