Sunday, July 29, 2012

Chick-fil-A; Marriage Equality; Critical Thinking

With Chick-fil-A and the general rise of gay/human rights, it often seems like people are talking past each other rather than being clear. When we do that, we get bizarre spectacles like people cheering the fact that Sarah Palin posed in a picture with a bag from Chick-fil-A. We get words like tolerance, rights, equality, all thrown around without taking a step back and asking what those words really mean. Because if we misuse them then, again, rather than a constructive dialogue we see people talking past each other and that's sort of distasteful.

In life, we have a marketplace of ideas. Everyone has the right to enter the marketplace with any idea they like. Everyone does not, however, have the right to have their idea "bought" by others. So, for example, I have the right to say that I don't care for Justin Bieber or his music. Other people disagree with me, hence Justin Bieber becomes a celebrity. Or, I have the right to argue that the Democratic party is better than the Republican party. That isn't the same as saying that I have the right for everyone to agree with me. We have the right to enter the marketplace but not the right to have everyone else agree with us.

We choose our ideas from the marketplace. We pick which ideas we want and which ideas we don't want. That can be framed positively (i.e., the Democratic party is better than the Republican party) or negatively (i.e., the Republican party is worse than the Democratic party). By picking one idea over the other, we are effectively discriminating against the ideas we dismiss. (Note that discrimination in this sense is very different from discrimination against people. )

Side note: we can either have our minds and reason do the picking or we can allow some authority to limit the ideas we're exposed to. I very firmly believe that we should trust our own reasoning. We should allow, for example, arguments to be made that deny the Holocaust. We air those arguments, see that they don't up to reason, and dismiss the idea. That's how we maintain freedom and autonomy. We don't ask for the government to protect us from being forced to think about new things - reason is the gatekeeper rather than government censorship . We should welcome unpopular ideas that make us think. Holding a consistent set of beliefs throughout one's life is, at least according to the Christian Bible in 1 Corinthians 13:11, sub-par.

At any rate, we the people pick winners and losers in the marketplace of ideas. We can't have all winners by definition, that would leave us with nonsense ideas like "marriage equality is good and marriage equality is not good" or "Justin Bieber is a good singer and Justin Bieber is not a good singer". We all pick from the marketplace which ideas we choose to hold, the idea is to use reason to pick the correct beliefs. The process is just like any other marketplace. We examine the goods presented and choose which to possess.

Throughout most of the 20th century in the United States, the marketplace has said that we should not have marriage equality Therefore the people who believe we should not have marriage equality have had their opinion “winning”. They've been content that the set of beliefs they've chosen from the marketplace are a popular set of beliefs. When this happens you aren't forced to examine your beliefs. For example, I believe slavery is wrong. I've also never seriously sat down and tried to read arguments for and against slavery. That's an example of a belief which is widespread thus I've never had to confront the dissenting idea.

Lately, the idea that marriage equality is wrong has been losing ground in the marketplace. More and more people (including myself, given that my first post was against marriage equality) are choosing pro-marriage equality. This means they're "discriminating" against the idea of being against marriage equality. We could use the same language to say that throughout most of the 20th century people were choosing the idea of anti-marriage equality were "discriminating" against the idea of being for marriage equality. Because the nature of a marketplace of ideas means that some will win while others are "discriminated" against and lose. This process of competition – embracing some ideas while dismissing others – is how we reach any and every belief.

When someone is used to holding a popular set of beliefs then they can forget all of this and believe that their ideas are inherently worthy of being chosen as correct. Again, back to my example of slavery. Another reason I haven't seriously looked into it is because it genuinely seems self-evidently the proper belief. I can't (completely and honestly) set aside my belief that slavery is wrong and examine the issue.

That's a flaw. Because thinking that some ideas are above examination is erroneous. It simply isn't the case. All ideas are competing against each other - we argue for ideas based on their merit which produces winners and losers. Just because someone happens to be living in a place and time when some beliefs are widespread doesn't change the principle of examining our beliefs.

Lately, and thankfully, marriage equality is an idea that's been winning a lot. It's been fascinating to watch the response! The people who disagree with the idea have gone from:
  • Not needing to argue for the idea
  • Arguing for their idea based on its (alleged) merits (i.e., "marriage equality will tear apart the United States)
  • Arguing for their idea based on taboo evidence (i.e., the idea is supported by a religious text therefore you can't argue with it)
  • Arguing against the idea by saying that if their idea doesn't win then they're suffering discrimination.
It's fairly easy to see why the third one comes last, as well as why it's so appealing. The idea of marriage equality hinges on what discrimination means. When one has no arguments left then one can claim that they deserve to be right, or else their being discriminated against. Cue "tolerance" "discrimination" "bigotry" all misused. If someone can make the case that disagreement is off the table, then by default they've won. I don't think that strategy has a very long shelf life, but it's definitely re-emerged since Chick-fil-A made their case (using step 2: wrapping their idea in the out of bounds arena of religious belief).

