Responsibility: Me vs We in Indiana

I think the Indiana’s attempt to pass it’s uniquely bigoted version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act gives us a chance to reframe the conversation a little.

My training is in chemistry and I embarked on that course of study b/c my mind is suited for  understanding complexity by reducing questions to elemental units.  Mind you, I definitely don’t have the mind that can go beyond the largest of the building blocks, but give me a good working model of theory and then try to match that with empirical evidence – voila!  I can do that.

This is why I appreciate Jonathan Haidt’s work on ethics.  I see ethics and/or morals as the building blocks of who we are and how we approach questions like if government should pass laws to protect a business’s right to reject service to individuals based on their principles or if laws should be passed to insure that individuals are treated equally under the law.

For example, take what most would agree today is a conservative concept of responsibility.  I think we’ve accepted this as a default characteristic of conservative while traits like innovation or free spirit might be attributed to liberals.

I’d like to help shift that general frame.  I think a better distinction to be made between conservatives and liberals is how we understand our responsibility.  I think the conservative message focuses on individual responsibility, while as much as we’ve been burned by the right’s rhetoric since the end of WWII, liberals focus is a collective responsibility.  In short, as Thom Hartmann popularized from Michael Moore’s movie Sicko, it’s we vs. me.

The frame that Reagan helped popularize and make common wisdom in our society is individual responsibility.  That’s our focus and it has been based on brilliant and profitable marketing and infotainment over my lifetime.  And let’s be clear, to a liberal like me, it’s not one or the other, it’s both – taking responsibility for myself and my family (inshallah) AND reaching out and understanding what are our collective responsibilities in our communities – local, statewide, national and global.

And I’m also not saying that conservatives lack the “we” clearly they don’t.  The way the fiscal conservatives (who are really running the show) square this circle is by selling what I find to be the righteous call for religious communities to share a collective responsibility for each other.

I’m sure this is partially why Betty Chin is driven to do what she does and so many good and important religious organizations in our community here, nationwide and, for example, on the West Bank.

The religious “we” is also why people like Alabama’s Roy Moore and thousands of religious activists such as Glenn Beck and David Barton want to see our nation defined in words and actions as a Judeo-Christian nation.  It’s a good and decent drive from their perspective because if we fall from Grace, well, Armageddon.

But back into the rhetorical weeds in Indiana.  The legal debate, with the religious only as a distant rhetorical background comes down to this… Does a business have the right to discriminate?  Governor  Mike Pence’s argument was to stand by the argument he was able to defend as a right wing radio talk show host – namely the “me” defense.  Individuals (like Mike Pence himself) can choose to boycott any business that discriminates.

I abhor discrimination. I believe in the Golden Rule that you should “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If I saw a restaurant owner refuse to serve a gay couple, I wouldn’t eat there anymore.

Governor Mike Pence.  3/31/15 WSJ Op-Ed.

 That’s taking an individual’s responsibility to do the right thing.  And it’s a good ethical argument.

The thing is, that it does hide a real attempt to institutionalize those who do, for whatever reason, have made a choice to discriminate against the LGBT community.  And discrimination is what it is which is why Governor Pence was forced not by liberals but by what really matters in our society – large interstate and international companies to insure that language is included to prevent giving businesses the right to discriminate.

And this is when the “me” responsibility ethic no longer holds water when scrutinized.  Not when or if the evidence demanding a renewed collective responsibility is generally known.

The fact that this story played out in the reddest of Midwest states is not coincidental and it’s another in the ongoing battles that help Reagan’s “responsibility begins and ends with me” ethic dominant in our national politics.

In the end, it’s what motivates libertarians and conservatives like local Fred Mangels the only HumCo commentator brave enough to tackle this topic in Humboldt’s sea of blue.  Fred doesn’t want the nanny state driven by politically-correct elites to tell him who he can and can’t associate with.  At least that’s one of the political ethics as a not-particularly religious libertarian that helps inform and drive his votes.

As Fred wrote yesterday: “You have no right to tell me who to associate with.”

What about “we” Fred?  What about the right of, say, a “a damned LGBT type” (It’s OK fellow PCer’s he was simply venting), who want’s to have their local florist provide the flowers to her wedding?

And The Freddy of course in his inimitable fashion sums up the libertarian position. (his actions, my words)  “Don’t tell me what to do.  I do the right thing (ie mowing the lawn of a “LGBT type”) but it will be a cold day in hell before I have a pointy headed liberal tell me what to do”.

Thing is Fred, we all are doing what we have to do, and not everyone shares your or Governor Pence’s righteous ethic of not discriminating against working or volunteering to work for a “LGBT type”.  What we are hoping to get to is that place where we don’t see someone else as a “type”.  Laws like the 14th Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause will help us get there.  Thank God.

Arkansas Updates (4/1/15, noon):

From the NYT:

Arkansas Governor Asks Lawmakers to Recall Religious Freedom Bill

Arkansas Governor’s Son Thrust Into Spotlight Over Religious Freedom Bill


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