Most people in the U.S. believe in equal treatment of all citizens. A desire for freedom, fairness and equality are hallmarks of the Republic we have created. But are we taking a path to more fairness, equality, and freedom… or less?
This topic of anti-discrimination actually came up during a discussion related to some local legislation passed regarding LGBT anti-discrimination policy for city employees. I was less interested in the individual legislation, and more musing over the concept of anti-discrimination policy in general.
By the by, before I begin my mental meanderings, there are some people who claim that discrimination and prejudice laws are only in place related to things which people cannot help about themselves and that personal choice and behavior do not apply to discrimination protection. To that, I say bunk. I’ll give three examples from easily researched Federal law to back up my view that our discrimination laws also cover prejudice based on choices people make.
1. We have a federal law based on protection of discrimination related to religion (your religion is a choice). I have nothing against religion, but it is certainly a choice – not an appendage.
2. We also have a law against discrimination toward those who are pregnant. I’ve given birth to two beautiful children, but I was certainly not born pregnant – it was based on a choice to engage in acts which lead to it.
3. Likewise the federal law we have for sex-based discrimination covers discrimination based on a persons connection with a certain organization. No one forces anyone to join the local LGBT groups, that’s a choice.
That established, and without even having to go into brown-bag laws!, I’m moving on to the issue at hand. As another side note, I will use the words prejudice and discrimination interchangeably. I realize there can be another argument about that, but substitute one for the other if it bothers you because I am mentally referring to the same thing.
This all begins at a place in my mind where I see legislation (like the new LGBT one in my town) which purports to be anti-discriminatory, as inherently the opposite.
I think that most people tend to view discrimination in two lights: it is either ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ so to speak. You either are for discrimination or you are against it, and I think that is actually what the discussion should be about. Yet I see our system functioning as a third ‘partial-discrimination’ option – one which says some groups can be discriminated against and others can not be. To expand on that, our system even varies discrimination status based on locality.
In my point of view, when we say that LGBT people (using the previous example, but not exclusively this topic) should have a right to expanded protection from discrimination, we are also saying that those extra protections do not apply to people who do not fit into that group. To me, it is like saying ‘everyone has a right to eat duck and you cannot be persecuted for eating duck.’ And no, I am making no LGBT duck connections – although there may indeed be some from the hormones in the water 😉
Anyway, back on track I would say, for example, why would only those who eat duck receive protection? Why is that one segment isolated and protected only? Why aren’t people who eat any variety of fowl protected? For that matter, why not those who eat any meat whatsoever? Ah but then, shouldn’t people who don’t eat meat at all be protected from persecution as well? Inevitably, we tend to reach the more broad argument that perhaps people should not be able to be persecuted for eating anything or nothing at all.
That sounds fair right? If not age discrimination, then why is weight discrimination ok? If not gender, then why height? Everything equal.
Except for the flip-side of that argument which says that if all people are protected from being discriminated against for eating whatever they choose to eat, then as a society people would have to agree that they themselves also cannot discriminate against someone for what they eat – which is harder. Let me give an example; there are a lot of people who think vegans and vegetarians are crazy and others who think they are food snobs. Can we force people to stop thinking that way? Or more importantly, should we?
Aside even from the concept of good or bad for society, we know that people are capable of prejudicial behavior, but is it even POSSIBLE for a person to be completely non-discriminatory toward another person.
If we are attempting to make these small ‘protections’ toward a goal of being completely non-discriminatory about people, then that means everything. No discrimination at all on someones age, skin color, accent, height, weight, manner of dress, personal background, criminal history, sexuality, financial means, house size, car brand, religion, country of origin, food preferences, etc… Nothing. Nada. Each one of those things is a source of discrimination and if we are really trying to supposedly ‘progress’ (I hate that word through media overuse now, btw.) then isn’t that the ultimate ‘goal’ of that direction?
