Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Can conservatives and libertarians be feminists?

Short answer: Of course!

Long answer: Some feminists don’t think so, but they’re wrong. Here’s an excerpt of a discussion I had on the Hopkins Feminists page explaining why. As always, names are changed, my comments are in regular font, and other people’s comments are in colored italics.

Opinions on this? If we can glean value from competing perspectives, is the critique of feminism as a left-wing political tool constructive? Can there be a right-wing feminist movement?

(I'm not sure how Politico is as a source, but it seems fairly neutral in terms of right-wing/left-wing politics.)

Chrissy: I think she makes a good point that it has been used as a political tool. It would be great if feminism transcended politics because it was universally supported and accepted. Until that's the case, there is always going to be someone using it for political gain. I also think her definition of feminism is to narrow. "A feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses." I think that is a good start, but shouldn't it include advocating for the equality of all people and against the structures in society that prevent that?

James: I thought we already had words for right-wing feminism? Like "white feminism" and "trans-exclusionary radical feminism."

I mean like, I don't even have to google things she's said in the past to start poking holes in her argument that she's promoting a new useful perspective on feminism, when it's really just a conservative flavor that already exists. She provides the proof right in this article. Stuff like: "She pushed for school choice, which Democrats largely oppose, saying it benefits low-income mothers and daughters." No, it allows gentrification and urban re-segregation to accelerate by removing the responsibility to improve schools used by the poorest urban residents who can't afford any transportation.

The article actually points out that OTC birth control from a Republican perspective is just a plot, because Republicans do their best to keep OTC medicines off ACA plans.
She supports a 20-week abortion plan.

Then if you do go looking for other things she said, she doesn't even support pay equality legislation. (http://www.ibtimes.com/carly-fiorina-women-speech-ex-hp...)

Feminism that ignores the intersection with class is just shoddy and empty.

I mean, at least she says she supports transgender rights, but given she used the phrase "open to transgenders," it doesn't sound like she has her heart or mind in it and is just picking up the current political wind.

Me: I think the answer to your question is yes, there can be a right-wing feminist movement, it's just that John and others who think like him would oppose the right-wing parts of it. I'm very not-right-wing myself, but I totally support school choice and OTC birth control. Far from ignoring the intersection with class, I think both ideas would make life better for both women and the poor. That doesn't make me less of a feminist, it just means I disagree with John on economic and philosophical issues which reasonable, well-intentioned people (and even reasonable, well-intentioned feminists) can and do disagree.

Emily: First of all, Chrissy, I agree that Carly Fiorina's definition of a feminist is too narrow; also, my initial reaction was to agree with you, James, about what "GOP feminism" might mean and about what Carly Fiorina specifically means by it. However, after some thought I also imagined the possibility that a right wing feminist movement could be based on intersectional interests but with a more liberal economic slant (like what Andrew Doris pointed out). I was inspired more by this idea than by Ms. Fiorina's statements when I made my post.

So, thank you for helping me feel out my own ideas about this subject! I actually think we are all on similar pages with regard to this idea, if not this politician. I suppose that for now, we can all agree that in the current, extremely partisan political climate right wing feminism = "white" feminism, but in a world where anything is possible, right wing feminism could actually be an alternative way for all feminists to approach the issues they are interested in.

Alexis: Just real quick: I'm not sure that a "liberal economic slant" is compatible with thoroughgoing feminism. Like, if capitalism is the system under which black, poor, and female people are exploited for their labor, how can that system be feminist?

Emily: That is also a good point

Me: You presuppose the contested point, Alexis. Your comment boils down to "if this left-leaning, anti-capitalist theory about which economic system is best for black/poor/female people is correct, how can capitalism be feminist?" But the whole debate is about whether that theory is correct in the first place, which seems like a matter better debated by economists than sociologists. By analogy, the US's foreign policy towards ISIS will also likely have enormous implications for the wellbeing of poor, brown women in that region - but of course feminists can disagree on what the best foreign policy is, too.

We can't go around promising people that "feminism is just about equality between men and women!" and then pretend the implications of that in all sectors of policy, ethics, academics and life are obvious and straightforward. Smart people draw different implications from that shared starting point. The less divergence you tolerate within the boundaries of the definition, the more assumptions feminist arguments are predicated upon, and the less morally compelling the feminist cause becomes. So either you narrow the sales pitch and admit that feminism is an highly contentious set of mostly-left-wing ideas which many reasonable people can and do think are wrong, or you open the gates to people you might disagree with on a whole host of peripheral issues in an attempt to get results on the areas of consensus.

If you choose the former approach, that’s fine, but you should make sure to specify and publicize just what the defining criteria of feminism are from the start. You should also realize that feminism will lose much of the mainstream appeal it has recently gathered from people who believe men and women are equal, but don’t share your conception of equality in practice. And when people start making #WhyI’mNotAFeminist movements on Twitter because they disagree with you on the minimum wage or tax rates or healthcare or what have you, you can no longer accuse them of misunderstanding what feminism means, because you were the one who defined it in a way which excluded them.

Or, you could choose the latter approach, and allow feminism to become a bigger tent on issues that aren't quintessentially feminist turf. This is my approach. No two of us in this group agree on every issue that intersects with gender equality. If we were each to exclude and disown anyone who differed from our stances on any of these issues, we'd wind up with the "no true Scotsman" fallacy wherein we all insist we’re the pure ones and they’re the traitors. It's the Judean People's Front attacking the People's Front of Judea, and it's not productive.

