I’ve been watching the fallout from Indiana’s new religious freedom law with particular amusement that befits a young curmudgeon. My favorite aspect of it is how people like Gov. Mike Pence say it’s “not about discrimination.” Sort of like how the Iraq Resolution wasn’t a “declaration of war.”
We shouldn’t be surprised, since “discrimination” has become a detestable idea, synonymous with “hate,” hence the “No hate in our state” signs. To some extent, I appreciate the connection. Jim Crow Laws were in fact, discrimination, and no respectable person defends (on moral grounds) discrimination actually based on hatred.
But this ignores several things, one of which is the difference between government discrimination and private discrimination – as Ryan McMaken points out – and the difference between what is moral and what is lawful.
The fact is, you can’t have freedom without the ability to discriminate. It is on this basis we make all life decisions, from what we eat and where we live to who we befriend and marry. We discriminate, and it is our right to do so. That others may disagree with the rationales we base our decisions on, or the manner in which discriminate while exercising our rights, is both true and irrelevant within the confines of a political debate.
For libertarians, this is a somewhat obvious point. Accusations of discrimination, albeit only involving one’s own property, are met by “So?”
The law’s defenders, however, still adhering to the 3×5 index card of allowable opinion, have to play by the politically correct guidebook, which means they must pretend the law doesn’t allow for discrimination. Whether it actually does or not is almost secondary. What matters is that they themselves either believe discrimination is wrong or lack the moral courage to say otherwise. Rather than use this as an excellent opportunity to discuss property rights and how discrimination is a fundamental aspect of one’s rights, they carry on like a child insisting to his parents he didn’t take a cookie out of the cookie jar while refusing to bring his hands out in front of him from behind his back.
We’ve gotten to this point because no one is willing to challenge the notion that discrimination is inherently a bad thing. It has become a loaded word, whereas its true definition is morally neutral.
In our Orwellian culture, the word describes a certain thought crime, a violation of Politically Correct Opinion – that is, depending on who is discriminating against who, and it is within this context the actual debate is taking place.
Refusing to bake a cake for a person due to their religious differences is discriminatory, for example, but firing the CEO of an open source Internet browser because of his political beliefs is not.
Orwell himself summed it up well in Animal Farm.
All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.
The reason there is a debate over whether the law will allow people to discriminate – which it does – is because we have acceptable and unacceptable forms of discrimination. The difference is we don’t call acceptable discrimination “discrimination.” In true sociopathic fashion, we flip the concept of property rights on its head so that we end up with the right to force someone else do something for us under threat of coercion and aggression. This is how you argue for the “right to accessible health care,” “right to education,” or a “right to a livable wage.”
All these require something to provide it for you and in effect become indentured servants.
People have the right to do with their property as they please. They have the right to sell and buy, trade and barter, haggle or preserve. Either one accepts this or not, but once you believe there are exceptions, someone has to decide what the exceptions are, and then you end up with situations like the one we currently have where people feud over control of the state so they can decide what forms of discrimination should be allowed and which ones should be banned, all depending on one’s personal preferences.
So far as I can tell, these religious freedom laws that have everyone in a frenzy are, as written, 100% compatible with the principle of liberty, which permits association or non-association. The reason they are causing such division is that they are laws passed by legislatures and enforced by bureaucrats and courts, in a cultural and historical context of the persistent denial of freedom to those who believe they will be adversely affected by the new laws. It’s like a human rights business cycle: those denied rights afflict the same denial on others when it is their turn, then the blow back occurs. Freedom shouldn’t be this way. It should be the default condition of humanity. It shouldn’t be something allowed or disallowed by legislatures, which are always and everywhere at war with the harmony of interests of humankind.
All people are equal, but some are more equal than others.