When you think about it, it's kind of silly that we don't hitchhike more in Western countries, especially the United States. The cars and roads are there. The distances are reasonable. No one is so socially disastrous that you can't make 15 minutes of small talk with them.
Yet we never consider it. Hitchhiking has become so rare that only the weirdos do it. It's taken on cultural connotations (lower-class, hippie, daisy dukes) that no respectable middle-class professional would want to be associated with. Consequently, we waste billions of petro-gallons driving empty chairs from A to B.
We've set up a series of cultural rules for ourselves that prohibit hitchhiking. We're awkward and untrusting in confined spaces with strangers. We're wary of the motives of someone who would want to take a random thumber in their car. We don't like making ourselves vulnerable, or relying on other people. We don't want to risk hearing a John Cougar Mellencamp mixtape.
We look at the cultural practices of developing countries and pull our hair out: 'These people are dying of AIDS yet they won't use condoms because they think it will dampen their manliness? Come on!' You can imagine someone walking around D.C. going, 'These people are so concerned about global warming that they'll spend thousands of dollars on local food, electric cars and building retrofits, yet they won't share their commute with strangers? Come on!' When you control for the cultural factors, we're all idiots.
That said, I'm not gonna start thumb-mmuting anytime soon. It would take hours to get anyone to pull over, and I am wary of their motives and personality. This is the world we've got. But hitchhiking is the kind of thing that governments all over the world should be encouraging, not discouraging. Practices like hitchhiking aren't inherently unsafe. They're unsafe in practice because only the fringe does them. The minute they become mainstream, the risk falls away.
I can't help thinking that prostitution somehow follows this model too. Most people would never get a prostitute because, well, they're fucking prostitutes. The buyers and sellers of sex are a fringe group, and indeed, there are a number of risks associated with that market as its currently practiced.
But most of the seediness of prostitution really comes from its rareness and practitioners. Just like hitchhiking, the act of prostitution isn't what gives us the gishies, it's the reality of prostitution. The girls are exploited, the pimps are assholes, the brothels have lava-lamps, etc. It's not that it's immoral, necessarily, it's more that it's fucking tacky.
My generation's promiscuous as hell. We're not offended by one-night stands, or fuck-buddies, or threesomes, or any other kind of sexual hitchhiking, as long as its consensual. Yet most of us would never even consider buying or being a prostitute. In the world we've got, that's a prudent decision. But in moral terms, we should acknowledge that it's the current reality of prostitution that offends us, not the prostitution itself.
[P.S. you gotta admire this dude's candor: Why I Slept with 1,300 Women]