It’s no secret that I have liberal leanings. I’ve said before that I wish we were “socialist for what we need, and capitalist for all the little luxuries we want,” which oversimplifies, but sums up a “mixed economy” fairly well. I care about people. I believe that, so long as we have it in our power, no one should go without clean drinking water, safe housing, nutritious and sufficient food, and clothing.
I believe that if we consider something to be a “right” for ourselves, then it must also be a right for all other humans. Especially if we’re going to sling about terms like “natural rights” and “God-given rights.” If we accept that there is a God, then God created atheists and allowed people to create a wide variety of religious traditions they all believe were inspired, if not mandated, by God. There should be no religious strife between us, provided we don’t impose our faith and its dictates on those who follow a different path. Conversion and religious empire-building, fear and propaganda based on deeply held religious belief and tradition that seek to divide us as a community of humans, those are the problem.
Good manners, based on kindness and compassion, go a long way to counter this and ensure the well-being of us all. In last week’s post, Netiquette in the Nineties, I
ranted aboutexpressed my frustration with the urge to control every little aspect of human interaction. That said, we do need regulations – because humans are flawed and sometimes obnoxious, loophole-seeking creatures – to keep us from harming one another.
My conservative-leaning, contrarian friend, Peter Wright – who is not in the U.S., or the UK, so please save any divisive, political ire over the GOP or Brexit for another venue! – wrote, in response, Do Rules and Regulations Protect or Handicap Us? Peter and I don’t always see eye-to-eye, but we agree on many things. I joked with him on Twitter that I would have the last word, as he announced an upcoming vacation. Ever the gentleman, he replied:
This is not my intention; Peter and I have a long tradition, dating back at least a decade, of commenting at such length on one another’s posts that the comment morphs into a blog post. We both enjoy blogging-as-conversation, and as he credits my post with “triggering” his, it deserves a response in kind.
First, Peter mentions a family in rural Ontario that is facing fines they cannot afford for building their own self-sustaining home using traditional building techniques and natural materials. They were initially told that they did not need a permit; now, they are facing a court battle and fines for failure to get one and failure to build to code. According to the article on Canada’s CTV News: “Misty and Bryce Murph’Ariens lived happily in their cob home for years, cultivating plants and farm animals such as a dairy cow and chickens. What once was a cheap house built out of necessity became the inspiration for an environmentally-conscious lifestyle, and an art project of its own: they’ve added sculptural elements such as relief images of trees and mermaids to the unique house.”
Dave Millner, chief administrative officer for their township, claims, “We’re just looking for compliance related to say, safety issues, for protection of the family.” But the home appears to be safe, sturdy, and comfortable; the family has been living there for a decade. To be blunt, if the house did collapse on their heads, it would harm no one else. If they were to sell it, a buyer could enjoy it as-is, or tear it down and start over. It does not appear to be an eyesore; Millner admitted that “The home is very secluded in a bush … it can’t be seen from the road.”
It doesn’t appear to be affecting the neighbors’ health or well-being. It is not hooked up to municipal water or sewage; they use a composting toilet. 
Again, I’m all for regulations that protect our health and safety from the actions of others, but it should be up to the complainant to allege that there is real risk of harm, or to pay for the nuisance and legal fees of those they complain about. Our home was built in a developed suburb and subject to deed restrictions and homeowner’s association rules, which we were given ahead of purchase. Had we not agreed to them, we would not have bought the home. HOAs can be overbearing, at times, but good ones aim to ensure collective benefits for the community – protecting property values, providing for additional security patrols, paying for things like mosquito control, landscaping, and lighting of common areas. These things should not be the sole responsibility of any single homeowner, nor should any single homeowner be the voice of all as to what’s needed.
We may not have the full story, of course. There was a story promulgated here about a man who was jailed for “collecting rainwater on his own property.” Now, if you’re like I am, you are picturing a few barrels of water in the back yard, but this more accurately describes the issue: “Back in 2012, one man in Oregon collected 13 million gallons of water and created three reservoirs on his property thanks to his rainwater harvesting.”