The idea of anti-marriage equality is still competing in the marketplace. I don't begrudge the people who agree with it. I think they're wrong *but this is what it means to participate in that marketplace*. Taken strictly, the idea of being against marriage equality is discrimination in the sense that all ideas entail discrimination, that is: *discrimination against other ideas*. But we can't stop there, we have to look at what the idea in practice will entail.

What makes things like anti-marriage equality different is that when the idea is practiced it means *discrimination against people*. Just like, for example, the idea of prohibiting racial marriage equality. Taken in one sense the idea entails as much discrimination as the idea of allowing racial marriage equality. Both ideas mean discriminating against the other idea. But, again, what makes the idea different is that in practice, prohibiting racial marriage equality means *discriminating against people*.

This is why we can't refer to discrimination in one sense (i.e., in the marketplace of ideas) and say it's the same as discrimination in another sense (i.e., possessing fewer rights as a person). To spell it out a bit, we can't say:

Person 1: I think the idea of prohibiting marriage equality is correct
Person 2: I disagree, I think the idea when put into practice means discrimination against people
Person 1: Aha, you just discriminated against my idea! So I guess the score board is even and my idea isn't discriminatory.

It makes no sense. But I think it stems from using the word discrimination inaccurately and being used to your ideas being accepted as right at large. So when you have to defend those ideas you feel like you're under unfair attack in the marketplace of ideas, when in reality everyone is always under attack because that's how reasoning works. When you're used to winning then losing makes you feel like you're a victim. When there's a gap between "I believe XYZ" and "most people believe not XYZ" then you search for an explanation. An easy one is that you're a victim - most people would believe XYZ like you if only [liberal media, stupidity, brainwashing, Obama's speech giving skill, etc] wasn't unduly influencing them.

All of which, I think, lead us to absurd conclusions like cheering Sarah Palin for buying a sandwich at Chick-fil-A. We see Chick-fil-A support an idea (marriage equality is wrong) and we conclude that anyone who doesn't support that idea is discriminating against Chick-fil-A. As if everyone has an obligation to buy a product and believe an idea or else they're discriminating.

Well, the idea (marriage equality is wrong) in this case is incorrect. (Read: this statement is discrimination against an idea which is inherent and necessary in every idea.) And the idea that marriage equality is wrong is discriminatory. (Read: the idea, when practiced, prohibits people from practicing their rights which is a bad thing.) As such, I can argue for my idea and include the fact that the other idea is discriminatory. Because it plainly is.

So let's continue to have a national discussion on marriage equality. Let's continue to discuss the issue on its merits, as we should all issues. But let's not say that having that discussion constitutes discrimination against people. Because, and this is the wonderful news, you can't forever stop people from having that discussion.

(Begin rambling.)

Well, I suppose the Texas Republican Party is doing their best to stop people participating in the marketplace of ideas. It turns out that if you educate kids incorrectly then you can keep them from thinking for themselves. To quote from their (since changed) platform:

"Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority."

If we teach abstinence only then we can ensure that many young people get pregnant. If we can take away their legal right to abortion then we can ensure that many low-income young women become single mothers - bonus points for shaming them. If we can keep from giving them aid or health care then we can ensure that they stay poor their entire lives. If we can teach kids that they should have "fixed beliefs" and that challenging those "fixed beliefs" is dangerous then we can ensure they'll be unable to think. If we teach kids that science should be denied based on a collection of ancient scrolls then we can ensure they won't ever find the joy of scientific discovery. If we teach kids that evolution is "just a theory" then we can ensure they'll distrust science. If we can import low wage jobs then we can ensure the poor stay poor. The overall key is to start early and remove the tools that allow people to function in a marketplace of ideas. That way they'll accept what they're told; they'll effectively censor themselves.

To think a former politician purchasing a chicken sandwich with the intent of keeping people from getting married is... is even a thing. It takes a lot, but we can produce people who simply say "I believe what I'm told because I know I'm right" and be OK with that. To intellectually neuter a generation of people. To teach them that examining their beliefs is a scary thing the government needs to protect them from. To be comfortable that not only is an unexamined life worth living, but rather only an unexamined life is worth living. That's scarier than a Dalek because it takes away the only tool we have in life: our reason. Anyway, clearly I've rambled.

If no one gets anything else out of this, don't confuse discrimination in the marketplace of ideas (a necessary tool to be a thinking person) with discrimination against people. The words may be the same but they refer to very different things and using the ideas interchangeably is not reasoning clearly, for the people purposely misusing the words it's not reasoning honestly.


  1. that was structured so strangely, it have me a headache... valid points though.
    exhausted trying to figure out where you were going with that.