As a libertarian, I happen to believe some of the non-libertarian tendencies occasionally expressed by members of this group are actually counterproductive to women's rights and welfare. If I were nitpicky and looking for a fight, I suppose I could dismiss these ideas as "statist feminism," or some other pejorative prefix meant to be read as "not real" feminism. I refrain from that because the reasons I disagree with those ideologies have little to do with feminism's essential correctness, and I don't think the infighting which would result on this page would be helpful towards the advancement of the very many feminist issues I care deeply about.

Carly Fiorina is wrong about an awful lot, but if she says she's a feminist, I’ll welcome her to the discussion about what that means.

Also, here are examples of some awesome free-market feminist websites, for any who are interested:

Alexis: Sure, I guess if we disagree on what capitalism is, then fine. But we do, and I think that there is no capitalism without the exploitation of labor (where does value come from) and that fundamental to the exploitation of labor is the exploitation of women's bodies through reproductive labor. So you can try to have a feminist free market, but as long as it produces wealth, that wealth is coming from somewhere, and I bet it's the bodies of women and non-white and poor people, and to me that's not feminist.

: ^Second what Alexis said, and expand reproductive labor to all intimate labor - from childbearing/rearing to nursing to sex work to house/hotel cleaning. Capitalism consistently puts women in jobs where they are expected to provide care and intimacy, and underpays them because that emotional attachment means employees are more likely to go above and beyond for free, and less likely to complain openly or strike. The same thing can happen to men (women aren't "more emotional" that's BS) but women are put in these jobs and roles at an extremely disproportionate rate.

Here is another concrete example of feminism without an analysis of class: if a you are "pro-choice" but support economic policies that make abortion unaffordable for millions of women, you are not pro-choice, full stop. http://thinkprogress.org/.../cost-abortion-investigation/

And far from creating conditions of freedom, libertarianism simply further privatizes coercion. The workplace is already a site of ubiquitous violence against and coercion of women; in fact many libertarians are OK with a boss having the 'right' to tell a worker, "fuck me or you're fired" (quoting from the article below).

Libertarianism is 'freedom' for a tiny minority to immiserate, exploit, and literally rape the vast majority of ordinary people. It cannot be "feminist" if "feminism" is to remain a meaningful word:


Me: I’ll engage each of the arguments you made, but as I’ll explain at the end, I think they’re besides the point.

Response to Emily - the labor theory of value is one of the most soundly refuted tenets of Marxism. I could labor all day in my backyard making mud pies, but if nobody wants those pies, I wouldn't have created anything valuable. Labor has no inherent worth, and it can be invested into both productive and non-productive ventures. Markets are that system by which labor is funneled into the most productive, in-demand ventures, as identified by the democratic signaling of millions of aggregated economic transactions. Of course markets produce wealth, and of course that wealth comes from somewhere – which are both very good things, and especially for the least-wealthy!

Response to James - I wholly agree with you that “women are put in these jobs and roles at an extremely disproportionate rate,” and that’s problematic. I disagree that is capitalism’s doing. I think it’s patriarchy’s doing. Capitalism operating under conditions of prevailing patriarchal social norms may lead to suboptimal results without being the root cause of those outcomes. By challenging and eroding these pressures and expectations, we can have a society in which those jobs you mentioned are both more evenly divided by gender and more accurately priced/compensated on an open market, that is still fully compatible with capitalism. In fact, without some sort of market pricing mechanism, I’m curious how you propose to compensate people who do those sorts of jobs.

Response to Sam - If you oppose the myriad of state regulations that artificially restrict supply and purposefully drive up the price of important health services like abortion, you’ll find no stronger allies than libertarians. Most cost barriers to abortion access result from punitive state intervention by social conservatives deliberately trying to price people out of the market, not any natural scarcity in the services demanded. Women should not have to “struggle to navigate a maze of state laws that make it increasingly burdensome and expensive to get an abortion,” as your article rightly lamented, because abortion is nobody’s business but theirs and their doctors, and there should be rather few laws on the subject.

That said, the right to an abortion is a negative right – a subset of the general right to do as you please without harming others – not a positive claim to other people’s time, energies, expertise or resources. Abortions would be vastly cheaper and more accessible in a free market, but they would not be free, and they can never be free, so somebody somewhere will always have to pay for them. That person should be the person receiving the service, because every alternative requires violence. Being pro-choice does not necessitate a willingness to pay for other people’s choices, nor to coerce others into paying for those choices – full stop.

But again, all of this is besides the point. As it relates to the original post that started this thread, it’s totally reasonable for us to disagree vehemently on these abstract philosophical issues. It’s unreasonable, or at least unwise, to use these issues as a litmus test for feminism. Far from “feminism without an analysis of class,” mine seems like feminism with a thoughtful and detailed analysis of class that just so happens to differ from your analysis. If what you’re saying when you pit capitalism (or libertarian economics, or even just modest market reform) as contradictory to feminism is “you can’t be a feminist unless you’re also a radical socialist,” I think that’s wildly out of touch with what even most self-described feminists in this country believe, and certainly out of sync with the way feminism has been marketed to on-the-fence converts in recent years. More importantly, it’s counterproductive to our shared objectives, which disappoints me more than encountering yet more people who think we libertarians are psychopaths who hate the poor.

