Fear of choice

Lately a lot of people have shown they’re hysterically afraid of other people’s freedom of association. They’re convinced that if people are free to choose whom they do business with, they’ll make evil, disgusting choices. From what I’ve seen, most people in business don’t care who their customers are as long as they pay, but many people are apparently convinced that most other people are bigots — and that only the government which the bigots elected can stop them.

Curiously, many of these people think that it’s a good thing to discriminate against people based on the state in which they do business. Many of them also think that investment funds should be free to discriminate on the basis of value judgments other than return on investment. I don’t know how they explain this discrepancy.

One explanation is that they want people to be free to do things they agree with, but not things that they don’t agree with. To put it another way, they want power over others. But how can you claim any moral superiority if your goal is just to make others follow your wishes?

I’m in business for myself, and I want to be free to choose whom I deal with. If this is my right, it’s also the right of other people to make the same choice, even if I don’t like their standards. What would I do if I were forced to write software for a purpose I despised — say, for a website like the long-dead eyada.com, which entertained people by making threatening software-assisted phone calls under false names? I’d do the worst job I could. So would anyone else compelled to do business with someone they despised. What kind of service do you expect to get out of forced labor?

If you’re really disgusted by the choices people make, there are more effective and honorable ways to answer them than force. There was the case a few years ago of Jessica Ahlquist, who successfully fought the prominent display of a Christian prayer in a public school. There were threats of violence against her, and some local florists gave in to vague fears and wouldn’t accept orders for flowers for her. (Cranston seems to be a strange center of religious mania in an otherwise highly tolerant New England.) But her supporters raised $62,000 for her education, leaving the owners of Twins Florist and Flowers by Santilli to look like the cowards they are.

Some people just want order and authority because they’re afraid of what people will do if left to their own choices. If they were less afraid and more confident in the power of good ideas, they might discover that persuasion accomplishes good things that force never can.


4 Responses to “Fear of choice”

  1. Cat Faber Says:

    ? So are you really okay with “No Blacks Allowed”? Because I’m certainly not.

    And it’s fine to say “oh, just go down the street and patronize the other business of this type” except that in a rural area like mine, you may have to drive for an hour to do that.

    • Gary McGath Says:

      What do you mean by “okay with”? I despise such policies. However, I don’t think it’s the government’s job to stop people from choosing whom they do business with.

  2. Eyal Mozes Says:

    I very much agree.

    I would add that a wedding, of all occasions, would reasonably be one time that having the work done by willing and enthusiastic people is even more important than usual. A wedding is an occasion of deep spiritual significance, and a reasonable couple getting married would want everything about it – the cake, the flowers, the photography – to be done with as much dedication and enthusiasm as possible. Why would a couple getting married – whether they’re opposite-sex or same-sex – make it a point to try to hire photographers or bakers who’re opposed to the wedding, and use discrimination complaints or lawsuits to force them to do it? What such couples are saying is: “To us, our wedding is first and foremost an occasion to hurt the people we hate; that’s more important to us than celebrating our commitment to each other.” A couple who would do that demonstrate themselves to be the worst kind of bigots, and deserve to be treated with total contempt.

    I would also note how the people attacking the Indiana law deliberately and systematically conflate refusing to participate in same-sex weddings with refusal to serve gay clients. The two are totally different, and as far as I am aware there has yet to be one occasion on which a business refused to serve gay clients and then claimed religious liberty as a defense; there is no reason whatever to expect that the Indiana law would lead to this happening even once. The New Mexico photographer who was sued for refusing to work for a gay wedding has served gay clients in many other contexts, such as for taking portrait photos. In all cases I’ve heard of of bakers refusing to bake wedding cakes for same-sex weddings, the baker has served gay clients in other contexts, such as providing birthday cakes. The people attacking the law are working very hard to obscure the difference.

    Refusal to participate in a same-sex wedding is a choice based on one’s religious beliefs, and I see no rational basis for finding it offensive. It’s a choice I personally would never have made; but the same is true of the choice to marry another man. Both are choices that should be respected by those who make different choices; and protecting people’s right to make that choice is equally important.

    Refusal to serve gay clients is a very different matter; it is a bigotted, morally contemptible choice. I agree with you that government force is the wrong response to it; but any reasonable person would feel total contempt for any business who makes such a choice. However, there are degrees of bigotry and of immorality; trying to hurt the people you hate by filing complaints and lawsuits against them is much worse than simply refusing to deal with them. So I would still regard the same-sex couples, who’ve filed complaints and lawsuits against photographers and bakers, as the worst kind of bigots, much worse than businesses who refuse to serve gay clients.

    • Gary McGath Says:

      The Memories Pizza affair has been the worst so far. The owners said, in response to a hypothetical question, that they wouldn’t cater a same-sex wedding. No one would use a pizza shop to cater a wedding, so the point is moot, but their mere expression of a view resulted in a hate campaign in which people who had never been there posted negative reviews on Yelp, reportedly sticking pornographic pictures on their reviews. The place wound up closing. This was for the mere expression of a view!

      I don’t want to commit the Gamergate fallacy and claim that everyone in the movement is like the people who did that, but it provides more evidence of a strong illiberal trend among too many progressives.

      Update: I’ve discovered it’s still worse. There’s been a massive campaign of lies claiming that they refused to serve LGBT people. We’re seeing people who think of words just as a way to gain power over others, without any concern about their truth.

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