The limits of acceptance

Just saw a good post over at Left2Right about how those on the left need to drop the insistence of total acceptance of every lefty/liberal social position (e.g. homosexuality) and instead work toward a modis vivendi of tolerance where everyone's entitled to dislike anyone/anything else as long as you don't act on it.

For people who are disgusted by homosexuality, that feeling is a part of their sexual identity, to which they are just as entitled as homosexuals are to their homosexuality. What gay rights activists should demand of such people is, not an acceptance of homosexuality, but the toleration that would consist in their not discriminating against anyone because of it. Homosexuals should demand equality in employment, housing, education, borrowing -- and, yes, military service. In a pluralistic democracy, people should not be denied the opportunity to serve thier country in war because of someone else's distaste for their sexuality. (But a private institution such as the Boy Scouts may refuse to have homosexual scout leaders, if they choose. And then liberal-minded parents may pull their sons out of scouting and send them to study Karate instead, where they will learn to address a veritable rainbow of fellow students respectfully as "Sir" or "Ma'am".)

The last bit brings up what I think is the essential rub of the whole bit- there are some people for whom simply being allowed to dislike or disapprove of something social is not enough; they want to have some way of responding to their particular set of animii in a meaningful manner so that they have an active part in constructing the society they interact with on a daily basis.

In other, plainer words, some people (like the Boy Scouts) want to express their distaste for homosexuality and homosexuals by barring them from leadership positions in their group. David Velleman would agree with that to some extent, but we see where the problem begins to be revealed as we continue to the next paragraph:

Protecting gay rights probably requires positive anti-discrimination laws, which some will oppose out of their distaste for homosexuality. The answer to such people is, not "Get used to it", but rather "You are entitled to your distaste for homosexuality, but others are entitled to their taste for it, and we all have to live together as equal citizens." We don't defend the First Amendment by telling people that they have to get used to pornography. Some people can't and won't get used to pornography -- and they are entitled not to, so long as they don't try to control what other people read or see.

And there we have it. The problem is that with pornography, despite the internet and cable TV and all sorts of things, it is still relatively easy to personally block it from your home/children's eyes without controlling what other people read or see (or having anyone get into a tizzy about it, legally speaking). However the same is not true for those who disagree (vehemently or otherwise) with and are morally opposed to homosexuality- David still proposes telling private owners of, say, apartment housing or small businesses, that you can't discriminate to the point of arranging your particular part of society your way.

I believe this is the reason why David's sentiment, while admirable, falls a bit short. At the end of the day, from the point of view of the person who is disgusted by homosexuality, the policy as it impacts him or her is exactly the same. And indeed, what precisely is the difference between allowing the Boy Scouts (a private organization) to discriminate on sexual orientation but, say, forbidding similar discrimination in housing, employment, etc, by private individuals? It would seem that such an arrangement would fall apart, likely in favor of the status quo ante of "nobody gets to discriminate period."

I'm not sure where the line should be drawn in terms of how far individuals should be allowed to use their market positions (i.e. personal property rights) to enforce illiberal social goals, but I do think that any position ought to allow that there should be space for small, illiberal social spheres. One reason why I think if explicit laws against segregation were repealed, that few or no places in the US would revert to the 'bad old days' is because people know that the economics are against them; it is very very costly to be prejudiced, in foregone business & employment opportunities, etc, absent the bulwark of the state to enforce the prejudicial position. Following that idea, it may be more healthy (in overall social terms) to allow illiberal oases to exist, so that people can also get the point that maintaining their prejudices is costly- and if you do it at a small enough level then our hardwired modules for social interaction may also quickly get the hint that it's not worth the greater opprobrium. Or, perhaps it would be, and there would be a sore spot that everyone could point to as "bigotland" or what have you, and sorting could happen for those who really enjoy that state of mind.

In any case, I believe that liberalism is better served by not trying to stamp out every illiberal impulse in society via state controls, but wherever and whenever possible allow the market to do the dirty work for you (either in stamping it out or, like oil and water, concentrating it into small pockets). Perhaps one step further, David?

