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Hullabaloo


Sunday, May 23, 2010

 
Voluntary Complicity

by digby

Here's a modern day tale of what it's like to have to fight for your right to spend your money in someone's business:

I recall how, in 1998 I had a triumphant "book launch" event at the flagship Barnes & Noble store in New York City. The event was filmed by NBC's "Dateline" which was doing a story on the book. What a heady moment this was for me. Like most writers I'd worked in seclusion, sometimes without a job, often insecure about my efforts. Now I was standing before TV cameras and a large audience in New York.

I wonder Dr. Paul if you can imagine what it then felt like for me when I returned to that same book store only 8 months later. I returned in the company of a friend who is also blind and who, like me, travels with a guide dog. We were detained by security as we attempted to enter the store and were told we had to leave. Dogs weren't allowed. We asked to see the manager who arrived after some delay and who grudgingly admitted us to the store but only after we made it clear that the right to travel with a guide dog is protected by both federal and state laws and that this right pertains to private businesses as well as the subway system. The store's manager was mean spirited and he offered us no apology. He simply walked away.

I wonder Dr. Paul if you can imagine what it felt like to be so thoroughly humiliated in a store. People watched as we conversed politely with the security guard and the manager, but they were looking for drama, as if the proscenium arch of the sixth avenue Barnes & Noble was just another diversion. Dr. Paul have you ever had your rights questioned in public? Where was MY honeymoon? The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 and I can assure you that every day, every single day, there is someone with a disability (a war veteran, a child with autism, a person blind from birth who travels with a dog) who must file a grievance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Department of Justice because he or she has been told to go away.

There is no honeymoon for civil rights. The fight for equality and dignity cannot yet be consigned to a quaint museum where laws are unnecessary.

In your world view Dr. Paul, I surely have the right to go to another book store, one that's more enlightened as it were. In your world view the book seller should also have the "a priori" right to sell books or to not sell books depending on the nature of the customer.


Not only that, Dr Paul expects the government to intervene on the behalf of the bookstore owner and have you arrested if you insist on shopping in his store.

This is a fine essay in many respects and you should read the whole thing, but I think there is one passage that stands out for me. He writes:


People watched as we conversed politely with the security guard and the manager, but they were looking for drama, as if the proscenium arch of the sixth avenue Barnes & Noble was just another diversion. Dr. Paul have you ever had your rights questioned in public?


I have no doubt in my mind that that's exactly what happened and it calls into question the entire notion of what would happen without the "coercive" power of the state intervening on behalf of the individual rather than the store owner in this case if the police had had to be called. Paul thinks that heroic defenders of the downtrodden would step up voluntarily and demand that the private bookstore owner allow people with disabilities into the store by threatening to take their business elsewhere. Do you see that kind of thing happening even when it's clearly illegal? I don't. Can you imagine them doing it where it was legal?

Here's an extreme example of how many people deal with social injustice in our culture on a "voluntary" basis:

Phoebe Prince, the Massachusetts high school freshman who took her own life after what prosecutors called relentless bullying by classmates, spoke to a school administrator one week before her death about a threat of physical violence, court documents reveal.

The documents, filed in connection with charges against six South Hadley High School students, raise new questions about how much school officials knew about the bullying. They also provide a glimpse into the final, tortured hours of Prince's life shortly before the 15-year-old hanged herself at home Jan. 14.


Most people are, at best, passive in these situations. And a whole lot of them become complicit or actively involved. It's Lord of the Flies stuff. Depending solely on the good will of human beings to protect the vulnerable or step up to right injustices is one of the major fallacies of libertarian thinking. It's not like the species hasn't had a lot of experience in this realm.

So where are all the voluntary protests from the libertarian right in the face of injustice toward those who have been oppressed? I might be more convinced of their commitment if I ever saw even one of them boycott a racist or protest a business that discriminates. If they really believed that while the government shouldn't intervene, it's still morally wrong to deny service to anyone on the basis of race or religion as Paul insists, you'd think that we'd see them leading the charge. The only injustice these guys ever seem to care about is the "injustice" of having to register your firearm or pay your taxes. Stepping up to protest the rank indecency of a business owner refusing to serve a blind man certainly doesn't seem to be high on their agenda.

And that's no accident.


h/t to kg

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