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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

International atheists declare church/state principles

The Black Diamond building in Copenhagen.
Host to the Royal Danish Library and
the AAI conference. Photo: (AAI)
The Atheist Alliance International (AAI) is an organization founded in 1992 with about 50 member organizations from 15 nations. AAI held its conference this month in Copenhagen, Denmark. The conference was on Gods & Politics, looking at the issue of religion and government and challenges facing non-believers. It hosted a wide range of speakers, including Richard Dawkins, James Randi, Dan Barker, PZ Myers, and one of my favorites, author A.C. Grayling who wrote Meditations for the Humanist.

One result of the conference was the Copenhagen Declaration on Religion in Public Life. The declaration was as follows:

Copenhagen Declaration on Religion in Public Life

We, at the World Atheist Conference: “Gods and Politics”, held in Copenhagen from 18 to 20 June 2010, hereby declare as follows:
  • We recognize the unlimited right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief[1], and that freedom to practice one’s religion should be limited only by the need to respect the rights of others.
  • We submit that public policy should be informed by evidence and reason, not by dogma.[2]
  • We assert the need for a society based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law.[3]
  • History has shown that the most successful societies are the most secular.[4]
  • We assert that the only equitable system of government in a democratic society is based on secularism: state neutrality in matters of religion or belief, favoring none and discriminating against none.[4]
  • We assert that private conduct, which respects the rights of others should not be the subject of legal sanction or government concern.[5]
  • We affirm the right of believers and non-believers alike to participate in public life and their right to equality of treatment in the democratic process.
  • We affirm the right to freedom of expression for all, subject to limitations only as prescribed in international law – laws which all governments should respect and enforce[6]. We reject all blasphemy laws and restrictions on the right to criticize religion or nonreligious life stances.[7]
  • We assert the principle of one law for all, with no special treatment for minority communities, and no jurisdiction for religious courts for the settlement of civil matters or family disputes.
  • We reject all discrimination in employment (other than for religious leaders) and the provision of social services on the grounds of race, religion or belief, gender, class, caste or sexual orientation[8].
  • We reject any special consideration for religion in politics and public life, and oppose charitable, tax-free status and state grants for the promotion of any religion as inimical to the interests of non-believers and those of other faiths. We oppose state funding for faith schools.
  • We support the right to secular education, and assert the need for education in critical thinking and the distinction between faith and reason as a guide to knowledge, and in the diversity of religious beliefs[9]. We support the spirit of free inquiry and the teaching of science free from religious interference, and are opposed to indoctrination, religious or otherwise.

Adopted by the conference
Copenhagen, 20 June 2010.
[a PDF of the declaration can be downloaded here]


[1] Article 18 of the Universal declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

[2] Societies in the 21st century must be built on a culture of objective knowledge and rational
thinking based on evidence provided by the sciences within the legal framework of international
human rights. Religions are inherently based on faith and guided by myths and hearsay interpreted
by a self-established clergy. Religions should therefore be relegated to the private sphere and have
no role in public affairs

[3] The Brussels Declaration 2007.

[4] Research in social science show that strongly religious modern nations have been unsuccessful
in terms of basic social and economic indicators such as levels of crime and incarceration, life
expectancy, the adverse consequences of sexuality and in securing prosperity. The most secular
advanced democracies are consistently the most successful.

[5] The State should neither punish nor favor any group for any reason

[6] Articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

[7] Recommendation 1805 (2007) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

[8] Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

[9] Article 14 of Recommendation 1720 (2005) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of

Special thanks to Humanists of Houston President Roxie Deaton, who first informed me of this news, through an article at Atheist Ireland .

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Non-religious show support for gay rights at Houston Pride

The Secular Center float at Pride Houston.
(c) Secular Center, USA.
This past weekend, the annual Houston Pride festival and parade took place in the Montrose area, celebrating the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community. A number of groups made a showing and the SECULAR Center was one of them, hosting a booth and a place in the parade.

The SECULAR Center stands for (S)ecular (E)ducation (C)ommunity for (U)nderstanding, (L)earning, (A)ctivism, and (R)esearch. Their mission is to mobilize secular volunteers to contribute toward improving its communities, to coordinate non-theist charitable efforts, and to increase awareness and acceptance of secular worldview, contributions, and values. The center is a part of the Houston Freethought Alliance and partners with many national and local secular organizations, including the Humanists of Houston.

