Thursday, October 31, 2013

What Can Halloween Teach Us About Tolerance?

The sentence you are about to read may seem contrary to your expectations, but try to bear with me. Euvoluntary Exchange generates less tolerance. To make sense of this, I'd like you to consider a particular conceit of mine wherein I retain the hubris needed to provide my own definition of "tolerance". With a little luck, it'll be close enough to your own to make enough sense to support my claim.

Tolerance means stifling a sense of disgust, displeasure or outrage when confronted with objectionable material or behavior. It doesn't mean that you can't feel offended at vile behavior, just that you refrain from acting on it. It means having enough integrity and discipline to live and let live, even when you witness someone doing something that upsets your sensibilities. Tolerance under this definition is a private virtue. Only I can swallow my own bile. No bureaucrat, no board member, no officer of the peace can relieve me of that burden.

I've deliberately bent this definition to be purgatorial. Halfway between The Pit and The Firmament, Tolerance is a mountain to summit on the way to Acceptance, perhaps even to Understanding or the glorious heights of Love. But it's a mountain with a treacherous path, one you can toboggan down into the depths of intolerance, spite, even hatred. At its center, locked in living ice awaiting the Judgement Day fires of perdition slumbers the Beast of Legislated Morality.

To continue with the thin metaphor, one of Gary Becker's contributions was that market interactions and the threat of economic loss is that the discipline of competition forces bigots to bear the costs of their own intolerance. Euvoluntary Exchange is a set of crampons and an ice axe up the side of the mountain of mere tolerance.

I don't want to give third-string buffoons any more press than they've already earned this Pumpkin Season, so I'll confine myself to saying that there have been a few examples of fools thinking it's once again acceptable to revive the minstrel show aesthetic. At least one quasi-celebrity (reminder to self: write something about how celebrity has perplexingly become disconnected from talent lately) has slathered on blackface and got caught on film. Several years ago, it was a British royal in Nazi regalia (I think that was just a run-of-the-mill costume party though). Point is, some audacious people have summoned the gall to dress up in truly horrible costumes on a day when the horror is meant to be campy rather than sharp.

Those of you old enough to remember the PMRC hearing years should recall that the Satanism scare was a real thing. Those of you old enough to remember the Spanish Inquisition should recall that this scare had its roots in antiquity. But now? Think of all the cultural horrors that prowled the landscape when you were younger that were more or less trampled to dust in the intervening years. Yes, institutional bigotry is a stubborn hobgoblin, dug into statute law thanks to public choice forces, but when was the last time you heard someone let loose with casual racism or sexism in a public forum who didn't suffer swift agony? These ideas have been tested and found wanting.

And so I take the opportunity this All Hallows' Eve to celebrate the happy accident that shone the cleansing light of market discipline on the bugbears of intolerance while I also celebrate folks' euvoluntary decision to strap on their hiking boots and make the arduous ascent out of the dismal terrain of de minimis tolerance towards a community where a slutty boggart can stand proudly shoulder-to-shoulder with an old-school gelatinous cube. It's a euvoluntaryier world after all.

A very euvoluntary Halloween to you all.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?