I keep finding hate mail in the pockets of my coat

7 09 2015

Long ago I promised a follow-up to my various religious exemptions/one law/pluralism posts about how to preserve that pluralism.

This is not that post.

Instead, it’s a quickie follow-up to yesterday’s post about doing one’s job.

As I have mentioned ad nauseam, I am a hardliner when it comes to one’s work duties, namely, that if you’re unwilling, for whatever reason, to perform a job, then you should quit.

Yes, you can try to negotiate these duties, try to convince your bosses that their policies are wrong, but, in the end, if you can’t do the job, then you shouldn’t do the job.

The flip side of this, which I have only occasionally mentioned, is that what you do off the job should have no bearing on the job.

There might be some reasonable exceptions to this, but I’m pretty comfortable stating that those exceptions should be few and far between. You might be a racist piece of shit on your own time, but if you can keep it together while you’re on the clock, then that’s all that should matter.

Now, some might argue that someone who’s a racist piece of shit off the job is highly unlikely to keep it together on the job, but unless and until that person loses it, she should keep her job. Judge someone’s work performance by her work performance, and that’s it.

Furthermore, this oughtta be a law—and not just as a protection for the worker (who most needs it), but as a defense for the employer: I can’t fire someone you don’t like just because you don’t like ’em.

This, to me, is an obvious corollary to telling the Kim Davises of the world to suck it up: if there are limits to how far you may take your personal life into a job, then there are also limits as to how far a job may enter into your personal life.

This is not a position I would have taken when I was younger. Back then, I had notions of throwing my whole self into a job, of defining myself almost completely by the work I do. Now, however, while I do gain a sense of self from my work, I’m also aware of the necessity of boundaries—both as a practical matter and for my own mental health.

I really do love teaching, but I do it because I get paid. It’s a job which I need in order to pay the rent, and I don’t care for my employer to take into account anything about my ability to do the job except for my performance on the job.

And not that I have much going on, but I most definitely to do not want them poking around in my private life.


There’s a thing about living in a city in which you can see into your neighbor’s apartment or hear your neighbor’s conversations/sex/fights: You pretend that you don’t. Your (and your neighbor’s) privacy might be a kind of fiction, but it’s the kind of fiction that works in real life.

I think we should take the same approach to social media and on- and off-the-job behavior as well: If the person sitting next to you is fine at work, but after work engages in behavior you find repugnant or ludicrous, pretend that you don’t know. Just let it be.

A little bit of breathing room is good for all of us.

One love

6 09 2015

Given my One Law to Rule Them All stance, it’s really no surprise what I think of this whole Kim Davis situation:

Do your fucking job, and if you can’t do your fucking job, resign.

This is not even close to a hard call.

At least one good thing, however, and however temporarily, has come out of this: Sitnexto Kim Davis.

Now that is how you do parody.

Voices carry

9 08 2015

Katha Pollitt ain’t wrong:

We need to say that women have sex, have abortions, are at peace with the decision and move on with their lives. We need to say that is their right, and, moreover, it’s good for everyone that they have this right: The whole society benefits when motherhood is voluntary.

The problem, however, is that a large chunk of the American population, male and female, is not comfortable with the notion that women have sex, and that sometimes as a result of having sex, have abortions that they do not regret.

Even some of those who don’t want abortion outlawed do want women to feel bad—both for having sex “irresponsibly” and for ducking their responsibility by having an abortion.

When we gloss over these truths [about voluntary motherhood] we unintentionally promote the very stigma we’re trying to combat. What, you didn’t agonize? You forgot your pill? You just didn’t want to have a baby now? You should be ashamed of yourself.

Pollitt wants women who’ve had abortions—and the men who’ve supported them—to speak up, and yes, sister, I’m right there with you.

It is understandable that women who have ended pregnancies just wanted to move on. Why should they define themselves publicly by one private decision, perhaps made long ago? I’ll tell you why: because the pro-choice movement cannot flourish if the mass of women it serves — that one in three — look on as if the struggle has nothing to do with them. Without the voices and support of millions of ordinary women behind them, providers and advocates can be too easily dismissed as ideologues out of touch with the American people.

I’d love for such a speak-out movement to work to blunt bill after proposed bill after proposed bill designed to deter women from accessing the clinic those bills’ sponsors are trying to harass out of existence, I really would, but I am dubious.

After all, this is a country in which most adults use contraceptives and yet the notion of contraceptive coverage is “controversial”.

Okay, it’s not, really, not as a general matter, but as a policy issue, even programs which provably help lower the incidence of unwanted pregnancy are in jeopardy.

(There are any number of reasons for the success of what could perhaps be called anti-sex bills, including the everlasting desire to control women’s sex lives, but apart from any ideological reasons is the plain fact that there are no obvious consequences for passing such bills—not to the legislators, at least.

Unwanted pregnancies carry all sorts of social costs, of course, but these tend to be spread (however thinly) across the general population; the acute burdens are, of course, carried by those who legislators deem should be so burdened.

And any woman who complains? Well, that’s what she gets for having sex.)