Humanists and other freethinkers have a long history of supporting gay rights and other LGBT issues. Central to Humanist values is the principle that all human beings are equal in dignity, worth, and value, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or orientation.

The center said of their experience, "We did get a few boos at the parade but it was mostly very supportive cheering and some parade attendees even joined in, dancing with us the whole route of the parade." Many churches and other religious groups also participated, including Unitarians, Methodists, Buddhists, Lutherans, and even a Baptist church.

Monday, June 21, 2010

World Humanist Day

The "happy humanist" emblem. (c) BHA.
June 21, 2010 - Today Humanists around the world are celebrating World Humanist Day. It is a time for Humanists to gather socially, re-focus on their commitment to Humanist principles, and help promote the philosophy as a means of positive change in the world.

Here in Houston this past weekend, the Humanists of Houston's city-wide monthly gathering was focused on World Humanist Day. They celebrated with readings, games, prizes, and conversation. Cookies and finger foods were available at the Bayland Community Center, where the organization regularly meets. As always for HOH gatherings, child care was available and bringing canned goods to donate to the needy was encouraged.

The Humanists of Houston also hosts many other monthly events and activities around town, including two regional gatherings (one in West Houston and the other in Sugar Land), several special interest clubs (such as the HOH Women's Club, Religion Ethics & Society Club, and a book Club), and participation in Freethought coffee socials.

Celebrations and special events are also happening in groups elsewhere around the country and the world. For example, the Greater Boston Humanists will be holding a Summer Solstice Luncheon in honor of World Humanist Day, and the Center for Inquiry On Campus holds its annual conference on or around WHD (this year's conference is June 24-27). Across the Atlantic, the British Humanist Association is celebrating "Humanist Week" from June 21-27. The International Humanist & Ethical Union (IHEU) reports this will include a day conference on Humanism, Philosophy, and the arts, and a new website feature where participants can upload information about Humanist artistic, scientific, and cultural contributions in their areas.

Wikipedia currently describes World Humanist Day, it's history, and some of the format and activities associated with it. In honor of the day, I'd like to include a description of Humanism here...


Humanists are people who believe in a natural universe as understood through reason, people who wish to live ethical and meaningful lives without faith in the supernatural, and people who care for their fellow human being. Humanists are informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. The International Humanist & Ethical Union (IHEU) says:

"Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for building a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality."

The Humanist Manifesto III was signed in 2003 by a long list of people, including notable figures from science, education, literature, entertainment, and other sectors. It was a successor to the first manifesto, published in 1933, and the second published in 1973. In the Humanist Manifesto III, the American Humanist Association outlined the following basic principles of Humanism:

  • Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis.
  • Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change.
  • Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience.
  • Life's fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals.
  • Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships.
  • Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness.

For a reading of these principles explained in more detail, please see the complete Humanist Manifesto III.

Humanist Institutions

Consistent with Humanism's values of Freethought and a healthy skepticism that questions dogma, there is no officially recognized 'authority' for the Humanist life stance. However, Humanist groups exist at many different scales all over the world. Perhaps the broadest organization is the International Humanist & Ethical Union (IHEU). It can best be said to represent the views of over three million Humanists in over 100 national organizations in 30 countries.

Here in the United States, the American Humanist Association (AHA) is the oldest national-level Humanist organization. Another major national organization is the Council for Secular Humanism. Both of these organizations publish magazines and have several types of programs and facilities throughout the U.S. There are many other national organizations growing all the time, such as the Institute for Humanist Studies and the Humanist Institute, for example. Here locally in Houston, the oldest and largest Humanist organization is the Humanists of Houston (HOH).

The History of Humanism

Humanism as an organized, provisional philosophy is relatively new but it is the product of several millennia of human growth and development. Hints of scientific and humanist thought can be found among the earliest nomadic tribes and civilizations. The Ideas of some of the later classical Greek philosophers, as well as the Chinese Confucians, serve to highlight areas where human-centered (as opposed to god-centered) ideas were especially prevalent.

During the Middle Ages of Western Europe, humanist philosophies, such as those of Michael Servetus and others, were violently suppressed by the dogma and political power of the church. Not until the Renaissance of the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries, with the flourishing of art, music, literature, philosophy, and exploration, would consideration of humanism be permitted.

