“We have a choice. We have two options as human beings. We have a choice between conversation and war. That’s it. Conversation and violence.” – Sam Harris
The evening of August 11, 2017, brought out a scene reminiscent of Triumph of the Will through the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Virginia. A crowd of white supremacists marched, carrying tiki torches, to kick off a “Unite the Right” demonstration protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. And then by Saturday, there were Confederate flags and Nazi flags and KKK uniforms and protestors. And then there was a car slamming into a crowd of protestors. The rally never happened. No one got a chance to speak. It was shut down.
On Sunday, the 13th, Jason Kessler, an organizer of the rally stepped in front of a microphone to say it was sad they couldn’t speak. This was because the sharing of ideas is what leads to rational discussion and the failure to do so leads to people resorting to violence. And then there was violence as members of the crowd stormed him and launched a physical assault.
In the aftermath, GoDaddy.com, who was the register and host of the white nationalist website, Daily Stormer, gave them the boot. Daily Stormer attempted to move their website to Google which also banned them.
Richard Spencer, white nationalist and originator of the term “alt-right”, who found notoriety shortly after the election of Donald Trump, tried to hold a press conference in Washington DC on August 14th but two different hotels cancelled him.
This got me thinking. Private businesses were denying services to people whose ideology they disagreed with. Where had I heard this before?
Andrew Seidel, Constitutional and Civil Rights attorney at the Freedom From Religion Foundation tweeted that the reason it was okay for hotels to not allow Richard Spencer to stay with them was because “…the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race + religion, not dumbfuckery.” One person replied that it was also a good decision because his presence could endanger other guests. Another responder asked if this applied to business owners as well, “…can (they) discriminate based on views they deem offensive?”
Ah, that’s it. Does this apply to any business owner who wishes to discriminate for, quite frankly, any reason at all? If personal safety or safety of their customers is a question, or if they simply don’t agree with a customer’s beliefs or ideology, is it okay to discriminate for, as Seidel says, “dumbfuckery”?
What if a hotel chain cancelled a weekend conference by the Nation of Islam or Scientology not on the grounds that they are authoritarian UFO cults but that they are simply dumbfuckery?
What if a Christian baker refused service to a gay couple and they said it was because gay love is dumbfuckery? I had a hard time just writing that. Imagine the uproar from the public, the lawsuits, if someone did that.
During the Libertarian Parties’ presidential debates for the 2016 election, Austin Petersen got Gary Johnson to answer the question, “Would you force a Jewish baker to bake a Nazi wedding cake.” Johnson surprisingly said, “Yes.” Johnson was clearly catering to the social justice warriors, to the Bernie Sanders supporters mad about Hillary. But politics and votes are different than realz. I can’t imagine forcing a Jewish baker or car sales man or barber to give service to anyone sporting Nazi ideology. I think most of us can agree on this because there is a majority consensus that Nazism, white supremacy and the KKK ideology is one worth discriminating against. No one is going to complain if you deny business and services to any of these people. But is this a double standard based on popular opinion?
What of a position that isn’t majority consensus for discrimination like the Christian baker example? Allowing discrimination based on popularity is bad policy. Popular opinion can be dangerous. Popular opinion in the Southern United States used to be okee doke with slavery. Next to fascism, Democracy is the next worst form of government. Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding to have what’s for dinner. Either everyone has the right to associate and do business with freely and at their own choosing or they do not.
Let’s cut that out and say it again: Either everyone has the right to associate and do business with freely and at their own choosing or they do not.
In a previous piece, I argued that James Madison’s version of the First Amendment was superior to what we have now. If we had his wording, we would be able to mingle with, associate with, and do business with whomever we wished and not do so for any reason we wished. For any reason. That’s what freedom and liberty is. The freedom to associate is also a freedom not to associate. Madison’s version didn’t give special privilege of discrimination to religion. It allowed a free people to discriminate for any reason according to their conscience. But we must remember that with your choice of associations and opinions comes the criticisms. If you’re going to march with the KKK and carry a Nazi flag, you get to accept the consequences of what the world thinks of you.
Ideas should be met with other ideas. An exchange of ideas and criticism of bad ones is how society moves forward. Violence solves nothing, in fact, it usually entrenches sides. The Free Market doesn’t just apply to economics. It also applies to ideology. The better, the one that moves people to better lives and gains will be the winner. Let people peacefully associate and exchange as they see fit, for any reason. There’s a reason pseudo-science tripe about superiority based on race (Nazism) isn’t popular among most people. In the free market of ideas, this nonsense is puttering out.
The lunacy of associating with an ideology like National Socialism of defeated Nazi Germany or the Confederacy of the 1860s which fought to protect its slaves is as repulsive as holding dear the Qur’an or Old Testament books of Deuteronomy or Leviticus. As Trae Crowder, the Liberal Redneck said, how can you call yourself American while carrying Confederate and Nazi flags? Flags symbolizing two defeated armies that were at war with America. He said, it’s like arguing against gay marriage while you have a dick in your mouth. But, the fact remains, in the United States of America you’re allowed to hold these conflicting beliefs.
For better or worse, freedom can be messy. Differences of opinion can be messy. Some ideologies are worse than others. But what we all should be able to do in a free country is pick who to peacefully associate with and who not to associate with. We should be free to speak, even the vilest rhetoric if only to remind us of why it’s vile. In business, personal life, and leisure, we should be free in our thoughts. Accept no substitute.
And now, some closing words from Hitch, regarding the right to speak and the right, no necessity, to be able to hear those words, regardless of how awful they may be:
“…it’s not just the right of the person who speaks to be heard, it is the right of everyone in the audience to listen and to hear. And every time you silence somebody, you make yourself a prisoner of your own action, because you deny yourself the right to hear something.
In other words, your own right to hear and be exposed is as much involved in all these cases as is the right of the other to voice his or her view. Indeed as John Stuart Mill said, if all in society were agreed on the truth and beauty and value of one proposition, all except one person, it would be most important — in fact, it would become even more important — that that one heretic be heard, because we would still benefit from his perhaps outrageous or appalling view.”