Intolerance Of Intolerance
Dr. King says love your Enemies. John Rawls says design a society where you might be born as any of its members. They are both right
“It’s free speech. It’s unfair!” they said.
They are half-right.
It was, and is, free speech.
But it was not unfair.
What is unfair is not being able to marry the one you love. Spiritual, economic, and legal reasons abound. Marriage equality is not an issue of politics, it is an issue of justice achieved by political means.
To understand this future, sometimes we have to look to the past.
It’s 1910. Jerry lives in Chicago. He is fervently opposed to a woman’s right to vote. He runs a retail store on the city’s near South Side called Vito’s Threads. It is a bustling and prosperous store that sells both men’s and women’s clothing.
In January of the new year, the Chicago Defender runs a story on prominent Chicagoans who had made political contributions to defeat women’s suffrage. Jerry, the manager of one of the city’s favorite retailers, is noted as being in opposition. He contributed $50 back in 1908, a not insignificant but not massive amount of money at that time. That year, the Cubs won the World Series.
As Jerry’s position is talked about in the neighborhood, women in his customer base stop buying clothes from Vito’s en masse. A few Vito’s employees quit, and a picketed boycott pops up outside the doors of the store that begins to affect walk-ins of not only female customers, but more than a few progressive male customers as well.
Business drops by 20% within a week of Jerry being outed by the Defender.
Vito, the eponymous owner of the store, is not happy. He lives in New York. Vito is a major supporter of a woman’s right to vote, and didn’t realize Jerry’s private views and position until the donation became public. On the twelve hour train ride from NYC to Chicago, Vito stews at what he believes is Jerry’s bigotry, idiocy, and bad judgment.
When he arrives in Chicago, he fires Jerry on the spot. He then takes out an ad in the Defender apologizing to the city.
Business picks back up.
Jerry, meanwhile, is incensed. He believes a woman’s right to vote is an issue of free speech. He fervently believes it is his God-given American constitutional right to oppose the political movement of women’s suffrage, and that Vito is censoring his views. He feels that Vito is the one in the wrong, and while Jerry steps down with a measure of dignity, he plans to sue Vito for infringing on his rights. Many of Jerry’s friends join him in going ballistic. They believe his political belief wrongly got him fired — that women’s suffrage is a “political” issue that shouldn’t be a part of “business” conversations. In private, Jerry’s male friends in private tell him how bad they feel for him, and even some women come to his defense, saying politics and business shouldn’t mix.
The question becomes: should politics and business mix?
They absolutely should, particularly when issues of human justice begin to negatively affect employee morale and customer behavior. When society’s zeitgeist makes it economically impossible and socially untenable for a leader to hold a “political” position which diminishes human freedom on the planet, society moves forward.
When the forces of liberalism and capitalism converge, change happens.
Money talks, and when it starts to say goodbye, humans listen and act accordingly.
Bigots — even those just slightly bigoted, if there is such a thing — slowly begin to be blocked from holding leadership positions as the languid and long-suffering human march towards freedom and equality advances.
The man who most clarified the difference between issues of human justice and politics was John Rawls. Rawls, some say, is the greatest American moral and political philosopher of the 20th century. His magnum opus, the Theory of Justice, asks us all to imagine a society where we could be born as any of its members, and then design that society from that vantage point.
Imagine you could be born black. Would you have supported slavery? Imagine you were born a woman. Would you have opposed woman’s suffrage? Imagine you were born gay. Would you have opposed a gay person’s right to marry? Imagine you were born transgender. Would you want to pee wherever you felt like peeing?
Said differently — how much empathy for others, who are not like you, do you have?
How much time do you spend imagining what it is like to be someone else, versus spending time in your own head?
What separates humans from other animals is our empathy. With the possible exception of bonobos, we are the most empathetic animal on the planet. Our species is certainly the best hope for where verbal communication and empathy force multiply.
From this collision of language and empathy society unfolds, change happens, and the zeitgeist moves forward. The development of gossip is followed by fire, agriculture, the wheel, and the world wide web. The organization of city-states leads to Mesopotamia, Angkor Wat, London. Thousand years of the evolution of human society leads to America, a country founded on freedom — the shining city on a hill.
The hill initially shines with a tarnish, as the country does not fully embody its founding principle. While America aspires to be free, it does not begin as such. Our founding fathers were slaveowners. Women could not vote. The emancipation of slaves, women’s suffrage, civil rights, and gay marriage equality are prosecuted over more than two centuries.
We have more to do.
In John Rawls we trust.
Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. For this reason justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others. It does not allow that the sacrifices imposed on a few are outweighed by the larger sum of advantages enjoyed by many. Therefore in a just society the liberties of equal citizenship are taken as settled; the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests.
— John Rawls