“He was a man who had never accepted the creed that others had the right to stop him” – Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged)
There is a deep ‘Libertarian’ streak in me. I don’t think it works as a political ideology when implemented without modifications in our real world. But ‘Freedom of Choice’, and consummate political and economic freedom in spirit – is embodied in Libertarianism. I find my ideas regarding political governance and policy – most closely reflected by the Democratic Party, and if I have to classify myself, I would call myself a left-centrist. But as with anything else in the world, the solution to complex problems needs to have a balance, and it is always a blend of different political ideologies. Recently I came across four discrete incidences, and I came to completely different conclusions when I viewed them through the prism of Libertarianism.
We know Chick-fil A and their recent tryst with disaster. They are a nationwide fast food chain, and they announced their views publicly about their belief in the traditional concept of marriage, and how same sex marriage is not acceptable under the institution of religion. They have also been weakly linked with supporting anti-gay political organizations. In protest of their sentiments, different pro same sex marriage groups had what they sarcastically called as ‘Chick- fil A Appreciation Day’. No press is bad press, right ? While the protests were in opposition, they inevitably only increased the sales of Chick – fil A, simply by focusing the nationwide attention on the corporation with regards to such a sensitive political topic .
A baker in Denver (Colorado), denied to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. He cited his non-acceptance in same sex marriage as the principle reason for denying service. He said he would bake any other cake for them, not just a wedding cake. The baker of course owns a much smaller organization in comparison to Chick-fil A. On the other hand the baker actually denied service to the gay couple as opposed to Chick-fil A, who only voiced their opinions against same sex marriage. Is one worse than the other ? Personally, I do think so .
More shockingly, a 24 year old rape victim (in Oklahoma) was recently denied emergency contraceptions by a doctor within the country. As shocking as it is, the doctor actually cited his (or her) lack of belief in contraceptives. The young victim was not actually pregnant, but tried to avoid potential pregnancy in vain. Most people probably would agree that the doctor was wrong ? But, we might differ on where we draw the line, was she wrong in her belief in not using contraceptives itself, or was she wrong in imposing her beliefs on another individual (a victim of a despicable crime nonetheless) ? Florida, Arizona and Oklahoma have been off the rails for some time – in their policy structures. Oklahoma actually has what they call as ‘Conscience Clause‘ – which states that a professional doctor can deny medical coverage to an individual, based on their own personal beliefs . As Thomas Friedman once famously said, “We Really are All Stocked Up on Crazy Right Now“.
GOOGLE announced last week that they are going to include the issue of copyright when displaying search results in the future. It essentially means, that if a webpage has copyrighted material embedded in it (or has such a pending complaint in court), then Google will not display that webpage at the top – even if the webpage fits best with your search key words. We all know that hardly anyone looks at the second page in Google results. To me, Google embodies the spirit of Libertarianism more than any other corporation in the world. Even its smallest actions, have massive rippling consequences around the world, because of its relevance and reach on a global scale. I know Google keeps tabs on us and saves our preferences (even when they promise international courts that the data is deleted), to advertise more relevant products based on consumer preferences. But where do we go, when we need an open answer to the millions of questions we have in our lives ? – GOOGLE. Integrating copyright legal issues when displaying what Google itself calls ‘The most relevant results for your search‘, betrays what Google embodies in spirit – Complete Freedom of Information. On a comparative scale, Google is as Libertarian as they come.
So, where do we, as a society draw the line ?
Under a true libertarian society, if you have the freedom to be correct, you also have the freedom to be completely wrong, right ? So, when do we step in and draw the line ? Its a fascinating question.
The issue of same sex marriage today, is the same as the civil rights freedom for African Americans fifty years before. How many times have we looked back at history and thought to ourselves, ‘Did we really do that ?’. The Libertarian in me says, in a society predicated on consummate freedom – one has the liberty to be completely wrong. I can live with that. But, just because you have the liberty to be wrong, does it mean you can ruthlessly impose those beliefs on other people, when your actions have significant real world consequences? In a twisted way, while both Chick-fil A and the baker in Colorado are equally worse, the latter is worse than the former because he actually denied service to the gay couple. In hindsight however, let the free market be the judge for both of them. If you do not agree with Chick-fil A’s same sex marriage views, don’t go there for lunch – its a simple, yet effective solution. In fact the free market has already affected their profits and ratings – the average national approval rating for food chains is approximately 43%. Chick-fil A dropped below 40% last month. If the baker does not serve gay couples – do not go to him, am not from Denver, but I am fairly positive the great Mile-High city has more than its fair share of incredibly toothsome bakeries. Let the free market decide, and then businesses have a tough decision to make: are we business agencies first, or are we political agencies first ? If you choose the latter, then your profits are at a serious risk – given your beliefs. But we should still let the free market decide – and it will, with time. It already has – for Chick-fil A.
With regards to medical help we cannot simply let the free market decide – because these are time sensitive issues . Doctors and fireman (or firewomen) serve the society, as opposed to business agencies that sell products. I think this is where our libertarian streak should draw the line. As a professional doctor who believes in not using contraception, you still must serve all people without prejudice. Its very a slippery slope to continue with such a trend – what comes next ? The state fire department is going to say they do not extinguish fires in the residence of a gay couple (hypothetically speaking) ? I almost take a contrasting position – with Google. We as information consumers have a prerogative to demand Google that it preserves what it stands for – A libertarian commitment to providing information. I don’t think of information policing when I think of Google, in fact Google is the anti-thesis of any version of policing. Mr page and Mr Brin, let the copyright issues be resolved where they need to be – in courts. Your commitment to a libertarian freedom of information is your spirit – and do not betray that at this juncture.
So, where does your own Libertarian streak end ?
1. Let Chick-fil A Fly Free. August 1st 2012, New York Times – Link
2. Jack Phillips, Denver Baker who Refused Wedding Cake to Gay Couples Defends his Stance. July 30th 2012. The Huffington Post. Link
3. Rape Victim Denied Emergency Contraception by Doctor, June 1st 2012. The Young Turks – Link
4. An Update on Search Information. Google Blog – by Amit Singhal, SVP Engineering, Google – Link