Advisory: Controversial subject ahead. If this isn't your cup of tea, please feel free to sit this one out until something more up your street comes along.
Did you know that, in Scotland, a shop can refuse to sell you any of its goods for any or no reason at all? Just because they're offering an item (or service) for sale, they're not legally obliged to accept your offer to purchase it. I think it may be the same in the rest of Britain, but I'm not 100% sure. However, unless the law has been changed recently and nobody told me, that's the way things are.
At times I've tried to buy an item on display in a shop, only to be told I can't have it because it's the last one and needed for display purposes. "Why display something that you don't have to sell? Why not sell me that one, then put another on dis-play when you get more in? Otherwise, you're going to be pestered by folk trying to buy something that you don't have, and waste time explaining why they can't have it."
My words usually fell on deaf ears though, mainly because the staff were simply too lazy to disturb their display in order to make a sale. Madness or what? The point I'm making however is that shops are allowed to discriminate in this way and there's not a lot that you or I can legally do about. And that's the point of this particular post, people - discrimination.
Discrimination is a neutral word; you can either discriminate in favour of someone or against them - whether it's positive or negative depends on its context. And we all discriminate to some degree or other all the time, whether it's refusing to sell alcohol to a drunk in an Off-licence or pub, or simply because we don't like someone's attitude or the mere look of them.
There was a case in Britain somewhere (might even have been Scotland) not that long ago, where the proprietors of a Bed & Breakfast establishment refused to rent a double-room to a gay couple, as homosexuality is against the proprietors' religious beliefs. The gay couple were offered rooms, but not a double-room. Now, whatever you or I might think of this attitude, whether we regard it as bad business practice, small-minded, prudish, ridiculous, or whatever, if your place of work is also your home, shouldn't you be allowed to set the rules of behaviour for guests, however much others may object to them?
You have a choice, you see. If you don't like the way someone conducts their business, you're free to go elsewhere. Or you can bite the bullet and observe the 'rules of the house'. You have the freedom to take your custom elsewhere, and they have the freedom to refuse your custom if they so wish. In this particular instance, I think the courts found against the B&B when the couple sought redress for offended feelings, although, given the law as it applies to similar situations when a business declines to accept an offer to buy goods or services on sale, there seems to be a double-standard operating in the court's ruling.
(Just as an aside, if a prostitute declined to 'entertain' someone on the grounds of the would-be patron's ethnicity or gender, would they be liable to prosecution under the same principle as above? I'll let the lawyers work that one out.)
Anyway, as some (if not most) of you will know, the State of Indiana recently passed 'religious freedom' leglisation that is intended to ensure that if, for example, you're a minister, priest, rabbi, or devout religious person, you cannot be compelled to conduct/facilitate/indulge a gay wedding ceremony (for example) that goes against your religious beliefs. As with most legislation, there are probably ways in which this can be applied in instances where it wasn't intended or envisioned. The law can always be misused by those determined to do so.
However, whatever you may think of someone's religious beliefs, is it unreasonable to allow them the freedom not to participate in something with which they disagree? To ensure that they can't be compelled to participate, in fact. (Okay, I know that we run the risk of new religions popping up, where their adherents claim it's against their beliefs to pay taxes, and part of their faith to take as many drugs as they can get their hands on, but let's keep things manageable at this stage.)
Here's what TONY ISABELLA (a comicbook writer, for those not in the know) had to say about the matter on his blog recently:
"I just made a very painful decision. Because the governor of Indiana and its state legislature have come down on the side of bigotry and discrimination, I cancelled what would have been my first convention appearance in that state in a decade or three. Sometimes a writer has to walk the walk.
I will have more to say on this in the near future."
Now, I freely admit that I'm taking the new legislation (which many states in the U.S. have adopted) at face value, based on a cursory reading on the internet, but ignoring for the moment any ways in which it can be misused or abused, the basic core of this legislation (the principle on which it's based) is simply to ensure that you can't, by law, be compelled to participate or facilitate something which goes against the tenets of your religion or conscience. (Within reason, I would hope.)
