The virtue of discrimination
Some of the most intelligent liberals who honestly examine the question of freedom claim that the freedom to discriminate – i.e. to associate or refuse to associate with someone – is a strong argument against libertarianism. Using the state of grace as an ideal, they discuss how anyone who refuses to force the government to work actively towards such an ideal is obviously a sad and deluded person who deserves to be chided for not being on the right path, or an evil greedy corporatist who wants to put Big Business in power. They see free speech as a problem, and actually trying to convince people as a trivial issue : they would much rather force everyone to adhere to their utopia, where society is controlled so that everyone is equal in all things.
However, I certainly see this in the opposite way. To me, the freedom to associate or not associate with other people, in any terms desired, is one of the pillars of a free society, even if such associations may be racist in nature. In fact, governments everywhere have never felt the need to check itself on the matter either : they have sometimes been a catalyst for racism. One only has to think of black slavery in the US, which was perpetuated in no small part by the laws of the land.
A lack of judgment
Now, not to be overly politically correct about it, but I’ll be the last one to say that racism is a good thing. Evaluating someone solely on the basis of his race ranks pretty high on the list of stupidities. However, what is at issue here is not the moral status of racism. While it is the type that makes people talk the most, and which is the most highly illegal, discrimination is not necessarily about racism. The most obvious example is the one of restaurants which keep sides for smokers and non-smokers. This is a case where people are treated differently because of one of their attributes.
We pay so much attention to discrimination-as-racism because it is the most mediatized form, and the one which draws the most ire. How dare people want to exclude people based on the colour of their skin, they say. The government must put an end to it, they proclaim, hypocritically refusing to acknowledge the role of governments in propagating racism in all its forms. Doesn’t this sound much like a sheep calling a wolf to guard the herd ?
Another reason why racism is considered so important is that people confuse racism with other types of discrimination. Indeed, the confusion itself can be a form of racist thought. To show you what I mean, take the example of Domino’s Pizza, which I detailed in the article “Hitler Pizza”, lamenting that the government forced them to deliver to an unsafe neighbourhood. What was scandalous is that the whole affair was prompted by two black people, on grounds of racism ! Associating criminality and race is absurd, and yet this was seen as perfectly normal. Thus a normal process of discrimination became a racial issue.
The idea that fighting discrimination is a good thing, is in itself an absurdity preached but never practiced, and for good reason ! Everyone knows instinctively that human relations must be selective. We do not treat everyone we meet as an intimate friend. No one will open his door to everyone who desires to enter. That’s called having some judgment. However, when it comes to less personal relations, this basic faculty becomes evil, regardless of the circumstances. We are supposed to shut off our brains and accept everyone, profits, security or best intentions be damned.
In fact, this is a critical mistake. The freedom of individuals, groups, communities, corporations to be formed and associate with people on an individual basis is one of the main elements by which we can achieve a state of freedom which goes beyond simply wrestling some money away from the government. By being able to trade in their own way, people could form any political organisation they desire, and live their own way without government interference. In today’s worlds, people can only associate in prescribed manners, and thus have to wrestle with other interest groups (at the expense of taxpayers) in order to get the kind of associations they want.
Of course some people will make bad choices and promote racism, religions, cultural mores, or some other foolishness. People still do so today. The only difference is that when the government has the power to force a certain pattern of associations, it’s not just the group that is affected, but all of society.
Whatever your goal is, to promote or not promote racism, the government is not a good way to do it.
The free market of opinions
Not only will bad choices be limited to the people who make them, but also these choices will become even less desirable, because of the free market.
Imagine that you have a simple grocery store. If you have freedom of association, and you’re a member of the KKK, you may decide to ban black people from buying products in your establishment. That’s all well and good, but most people stop the example there and then go on to say that this situation would be terrible. Not to mention what I said above – i.e. that it is better to isolate political tastes rather than inflict them on everyone – such a situation is not final. If there is any sizeable population of black people there, the owner will lose revenues. He will get protests and bad media attention. It pays to discriminate in order to provide better service for your customers, but it doesn’t pay to discriminate against your customers. Any cursory knowledge of supply and demand can show this.
Of course, such a store being established in a KKK-oriented community would flourish : and that is pretty much the point of free communities. People who do not desire to support racism could simply live in a community which suits their political beliefs. Suppose a majority of people are racists, like in the post-slavery times. Is it better to pass laws forbidding black people from acting in certain ways or using certain facilities, which is what we had, or to have black-friendly communities living alongside other, intolerent ones, following rules that make black people free from these restrictions ?
The example of free communities is a dramatic illustration of the virtues of discrimination. Whatever your goal is, to promote or not promote racism, the government is not a good way to do it. All that a government does is force everyone to adopt patterns of association, forcing other groups to demand new legislation in their favour. The essence of capitalism – completely voluntary consent – ensures that everyone is maximizing his benefits from society, be it in markets, social interactions, or anything else which involves human beings.
And indeed, today’s world is not at all close to the state of grace. We do find that racism is also favoured by the people in some instances. Some ignorant people feel more at ease when talking to people of “their own kind”, and corporations which deal with the public have found that hiring people by the race to deal with types of customers yields additional revenues. An anti-choice proponent would be hard-pressed to explain this phenomenon : but the free market does not care, and by its very nature adapts to the needs of people, as stupid as they are.
The main obstacle to freedom of association is associations themselves. Because they presently have access to a corporatist government which permits laws and impositions against certain types of associations, they will use that to further their own ends. We have seen it at the onset of the war against drugs, we see it today against Microsoft and other big corporations, we see it with religions fighting each other for public acceptance, we see it in all aspects of society.
I have already discussed the basic premise of this ideology, which is the altruism of universal tolerence, the idea that we must accept everyone. This is very present in altruist systems like religions and leftist socialism. Its basic formulation is “love everyone”, regardless of the attributes of the person, regardless of your best judgment. Not only is such a love dilluted to futility, but it is an anti-good and anti-justice mentality. This is related to the state of grace, which I mentioned before.
In the case of universal tolerence in judgment, anyone who furthers his own interest by having some good judgment is an evil person, which must be persecuted by society for his judgment, the product of his mind. In other words, since sacrifice for others is the greatest good, refusing to serve some people must therefore be evil. However, since we know that the role of government is quite the opposite, it should not serve to reverberate such doctrines.