Friday, October 3, 2008

Discrimination II

I attempted to demonstrate in my last post why the practice of discrimination is not the infathomable evil that it is often being portrayed as, and how one can combat unjustified discriminatory practices without employing government force. Today I'll address an "anti-discrimination argument" I've been hearing a good many times lately:
Sure, people may discriminate against others in their own houses or flats. But if you open a business, you tie yourself to the general public by offering a service that everyone might want to enjoy. You're accepting a certain liability to further the general welfare (since this is what a national economy should be about), and thus can't just discriminate randomly as you please.
I'm not trying to water down this argument by making it appear strange or foolish. I was surprised myself that people would sputter this plethora of non-sequiturs. But they did, in different varieties, so I'll gladly comment.

The first sentence is most certainly correct. Property owners have a right, and even a responsibility, to discriminate. If property owners didn't discriminate carefully as to who they grant access to their property or who they entrust with taking care of it, they would effectively promote morally hazardous behavior. Noisy, shameless, violent and reckless behavior would become more common as there would be no incentive to temper these bad aspects of human nature. Civilization relies to a certain extent on the practice of discrimination.

However, the dichotomy between private-private and private-public property is false and philosophically unsustainable. Either you own a piece of land and act as sovereign, or you don't. It's irrelevant if you design this property to be specifically yours or a place for others to congregate.

One reason why this confusion occurs might be the somewhat subtle way of contracting in social environments such as restaurants, bars etc. When a restaurant owner opens the door to his property for everyone to step in, he's not automatically granting everyone access. He's signaling his willingness to enter negotiations as to whether he wants to serve a requesting customer or not. These negotiations are resolved by the first impression of the potential guest to avoid embarassing conversation. It is next to impossible for a restaurant owner to know the curriculum vitae of all potential customers, so he needs to discriminate according to superficial factors. This discrimination is necessary for two reasons:

1) The desire of other customers to dine in a quiet and relaxing atmosphere.
2) The desire of restaurant owners to serve the least troubling customers. It's a big relief if you don't have to watch the behavior of your clients all the time and may instead focus on doing your work.

Obviously, discrimination practices vary according to the setup of the business. A bikers' bar might have different demands when it comes to customer selection than a noble lounge. Some places may not discriminate at all. The point here is that it's not necessarily bigotry or hate that drives discrimination, but plain and simple business reasons or worries about general customer satisfaction.

Secondly, "social service businesses" like restaurants are not giving out general permissions to use their facilities when they open their doors. They merely express a desire to enter contract negotiations. The style of these negotiations may not resemble its general perception, but it is a negotiation nevertheless. No tie to the general public made, except the wish to enter contract negotiations with them.

To further the general welfare is indeed your objective as a restaurant owner, but probably not in the meaning that's most often talked about. You're supposed to offer goods and services in a manner which pleases potential customers so much that they are willing to trade certain amounts of money for it, which in turn lets you gain a profit. By that, you're contributing a whole new niche or segment to the local economy which, should it be making a profit, represents an achievement people value and may thus be described as your "fair share" of the great collective whole. The means to achieve this goal may involve discrimination as we've pointed out above.

Discrimination in privately owned places is therefore legitimate, no matter whether these places are private houses or private hang-out-places.

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