Emily: It seems a bit empty jargon-y to say that "the labor theory of value is one of the most soundly refuted tenets of Marxism" (of course: capitalism makes sure that, as you say, labor and value are disconnected by the market) and then say "Of course markets produce wealth, and of course that wealth comes from somewhere – which are both very good things, and especially for the least-wealthy!" Where do you think value comes from? Especially when you subscribe to that logic in saying things like "but [abortions] would not be free, and they can never be free, so somebody somewhere will always have to pay for them." Value will always come from someone somewhere (or something, which is where anticapitalism and environmentalism high five); so unless you're proposing a system whereby all women prosper from the exploitation of men, your feminism-without-class grosses me out, because some women are going to get trampled.

And really, whatever you want to call it, if you are espousing an analysis of women's exploitation AGAINST an analysis of class, I'm not on board with it. I want what's good for all women, I don't just want women to have equal opportunities to become exploiters of others (including other women).

I let her have the last word at that, but I’ll update it if others comment and I feel compelled to respond again.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Three more thoughts on the left’s response to the Indiana RFRA

This post is a sequel to my first four thoughts on the RFRA, which discussed the right to freedom of association and the silliness of boycotting an entire state (whatever that even means). It is a little more aggressive in tone than my last one, so it’s important to preface these comments with an admission that I am using the words “the left” rather loosely, and that makes me uncomfortable.

Hundreds of millions of people in this country self-identify on the leftward half of the political spectrum, and this entry is targeted at a vastly smaller number of them than that. What I mean by “the left” is perhaps more accurately specified as “the portion of politically progressive people who were vocally outraged by the Indiana RFRA, who were sympathetic to efforts to boycott the state as a consequence, and who prominently, enthusiastically support forcing unwilling businesses to take part in marriage ceremonies they feel uncomfortable taking part in.” Sadly, that doesn’t much lend itself to frequent repetition, so I’m settling for inexactness in the absence of a better term. In other words, I use “the left” as shorthand for “the side of this debate with which the left is generally associated.” If you count yourself a member of the left, but are not in lockstep with the progressive orthodoxy on these issues, the criticism that follows is not directed at you.

1.  The left’s reaction to the Indiana RFRA was spiteful, not compassionate.

The political left has successfully framed all issues regarding gay rights in the public eye as a choice between love and tolerance on their side, and hateful bigotry on the other. Even if opposing gay marriage is equivalent to bigotry, this is a false dichotomy, because the idea that theirs is always the side of love and acceptance just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The protests surrounding the Indiana RFRA were primarily animated by animosity towards those who disagree.

A cursory glance at the tone of the average #BoycottIndiana tweet shows overwhelmingly more venom than sympathy. Of course, it’s rather easy to find angry dolts on Twitter. But even prominent public figures have been astoundingly hyperbolic. Rod Dreher’s excellent post Into the Christian Closet documents the insanity:

“This is not the Indiana I remember as a kid,” said David Letterman last night about the new RFRA. This is a guy born in 1947, old enough to have already been in elementary school before Brown v. Board of Education was decided, who was well into his 40s before the first gay-marriage blip appeared on a state’s judicial radar. But that’s the way most people on my side of this issue roll these days. Culturally we’re in the midst of a great forgetting, where those who were themselves agnostic about SSM or even opposed to it 15 minutes ago simply cannot imagine a mindset that would be agnostic about, or opposed to, the practice….[Letterman] hasn’t realized yet that the reason he doesn’t remember stuff like this happening when he was a kid is because gay Hoosiers had little choice at the time but to stay deep, deep, deep in the closet. The suggestion that Indiana is less accommodating to gays now, when reporters have to go door to door in small towns to find even one business willing to deny service to them, than it was in the 1950s is revisionism so egregious that gay-rights activists should be in his face about it, insisting that he recognize what America used to be like for them.

Instead they’re in the face of some pizzeria owner from a small town, who’ll almost certainly never be asked to cater a gay wedding — except maybe now as a pretext to coax her formal refusal and trigger a lawsuit — and who, like every other Christian business owner who’s run up against antidiscrimination laws thus far, isn’t refusing service to gays as a rule. She’s refusing compulsory participation in a wedding ceremony that violates what her religion tells her is permissible. And she’s getting destroyed for it on Yelp.

Watch the clip, then read the Yelp comments and ask yourself on which side the malice in this debate, which is supposed to be about hatred and prejudice, truly lies. There’s no Internet mob these days quite as nasty as a mob of pro-gay social-justice warriors competing to win the outrage Olympics.”

And of course, major politicians couldn’t miss the opportunity to feign outrage either:

“Two years ago, Hillary Clinton was saying that she changed her mind on [Same Sex Marriage], but that ‘people of good will’ could disagree with her. Now she’s saying that those same people of good will are sad bigots, and how on earth are troglodytes like that still around in 2015?... [W]hen it might have cost them something to stand for gay marriage rights, many, many politicians and celebrities did not do so. Now, when America is on the verge of having SSM everywhere, people like Hillary Clinton were always for gay rights….