Here's the comment I made on Mr. Isabella's blog:
"Is it bigotry or discrimination though? If people who don't support or endorse a certain kind of lifestyle don't want to cater to it (which is I suppose what you're referring to), surely they shouldn't be compelled to if it's against their beliefs, religious or otherwise. Isn't that freedom? Bigotry often appears to be too handy a word to describe anyone with a different opinion. The world is full of people who don't see things the same as us - on a variety of topics. Should we refuse to be served at our local supermarket by the guy who has a different view to us on something?"
And here's Mr. Isabella's response:
"I'm calling complete and utter bullshit on your comments, Kid. What Indiana is doing is clearly bigotry and is clearly discrimination. A business does not have the right to refuse service to a customer because of the customer's sexual orientation. The one and only places where these faux-Christian bigots gets to discriminate are in their homes and their churches. A customer can choose not to patronize a business for any damn reason they want. A business cannot choose to deny service to someone because they are gay or black or even a ridiculous right-wing asshole. That's how America works. If your next response is to complain that I am intolerant of intolerance, don't bother. I'm a grumpy old man who doesn't have patience for such nonsense."
I replied, pointing out the same things I mentioned in the opening paragraphs of this post, so to avoid repetition, I'll skip past them. I opened my response thus:
"Well, I was actually asking a question more than making any kind of a statement, in an attempt to understand your point of view. (Skips.) However, I think you're perhaps missing the point slightly, if you don't mind me being so respectfully bold. Obviously, if you see something one way and someone else sees it another way, there is always going to be disagreement. If it's against your beliefs (again, religious or otherwise), and you just cannot se any sense to their point of view, then it will seem unreasonable to you. (And vice-versa in the case of the person you oppose.) It's a bit like Algebra, which is a total mystery to me. However, just because I can't comprehend it, I wouldn't say it was bullsh*t. That's because I'm smart enough to know that I'm not smart enough to understand everything.
To me, 'bigotry' is usually accompanied by hatred - total and unreasoning. We now live (mainly) in a society where people of a different sexual orientation are no longer persecuted or prosecuted, villified, abused or shunned. (We'll forget the Westboro Babtist Church for the moment.) That's because we practice tolerance, even when a thing might be something with which we disagree. That disagreement in itself does not constitute bigotry 'though (in my view). However, in some cases, although people are prepared to tolerate certain views or behaviour, they may feel that, in all good conscience, they cannot themselves become involved in sanctioning it by doing something that furthers that with which they disagree.
Now, perhaps I misunderstand what's going on in the state of Indiana, but it appears to me that the legislation only protects people from being forced to participate in something they (politely, non-violently, perhaps even usually silently) oppose. That's what freedom is, surely? People not being forced to do something which is against their conscience. Isn't that the American way? So if you're gay you can get married (you'll always find someone who will oblige you in a diverse society), but if the notion sits uncomfortably with you if you're a priest, minister or rabbi (or whatever) you can't be forced to do something that isn't in accord with your beliefs. Whether or not those beliefs seem sensible or not to others is another discussion.
Incidentally, I'm also a grumpy old man, but I believe in trying to be polite, even in the face of seeming hostility for expressing a point of view with which others might not agree.
Mr. Isabella responded thus:
"That was your last say on this, Kid. All you've done is try and make excuses for bigotry and discrimination. If you know anything about me or my work, you know I have little patience for such. Your future comments on this matter will not be approved for publication."
Knowing that it wouldn't be published, I sought to address what I saw as Mr. Isabella's misperception.
