Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recently told Palm Beach Atlantic University students that obsession over trivial identity-based sleights has reached an all-time high:
My sadness is that we are probably today more race and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I went to school. To my knowledge, I was the first black kid in Savannah, Georgia, to go to a white school. Rarely did the issue of race come up. Now, name a day it doesn’t come up. Differences in race, differences in sex, somebody doesn’t look at you right, somebody says something. Everybody is sensitive. If I had been as sensitive as that in the 1960s, I’d still be in Savannah. Every person in this room has endured a slight. Every person. Somebody has said something that has hurt their feelings or did something to them — left them out. That’s a part of the deal.
Indeed, I believe Thomas has a point, but I believe it goes well beyond his concern with the “obsession over trivial identity-based sleights.” I am of the opinion that all racist and homophobic views are no big deal, as long as the racists and homophobes are not advocating breaking the libertarian non-aggression principle.
My view flies in the face of so-called “cosmopolitan libertarians,” who are advocating some type of linkage between libertarianism and an advocacy of tolerance for groups such as gays and blacks.
I believe the advocacy of this linkage entirely misunderstands the nature of the world, its complexity and libertarianism. Laurence Vance recently referenced Murray Rothbard on libertarianism:
Libertarianism, in the words of Murray Rothbard, “is not and does not pretend to be a complete moral, or aesthetic theory; it is only apolitical theory, that is, the important subset of moral theory that deals with the proper role of violence in social life. . . . Libertarianism holds that the only proper role of violence is to defend person and property against violence, that any use of violence that goes beyond such just defense is itself aggressive, unjust, and criminal. Libertarianism, therefore, is a theory which states that everyone should be free of violent invasion, should be free to do as he sees fit except invade the person or property of another. What a person does with his or her life is vital and important, but is simply irrelevant to libertarianism. It should not be surprising, therefore, that there are libertarians who are indeed hedonists and devotees of alternative lifestyles, and that there are also libertarians who are firm adherents of “bourgeois” conventional or religious morality. There are libertarian libertines and there are libertarians who cleave firmly to the disciplines of natural or religious law. There are other libertarians who have no moral theory at all apart from the imperative of non-violation of rights. That is because libertarianism per se has no general or personal moral theory.”
Now, on a personal level, as I have pointed out before, I have no problem with blacks or gays. I find gays generally interesting and have more than my fair share of blacks friends. That said, I also have friends who are racists and others who are homophobes, and I have no intention of ending my relationships with them, nor will I attempt to change what I view as their silly perspectives. In other words, I do not believe that I have any responsibility to become an unpaid public relations agent for the gay or black community.
I view racists and homophobes as people who simply have narrow uninformed views of the world. This is not as uncommon as it may seem and goes well beyond racism and homophobia.
Let us start by considering examine basic irrational shunning.
I tend to shop for clothes at Jos. A. Bank and don’t shop at The Men’s Wearhouse. In passing by The Men’s Wearhouse, it appears to have the same quality of clothes as Jos. A. Bank and my guess is that they probably have the same price points on their clothes. BUT, I never go into The Men’s Wearhouse. I started going to Jos. A. Bank many years ago and feel comfortable going there. Location-wise the two stores are within a couple of blocks of each other. There is no logical reason for me to shun The Men’s Wearhouse. In fact, it might be stupid on my part not to check out the store. Their prices might be lower than JAB, the quality of their clothes might be better than JAB, there may be products at TMW that just hands down blow away anything at JAB. But, I am ignorant of what is really the case with TMW. I am never going to go into TMW. There may be no rational reason for me to avoid TMW, but I am going to stick with the store I feel comfortable with.
Because of my lack of logic and shunning of TMW for no good reason, should anyone outside of TMW really care about this? Of course, not. Will my friends desert me because I shun TMW for no good reason? Of course, not.
How is this different from a racist or homophobe? They are shunning people based on criteria that make no sense. They are missing out to the degree that blacks or gays can make their life more valuable. But, as long as these racists and homophobes aren’t advocating the lynching, gassing or enslavement of these people, i.e., they are not calling for the abandonment of the non-aggression principle, then so what?