[T]his has as much to do with opportunism, tribalism, humanity’s love of bandwagons, and political positioning as it does with advancing gay rights, which have advanced thanks to persuasion, not coercion.”

Ross Douthat rightly hypothesizes on how recently liberals themselves held the positions they know denounce as bigoted:

If a religious conservative (or anyone on the right) had said, back in 2004 or even into President Obama’s first term, that they accepted that marriage should be redefined nationwide to include same-sex couples, that they further accepted that this would happen swiftly through the courts rather than state-by-state and legislatively, and that all they asked of liberals was that this redefinition proceed in a way that allowed people like Barronelle Stutzman some wiggle room about whether their businesses or facilities had to be involved in the wedding ceremonies themselves — with the mechanism for opting out being something like the (then-still-bipartisan) RFRA model – this would have been treated as a very reasonable compromise proposal by a lot of people on the center-left, gay as well as straight.”

But not today. Today, $135,000 fines are considered justly proportional to the emotional damages suffered by lesbian couples who are temporarily denied a confectionary item.

Now, being a privileged straight man, I cannot personally relate to the distress such denial must provoke. As it happens, I also cannot relate to the emotional damages a mother must feel when her child is killed by a drunk driver. In that latter case, my powers of imagination are sufficient to conceive of how a $135,000 transfer from the responsible party to the victim’s family might be appropriate recompense. But relative to the indignity of having to drive to a friendlier bakery, I needn’t be lesbian to understand that it’s massively disproportionate! Their argument is essentially “you made us feel badly, for a silly reason…so we get your retirement!”

The primary hardship endured by the gay couple suing this family was the inconvenience of finding another baker – not for all time, mind you, just for the festivities taking place on a single day of their lives. The hardship endured by the couple being sued was the forfeiture of $135,000 at implied police gunpoint, the loss of their beloved business (and only means of supporting themselves), and going bankrupt. Which of these hardships amounts to persecution? Which sparks public outcry? There is a clear victim here, and only a worldview that’s hopelessly wrapped up in which macro-demographics generally oppress which macro-demographics could possibly confuse which it is. Person A feels sad that their relationship is devalued by someone they know to be ignorant, and has an entire nation rush to console them. Person B could potentially lose their fucking house, and the Huffington Post is “not sure we care.”

This is the party of empathy? No. It’s the party of empathy for people who agree with you. Truly empathetic and compassionate people would understand the feeling of being trapped between what is easy and profitable on one hand, and your deepest held beliefs on the other – whatever those beliefs happen to be. When poor, uneducated Muslim terrorists set off bombs in crowded markets overseas, the left finds it within themselves to feel compassion for the circumstances which led them to such views, sometimes even blaming the West for the perpetrators distorted interpretation of religion. But when poor, uneducated Christian pizza chefs express reservations about hypothetically baking somebody a cake, the well of liberal sympathy has apparently run dry.

The left is only pretending that sympathy is their rallying cry, shedding crocodile tears for fanciful, completely hypothetical harms that not one documented gay person has yet experienced in Indiana. What it really boils down to is that they just don’t like conservative Christians. They want to make them do things against their will not because it will make life noticeably easier on gay people in practice, but just to gloat and jeer and rub it in their stupid, ignorant, hillbilly faces. It’s not about being supportive, it’s not about being sensitive: it’s about being vindictive. Matt Welch said it best:

“too many people are acting like sore winners, not merely content with the revolutionary step of removing state discrimination against same-sex couples in the legal recognition of marriage, but seeking to use state power to punish anyone who refuses to lend their business services to wedding ceremonies they find objectionable. That's not persuasion, that's force, and force tends to be the anti-persuasion among those who are on the receiving end of it.”

To fight uphill all these long decades, then get to the top, only to start wielding majoritarianism against the suddenly disfavored minority position? That's ugly stuff.”

2. Whether or not you agree with my prior points, the left’s reaction was a setback for progress.

Even if the law were about whether or not discrimination shall be legal, and even if you don’t care a lick about private property rights or freedom of association in this context, and even if you feel not a wink of sympathy for anyone who opposes gay marriage, it is still counterproductive for you to support coerced participation in gay marriage ceremonies. The line I just quoted from Matt Welch explains why very succinctly:

“force tends to be the anti-persuasion among those who are on the receiving end of it.”

Whether or not the left considers them hateful bigots, the fact remains that somewhere between 36% and 41% of Americans still oppose gay marriage. This number has gone down in recent years and decades precisely because we’ve a had a loud, robust public debate on the issue, and in most people’s reckoning, the arguments against gay marriage have been soundly defeated. The continuation of that dialogue is crucial to showing those who are still wrong why they are wrong. But when we adopt a worldview so intolerant of dissent that it not only shames and boycotts those people, but even boycotts any supporters of gay marriage who dare to speak to those people (even when they themselves are homosexual!) that dialogue is severely suppressed.

Scorn and state punishment alone is not sufficient to root out bad ideas – only to push them underground. As this excellent blog post eloquently laid out, the result of liberal bullying on this will only be to send Christians into a closet of their own. Describing the furor over Memories Pizza, Dreher writes:

“What we have here is — as we called in journalism school jargon — “no story.” Nothing happened. Nothing was about to happen…Memories Pizza didn’t blast out a news release. They didn’t contact the media, nor make a stink on Twitter or Facebook. They didn’t even post a sign in the window rejecting gay-wedding catering jobs. They merely answered questions from a novice reporter who strolled into their restaurant one day – who was sent on a mission by an irresponsible news organization…Twenty-four hours ago, nobody had ever heard of these people. Now, their business may have been destroyed….