The Enlightenment of the eighteenth century brought the development of science as philosophers finally began to openly criticize the authority of the church and engage in what became known as “free thought.” In the nineteenth century, with the challenges to religion by celebrities such as Mark Twain and Robert G. Ingersoll, the Freethought movement made it possible for the common citizen to reject faith and superstition without risk of persecution.

The twentieth century has seen remarkable influence from science, technology, and Humanist philosophy. Despite attempts of the unscrupulous to twist science to serve their ends, despite continuing local fluctuations in crime or other problems, the overall growth, prosperity, and human well-being remains unparalleled throughout history. This is a direct result of scientific thinking in the solving of human problems.

These historical foundations have led those who reject supernaturalism as a viable philosophical outlook to adopt the term Humanism to describe their non-religious life stance. In 1933 the modern Humanist philosophy was formulated in the Humanist Manifesto and several organizations have been founded around the world since then. It is with such a rich history that we strive to carry Humanism into the future.

Special thanks to Amanda Chesworth, who co-wrote this section on the history of Humanism.

Well Known Humanists

Many notable people have been humanists or humanistic thinkers:

Albert Einstein, scientist
Gene Roddenberry, producer/Star Trek creator
Thomas Jefferson, U.S. President/founding father
Whoopi Goldberg, comedian/entertainer
Carl Sagan, scientist/author
Leonardo Da Vinci, artist/inventor
Mark Twain, author
Clara Barton, Red Cross founder
Isaac Asimov, author
Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood founder
Confucius, philosopher
Marlon Brando, actor
Jonas Salk, physician/inventor of polio vaccine
Ted Turner, broadcaster
Gloria Steinem, feminist activist
Kurt Vonnegut, author
Philip Adams, author/filmmaker
Margaret Atwood, author/literary freedom activist
Béla Bartók, composer
Luther Burbank, scientist
Brock Chisholm, physician/World Health Org. Director
Francis Crick, scientist
John Dewey, philosopher/educator
Frederick Douglas, liberator
Albert Ellis, psychologist
Epicurus, philosopher
Philip José Farmer, author
Betty Friedan, feminist activist
Erich Fromm, psychologist
R. Buckminster Fuller, futurist/inventor
John K. Galbraith, economist
Emma Goldman, author/revolutionary
Stephen J. Gould, scientist/author
Julian Huxley, philosopher/biologist/UNESCO Director
Robert G. Ingersoll, author
Margaret Kuhn, Grey Panthers founder
Richard Leakey, anthropologist
Abraham Maslow, psychologist
John Boyd Orr, Food & Agriculture Org. first Director
Linus Pauling, scientist
A. Philip Randolf, human rights activist/union leader
Carl Rogers, psychologist
M.N. Roy, political thinker/Radical Humanism founder
Bertrand Russell, mathematician/philosopher
Andrei Sakharov, scientist/human rights activist
Michael Servetus, theologian/physician
Barbara Smoker, author/freethought activist
James Thurber, humorist
Harriet Tubman, educator
James Watson, scientist
Faye Wattleton, Planned Parenthood Director
Walt Whitman, poet
E.O. Wilson, biologist
Frank Lloyd Wright, architect

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Taking a pass on wisdom?

Bernini's Ecstasy of Beata Ludovica Albertoni,
(cc) Kars Alfrink (Kaeru),
Many wise philosophers have counseled us on how best to live, how to achieve 'the good life'. But can it be that their advice is too perfect? Can it be that we don't want a perfect life?

There is a stream of wisdom which can be found in both East and West, but which is perhaps more well known in the East today. I'll call this the 'detachment' approach. As both Stoics and Buddhists will tell us, attachment is the source of our suffering. The central strategy for having a life of contentment and happiness is in making certain that we base our contentment only on that which we can control. And, ultimately, we control very little, save for our inner dispositions, values, and choices. By actively disconnecting externals (those things outside our control) from our core source of happiness - by practicing non-attachment - we ensure that no one has power over our happiness but ourselves. As for our decisions, when we mindfully make the best ones we can, motivated by virtue and compassion, then we are certain that no matter how things turn out, we can rest easy in the knowledge we did the best we could.

