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.