“Here’s what any traditional Christian business owner or employee with a brain in his or her head must do now: keep your mouth shut. 

Do not talk to the media. You will almost certainly not get a fair shake, and even if you do, it’s not going to matter. The SJW mob will do what it can to destroy you. Do not talk to anybody about your thoughts or opinions unless you know you can trust them not to out you…do not give them any more information than you absolutely have to. It can and will be used against you. Unless you are already out, stay in the closet. This is where we are in this country. You think I’m exaggerating? You think I’m being alarmist? Ask the O’Connor family of Memories Pizza how quickly your livelihood can be taken from you in the cause of Social Justice™.”

This slows the march of gay marriage acceptance for two reasons. First, it silences discussion, which prevents the clash of ideas that’s so crucial to evolving ignorant views. I have written extensively on this in the context of sexism and misogyny, which you can read here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. The central thesis of these writings is that healthy debate is the process by which, over time, good ideas win and bad ideas lose, even if that happens at a slower and less constant rate than we might prefer, so we should prioritize the stewardship of healthy debate over competing values. Liberals agree with me that more educated people are less likely to be socially ignorant, but seem generally slower than me to embrace the work of actually educating the rest.

You don’t have to agree with the Memories Pizza lady’s viewpoint – in fact you can find it reprehensible – but you should recognize that she believes it very strongly, and that from her viewpoint it is you who’s being hateful and intolerant. You don’t have to frequent her business, but you should permit her to stand up for that unpopular opinion in public view (while risking only rebuttal and loss of revenue, not vandalism or death threats or heavy fines). If you’re as confident in your own correctness as you claim to be (and should be!), you should be equally confident that such permissiveness will hasten the demise of incorrect alternatives. Impatience with the pace of progress, on the other hand, will not hasten it.

Second, the punitive reaction hurts the liberal cause because it creates a legitimate claim to persecution on the part of people who previously had no such claim (or at least, a more plausible and rhetorically compelling claim than they previously had). This obfuscates your narrative of who the real victims are to anyone who doesn’t already agree with you, hindering the effectiveness of what little debate remains on the subject at winning people over to your side.

Even if you think persuasion is generally useless or too slow, and are content to just rely on actuarial tables to dwindle down the population of people who are anti-gay, reacting this way hurts your ability to do so. The reason is that homophobia, like terrorism or Nazism or racism, is not a fixed pool of people who can be eradicated by the force of the state: it is an amorphous idea, and ideas cannot be beaten by men with guns. This is partly why  huge swaths of progressive Europe, despite all their ill-conceived and longstanding prohibitions on hate speech and holocaust denial, are still plagued by stubborn underground racism and anti-Semitism. Just like counterterrorism efforts oversees, you have to win the hearts and minds. The US military learned this the hard way in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so did American conservatives on the domestic front. If liberals continue to squelch dissent with fines and force, they will too.

Children in conservative Christian families who previously would have gone to college and rebelled against their parents’ illogical mindset will now be less likely to do so, because the intellectual appeal of the position they were raised to believe is strengthened (and the task of overcoming that bias made much more difficult) when the homophobia is no longer isolated from distinct and more easily defensible freedom of association arguments. Potential converts who would otherwise start to doubt their positions will instead harden their hearts, and preventing or delaying victory in the ideological battle.

“If we are about intimidating the free speech of others,” argues gay marriage supporter Andrew Sullivan, “we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.” I disagree with him in a nitpicky sort of way: you are slightly better, on account of holding better ideas than those homophobic predecessors. But your bullying people is no better as a tactic, and no more likely to lead to permanent long term victory than it was for social conservatives.

A far more effective strategy to enable productive discussion that might actually change some minds is to bully their ideas instead, without attacking them on a personal (much less a financial) level. That’s the strategy adopted by Matt Stolhandske, a pro-gay-marriage Christian who is raising money to cover the Klein family’s fine. Stolhandske explains:

“this is what an olive branch looks like. I am not rewarding their behavior, but rather loving them in spite of it. It is time for these two communities, which both cite genuine love as our motivation, to put aside our prejudices and put down our pitchforks to clear the path for progress."

Hear hear! The left’s reaction to persistently conservative people in Indiana, Oregon and elsewhere has been excessive, illogical, intolerant and counterproductive to their purported objectives of diversity and social harmony – but it’s not too late to change that.

3. This reaction illustrates why social conservatives should embrace libertarianism.

I’ve criticized liberals plenty in this post, so I’ll close with a message to social conservatives. For you, this whole affair is an ominous foreshadowing of things to come if you do not come to terms with some obvious truths: you’ve lost the culture war, and that defeat is permanent as it relates to public policy.

You will never again muster majorities of the population that want obscenity, adultery, unwed parenthood, fornication, drinking, divorce, smoking pot, birth control or gay marriage to be illegal. Very soon, you will also not be able to muster a majority of the population that wants to prohibit gambling, prostitution, physician assisted suicide, or polygamous marriage either. Religious affiliation rates will continue to decrease for the foreseeable future, and there is nothing you can do about this.

Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority is now the moral minority, and you had best get used to it.

Furthermore, because of your long history of indiscriminately imposing your will on anyone who disagreed, the new majorities have a lot of pent-up animosity against you. They are all too eager to turn the tables. If the country continues to embrace the majoritarianism long since trumpeted by social conservatives like you, such that whichever faction is presently in the majority gets to use the force of the state to impose their will on the minority, this could get very ugly for you.

First, everything you’ve decried in recent years will only become more widespread. In more and more states, traditionally-minded bakers and florists and photographers will continue to be forced to participate in ceremonies they find unconscionable, or to close, or to pay enormous fines. Administering gay marriage may be made mandatory for any religious figure or institution that also administers straight marriage. Private adoption agencies which decline to place orphans with same sex couples will continue to be shut down, as they already were in Massachusetts and Illinois.

Then, it will get worse. Churches who believe things liberals don’t like may lose their tax-exempt status, even as other non-profits maintain it. The same will go for any religious university whose administrators maintain a traditionalist view of marriage, and students who attend these universities will be barred from receiving federal tuition assistance as well. Businesses like Chick-fil-A, or really any organization remotely affiliated with people like you, may be legally barred entry from certain towns or states. Teaching children that homosexuality is wrong in Sunday school, or even at home, may be prohibited. Protesting abortion outside abortion centers, with or without the use of graphic signs, may be prohibited. In fact, expressing your opinions in any location may be deemed “hate speech” and also prohibited. “Sensitivity training” may be required for anyone the left deems insufficiently sensitive. Your tax dollars may go to fund this training, as well as abortion clinics and charities promoting liberal cultural values. Birth control will not just be legal, it will be provided for free, to every one of every age, at taxpayer expense. Lawyers and doctors and teachers and taxi drivers and hair stylists who think like you will be prevented from receiving a license enabling them to conduct their business, or have their licenses rescinded once they’re “outed” as a social conservative. The fines which are presently levied out in places like Oregon for breaking these laws will escalate into jail time, until your very existence as a person in the United States who holds opinion X, Y or Z will be deemed illegal – just as communism and homosexuality were punished at the behest of people like you back in the 1950’s.

At each step of this progression, libertarians will begrudgingly come to your defense, perhaps in blog posts like this one. But almost nobody reads my blog, and if you don’t start embracing some more ideological consistency yourself, our pleas may well fall on deaf ears. The hypocrisy in your own positions – demanding taxpayers fund the enforcement of your preferred values, but crying foul when other people’s values are enforced on you – will be too obvious to resist giving you a taste of your own medicine. So long as the state’s long assumed (and euphemistically phrased) role of “promoting good cultural values” persists unchallenged in the minds of most people, it will very shortly begin “promoting” values you think are very bad. So long as the state retains its cultural bludgeon, the left will see no reason not to wield it, smacking down dissenting “bigots” with the same giddy enthusiasm as a child playing whack-a-mole at an arcade.

It behooves you, therefore, to help us strip that bludgeon out of the state’s hands.

Becoming libertarian does not mean your personal views about marriage need to change. It does not mean you have to become sex-positive, or feminist, or refrain from judging other people for personal choices you disagree with (though you should consider doing those things too!). In fact, you can still oppose each of the things social conservatives have traditionally opposed. You can still oppose premarital sex. You can still oppose homosexual sex. You can still oppose divorce. You can still oppose marijuana use. You can still oppose adultery. You can still oppose contraceptives. You can even still oppose obscenity or fornication or drinking liquor or doing work on Sundays or playing Twister or whatever the fuck else you think is leading to the moral downfall of society. And sometimes, I might even agree with you, because there are enormous elements of truth to some of your basic claims about humility and patience and human happiness.

All you have to do to become a libertarian is refrain from forcefully punishing, or endorsing that others forcefully punish, people who disagree with you on those matters. If you can’t see by now why that’s really in your interest, you may be beyond our help.

All I ask, all I implore of you for your own sake, is to read the writing on the wall, and deduce its implications for whether the world is really better when fickle majorities can hijack an inherently violent organization to carry out their faintest and most arbitrary moral whims. From Matt Walsh to Ross Douthat, there are people making really smart social conservative arguments that don’t necessitate any state involvement whatsoever. I don’t agree with all of these, including the one I just hyperlinked, but I have to concede they make great points – until they veer off into that territory where they want people with guns to make it so. Stop veering off into that territory, join forces with the last best ideological defense you have, and let’s make the world a little freer for people of all political persuasions.

Four belated thoughts on the Indiana RFRA

I’m about two months late in responding to this, but now that school’s out I have time to articulate what I felt at the time of the controversy. I hope what I lost in timeliness is made up for by the added time I’ve had to reflect on all that went down.

1. Both prominent sides of the public debate surrounding the law are wrong, because freedom of association should be protected in all cases – whether or not it’s religiously motivated.

The left is wrong that private discrimination against X, Y, or Z group should be illegal, or that making it illegal is an effective long term strategy to hasten social acceptance of those groups. The right is wrong because the RFRA gives unjust and illogical special privileges to religious people in ways that may be unconstitutional.

