Life at № 42 by E.M. Coutinho
Consider this example: For the past few years a sector of the American population has been proposing the legal denial of service to customers based on the customer’s sexual orientation. In its most extreme form this was represented by Kim Davis, the clerk who refused to fulfil her clerking duties but this trickled down to the utterly annoying cake wars.
Interestingly if we look at this type of situation in the context of group membership and what the threshold is for “injury” in that group, we end up with a rather fascinating picture of how society works. In the Davis case her (perceived or imagined) injury was being obliged to sign/stamp a certificate if that certificate related to a same-sex couple. She believed this injury to be grievous. In her world outlook map, the injuries suffered by people from a different group by being denied the particular “service” she provided were insignificant relative to her burden.
We’ve seen this play out many times before, notably with Anita Bryant’s 1977 campaign. To refresh your memory, It’s January 18th, 1977. There’s a crowd holding signs outside the Metro Commission in Miami, Dade. Inside it’s packed. On one side there’s a group of people asking for a prohibition on discrimination based on sexual orientation regarding employment, housing, and public services. On the other side, led by Miss America runner-up Anita Bryant, are those opposed to any legislation that gives sexual minorities the same protections as their fellow citizens. In fact, Bryant pioneers the religious freedom wars with “… if this ordinance amendment is allowed to become law, you will in fact be infringing upon my right or rather DISCRIMINATING against me as a citizen and mother to teach my children and set examples or point to others as examples of God’s moral code as stated in the Holy Scriptures.”
In the Bryant organogram the importance of the burden of non-discrimination on her sociocultural group far outweighs the importance of the burden of discrimination suffered by a different group.
There are a number of interesting examples in recent debates:
-The rights of women not to be sexually harassed as compared to the rights of men not to be accused of sexual harassment. This is a particularly fascinating ratio to be examined because there are proponents of “zero tolerance” policies (almost always a bad idea) on both sides.
-What measures are reasonable to protect the lives of law enforcement officers as balanced against the rights of ordinary citizens to go about their business and more importantly be alive.
-I was going to include the J.K. Rowling/Transgender case, but decided against it as there’s no evidence trans people pose any risk to anyone so there’s nothing to be balanced out. An imaginary injury shouldn’t be debate-worthy. But the discussion that followed is interesting which is the alleged “Cancel Culture” phenomena. One that Charles Blow of the NYT says doesn’t exist.
I mostly agree with him except this ignores the historical context of cancellation because one could argue that discrimination, especially in its legalised form is the ultimate form of genuine cancel culture. If you can’t use a bathroom because of your skin colour, you can’t get a teacher’s position because you’re gay or you can’t vote because you are part of a minority — that’s being cancelled.
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