Inspired by this post at Pharyngula
Please note that I don't really know what I'm talking about but just going from what I've seen and heard. If I have any facts wrong (or missing), please feel free to make notes (here or on the discussion page).
The question is to what extent businesses should be prevented from refusing certain customers, refusing to hire certain people on certain criteria (race, orientation, religion), or expressing official views (political, religious, etc.), and by what mechanisms such prevention should take place.
Legal mechanisms tend to be very hard-line and inflexible, as well as being costly; social mechanisms are generally inexpensive and flexible, but require much more individual labor (i.e. the cost is distributed very unevenly: the work is uncompensated, so each individual who participates bears the entire cost of that participation) in order to be effective. A good solution will probably make use of both mechanisms under different circumstances.
Also, the existence of the internet gives us the opportunity to create new tools to make both mechanisms more effective -- e.g. anyone could create an Issuepedia entry for Ford Motor Company (and make a note that they didn't seem interested in doing anything about this) and another entry for Keiffe & Sons Ford with a link to the Pharyngula post, just so anyone (from anywhere) looking to find out more about them (should I buy my next car from them? should I give them a good deal on computer repair, or charge standard rates?) will see that they did this, and could potentially understand why a lot of people thought it was a bad idea.
From personal observation only (I am not an expert), I have noted the following problems with the current system:
- Forcing any entity to act contrary to its wishes imposes a certain amount of opacity on the process. I'll discuss the benefits of transparency in more detail in the next section.
- It gives conservatives – especially (a) pro-business conservatives, (b) conservatives who favor the kinds of opinions on which many small-town businesses would like to be able to act, and (c) those of a libertarian bent – an excuse to rail against liberal big-government control of everything. This could be mostly ignored (or refuted), if it weren't for the fact that...
- ...there is a certain kind of arbitrariness, unfairness, and inconsistency to the idea of preventing someone who owns a business from deciding what that business will do. Liberals are all about free speech, right? So isn't there some way to keep things fair without shutting someone else up? Can't we come up with something better? And furthermore...
- Opening the door for one large chunk of bureaucratic arbitrariness-in-a-good-cause has, it seems to me, invited many other chunks of bureaucratic arbitrariness for far less worthy causes. Those who don't understand the difference in principle
Costs & Benefits
If a business is able to act arbitrarily according to the preferences of its ownership, society benefits in two ways that I can see:
- You're much more likely to know where they stand (assuming other factors don't come into play) instead of e.g. pretending to be equal opportunity but always finding some excuse not to hire from certain groups, and
- It leaves business owners at greater liberty to aid in the enforcement of whatever ethical standards the subculture has arrived at -- which, I would like to think, might be positive more often than negative.
Obviously we run into problems when their subcultural morals are really bad, such as in this case -- but again, this case lets us know there's Trouble in Mojave, with a capital Model T -- and gives a little bit more transparency to subcultural attitudes. Is it more important to try to get businesses (we're mainly talking small businesses here; large business ethics is a whole separate issue) to act ethically, or to address the misconceptions and ignorance which lead to bad subcultural attitudes? The idealist in me would rather tackle the latter.
Another down-side is that it probably tends to fuel a monoculture -- someone who is against the majority opinion can't necessarily go find another place that's more friendly, so the dissenting opinion is silenced and everyone thinks that Christianity (or whatever) is a-ok with everyone 'round here. On the other hand, I can't help but think that there must be ways, other than imposing legal restrictions on businesses, of providing a corrective influence.
So... is there any actual data about this question? What kinds of subcultural value-enforcement might be positive (or is "enforcement" kind of a negative thing by definition)?
My feeling is that allowing too much of this sort of stuff does lead to a much more hostile environment, but I'd rather have some facts to look at. Where do we draw the line, and why?