I support gay marriage, and I think social conservatives who oppose it are mostly bigoted, ignorant and wrong. I vociferously oppose discrimination against gay people for any reason. But even so, private discrimination of any kind should not be illegal. Making it illegal is not only an ineffective means of combatting it, but also a counterproductive and dangerous one. David Bernstein explained why very well back in 2010. Some excerpts:
  • Antidiscrimination laws…typically follow, rather than cause, the liberalization of attitudes toward minority groups. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the effect of antidiscrimination laws on public attitudes is rarely dramatic.  Even the 1964 Civil Rights Act did not noticeably accelerate the pace of liberalization of whites’ racial attitudes.
  • [F]ederal antidiscrimination laws also apply to discrimination based on religion, sex, age, disability (including one’s status as a recovering drug or alcohol addict), pregnancy, marital status, veteran status, and even military recruiters.  State and local antidiscrimination laws cover everything from sexual orientation to political ideology to weight to appearance to membership in a motorcycle gang.
    The proliferation of antidiscrimination laws explains why libertarians are loath to concede the principle that the government may ban private sector discrimination.  There is no natural limit to the scope of antidiscrimination laws, because the concept of antidiscrimination is almost infinitely malleable. Almost any economic behavior, and much other behavior, can be defined as discrimination. Is a school admitting students based on SAT scores? That is discrimination against individuals (or groups) who don’t do well on standardized tests! Is a store charging more for an item than some people can afford? That is discrimination against the poor! Is an employer hiring only the best qualified candidates? That is discrimination against everyone else!
    The obvious retort is that antidiscrimination laws should be limited to “real” discrimination.  But there is no consensus as to what constitutes “real” discrimination, nor, not surprisingly, does there appear to be any principled definition that legislatures have followed….

    The result has been, for example, attempts to force private Christian schools to hire unmarried pregnant teachers, to suppress campus speech that allegedly creates a “hostile environment,” to force private membership organizations to enact politically correct membership policies, to force individuals to live with gay roommates, and to prosecute neighborhood associations for objecting to the placement of halfway houses in their neighborhoods.
  • Concern for the financial bottom line mitigates the temptation of economic entrepreneurs to discriminate; concern for the electoral bottom line, meanwhile, often leads politicians to stir up resentment against minorities…

Arguments that “if you’re unwilling to sell to everyone, you shouldn’t be in the business!” are totally unconvincing to me, and in fact angering, because who are you to decide who can and cannot start a business? People do not need your permission to sell their things. That is not a public decision subject to majority vote. The whole point of freedom as an individual right, rather than an arbitrary privilege which can be conferred and rescinded by public whim at any time, is that none of us get a say on how others choose to live their lives. This means that if two (or more!) gay (or not gay!) people want to live together, adopt children, have someone pronounce them a wedded couple in a formal ceremony and contractually merge their estates, people who disagree don’t get to stop them. And it also means that if someone wants to bake cakes for profit, while retaining the right to decline any customer they please for any reason, they can – which should make social justice advocates very happy!

And of course, adherents to this view are almost always hypocritical. Should gay bakers be forced to bake cakes which read “God Hates Fags” for the Westboro Baptist Church if they want to stay in business? If not, you should probably stop supporting anti-discrimination laws with the argument that businesses must accept all comers indiscriminately, regardless of their ideological disagreements with what their labor is being used to support.

That being said, the right is wrong that this is a matter of religious freedom, at least insofar as they distinguish between that and general freedom of conscience. Conscientious objections arising from religious affiliation should not be given any privileged protection which conscientious objections arising from non-religious reasons are not. The RFRA does that, and as such I wonder whether the law may actually be an unconstitutional infringement of the separation between church and state. Penn Jillette and Judge Napolitano, two libertarians I respect, were critical of the law for that reason.

Ultimately, I’m not sure if I would have voted for the law or not, because it replaces one wrong with another. But I would vote for a law that made private discrimination legal, and overturned the portions of the 1964 CRA which outlawed it. That does not make me a bigot, for the same reasons Bernstein points out in the context of race:
The progressive libel of libertarians as racial troglodytes for their consistent defense of private-sector autonomy is ironic, given that similar illogic has so frequently been used against modern liberals.  When liberals defended Communists’ free speech and employment rights in the 1950s, their critics accused them of being Communist sympathizers, if not outright Communists.  More recently, progressives have been accused of being American-hating jihadist sympathizers when they stood up for the rights of terrorism suspects.
Progressives of all people should to acknowledge the moral complexity in that distinction.

2. The public debate was beside the point anyway, because the RFRA has little to do with discrimination in practice.

The social media backlash was characterized by a complete ignorance of, and indifference to, what the law actually said. The left pitted this as a fight against discrimination, but even the Washington Post
 acknowledged that the new law will likely have little to no effect on discrimination in Indiana,” because “LGBT discrimination in Indiana is already legal. You don’t need a religious exemption to something you can already do.”

That’s right: it was already legal for businesses to discriminate against gay people in Indiana before this law was passed, and it would still be legal for them to do so if this law is repealed. This is true in many other states as well: sexuality is not a protected class. Whether it should be made a protected class or not, this law has nothing to do with it.

Also, even if sexuality were made a protected class in Indiana at some point in the future, the RFRA still wouldn’t interfere with it or permit discrimination for religious reasons. The Washington Post continued:

[E]ven when discrimination laws hamper religious practice, there is not a less burdensome alternative. RFRA raises the bar on laws that burden religion but it does not give religion the power to veto laws.

