Social Regulation is a Collapsing Tower
“Let me give you a little inside information about God. God likes to watch. He’s a prankster. Think about it. He gives man instincts. He gives you this extraordinary gift, and then what does He do, I swear for His own amusement, His own private, cosmic gag reel, He sets the rules in opposition. It’s the goof of all time. Look, but don’t touch. Touch, but don’t taste. Taste, don’t swallow. And while you’re jumpin’ from one foot to the next, what is He doing? He’s laughin’ His sick, fuckin’ ass off! He’s a tight-ass! He’s a SADIST! He’s an absentee landlord! Worship that? NEVER!”
– John Milton, The Devil’s Advocate
I often think of this scene towards the end of this second-tier Al Pacino movie when I learn of a new regulation passed by government, regardless of it being at the municipal, state or federal level. This quote contains several parallels with government’s effects on its populace; also, Al Pacino just turned 76 and I was watching Dog Day Afternoon over the weekend, so his shouted, scenery-chewing quotes have been marinating in my head for a few days.
The scene mirrors the effects regulations, whether they be of the social or economic variety, can have on society. Often, regulations are passed that are at loggerheads with other existing ones, and sometimes they are passed to “fix” the deleterious effects of previously passed ones. Statists always make the assumption that citizens will never not follow a law, and assign to government the Providence traditionally attributed to God. But government is a lot more like the God that the Devil rails against, one who demands obedience to his capricious and arbitrary laws, because He knows better than we do how to conduct our affairs, and we had better not trespass against Him. As much as statists would have us treat government as benevolent and omnipotent, providing for us and loving us, government is actually the God of the Old Testament, wrathful, jealous, often unpredictable, and vengeful.
Additionally, government is not all knowing, though it retains its tyrannical impulses. It is the great fallacy of a central planned economy that men in positions of authority can have enough information so that they can more efficiently order the production, distribution and consumption of goods. As it is with producing goods, so it is with social regulations. Man is fallible, and putting a group of them together to pull the levers of society is unwise at best, and dangerous at worst. Those who crave the power to order society, enforceable via the threat of imprisonment, violence, and/or financial penalty will not admit to a lack of epistemic humility.
The Left desires government be the God depicted in The Devil’s Advocate. The Great Bathroom Debate of 2016 taking place in North Carolina describes perfectly, chapter and verse, the Left’s proclivity for capricious tyranny.
At Mises.org, Roy Cordato has the most accurate description and analysis of the topic. In an article titled “We Need Separation of Bathroom and State,” he writes:
“In late February the Charlotte, North Carolina, city council passed an “antidiscrimination” law, scheduled to go into effect on April 1. It was aimed at protecting what, in the view of the city council, are the rights of those in the gay, lesbian, and transgender community. The centerpiece of this law was a provision that prohibits businesses providing bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers from segregating usage of those facilities by gender, biologically defined. Biological males or females must be allowed to use the facilities of the opposite sex if they claim that that is the sex they identify with psychologically. (Note, no proof was required.)
“The primary targets of the Charlotte ordinance were privately owned businesses that offer bathrooms, changing rooms, showers, etc., for their customer’s convenience. The decision of how to structure access to these facilities may, for some, be based on their religious beliefs but for many others it is a secular business decision. Their goal is customer satisfaction driven by the desire to make a profit and earn a living. The property that they use is privately owned, the investments that they make come from private funds, and those who reap the rewards or suffer the losses are private entrepreneurs. The bathrooms in their establishments are part of the product that they provide.
So what was the state of North Carolina’s response to all this? In fact, it was to restore freedom and property rights and to guarantee those rights across the state. The law in North Carolina that so many progressives are up in arms about does not prohibit businesses from having bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, etc., that allow use by people of all genders defined biologically, psychologically, or whatever.”
Like with the sudden movement that agitated for free contraceptives, I do not remember trans people and their supporters marching in the streets, waving placards and chanting, “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Your bathroom policy has got to go!” So, what was the reason for the city of Charlotte to pass its ordinance? Were Charlotte businesses employing bathroom monitors, inspecting genitalia and criminal records, turning some away and approving others to relieve themselves? I’ve read from several outlets people saying that at some point you’ve probably been using the same bathroom as a trans person or homosexual, and ignorance was bliss. OK, fine. So, again I ask the question, why did the city of Charlotte seek to insert itself into what was not an issue before?
And does the Left not understand that when they push against something, they might be pushed back? I’m no physicist, but I’ve noticed pendulums have this pesky tendency to swing in both directions.
Conservatives like to label the Left as aggressors in the culture war. The Left defend their activism as resistance to the oppression of existing power structures that preclude individuals from traditionally marginalized groups from occupying a safe and equitable position in society. They are both right.
