Thursday, February 27, 2014

Clueless in Phoenix

Jan Brewer, Governor of Arizona finally vetoed the bill that would have allowed discrimination against Gays and Lesbians for religious beliefs. Did she do this because such a bill was blatantly discriminatory? No. Did she do so because such a bill would pretty obviously Unconstitutional? No. Did she veto it because, as Jon Stewart insisted, it was morally repugnant? No. Did she do it because it was a really stupid idea? No. Perhaps she insightfully realized it was mixing religion with politics? No. Maybe because she realized it was inherently unworkable? I don’t think so. Did she do it because she bowed to pressure from her two State Senators and others? Well, yes and no.

In the best tradition of American capitalism she did it simply because it was bad for business. Business leaders pointed out to her that would stigmatize the State and thus might affect tourism and business in general, might result in people boycotting the state, and, perhaps more important of all, it might make them risk losing the Super Bowl (I think I recall they previously lost a Super Bowl because they opposed a Martin Luther King holiday).

In any case, after milking it for a certain amount of media time, she vetoed it.  I’m not certain that anyone involved in this failed endeavor considered the basic fact that such legislation violates a basic principle of modern, large-scale, industrial, capitalistic, urban life. In small communities of the past, and to a certain extent in remaining rural small communities, social transactions, including business ones, take place on a personal, face-to-face basis. Most everyone knows everyone else, your word is your bond, and any potential personal problems are easily avoided.

In large-scale societies, where most everyone lives these days, personal factors are rarely involved in any business transactions. The overwhelming majority of our transactions are fundamentally based on legal contracts. While you don’t necessarily have to actually sign a contract to purchase something (although often you do), all transactions are basically legal agreements. That is, a merchant agrees to sell you something at a fixed or an ageed-upon price, and you agree to buy it at that price. You are both obligated to that contract. Both the buyer’s and seller’s personal beliefs have nothing whatsoever to do with it (other than their respective beliefs about the quality or usefulness of the object being purchased).

Obviously if personal beliefs, like religious ones, or others such as gun rights, are introduced into such a system, potential chaos would occur. You could never be certain that you could purchase something if the potential seller imposed his or her personal religious or other beliefs onto the transaction. Christians could discriminate against Muslims, or even women wearing headscarves, Muslims could discriminate against Christians, especially if they smoked or drank, and so on.

It is true that you often see signs like “No shoes, no shirt, no service,” or “We reserve the right to refuse service,” but such reservations have mostly to do with cleanliness and health or rowdy behaviors, irrespective of the individual’s religious or other beliefs, and they minimize misunderstandings and potential problems.
In short, our system for the vast majority of our transactions allows no place for personal beliefs, religious or otherwise. Trying to introduce personal beliefs into such a system would be totally unworkable. In this Phoenix case you would often have to guess if individuals were Gay or Lesbian, you would have to be suspicious of any same sex pair, and so on. And, of course, if it became legal to discriminate against Gays and Lesbians, why not Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Indians, Muslims, Buddhists, Catholics, Jews, atheists, short people, tall people, redheads, midgets, anyone who did not share your own personal beliefs, and how would you ever know. As there are hundreds of different religions, with all kinds of strange and bizarre beliefs, the very idea of discriminating on religious grounds is absurd. I don’t think we need random discrimination to potentially enter our lives because some Christians do not approve of others on the basis of their presumed sex lives. And what’s with this obsession over Gay sex anyway? We don’t ordinarily worry or wonder much about heterosexual sexual behavior, even though it involves in some (unknown and uncounted) cases similar sexual practices, and who knows what kinds of other “kinky” sex. Do most people ask their friends and relatives what kind of sex they engage in? Do most people even care? We should stop wasting time with clueless, harebrained, and ridiculous ideas that will never float and will surely fail.

If you believe in equality, if you believe in standing up for the rights of all, especially for people most affected by bigotry and discrimination, then you have no choice but to be present and accounted for when it comes to standing up for gays and lesbians in our society.

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