Thursday, April 18, 2013

An Ethos of Tolerance

I've seen several cases in the news recently about providers of services (photographer, florist, et c) declining to provide their service for a same sex marriage, claiming freedom of conscience, while enduring either civil or criminal suits for violation of anti-discrimination policies. This is a travesty, y'all! A private business owner should have the right to refuse service to anyone, for any reason, unless they are in so doing actively causing harm to that person. For example, the sole proprietor of a medical practice who, seeing a person needing cpr, refuses to give life saving care on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc should absolutely be liable for that neglect, but here it is not so much about government interference in business as about wrongful death. Honestly, I believe that the less government interference we have in the legislation of discrimination in private business the better. (There are, of course, some areas where oversight of business is needed; Truth in advertising laws, basic health and safety codes, etc. ) To go even further: I do not believe that we should have any universal anti-discrimination laws or affirmative action. While this may seem counter-intuitive, I actually believe that the absence of most anti-discrimination legislation is, for this country, now, the most tolerant and logically consistent position.

Historically, we have had periods in our history where discrimination based on unchangeables was not only commonly accepted, but legislated. The racial segregation laws come to mind as an example of one of our nation's most prominent black marks. I think that, due to the previous climate of racist legal frameworks, there was a time when anti-discrimination laws and affirmative action worked well for us, if not ideologically perfect. However, we no longer live in a world where segregation is common and overt bigotry and cruelty are the norm, whether for homosexuals, minorities, or women. Yes, even as a feminist, I think it should be perfectly legal, if abhorrent, for a business owner to refuse me service because I am female. I reserve the right to protest, boycott, and expose that business owner for the bigoted, um... foul knavish varlet.... that they are, but I support their right to be thus foul and knavish. Here's the thing- if we start dictating where personal conscience ends and "approved" conscience begins, where does this lead? I truly believe that a  libertarian ethos is inherently less discriminatory than one in which people are told what to think, what to believe, and what their conscience can dictate.

As a Christian and a feminist, I believe that discrimination based on actual or perceived race, gender, or sexual orientation is morally wrong. However, I don't think lasting, peaceful social change can be forced by legal mandate. I really think that desegregation, integrating people of all sorts into society where they will meet and interact with those different from themselves, and refusing the urge to attempt to force orthodoxy will change a society faster than laws which mandate it, and we have the added benefit of maintaining our freedom in the process. Laws should not segregate or discriminate, of course. The government and it's offices and agencies (what would remain in a gloriously efficient libertarian system ) should be impartial, and any publicly funded or publicly traded entity should be held to a strict policy of non-discrimination. (Yes, this should apply to same sex couples too. I'd say civil-sphere anti-discrimination clauses for: race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion, provided the understanding that religious practices which violate other laws are not thus protected) Civic or public functions of any kind must be impartial, as must emergency services and anyone who provides life-or-death care as a part of their business. Individuals, and private business owners, should be free to make knavish varlets of themselves as  long as it does not harm others. I would contend that having to find an alternate florist or photographer or salon or whatever is not such a harm, and I really think that, as of now, businesses that practice discrimination will either cater to a slowly dying relic of a clientele, or go out of business altogether when young people like me refuse to patronize them. At this point, I think that the free market would do a better job of evening the path of opportunity than restrictive legislation.

A lot of this, for me, boils down to my thoughts on the nature and purpose of private businesses. A private business exists for the personal benefit of the owner, primarily, and to provide employment, goods and services as its secondary purpose. I think a privately owned business is inherently private, not public, and is not an entity apart from the owner (for the purposes of anti-discrimination legislation.)  So, the freedom of thought, speech, and actions accorded to individuals by our laws should also be accorded to private businesses and their owners.

I also think we sometimes take the concept of tolerance too far. Consider a dictionary's definition of tolerance: "The ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior with which one does not necessarily agree."    There is a vast difference between tolerating the existence of something and liking or agreeing with it. If someone dislikes my feminist, egalitarian theology and philosophy and decides they want no relationship with me because of it, I would not necessarily call them intolerant. Live, let live, and good riddance. If they want to refuse to serve me at their business, fine. They should be free to follow the dictates of their conscience as long as they allow me the same freedom. This extends to labels, as well- if I were ordained, I would not force someone who didn't believe in female clergy to call me "Reverend" any more than if I were gay I'd force someone to call my wife, well, my wife. However, if someone beats me up in an alley because they think that I'm "subverting the patriarchy" by being a female minister or "going against natural law" by being a lesbian, well, we have a problem. A legal and criminal problem.

In summation:

1. Equal opportunity for everyone in the public sphere.
2. Personal freedom for private citizens and their private businesses; free market economics.
3. Refusing to condone, accept, or celebrate things you feel are wrong is fine. Forcing those beliefs on others is not.
4. Results may vary. Equal outcomes not guaranteed.

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