But, we do not live in a binary world. If people who are not from traditionally marginalized groups do not concede to the demands of those who do hail from traditionally marginalized groups, the Left asserts they are being discriminated against, and now the State must step in to set things right. The Left often make the mistake that everything is a zero-sum game, for example, that the wealthy get rich at the expense of the poor. Of course, the opposite is true. A rising tide lifts all boats; mutual exchange leaves both parties better off. Would not a trans person appreciate a business owner who comes up with an innovative way to provide accommodation? Or could a trans person only be satisfied if the business owner is forced to do the bidding of the state? Is there not an elevation of society when two parties reach some sort of exchange that leads to both sides being better off? This concept need not be segregated to the economic sphere of society, it can and should be extended to basic social interactions between private citizens. Disagreeing with the means does not mean you oppose the ends.
Cordato writes of businesses:
“Their goal is to provide the products and services that most of their customers want in an environment that those customers feel comfortable in. This environment may indeed be different for different establishments depending on the desires and cultural makeup of their clients. This Charlotte ordinance told businesses that they are not allowed to adjust their decisions regarding their bathroom, locker room, or shower facilities in order to accommodate customer preferences. In this sense the now overturned Charlotte ordinance was a gross violation of property rights and economic freedom and on libertarian grounds needed to be overturned.”
Apparently statists and Leftists don’t believe business owners can be trusted to figure out bathroom accommodations for the needs of their gender diverse clientele. This despite the fact that business owners are somehow able to recognize a market demand for their product, navigate the increasingly byzantine path of economic regulations that hinder or delay bringing their product to market, disruptions in supply chains, juggling the requirements of staff, marketing their product, paying off vendors and maximizing sales. But come up with reasonable solutions for who may use which bathroom, if that is even an issue for some businesses? No, no! That is the sort of decision that self-reliance, autonomy and simple innovation just cannot be allowed to provide for!
The Left use to complain the Right wants to control what takes place in the bedroom. Now, the Left is seeking to control not only what takes place in college dorm rooms after hours, but in the bathrooms located in public locations. The Left used to be a lot more freewheelin’.
The Left believe they are protecting the underprivileged members of society from the power structure (anyone who is a straight, white male) that had dominated them for so long. They are statists who seek to impose on us a new authority that will reach high into the sky, its eye observing and accounting for the actions of all. But in reality, they are playing Jenga.
The more Jenga blocks that are removed from the base and placed atop the tower, the more it wobbles. There is not infinite room for counter-balances. Eventually it topples. Will individuals be able to reorder society in a just and equitable way when free-thinking, self-reliance and autonomy had been so long denied to them?
Ultimately, the virtue of the PFPSA is not that it will protect women from sexual assault in bathrooms, as the North Carolina politicians who voted for the PFPSA claim, since we already have laws on the books against sexual assault yet it somehow keeps happening, but that it returns a block to the foundation of the teetering Jenga tower of social regulations to provide stability to civil society, an order that spontaneously forms. Spontaneity leads to critical thinking and innovation. Necessity is the mother of invention; eliminate the possibility of deviation from the norm, and Necessity remains childless (I suddenly have the urge to listen to Frank Zappa).
Maybe I’m just a foolish optimist, but I believe people who find themselves in business transactions and social interactions can figure out how to reach an equitable solution without a boot stamping down on their necks. I appreciate North Carolina’s governor and legislature believe private citizens just might be able to figure out the pressing issue of which bathroom a trans person is allowed to use. This is necessary pushback against the constant refrain from authoritarians, whether they call the Left or Right home, that we can’t be trusted to make these sorts of decisions for ourselves.
If there is no pushback to return autonomy to private citizens, would it be so far-fetched to believe there will come a time when we won’t know how to interact with each other to solve relatively simple problems, let alone ones that would occur should a real disaster befall us?
I’ve always found it odd that some people pray, and give thanks and praise, to God for seemingly petty things, like a pop artist thanking God for her Grammy. I wonder, does God care about whether or not someone gets an award? And along those lines, should government be bothered with something so small as where someone uses the bathroom? Rest assured, as petty as bathroom rules may seem it can only get worse and even pettier. The Left, Statists, Authoritarians, the Religious Right, whatever and whoever they are want to coerce us into the kind of behavior they tell us is moral and virtuous.
Critics of religion (I am agnostic but lean towards Emersonian/Thoreauvian Transcendentalism) that hail from the Left decry (though less vociferously of Islam) the dogmatic rules religious adherents follow, though they seek to impose their own seemingly omnipotent authority. They mock, deride and insult the intolerance of religions and worshippers to accept abortion and gay marriage, yet the statists’ subversion of this rule-making civil authority does not lead to freedom, but just to another dogmatic path. Statists don’t offer a choice, but only a road, up until now, only slightly less traveled. I suppose it is if you refuse to follow the laws you either go to Hell or go to prison. What is the difference? I am not interested in making the Sophie’s Choice of deciding between eternal or temporal incarceration.
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