RFRA doesn’t stop government from limiting religious freedom. It simply states that government can’t do it if there is a less restrictive way to accomplish the same goal. The government must collect taxes and protect against discrimination even if it hampers religious beliefs or practices.

In the 20 years since RFRA became federal law, there has not been a single case in which a person successfully used RFRA to get around civil rights laws. There have been some attempts, but they have all failed.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito talked about the limits of RFRA during last year’s Hobby Lobby decision. Writing for the majority, Alito wrote that RFRA cannot “provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.”

Perhaps “regulations on education of Amish children, prohibitions against head coverings at work, and other laws can be challenged if there is another way for the state to accomplish the same purpose,” but since ensuring equal access to certain products is the purpose of laws prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexuality (as opposed to the means to some other end) it wouldn’t apply here. Even if Indiana did have such laws in the first place.

So as Scott Shackford noted, the actual wording of Indiana's RFRA was completely irrelevant to the public blowback against it. A bunch of  people logged onto their social media accounts and heard faint rumor of some vaguely anti-gay law passed in Indiana, which they didn’t understand or bother to try understanding, and yet became so incensed that there still exist people who disagree with them on this that they tried to boycott an entire state. Such a response can only be understood as signaling on the issue of gay rights more broadly, not some well-reasoned objection to the law itself.

3. Gay couples should not want people serving them against their will, for their own sake.

How inspired will wedding photographers be to provide high quality photos, for example, when they feel morally uncomfortable being there in the first place? To get the lighting just right, and make sure everyone’s smiling, and position people so it looks nice, etc.? What ingredients is that cake going to be made of when it’s baked with coerced labor? There are already horror stories of waiters spitting in food (or worse…Tyler Durden’s soup comes to mind) for reasons far more petty than a perceived threat to their religion. I hope that wouldn’t happen, but I wouldn’t put it past some people. And even if there are no deliberate attempts to sabotage the proceedings, it’s fair to presume the labors of people unwilling to be there will be unenthused and halfhearted.

It is in the interests of all parties involved – the couple, the homophobic business, and their gay-friendly competitors – for gay couples getting married to have their marriage staffed, hosted and photographed by people who support the proceedings. This is particularly true in a world when the vast majority of wedding-related businesses are more than happy to serve gay wedding ceremonies, such that there’s no shortage of options to choose from. Many gay couples would likely need to go out of their way to find anyone who’d rather not take part in their party. The only possible motivation I can see for doing that is the immature catharsis of rubbing their nose in it – or, more cynically, the potential to profit from a legal settlement – neither of which I can support as a basis for coercion.

4. Even if you disagree with the points above, the movement to “boycott” Indiana was preposterous.

In the midst of the hubbub, the Mayor of San Francisco banned taxpayer-funded city worker travel to Indiana. The CEO of some company called Salesforce, Marc Benioff, also announced a boycott, as did the CEO of Yelp Jeremy Stoppelman. Some gaming convention threatened to do the same. And here's a guy from Daily Kos advocating a full travel boycott and online shopping moratorium for anything with an Indiana address. Whether a cause or effect of these decisions I’m not sure, but #BoycottIndiana was trending on Twitter for a very long time.

All of this was very poorly thought out. First, very many states have less gay friendly laws on the aggregate than Indiana does, and nobody was calling to boycott them. Gay marriage is legal in Indiana; it’s not in 13 other states. Sexuality is only a protected class in employment non-discrimination statutes in 22 states, so Indiana is actually in the majority in that regard. And 20 other states have also passed very similar versions of the RFRA to the one in Indiana. This only further demonstrates how the selective outrage at Indiana could only be driven by signaling and timing and momentum from recent gay marriage victories, not any principled distinction that made Indiana somehow worse. One wonders how many of those calling for a boycott of Indiana lived in a state that persecutes gays even more!

Gay marriage supporter Connor Friedersdorf put it this way:

“When 13 states prohibit gay-marriage outright, what sense does it make for gay-rights supporters to boycott a different state where gay marriage is legal? Being barred from marriage puts a significant burden on gay couples—a burden many orders of magnitude greater than the relatively small possibility of being refused by an atypically religious photographer or baker in the course of planning a same-sex wedding (the outcome the law’s opponents assert to be its true purpose). And there is no reason to think this law would allow a hotel or a restaurant to exclude gay customers, or that any hotels or restaurants are interested in doing so.”

Second, as a purely practical matter, how exactly does one boycott an entire state? My friend Connor Battilana asked me this on Facebook during the peak of the outrage. “Depends how committed you are to the cause, Connor,” I responded. “Some people merely cease to travel there, but I say that's the easy way out. True allies won't even buy anything made in Indiana, or anything manufactured using some component which was made in Indiana, or which passed through Indiana while it was being shipped, as this could expose truck drivers to discrimination. To be safe, I wouldn't even fly over Indiana's airspace in case a gay pilot needs to make a crash landing. Bottom line is, if you own any product that even rhymes with Indiana, I'd throw it away right now.”

Obviously, my tongue was lodged firmly in cheek. Boycotting a state in which the majority of people have problem with gays or gay marriage is a pernicious sort of grandstanding, that creates all sorts of blameless victims for no discernible benefit.