Live and Let Live

One of the lamest tropes in our political discourse (not known to lack for vacuity) is “imposing morality.”

The light isn’t always very good at the border, but there is a border between mala prohibita and mala in se. Positive law forbidding mala in se are necessarily impositions of morality when viewed by those who greatly crave something malum in se.

I have tended toward liberalism in the sense of allowing certain mala in se to occur lawfully so long as all competent participants agreed. One needn’t think this is all about sex, either (although that’s an area where the law has retreated pretty dramatically during my lifetime, with the Supreme Court finally striking down laws in holdout states). Boxing and other contact martial arts involve consenting to the battering of one’s body by another, which is certainly wrong without consent.

But just how much do I want government to micromanage? How badly is society harmed if a few outliers want to do this particular bad thing? How, short of police state tactics, would a ban on such-and-such mala in se be enforced?

But there are increasing signs that I’ve committed the grave strategic error of unilateral disarmament, and that there is a party that wants to impose its transvalued values (evil is the new good, good the new evil) by requiring me and others to participate, not just tolerate, their proclivities.

A current example is the employer contraception (and abortifacient, be it remembered) mandate.  It’s not enough that Catholics who consider “artificial contraception” malum in se not be allowed to prohibit it by law. They (and Protestants, who may oppose only the abortifacient part) must, as the price of working in their own business as an employer, be forced to pay 100% of it for employees. Life-saving drugs and treatment come with a co-pay; chemical sterility is “on the house.”

That’s aggressive imposition of (im)morality by the government. I don’t look for the Culture Wars to end until “live and let live” becomes a two-way street, and I’m seeing no signs of that happening.

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On a somewhat related topic.

As soon as you allow something as vague as Big Brother protecting your feelings, anything and everything can be punished …

In every genuinely diverse community I’ve ever lived in, freedom of speech had to be the rule . . .  I find it deeply ironic that on college campuses diversity is used as an argument against unbridled freedom of speech.

Greg Lukianoff, president of FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) on How Free Speech Died on Campus.

Perhaps Lukianoff’s characterizations are a bit exaggerated. Both sides in the Culture Wars have their anecdotal horror stories. I don’t have the time or the sociology chops to measure whether the sorts of examples Lukianoff cites in this Wall Street Journal piece are the exception or the rule.

But I’ve followed FIRE for several years now, and I sure as heck am glad it exists. It’s sort of the new ACLU of free speech on campus.

The pairing of (1) “something as vague as Big Brother protecting your feelings” and (2) diversity being used as a argument to limit free speech seems to me to be akin to the motivation for Human Relations Ordinances that add sexual orientation as a protected class.

Maybe things are different elsewhere, but I sat through every minute of every public meeting on our local Human Relations Ordinance amendments, listening for evidence of economically significant discrimination. Not only did I not hear it, I heard credible evidence of not even one isolated incident that would fall within the Ordinance. To my knowledge, no complaint of discrimination based on sexual orientation has yet been sustained locally, and very few have been lodged at all. I haven’t tried to follow execution as carefully as I followed implementation, but I was involved in establishing that Human Relations Commissions must operate under Open Door laws, and the press should be covering them to the extent their activities are newsworthy.

What motivates college administrators to act so viciously? “It’s both self-interest and ideological commitment,” Mr. Lukianoff says. On the ideological front, “it’s almost like you flip a switch, and these administrators, who talk so much about treating every student with dignity and compassion, suddenly come to see one student as a caricature of societal evil.”

My feelings are hurt, but my status as “a caricature of societal evil” is not a protected class. It’s okay, therefore, to impose the new morality on me.

Yes, I’m aware of development gurus like Richard Florida arguing that it’s important to get ahead of the curve by signaling tolerance to attract creative types. That doesn’t really change my analysis, because it’s still big brother protecting feelings, even if there’s a business development motivation behind (or façade in front of) it.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.