According to Family Handyman:
A journal published by the University of North Carolina titled “Rainwater Collection, Water Law, and Climate Change: A Flood of Problems Waiting to Happen” dives into water rights much deeper. The study states that any type of rainwater collectors (which can even include gutters from your roof or any other type of rainwater drain control) technically “infringes on the water rights lawfully belonging to someone ‘downstream.’” This may not seem like a big deal, but for areas experiencing droughts or any other water worries, legislation such as this can be necessary.
It may be a very big deal if you’re running a family farm downstream, and a drought hits. Even the most ridiculous legislation probably had a reason to exist; whether it’s a good enough reason keeps attorneys in business, until all agree it’s stupid – like the prohibition on a mustachioed man kissing his sweetheart in public.
We’ll find out next week, on Peter’s Tiny Home Geniuses blog, just how well our thoughts align on this!
Second, Peter raises the issue of political correctness, hinting that one should have a “right” to discriminate, at lease commercially, against people for any reason whatsoever.
Case in point is the rise of political correctness that now makes it illegal to criticise activities one might consider offensive to one’s religious or cultural beliefs. In many parts of the world, a business owner is at risk for refusing to serve or accept an order for a product from someone with whom he or she does not want to do business. The slightest chance that the owner or manager has a racial, religious, cultural or sexual preference motivation for that decision could result in massive fines or a prison sentence. Business owners have been the victims of frenzied mob attacks, loss of income and bankruptcy as a result of unfounded allegations.
Criticize if you like. Just don’t suggest coercing others to your viewpoint through violence, harassment, or death. Speak all you like. Piss in the wind, but only if you’re standing downwind.
I think we have moved far enough from the Dark Ages to safely say that one doesn’t get to have a “racial, religious, cultural or sexual preference motivation” for their actions unless it’s in their choice of marriage or sexual partner, their choice of church, their choice of where to live, or their choice of where to shop. It comes down to “immutable characteristics” – if your prejudice, your bigotry, your hatred, is based on some trait a person was born with, you’re an asshole. You shouldn’t get any say over the laws that govern others. And if such bigotry forms the basis for your justification for refusing to do business with someone, your business should fail.
Unfortunately, it may not, and it certainly won’t if you can surround yourself with a community of people who share your particular forms of bigotry.
Bigots will use any excuse. Bigots may argue that sexual orientation is mere preference, not an immutable characteristic. I would ask them if that’s because they’re fighting their natural sexual urges; honestly, I’ve never been sexually attracted to a member of my own gender, and the idea that a woman might find me appealing doesn’t offend or frighten me in the least. It is no threat to my spiritual well-being. That is something I feel entirely responsible for, and do not need or want well-meaning outside “help” on unless I ask for it.
In an ideal world, a gay baker – or at least a more open-minded, inclusive baker – would thrive, where a close-minded, bigoted baker would end up selling day-old bread to his fellow curmudgeons. But starting and running a business are complicated things, and that bigoted baker may be the only game in town. A happy compromise might be to make and sell a beautiful but sexually generic wedding cake, and let the happy couple top it any way they like, if they insist on same-sex statuary. Flowers are lovely regardless of your gender. But it’s the principle of the thing, really – and we’re determined to live, divide, and die on principle. To be in the business of baking and selling wedding cakes is not the same as endorsing, encouraging, participating in, or officiating at a gay wedding. Remember, bigoted baker, that you were not invited to the joyous celebrations – and that there is nothing immoral about baking and selling a cake.
Didn’t we fight this battle, already, back in 1960, when the Greensboro Four sat in at Woolworth’s lunch counter? I thought this sort of small-mindedness on a large scale was over and done with before I was born.