While I know of no one who can maintain this practice with perfection at all times, myself included, even the slightest dose of this wisdom has proven to me that it is genuinely powerful at giving a person a steady and continuous joy, happiness, contentment, and inner peace - all within their control and independent of the tumultuous ups and downs of their circumstances. Practices to make this approach easier and more automatic to our nature over time only increase the effect, giving the practitioner a near immunity to despair and what I call True Suffering (deeper than mere pain; a corollary to True Happiness, which is deeper than mere pleasure).


Although I have extolled the value of these important practices and philosophies, in some matters of friendship and love, it is conceivable that some people may decide they do not wish to have complete control over their happiness. They may find it more satisfactory to hand over some degree of control over their happiness to another. This is risky to be sure, since the other may fail us. But in doing so, the person taking the risk ventures into the realm of delight (a more enrapturing form of pleasure than the Stoically approved Joy). Here, the person allows themselves to be attached to an external (the other person). But while they may experience greater elation of experience, they also open themselves up to greater levels of despair should they lose that person, or be let down or even betrayed by them.

In one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Hero Worship", a young boy named Timothy loses his parents in an accident. He befriends the emotionless android, Data, and begins to behave like him. The two meet and have ice cream. Data can describe the textures and even name the ingredients detected in the ice cream, but he does not experience the feeling of pleasure from tasting it. The boy, who had been very bottled up about his feelings, later tells Data he wishes he could be like him and not feel anything. Data responded that he would gladly risk feeling bad at times if it meant he could taste his desert. In classic Star Trek form, the writers were using the science fiction elements of the story as a metaphor to make a deeper statement about what it means to be human.

Before we go flying off into unbridled romanticism; two words of caution:

First, we should note that it is a misconception about Stoicism and sometimes detachment in Buddhism, that we are called on to be emotionless like Mr. Spock or Commander Data. Neither philosophy advises bottling up emotions as Timothy had done. Further, both philosophies allow for a deep joy in living, made possible by our non-attachment and attention to living rightly.

Secondly, I do not mean to imply that loving someone, and being in a fulfilling relationship with that person, requires us to hand over that control. The Buddhists have very specific descriptions of a kind of loving kindness and compassion that is beyond mere selfish attachments, and Stoics describe a sense of brotherhood by which we identify the needs of others with ourselves.

Having said that, it may be the case that - for some - veering off from the path toward eudaimonia (the flourishing life) just slightly, may give a certain excitement, despite its risks and the inevitability of experiencing not only the ups, but the downs. Indeed, even the devout Stoic, simply through the fact of their human imperfection in the practice, will experience some of this. But the question is, can the wise philosopher give permission to the practitioner for a judicious bit of this folly at times?

Philosophy is truly a medicine for the soul. Philosophical wisdom is designed to enlighten us, guide us, and help make us happier beings. As such, different philosophical prescriptions may be needed for different people, based on their particular natures and ailments.

If this is true, then we might note the differences in individuals. Some people are naturally stoic in nature, and/or have relatively stable lives and people around them. Others may be more emotionally volatile, and/or be in more volatile situations meaning attachment has greater costs. In these cases, non-attachment philosophies may be especially crucial to their well-being. For the latter individual, taking a break from wisdom may lead to a great deal of suffering while the former individual may be able to handle a loser adherence to the practices at times without undue suffering on average (though there is always risk in this). Of course, the opposite may also apply. The naturally stoic person may find it difficult to get in touch with their feelings and really know themselves, and perhaps a more romantic approach to life might be their proper prescription.

While I could never advocate such a thing, especially in light of our excessively attachment-based culture - the key here, is that philosophy is not like religious faith. It's not about finding the "One Truth". Rather, there are multiple streams of thought regarding 'good life practices' and many of them are applicable under different circumstances for different people at different times, even if they may seem contradictory. One can safely say that behaving unethical or out of vice is always a prescription for harm, but when it comes to how much contentment we are willing to give up in exchange for well-motivated unpredictability, there may be some argument to be had that complete perfection of practice may not necessarily be advisable in every case.

Thanks to Michel for inspiring this article.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

In defense of Rand Paul

Republican U.S. Senate candidate
Rand Paul. (c) AP.
How we treat those of a different ethnicity from ourselves is an important ethical (and thus spiritual and philosophic) matter. This is true whether we are talking about how we act as individuals or how we act as a society. It is also important how we treat others with whom we disagree. Therefore, I view the following as relevant to this column, even though it touches on politics...

