Progressively Wrong

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Via Matt Drudge comes a "news" story whose ostensible subject matter isn't really news -- or shouldn't be, anyway -- and whose purpose is not to inform, but to push an insidious point.

The story rambles on for a whole page with inconsequential details and wastes time describing the feelings of entitlement of two of its actors, but this short paragraph pretty much sums up the "story" as well as the insidious point:

Some San Antonio apartment complexes are refusing to rent to people with tattoos and body piercings. News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila investigates the case of one couple who says that policy is unfair.
Translation: (1) A landlord exercised his property rights, but (2) a couple claims that it is unfair that he be free to do so.

What is interesting here is that the basis for the claim that it is "unfair" for a landlord not to rent to someone who changes his own appearance lies in the various laws against housing discrimination that are on the books, as evidenced by an interview with a government housing official conducted by Channel 4:
"Refusing to rent to somebody because they have tattoos may be unfair, but it's not discrimination under the fair housing act, unless the tattoos are specific to the person's religion or national origin," says Sandy Tamez of the San Antonio Fair Housing Council. [bold added]
Notice the error from the civil rights era being carried forward to the present. While it was proper to repeal Jim Crow laws (i.e., government-enforced segregation), it was dead wrong to prohibit private individuals from engaging in discriminatory practices because the precedent is set for the government to intervene in all other spheres of private behavior, thereby violating individual rights.

While the sentiment behind such laws -- fighting racial prejudice -- was certainly noble, enacting these laws was a mistake, for it is the purpose of government to protect individual rights, not to enforce morality. Instead, the government remained in a business it should have never been in in the first place: Dictating the actions of private individuals in matters of race.

Certainly, it is inconsistent that private individuals are being made to rent to members of certain minority groups who do not look European or conform to Western standards of grooming -- but not to all individuals who fail to do so. It is inconsistent, but it is not unfair. What is unfair is not that we don't violate the rights of landlords across the board, but that we violate the property rights of anyone at all.

If the News 4 Trouble Shooters should have covered this story at all, they should have grilled self-disfiguring exhibitionist Gilbert Carrillo about whether he has looked elsewhere for housing. Has San Antonio no one who do not have a problem with his particular aesthetic standards or who caters to those who do not? And why is the government apparently all but in league with him to persecute the small landholding, tatoo-disliking minority of San Antonio? After all, a government official stated publicly that she agreed with Carrillo that the landlord was being uppity.

Instead, they joined in and even extracted a small bribe (in the form of a returned, non-refundable deposit) from the landlord Carrillo probably lied to on the matter of his tattoos.

It's funny how a group of people helping to perpetuate government-enforced discrimination against property owners is calling itself "Trouble Shooters" when so many who fought to end government-enforced discrimination of another kind were labeled "trouble makers" nearly fifty years ago.

-- CAV


jay said...

"for it is the purpose of government to protect individual rights, not to enforce morality"

could you say that protecting individual rights is enforcing morality.

Gus Van Horn said...

In the sense that it is wrong to initiate force against others, it would appear that when the government fulfills its function of protecting individual rights that it is enforcing a precept from a moral code. However, this illusion dissipates when we recall two crucial pieces of context.

First, by protecting the individual rights (i.e., the freedom of action) of its citizens, the government is only preventing a certain type of immoral act under a certain delimited set of conditions. It is not prescribing behavior of any kind.

Second, it is only when men are free from being forced to do things by other men that they can act morally at all. (The concept of morality does not apply to men who are forced to act in a certain way, even if the results just happen to match what moral behavior would produce.)

The government, by acting ONLY to prevent some men from threatening or harming others by force thereby makes morality (and ultimately, man's life) possible at all.

If the government does anything else, such as attempting to PRESCRIBE behavior, it is doing exactly what it is supposed to prevent, and some men (from the government) end up preventing others from functioning in reality according to their own reasoning and conclusions.

Having said that, this theory of government is built upon an egoistic moral code, but nevertheless, all the government does is set the initial conditions necessary for men to live morally. It still does not attempt to (nor can it) force men to be moral.

In short, when the government functions properly, it leaves men free to be moral or immoral, but in the latter case, it prevents one man's morality from harming anyone but himself.