"Nope, that's not what I've tried to do at all. What I've tried to do is explain to you that what you see as bigotry and discrimination is what others may see as religious or personal freedom. There's always at least two sides to every situation and just because you (or anyone) doesn't, can't, or won't see the other side's point of view on any given matter, it doesn't necessarily mean that they're bigots, homophobes, @ssholes or scum. However, it's your blog and you can publish what you like, but I'd appreciate you not characterising my comments as something they're not. Thank you. I'll probably be addressing this topic and your attitude to it on my own blog, seeing as how you have no patience or respect for any view that isn't in accord with your own. Unreasoning hatred of another's point of view, eh? Sounds pretty much like bigotry to me."
(Or at least something just as ugly.) Mr. Isabella saw fit to reply:
"I gave Kid - Why do guys like him never actually sign their comments? - one more minute of his fifteen minutes so that you can read his implied threat of - yawn - exposing me as a bigot. I think I can stand on my record of supporting equal rights and inclusion. Heck, my record is a public record on account of I actually sign my name to my comments and columns.
I make no apology for limiting Kid's further appearances in the comments. He's had his unconvincing say. I see no benefit in allowing him to say the same thing over and over again. Let him post what he wants on his own blog. If I worried about that sort of thing, I wouldn't write what I write."
I objected to Mr. Isabella misrepresenting my comment, and said so in a reply that will doubtless never see print:
"Actually, Kid's my longtime nickname, and the name I worked under when I was a full-time comics contributor (IPC, Marvel) for 15 years. As anyone can find out (along with my surname) by clicking on my avatar. So once again you distort the reality of the situation in your unreasoning hatred of those with a different opinion to yours. And there was no 'implied threat' to expose you as a bigot on my blog. (Whatever you are is plain for all to see on your own site.) I was merely advising your readers and yourself that I would cover the topic on my blog and correct your misrepresentations."
Now, I'm not interested in changing anyone's mind on the matter. All that concerns me is that people should be allowed to hold and express a dissenting point of view without being called names over it, or characterised as a backward, unthinking, primitive savage whose opinion is motivated or inspired by unreasoning hatred of another group of people. Admittedly, I'm kind of fed up of society being battered & bullied into submission by vocal minorities who aren't satisfied with us tolerating them, and who seemingly won't be happy 'til the rest of society is re-modelled in their image to accommodate their likes and dislikes over everyone else. (For example, lesbian couples insisting that the words 'mother' and 'father' be removed from an NHS booklet on childbirth because it made them feel excluded. And their demands were met.)
It's a shame that Mr. Isabella prefers to portray anyone with a different opinion to him in such a negative light all the time, but I suppose it's easier than accepting the possibility that the other side may just have a point after all, and ad-dressing the actual topic. Those who seek to dismiss dissent by demonising their opponents (on whichever side of the divide) clearly have no reasoned argument to offer, and are no better or wiser than the folk they look down on.
I believe I'm a reasonable man. Read the above comments again, and tell me where you see hostility, rudeness, and a lack of respect or consideration for the other guy's point of view.
I don't think it's mine.
(UPDATE:) Mr. Isabella has now added this comment on his blog:
"I had a bad feeling about "Kid" from his first post and I regret giving him any kind of a forum at all. The more I learn about him...
However, I will not be approving any further comments by him or about him. He's not worth further discussion."
Given that a frequent detractor of mine has just joined Mr. Isabella's blog, I think it's fairly safe to assume the source of at least part of the one-sided misinformation obviously supplied to him regarding myself. Why, any more of this sort of thing and I may start to believe I'm important in some way. After all, why else would a few hecklers be so determined to do me down? Carrying a grudge bordering on the obsessional, perhaps?
As for Mr. Isabella, for one who is usually so rudely outspoken in his attacks on those he disagrees with (which seems to be every second person in America if many of his previous posts are any indication), his sullen response appears to prove the truth of a commonly held perception - namely, bullies don't like being stood up to.
However, just to show there's no hard feelings, let's all wish him luck in his next 'vast accumulation of stuff' garage sale. Excelsior!