As many know by now, Rand Paul (current candidate for U.S. Senator for Kentucky and son of famous Libertarian Congressman Ron Paul) has been under fire recently for his comments about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, both in an NPR interview and again on MSNBC, which also brought up his position on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The reaction has even recently lead the Kentucky legislature to pass a resolution declaring discrimination to be inconsistent with American values.

The general impression is that he doesn't believe there should be laws against discrimination. That's the 8-word summary that has bubbled to the top in the boggled stew of media reports and public understanding. That simple summary sounds pretty bad, and leaves one wondering about Paul's racial beliefs.

Before I make my clarifications and points in his defense, let me identify myself for those who might be new readers. I am about the last person on the planet you might expect to defend Rand Paul, Libertarians, or Republican candidates. While I am socially liberal, I am not an economic socialist by any means. I generally fall very much central on the capitalist/socialist spectrum. That means I believe in free markets, but also believe in some healthy but minimal degree of regulation. As such, I not only view socialism as dysfunctional and unethical, but I also view the kind of complete laissez-faire capitalism espoused by Libertarianism as unrealistic, logically misguided, and morally deficient as well.

As for Republicans, I share some of their economic policies, and have voted for moderate Republicans in the past, but now I generally consider the party harmful for the country overall, and would have a very difficult time voting for one. Meanwhile I find the Tea Party movement to be quite uninformed politically and economically - and while populated by many good and well meaning people, to unfortunately be unduly influenced by racially motivated and conspiracy theory motivated fringe elements.

I am also a Humanist (a Humanist minister actually), which means that I consider all of humanity one family, and equal in dignity, worth, and fellowship - regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religious belief, etc. I would say that principle is central to who I am as a person. And, yes, it includes all those brothers and sisters mentioned above, with which I disagree.

However, above all of that I am firstly concerned with truth and its offspring: honesty, fairness, and accuracy.

Is it possible that Rand Paul is a racist? Sure it is. We don't know his mind. But the fact is we don't really have evidence of such a thing. In fact, when you look more closely at what he's said, there isn't even good reason to suspect it as a likelihood greater than any other randomly selected person. Racism is a powerful charge to throw around and no thoughtful and moral person should do so lightly.

Paraphrasing from NPR transcripts, what Rand Paul actually said in substance, was:

1) I abhor racism.

2) It's also a bad business decision to ever exclude anyone from your business.

3) I would never go to a business that discriminates.

4) I'm for anything that ends public institutional racism (meaning it should be illegal for the government to discriminate).

5) I believe in local solutions to rights issues when it comes to private businesses (he used the example of letting a 2-story business give a disabled person an office on the first floor rather than requiring them to buy an excessively expensive special elevator).

6) I'm therefore for most of the Civil Rights Act (9 out of 10 parts) but against the one which tells private business owners who they must serve. A free society has an obligation to tolerate some boorish and uncivilized behaviors when it comes to private property. If we do not tolerate this, it may establish a precedent whereby the federal government imposes itself into our private property matters far more than it should. In that regard, the issue is similar to free speech and its requirement that we tolerate speech with which we do not agree.

Paul's position here is consistent within his overall philosophy. He is opposed to limiting individual freedoms, even if that means people will sometimes be bad to one another. From other things he and Libertarians have said, it would be safe to say that he would believe in government intervention when it comes to active harm being done by a business, such as theft, assault, forced labor, and so on.

It's clear that Paul is thinking of a private business like a home. A person owns a building and whether they live in it or decide to sell bread out of it, it's their property - and an individual should have the right to say who comes onto their property or who they do business with for any reason. If they are jerks, so the argument goes, then people will not do business with them and they'll go out of business. But in any case, whether they do or not, the freedom to make those choices is worth some people making bad ones.

A good way to get inside Paul's head here is to think about something we all consider bad, but which is currently not illegal. Take lying for example. Lying can sometimes veer into defamation, fraud, etc - but let's just stick with plain lying, such as when a person tells another person they're great at bowling so they'll let them come to the team's amateur bowling nights - or, perhaps when a person lies to make themselves seem more impressive to a member of the opposite sex. These and many other forms of lying are certainly not illegal, but they are something most would understand to be rude, immoral, and when done habitually, sociopathic behavior. A person who regularly lies can be shunned by others, but the police aren't likely to show up at their door and they're not likely to face legal troubles unless they do it during a business or contractual matter.