Let me give a more practical example that reaches beyond food, lets talk jobs. Say, for example, you are looking for a babysitter for your pre-teen child. Do you envision a society in which people are willing to take whatever babysitter shows up, being absolutely and completely non-discriminating about choice? Maybe they show up drunk and wearing a spiked collar. Is it ‘right’ to be prejudiced against someone who drinks or based on how they dress? According to a completely non-discriminatory goal it would not be fair to judge someone based on the choices they make.
So lets say you can live with that previous possibility. Can you accept the convicted pedophile who shows up to babysit? If we are a society that truly believes in non-discriminatory treatment, then you must or you would be showing unfair prejudice. How about the rocker chick who is covered in Wiccan tattoos who applies for a job at a Christian bookstore. If you should not be prejudiced based on someones outward appearance or religion, then those things cannot matter.
In relationships I show a very strong choice preference toward men who are much taller than I am. That is discriminatory. I also find Australian accents painful to listen to and avoid listening to them. That is also a prejudice. I don’t care for people who like to get drunk and disassociate with people who do. That is another prejudice.
Are these things merely my choices, prejudicial behaviors, or are those two the same thing?
Doesn’t a goal of pure non-discrimination also mean the elimination of the concept of choice, opinion, and free speech?
Is pure non-discrimination even possible in humans outside of theory?
I don’t believe it is even close to possible. People categorize things into groups naturally, and we know through research that people tend to self-group, organizing themselves into patterns of similarity and familiarity. We also know that, due to those self-organizing tendencies, people tend to prefer the company of people like themselves in all aspects of their lives. Yes, there are exceptions (thankfully) or exploration would never have happened, I’m talking about core instincts and we do not have to be ruled by our instincts.
What if we go the opposite direction and allow anyone to discriminate in any way they like. What does that world look like?
Well first of all, there would have to be no protections for anyone regarding any type of discrimination. Anyone would have an equal right to discriminate against others, as well as to be discriminated against by others. If a company wanted to hire only Asian females with a certain bra size they could. If a restaurant wanted to only allow in people taller than 5’8″ tall and black, they could. If a person wanted to walk down the street shouting out the equivalent racial/cultural expletives based on each person they passed by – they could. Violence would still be prohibited based on other laws related to violence, but people could say and believe and make non-violent choices based on whatever criteria they have in their heads.
That scenario would mean a likely return of self-imposed segregation, such as existed during Jim Crow periods and before. However, the discrimination and segregation could be from anyone to anyone else. You could walk down a street and see sign after sign of different rules, one shop that allows only white, one that allows only black, only Hispanic, only Asian, only gay, etc.. and people would have to ensure they were allowed to go in each place. That could be argued to be a logistical nightmare, and not exactly a pleasant sounding world to live in, but I don’t see that as very likely to occur where profit is to be made.
Businesses faced with a profit motive are looking for greater exposure to more customers, not less. Certainly there would be some businesses which would be prejudicial toward some people, and those people who wouldn’t be allowed to go in would have the option to stand out in front of that business with a sign telling the world that the owner is a jerk with too much nose hair.
Of course, we cannot confuse ugliness and violence with discrimination and choice. Someone may not want to associate with a smoker, but that doesn’t mean they are beating them up for it. Likewise someone may not want women in their all-male hunting club but that doesn’t mean that they spit on them when they walk by. This option can be best summed up as ‘anyone can be a jerk, just expect the same in return.’
I’ve now looked at the three ways I see discrimination possibilities:
1. The current method, to protect only certain groups or types of behavior with enough lobbying power over others.
2. The goal of pure non-discrimination along with the question of possibility as well as loss of opinion.
3. The goal of pure discrimination, along with the ramifications and benefits to unfiltered expression.
The issue isn’t simple, and continuing to treat the partial-discrimination system as an anti-discrimination system is just incorrect. It’s time to review the issue from a perspective of where we want to end up as a society.
So next time you hear someone asking for anti-discrimination protection, ask yourself a few questions… how has this group developed lobby power, who is being excluded automatically, is it based on a choice or a natural birthright, and does it lead toward the loss of your ability to have an opinion or to share it through free speech?