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Nicholas, you are inverting

Nicholas, you are inverting cause and effect. Your hypothesis goes that people observe bad behavior, and because of an existing belief that it's OK to pass laws restraining businesses, act to pass those laws. What I'm saying is that people observe bad behavior, and that this *creates* the belief that it's OK to pass laws restraining businesses as a general principle, because people observe that non-legal solutions do not work and that legal ones do.

David, of course there were some companies that resisted official segregation, either for moral or economic reasons. That doesn't change the reality that most businesses would have been segregated, even without official enforcement. No "thugs acting under color of law" were needed in order to have lynchings.

[...] omodation as they

[...] omodation as they stand, so my response is/was a bit off target given his intended point.1 Rich Puchalsky’s objection brings the question to t [...]

Rich, You have a very


You have a very reasonably sounding hypothesis, but I believe history contradicts it.

During the first several years of the Jim Crow laws, several companies were brought to trial for not providing adequate segregation. Even when the legislation demanded racism, businessmen were willing to go against that legislation. The businessmen were not exactly enlightened, tolerant progressives. The costs of racism hit businesses very hard. Segregation in the South required thugs acting under color of law to enforce racism.

Yes, some people would

Yes, some people would discriminate if it were legal. Brian's original post admits exactly that; when he argues for allowing small islands of illiberal behavior, he accepts that some such islands would, in fact, exist. The question is whether any really *large* percentage of people would adopt such behavior, when it would be much, much more strongly disapprobated by everyone else than, say, having a Confederate flag on one's car.

And on Brandon's question, you're just evading the point. People's beliefs reflect philosophical judgments; abstract though they may be, those judgments remain real and important. If people were willing to translate their disapproval of the way blacks were treated by businesses into laws restricting those businesses, that means they were acting on the belief in the existence of a positive right to be served that overrides the right of business owners to choose how to use their own property. Moreover, there must be something about profit-making activity that leads to the belief in that positive right; for, as Brandon pointed out, practically nobody believes in a positive right to be treated without discrimination in other spheres of activity.

Your historical note says only, essentially, "well, the way blacks were treated was really extremely bad." Which everyone here, I think, understands and agrees with. The question is why people felt it legitimate to infringe on business owners' property rights as a remedy for that badness, and that's a question that really does rest on people's abstract beliefs about property, profit, and positive rights.

Why do you think that people

Why do you think that people drive around with Confederate flags on their cars?

Mainly to be needlessly stereotyped by Northerners, but I suppose pride in one's history enters into it somewhere.

Nicholas, society sends a

Nicholas, society sends a strong signal that such behavior isn't tolerable by making it illegal to discriminate. If it were legal, of course some people would adopt it, not only because of racism, but also as a way of setting themselves off as part of a subculture. Why do you think that people drive around with Confederate flags on their cars?

As for Brandon Berg's question, he asked why people believe that businesses have certain obligations, and came up with a completely abstract, ahistorical answer. My answer provides some of the history of why people in the U.S. believe as they do.

Rich, the claim is not that

Rich, the claim is not that discrimination is always and everywhere uneconomic; that's a strawman. The claim is that it would be uneconomic almost everywhere in the US *now*, in 2005. How many places are there in the US *today* where you seriously think a restaurateur could increase business by putting up a "no blacks allowed" sign? Of course there would be a small group of racists who would try and refuse patronage to tolerant businesses-- but racists of that intensity are today a tiny, almost universally despised minority.

Now, there would have been many such places 50 years ago, because the culture was very different. There is a legitimate argument to be had about which way the causation runs between the subsequent cultural changes and the legal changes that went along with them. But that's a different question.

Then, too, your response to Brandon doesn't really contradict his explanation. You're implicitly claiming that people have a positive right to be served by businesses, and that this positive right is important enough to override the business owners' right to do as they like with their property.