Should lying be illegal? Given that enforcement would require a huge bureaucracy and expense, and that it would create a veritable police state given the amount of oversight and intrusion necessary to police it, most people would agree it should not be illegal. But does that mean those people are liars or that they condone lying? Certainly not. Many of them are honest people who abhor deceptive behavior, and yet they believe these things are better handled through social pressures and the like, rather than through law enforcement.

Likewise, Rand Paul's stated position is similar regarding private citizens excluding various people from their business property. That doesn't mean he's a racist, or that he even condones racism. It just means he believes it should be dealt with in other ways than through federal law.

Assaults from liberals and political opponents

Those who are distorting his words, or framing his position to sound as though he is a racist or in favor of racism are acting immorally. Either they are reacting out of a well justified but misplaced anger regarding racism, or they are cunningly using the event for political gain. In some cases, there were simply mistyped transcripts, but on closer inspection the actual meaning of his position was not altered, such as when MSNBC recently inserted a 'yes' into one of his answers (which did accurately reflect his position although he didn't say that word at that spot). Pouncing on words and blowing them out of proportion was done, and is done often by Republicans against Democrats too, and it happens everywhere in the political landscape. Having said that, Paul's position can be squarely condemned for what it actually is, without the need to distort it or cast him as a racist.

Why Rand Paul's position is wrong

I believe I've fairly summarized Paul's position on this matter above. Perhaps too well, as many readers may be thinking it makes a lot of sense. I hope they keep reading, because it doesn't. Paul's position seems to make sense at a glance, but it is ultimately dangerous, logically unsound, and unethical; well-meaning though he may be.

The fact is, we are not stuck with merely two options: extreme unregulated capitalism or pure socialism. It may be fine to describe these philosophies in a textbook for the sake of having a mental model, but in reality neither function very well to give us a livable and tolerable world. We must balance the two in a sensible manner, and that kind of balance requires that we balance different principles against one another, based on the relative value we place on them. Libertarians imagine such mingling to create philosophically inconsistent models, but this is only so because of where they place ultimate value, and to what purpose they imagine cooperative activity to have.

Enforcing non-discrimination in places of business does not, in fact, require the same level of intrusiveness and bureaucracy as would laws against everyday lying. Furthermore, the relative harm of each is disproportionate, making our tolerance for the cost of each different. And that's a big part of the fundamental problem with Libertarianism - it's lack of proportionality, gradation, and subtlety when dealing with the relative value and weighing of principles, which leads to the extremity and lunacy of many of its conclusions. It speaks emphatically of the right to property - a good principle, but not the only principle nor a principle unmatched by any other.

In his interview on MSNBC, he continually refuses to answer the question directly, "Should a business be allowed to put up a sign saying 'no blacks' and not serve black people?" Rather, he instead returns to his statement that he does not condone or believe in discriminating. But even assuming he is honest here, his personal opinion on the matter is not enough. This is a man who is running for an office responsible for creating laws. We need to know whether he believes there should be a law, not whether he personally agrees with any particular behavior. It is simply an insufficient answer that he does not agree with racism personally.

He does frequently refer to being for laws barring "institutional racism", and by that he means where public facilities and policies are concerned. But that position underscores and important defect in his worldview. By implication, he thus does not view corporations or businesses as 'institutions'. Businesses are institutions, and when they practice racism, that too is institutional racism. This is an important point because private businesses make up our landscape whenever we venture forth from our homes and residential neighborhoods. That is the crucial difference between a private business and a private home that Rand does not appreciate, and why looking at the two as synonymous creates problems. Since the government only interfaces with us occasionally, and since we don't often go out into the wilderness unless camping, and since our homes are sheltered away from the world - that leaves businesses; whether we are frequenting them as customers or working for them. What businesses do is perhaps the most central issue effecting what kind of world we build.

Yes, businesses are privately owned. But the difference from a home is that you have decided to provide a service to the public. A privately-owned, but publicly-serving institution has been created. As such, you are choosing to become a part of the social landscape, and what you do as a business owner contributes to the world in which most of us spend most of our lives. Thus Paul has failed to appreciate the immense impact of business behavior on our world.