I’v recently launched the Circle Rothbard here in San Francisco, and we had our first meeting earlier this week, I went around to everyone present and asked them if they had acquaintances who were either racist or homophobe, everyone said they did. Now, are any of these people going to shun their acquaintances/friends because of their racist views? I doubt it.
The complexity of the world is such that we all have transactions with all kinds of people, but we tend to limit interactions to mutually beneficial aspects. At the restaurant where I have bacon and eggs every morning, there is a nice little old lady who is the cashier. We exchange pleasantries every morning, but I can’t imagine our worlds ever intersecting far beyond that. For all I know, she spends her time off at some knitting club, which frightens me with boredom just thinking about it. What we have in common is likely very little.
If someone spends his entire day walking around with a swastika on his arm and ranting hate about Jews and blacks, I am going to spend little to no time with such a person, anymore than I am with a little old lady, who knits all day.
But, my friends, who are racists or homophobes, have characteristics that make friendship possible. It is limited to what we have in common, not their racism and homophobia. As far as I am concerned, racist and homophoboic views display a narrow view of the world. But my interaction with my racist and homophobe friends has nothing to do with that part of their world. And, I note again, I do not consider it my responsibility to act as an unpaid public relations agent for the black or gay community.
Now, if I have a friend who shops at TMW and there is some kind of huge sale at JAB, I may tell him about it, not because I believe I need to be an advocate for JAB, but because I want to expand my friends awareness of opportunities in the world.
In the same way, if my friend and I regularly have drinks on a Friday night and I know he is somewhat prejudice and has never dated a black girl, I may tell him, “Hey, black girls can be fun.” I am doing this because I want to expand my friends awareness of positive opportunities in the world, not because of some type of responsibility I have to erase what I view as ignorant thoughts in his mind.
Further, I suspect most people hold prejudicial views against many groups and I would consider it absurd to think it is somehow my duty to erase anyone’s prejudicial views from their minds.
In thinking about it. I have come up with a number of groups that I am prejudice against. I am the type of guy that will strike up a conversation with almost anyone, anywhere, with people I have never met before, on the sidewalk, at a lunch counter, anywhere. But there are certain groups that I try to avoid having any contact with:
Dumb People-If I suspect you are dumb, I am going to try anything, this side of the non-aggression principle, to not have anything to do with you. If I suspect you are dumb and you attempt to strike up a conversation with me, you are going to get very short answers from me and I am going to look very annoyed. I get especially aggravated when I call a customer service hotline for help with a product or service and think I have an idiot on the line. I thank Gary North for the very valuable advice that the thing to do when you get a clueless person on a customer service call is to hang up and call back until you reach a person who actually knows what the hell is going on. I truly believe this advice from Gary has saved me from multiple heart attacks.
People with tattoos all over their body. I have no reason to logically explain this, but I really don’t want to interact with people who have tattoos all over their bodies. The San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback has such tattoos, I am so horrified by this that I have never even determined what his name is. I hope the 49ers lose every game until he is replaced at quarterback.As a side note, there are shades to all hating, even tattoo hating. I have a friend who will date women with tattoos, but only women who have three tattoos or less. If they are prison tattoos, he tolerates only two tattoos.
Loud obnoxious people. I was once in a hotel bar, when the FOX NFL color analyst Tony Siragusa was also present, between the loud farts, overall loud behavior and mooning of patrons (Yes, mooning of patrons), I did not consider it an enjoyable experience. If I ever walk into a bar again and see him at the bar I am walking out.
Toothless hookers. You will never catch me talking to toothless hookers.
So these are my prejudices. I don’t want any of these people lynched, gassed or enslaved. I just don’t want to have anything to do with them. Don’t try an talk me out of these prejudices, it’s not going to happen. I am not going to try and talk you out of yours. Let’s be friends on common ground, and fight where a fight will help us all, a fight against the state.
Reprinted with permission from Economic Policy Journal.