Brian Doss: "One reason why

Brian Doss: "One reason why I think if explicit laws against segregation were repealed, that few or no places in the US would revert to the ‘bad old days’ is because people know that the economics are against them; it is very very costly to be prejudiced"

This is clearly not true. If you ran a restaurant in a majority-white, generally prejudiced area, you would get a lot of business by putting up a "no blacks allowed" sign. Sure, some liberals might boycott you, but those people were never much of your customer base anyway, and you would positively attract business from local racists who would see an opportunity for community bonding. In fact, once it became legal to discriminate, there would undoubtedly be created a group of racists who refused to patronize businesses that admitted blacks. If they were 20% of the population in the South, you'd still do better to discriminate as long as the percentage of boycotters and lost black customers was less than 20%.

The belief that racial discrimination would not occur because it is uneconomic is contrary to history and sociology, but it's a libertarian staple, because libertarian politics has no idea of what to do if economics doesn't work. It's one of a wide variety of problems that libertarian thought has to deny are problems (e.g., the wide support of global climate change denialism in libertarian circles) because it has no answer to them.

Brandon Berg, the best answer that you can imagine -- that deep down, people believe something negative about profit -- is not necessarily the best answer. In the case of racial discrimination, it used to be a huge problem for black people to travel, just to take one example, because they could never be sure of finding a place in a small town that would serve them. If you own the only gas station, your town effectively becomes a trap for travellers, who must pay some exorbitant rate to get gas from elsewhere (probably from you, through an indirect channel, so it only adds to your profit margin) if they happen to run out while passing through. And of course black people used to only get inferior services of all sorts. It ignores history to imagine that somehow we start with a clear slate in these matters and that the legacy of American racism has been forgotten, and that people believe that discrimination is bad because of some abstract idea about profit.

I've been pondering on and

I've been pondering on and off for a couple of years the question of why many people believe that businesses have certain obligations that clubs and individuals do not.

For example, a common argument in favor of banning smoking in bars is that the bars' employees should not have to sacrifice their health to keep their jobs. But how many people who espouse this argument would say that a well-off man who married a waitress, allowing her to quit her job, should be forbidden from smoking at home?

And while many may be scandalized at the suggestion that a businessman has the right to refuse patronage from blacks, very few would endorse the idea of negative legal consequences for someone who, for example, invites only his white neighbors to a party at his home.

So...why is this? The best answer that I've been able to come up with is that deep down, most people believe that using one's own property to make a profit is not a right, but a privilege--perhaps even a minor sin--that must be paid for by abdicating certain rights. Does anyone have any alternative explanations?

This is the worst kind of

This is the worst kind of nonsense. Show me a single example of an activist opponent of equal treatment of gays whose position is "I actually have no problem with being politically generous to gays, just so long as I can be disgusted with them in private."

The proper course of action is all-out shunning: If you have a problem with gays, it's because of your own ignorance. And ignorance is never something to be celebrated or respected.

Thanks for the link and

Thanks for the link and commentary -- but, no, I'm not inclined to take your further step. My argument was not intended to have policy consequences (except for case of gays in the military, which I mentioned in an aside). The main purpose of my argument was to recommend a change in liberal political strategy, away from advocating acceptance and towards advocating toleration. I think that the law on public accommodations is pretty much in order (though I confess to being ignorant of the precise details). The rough idea is that people who run businesses that serve the public may be required to serve the public without discrimination. I take it that your objection to such a policy is based on some theory of private property rights -- which takes us into very different territory from the topic of my post.

Rich, you're again evading

Rich, you're again evading the issue. The question is: why do people think that some kinds of bad behavior-- specifically, those relating to profit-making-- are legitimately restrainable by laws, while others are not?

Are you arguing that people basically believe that *any* behavior they think sufficiently bad is legitimately restrainable by law, property rights and freedom of association be damned? Do you think people start from an "ends justify the means" philosophical viewpoint, which allows the state the unlimited right to forcibly prevent whatever people object to strongly enough?