I could have sworn, too, that we decisively ended the Nazi Party at the end of WWII, but apparently not. We, in the U.S., have a President who claims there are “good people” on “both sides” – one of those being participants in a Nazi rally. Being a Nazi, by the way, is not an immutable characteristic – it’s a choice, leading to antisocial and psychopathic behaviors. Feel free, good people of the world, to shun Nazis as customers. I will not rant against your doing so.
BUT, allowing any form of discrimination based on immutable characteristics, as opposed to, say, my refusal to sell you a cake if you’re a Nazi, has no place in a modern, civilized society.
Conscientious objectors don’t get a pass on serving their country, in the military, if we have a draft. They get a pass on military service or service that directly involves violence, depending on their specific objections.
SERVICE AS A CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR
Two types of service are available to conscientious objectors, and the type assigned is determined by the individual’s specific beliefs. The person who is opposed to any form of military service will be assigned to alternative service – described below. The person whose beliefs allow him to serve in the military but in a noncombatant capacity will serve in the Armed Forces but will not be assigned training or duties that include using weapons.
Conscientious objectors opposed to serving in the military will be placed in the Selective Service Alternative Service Program. This program attempts to match COs with local employers. Many types of jobs are available, however the job must be deemed to make a meaningful contribution to the maintenance of the national health, safety, and interest. Examples of alternative service are jobs in:
- caring for the very young or very old
- health care
Length of service in the program will equal the amount of time a man would have served in the military, usually 24 months. 
Given this, I think it would be good for all young citizens to participate in the Selective Service Alternative Service Program, in peace time as well as in war. In some countries, military service is mandatory. Perhaps we should institute a program of required civil service. And perhaps this could be used to bank credits for “free” higher education after two years of such service.
I have a bit more sympathy for doctors with conscientious objections to performing abortions. I would argue that the rules, as we’ve known them since Roe v Wade, are adequate. And that a sensible doctor, one whose priority is practicing good medicine without judgment, should always perform a life-saving abortion should the mother’s life be at risk, regardless of conscientious objections. This is not the dark ages; women’s lives are not less important than their unborn children’s. A pregnant woman should not fear inadequate care in a health crisis, if she’s taken by ambulance to a Catholic hospital rather than a regional trauma center. But I would agree that no doctor should be legally compelled to perform an elective abortion.
I believe that all women have a right to bodily autonomy, and I’d extend this to say that their rights trump those of an unborn fetus that is not capable of independent survival outside the womb, absent extraordinary measures only available in a well-equipped hospital. There are doctors who will perform abortions and believe them to be medically safe and reasonable procedures; allow them to do this work without fear of losing their licenses or going to jail. Abortion is a tragedy, but to those who would argue poor life choices or innocent babies, I’d say “Fix all the reasons a young woman might choose to abort, or feel a need to abort, then come back and argue your case.” In the U.S. the pro-fetus crowd tends not to care too much about the welfare of young mothers and their offspring. These same people cruelly cut welfare programs, food assistance, daycare, school lunches, and public school funding without batting an eye. I have no time to argue with hypocrites.
Criticize, if you must, from the pulpit – but trust all women to make their own choices, and do not make a sad situation worse by criminalizing those choices.
Peter writes, “In my childhood in British oriented Rhodesia and in Britain itself, most small businesses and especially hotels and pubs had a sign above the entrance ‘Right of Admission Reserved’. This was to allow the owner or manager to prevent undesirables of any race, belief or preference causing trouble or upsetting the regular clients of the business.” Before you grab the pitchforks (or, God help us all, heap praises on his head) for this unfortunate phrasing, I trust in good faith that my friend meant to say “to prevent troublemakers and riff-raff from overrunning the place.”
