Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pause for Thought

I haven't been able to view the relevant clips myself, but it appears that Rand Paul is being blasted in the public forum for some comments he made recently on the Rachel Maddow Show. It seems (incoming shocker!) that the self-proclaimed libertarian is against a portion of the 1964 Civil Rights Act legislation. This is a heated issue that is near-and-dear to most principled libertarians. I don't particularly like Rand - he's too conservative for my liking. On the other hand, while most people seem to be in utter shock regarding his comments, he gets some points in my book for sticking to his principles.

The portion of this particular legislation which libertarians hold in contention establishes the prohibition of businesses from making decisions based on race (in regards to consumers and employees alike). On the surface, at least at this point in time, even questioning such legislation seems suspicious to most people. After all, we view racial prejudice as a horrible thing (and rightly so). Why should we let businesses discriminate in their day-to-day affairs? I think the question is plausible enough. I'll retort with another question; Why should we let the KKK publish a book that says terrible things about blacks and Jews? Is "hate-speech" not as equally despicable? I'd venture to say it is.

So why are we allowed to freely say horrible and nasty things about someone, yet we are not free to NOT conduct business with a person? This question is a little harder to answer. But as per the liberal tradition ex Enlightenment, we derive our right to speak freely from our Lockean concept of self-ownership. Because we own ourselves we are free to say whatever we wish. It would seem to follow (at least for libertarians) that this very concept of self-ownership would suggest we have the right to associate with others (or not) as we wish. In fact, the very concept that you would be forced to undertake any physical action (and particularly when it comes to exchanging private property) would seem to be antithetical to the concept of self-ownership.

For a lot of us, the conversation ends right there. But there are a lot of people who don't seem to agree. Some of them don't understand our contention (and there may be little we can do to avoid this). But still others get into meta-liberty concepts to further back their claim(s).

Some claim that, although it's true that liberty is being infringed upon, it's really simply restitution for what has been done to slaves in our country in the past, and therefore it is just. The collectivist nature of this argument seems not only muddled but contradictory to me. I, nor any of my contemporaries, have ever "claimed" ownership over another human being. And no minority alive in America today was ever enslaved by me to be sure. I'm no more personally responsible for what happened to slaves in this country than I would be for what King George did to the early colonists. And even if that somehow was the case - anyone have a time machine? - those victims would be long dead and gone. Their descendants have no claim to recompense for crimes I didn't even commit. In fact, the whole notion of racial retro-restitution smacks of the same absurd and prejudiced generalizations that we're decrying in the first place. Even if you've had a bad experience with a particular group of people (whether common in race, location, or creed), that certainly gives you no right to blanket guilt over all people who share one of those particular attributes. Does it really make sense that it's OK to take away my freedoms because a different individual happened to commit a crime against someone else decades ago?

Another interesting claim is that a free-market (one that is tolerant of bigots) would be able to, hypothetically, band together and refuse certain groups of people service altogether. For instance, white people could all suddenly agree to never serve black people; and that this would be a horrible plight against minorities. Well, I have two objections to this line of thought. The first one (and it is minor) is that this argument presupposes, ironically, that minorities cannot create wealth in and of themselves. That is to say, the question seems to lie on the premise that only white people can offer valuable services and products, and that without their agreeable nature minorities simply wouldn't be able to have anything. This seems much more racist in abstract than the concept that is in contention in the first place.

Nevertheless, my primary objection would be this; and what of democracy? The claim is made that it is these restrictions of freedoms that "saved" minorities from the horrible free-market. But they seem to be missing something very key here. If we make the claim that government created the environment for dissolving racial boundaries, then shouldn't we ask what created the environment for government to do such a thing in the first place? Contrary to the "free-market" hail-mary-argument the detractors have been lofting, government made some pretty bold, strong-armed moves (read: not so "free-market") long before the Civil Rights Act (Social Security, Central Banking, Income Tax, Federal Reserve, etc.). In fact, it would seem that government strong-armed in the other direction (Jim Crow Laws, etc.). So was it bringing government largess into the mix that changed the political tide, or is it possible that we experienced a change in culture that facilitated a change in government policy? It seems to me that, in a democracy, the plurality generally gets its way (that's the idea anyways). So, in effect, the only way government could really get away with forcing people to not discriminate would be if a fair majority of the people ALREADY FELT IT WAS WRONG TO DO SO! It's a circular argument to proffer otherwise. In fact, I'd argue that if the majority simply felt that minorites were not people at all, and indeed had no rights, that our democracy would not be able to thwart that; for it is the majority that directs policy in the first place. Doesn't this describe EXACTLY what was happening prior to the Civil Rights Act to begin with?

I know that some of these ideas may not sway some of the more liberal readers out there. You may still think that if it wasn't for big government that we would currently have mass racial discrimination (to the point of detriment). I know that not everyone can be convinced. But I might ask those people to stop and consider the following thought:

If we restrict the free trade of business owners in order to prevent mass discrimination against a particular group of people, then why do we allow consumers to freely engage in trade? We don't have any laws preventing consumers from discriminating on any basis whatsoever. We bar business owners from discrimination because we believe it would prevent minorities from being able to obtain economic stability and wealth. Yet, any particular business depends solely on the consumption of their product or service. We're scared that people will band together to not hire or sell to minorities, yet we're not afraid that people will band together and refuse to purchase goods and services from those same minorities? Do those two views really seem consistent?

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