Paul also neglects to appreciate the real threat of such business behaviors, both in terms of its likelihood of happening, and its impact on those effected. In both the NPR interview and the MSNBC interview, he refers to the issue of business discrimination as an "obscure" or "abstract" issue from the past. It is neither. It is a real possibility, and probability in many areas of the country. The potential of businesses to dominate a landscape and informally conspire together to do things they shouldn't happens in other matters, and is another commonly under-appreciated phenomena by the Libertarians. It is quite probable, dare I say inevitable, that many places dominated by one group (race, religion, orientation, or even political party, etc) could and would decide to serve only their kind. This is not mere "free speech" but instead restricts what another person can do, where they can go, where they can work, and even with whom they can practically associate. Unlike restricting strangers from your home, these restrictions apply to a space that has been designed to otherwise serve the public.

One also gets the impression that in Paul's mind, were this to happen it would merely be a case of the would-be customer thinking, "Boy, those guys are jerks" and having to go somewhere else. While the analogy of lying was mine, Paul uses the analogy of businesses being able to tell those carrying guns they may not enter with them. He is trying to make the point that if we consider businesses private, then both conclusions will follow, that we cannot stop the owner from deciding who or what comes on his property. On the other hand, if we treat them as public in one case, we must in all. Yet, these folks can leave behind their guns for a brief period when on another's property. One cannot so easily leave behind their race, religion, orientation, or disability. For this reason, there is a higher social cost of treating them as private in one case than another, and a corresponding justification for treating them differently.

Paul's example suggests how lightly he takes the prospect of a business practicing discrimination. But the psychological and social impact of such business practices are substantial. They help to make a whole people into second-class citizens, which effects the way they are seen by the rest of society, and effects the way they see themselves. It is a degrading and brutal assault on the dignity of a human being, and thereby on all human beings. Such behavior also helps to stoke cross-group unfamiliarity, suspicion, animosity, hatred, and ultimately violence.

So, if a business were to deny service to a person because of their ethnicity or any other such group, it would be far worse than merely a "bad business decision" as Paul puts it. It is so offensive to the most fundamental of human social values that it deserves to be criminalized. It deserves criminalization so much that it exceeds the value of the principle of sovereignty over private property.

It's about asking ourselves, "In what kind of world do we want to live?" No, we don't want to live in a world where lying is enforced by law because of what that would mean. No, we don't want to live in a world where business owners can't tell patrons to leave their weapons outside. Yes, we do want to live in a world where discrimination by businesses is illegal. This is because the principle of not living in a segregated world is more important to us than the principle of preventing any and all forms of lying. The principle of not living in a segregated world is more important to us than the principle of being able to carry your gun into any and all businesses. Lastly, the principle of not living in a segregated world is more important to us than the principle that private business owners should be able to have any and all freedom to do whatever they like when conducting business with the public.

The relative costs to our society of allowing these various things are also vastly different. If Paul is guilty of anything it is of being out of touch, for his key error (outside of Libertarianism) is in his vast and naive underestimate of both the likelihood of businesses discriminating, and the cost to our society of allowing them to.

When businesses do something, that is very much a part of 'society', and as such the people have a right to collectively decide the limits of that behavior. Laws do more than restrict behavior and levy punishments; they help to set the tone in a society. We are under no imaginary requirement that says there must be one simple philosophic rule (such as an unquestioning allegiance to the absolute sovereignty of all private property) governing all restriction on business and that it must be applied with robotic consistency to all issues. We can be inconsistent and that's ok if it creates the kind of society in which we wish to live. It's more important to be happy and decent, than to apply all philosophic precepts with blind consistency.

We are, however, tasked to do what it takes to create the best world possible for ourselves, even if that means applying rules in different manners depending on the circumstance. We the people are allowed to pick and choose what legal restrictions are worth the costs to us as a society and which are not worth the cost to our freedom. Since 'the people' are also owners of private property themselves, we hope we will be restrained and balanced in establishing those limits. But arguments that any limits to private business beyond direct violence or theft are somehow out of bounds, or that such limits lead to the evils of socialism, fall flat. What's worse, Paul's position makes possible a great number of opposite evils.