Trust me, we white folks make up a goodly percentage of troublemakers and riff-raff in the U.S., and I’d urge defining the sort of behavior that is unacceptable, and changing the signage accordingly. Because saying “undesirables” in the same breath as “race, belief, or preference” is fraught with trouble. Unfortunately, for too many bigoted assholes, it means, “If you ain’t white, you’re undesirable.” This is where we get “racial profiling.” You look at a woman in a hijab, and you see trouble. You look at a black man, not dressed according to your own fashion sense, and you see trouble. YOU are the problem, in this case.
Most businesses here have some sort of sign on the door that says, “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” This is reasonable, and just. “No running.” “No loud music after 9 PM.” “No bikinis in the lobby.” No problem, provided you enforce reasonable expectations of behavior without regard to accidents of birth or things people cannot help, such as a disability. Failure to make accommodations on a “No profanity” rule against someone with Tourette’s may be unconscionable. If you run a food truck on the beach and only refuse to serve shoeless people of color, that’s a problem.
Peter argues that “As more rules and regulations are introduced to protect group rights and as special interest groups proliferate, individual rights are eroded.” Groups are comprised of individuals with similar interests. If what he’s alluding to, in terms of “groups,” is minorities, women, LBGTQ people, then I think I’ve already addressed this. There’s strength in numbers, particularly when it comes to racism – which, as opposed to mere prejudice and bigotry, involves power and the ability to systemically discriminate against the members of minority “groups.” Arguing “individual rights” in this context is like the privileged bullies of the world whining that the nerds figured out how to make their iPhones do nothing but dial 911. Or, as my mom used to say, “No one feels sorry for the girl on a yacht.”
BUT, again, I don’t think that’s exactly what Peter is referring to – he goes back to the example of the little house the couple built that’s now subject to seemingly unreasonable regulatory burdens from a community that seems to have no direct interest in the issue, other than a vague “health and safety” argument and a fine that would add a little to their coffers but probably wouldn’t benefit this couple in any way.
We need the ability to make reasonable exceptions, too. Mindlessly enforcing regulations that are appropriate for city dwellers on rural farm dwellers isn’t reasonable. But it’s also not exactly a question of “group rights.” It’s just mindless application of a regulation that appears to be overly broad, where fighting or complying with it does the homeowners more harm than the good any outcome is likely to do for anyone else. This is the heart of my previous post – the proliferation and mindless application of overly broad rules and regulations.
Peter brings “tolerance” into the equation, and it’s unfortunate how “tolerance” and “civility” so often get twisted into code words for “tolerate MY ideas” or “tolerate MY bad behavior” and “be civil to ME, even if I – or members of my association – are nasty to you” rather than “be kind, courteous, and respectful.” Period. In a world that is truly kind, courteous, and respectful, there’s not much to “tolerate.” It’s when we start imposing hardship and harm on others for our own advantage that we’re asking them to “tolerate” something. I don’t “tolerate” the grocery store clerk’s peacock colored hair. Their haircolor is simply none of my business, and has no deleterious effect on me. Rather, I appreciate their smile, their doing their job efficiently, their bagging up my groceries, and so on. I don’t “tolerate” others’ religion; I may “tolerate” the Jehovah’s Witnesses ringing my doorbell every few weeks, but in turn, they are unfailingly polite and “tolerate” my “not interested” and my not offering them a chance to talk and have coffee with me! They do not stand and argue on my front porch, and I do not have to slam the door in their faces – there is nothing to “tolerate.” I might tolerate my next door neighbors’ occasional back yard pool party and BBQ smoke permeating my living room; I would have a word with them if they cooked out, upwind, every summer night and blasted loud music till midnight. This is how we get along.
I hope that we can one day achieve that ideal sort of interaction between all of us. To say “I hope we can get back to the voluntary respect and consideration of others Holly remembers, attempts to enforce them by rules and regulations are backfiring on us” is to say that Holly has a flawed memory. As do so many of us who grew up watching “The Andy Griffith Show” and long for a past time that never really was. But if we can envision it and long for it, I believe we are capable of achieving it.
Here’s hoping we do, before climate change makes it a moot point.