In any case, I propose that, in addition to Pollitt’s speak-out movement, those of us who favor abortion rights start talking, loudly, about just what kinds of consequences antiabortion legislators have in store for women who seek illegal abortions.

So you want to outlaw abortion?

This makes me sound like a maniac, I know: this could never happen! But it could, and it does.

So let’s ask all of those who want outlaw abortion exactly how they mean to enforce these laws, and what will the consequences be for women who run afoul of them.

Such an approach may not make any difference, but thus far it’s been too easy for antiabortion legislators to duck out of the consequences of their actions.

Let’s make it hard for them.

You want to outlaw abortion? Over a million women a year get abortions. How do you stop the abortions without stopping the women?

I fought the law

12 07 2015

On the one hand, we have someone who wants to get paid without doing the work:

“This morning, I [Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear] advised [Casey County Clerk Casey] Davis that I respect his right to his own personal beliefs regarding same-sex marriages. However, when he was elected, he took a constitutional oath to uphold the United States Constitution,” Beshear said in a Thursday statement. “According to the United States Supreme Court, the Constitution now requires that governmental officials in Kentucky and elsewhere must recognize same-sex marriages as valid and allow them to take place. One of Mr. Davis’ duties as county court clerk is to issue marriage licenses, and the Supreme Court now says that the United States Constitution requires those marriage licenses to be issued regardless of gender.”

Davis said the meeting was “cordial” and that the governor “respectfully disagreed with my position.” However, he said that he would continue to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

He also wants the governor to call a special session of the legislature to deal with the matter of not wanting to uphold his oath of office, arguing that the estimated $60,000 cost of that session is a “drop in the bucket compared to the cost of what we will lose if we don’t take a stand for what we believe in today”.

Which is, apparently, choosing to run for an office which duties you don’t care to perform.

If I’m so wrong

12 04 2015

Too many thoughts, not enough words.

No, that’s not right: too many thoughts in too many directions, words scattering after the thoughts.

I didn’t make the argument that pluralism is best protected by the one-law principle (I guess I’d call it), and have been stewing about how to brew up that argument.

David Watkins (aka “djw”) at Lawyers, Guns & Money had a couple of good posts, as did John Holbo at Crooked Timber—the comments are even more provocative than the original post—the latter of which spurred a multi-page effusion of thoughts that. . . led to no greater coherence of those thoughts.

So: more work to do.

One thing did seem worth mentioning now, however, and that is that I was wrong to assert that adherence to a one-law standard would be sufficient to protect and even promote pluralism: it would not.

I think it can protect pluralism, but not on its own. One addition might be a robust defense of one’s off-the-clock expressions against on-the-job discipline or punishments. That is, as long as someone performs her duties at work, what she says or does when not at work can’t be used against her by her employers.

There are issues with this, of course, in terms of salaried employees, or those for whom off-the-clock expressions might be fairly seen as relevant to the job (e.g., a fire fighter who hates Catholics or a teacher who argues that children of single parents are damaged), or for a boss or CEO who is to represent an entire company.

And that more is involved than just employers/employees implies that other principles/standards may be required.

As I said, more work ahead.

For worse or for better

29 03 2015

Lemme have another go at this.

If there are different laws for different groups, then the differences between the groups will grow. People will join Camp A or Camp 5 or Camp Potato, and their actions will depend upon what camp they are, and are not, in. Even those—especially those—who don’t care one whit about camps will be pressured to choose, to pick a side.

Absent a neutral law, neutrality is hard to maintain.

And absent neutrality, pluralism is hard to maintain.

Whatever we deny or embrace

25 03 2015

Sometimes a girl just wants a beer.

I don’t want to have to be bothered with the bodega owner’s religious beliefs, or the beer company’s political donations; I don’t want to have to run through some kind of checklist of acceptable/unacceptable views before I lay down my 10 bucks for a six-pack.

You see, all that time I spent spewing a not-inconsiderable number of words on the concept of “one law for all”, I was really just covering for my own laziness.

Okay, not entirely true, but if we decide to divvy up our laws and protections based on personal beliefs, then those of us who have strong beliefs (of whatever sort) are gonna end up wasting time trying to make sure we’re not paying for someone else’s loathsome agenda.

I don’t mind searching for fair trade coffee, say, and do try (although sometimes fail: Amazon) to buy products and services from companies which don’t mistreat their workers; connecting labor conditions to the purchase of things labored is a pretty direct relationship, and thus makes sense to me.

But beyond that direct economic relationship, I’m a raving pluralist, and thus neither want nor expect that everyone and every company which produces anything I could possible buy, use, or otherwise enjoy would line up with my own beliefs.

More than that, I think it would be bad if we only ever consorted with our own kind on every last thing.

How dull. How constricting. How small.

I do notice the expressed political or religious views of authors and actors and musicians, and yeah, it does affect my view of them—and I don’t like that. (I have yet to write the Play to End All Plays, but if I could get Brian Dennehy or Danny Aiello to star, I would be a fool to turn them down just because they’re conservative.) I don’t know these people, will never know these people, so if I’m watching a movie or listening to a song, why should their personal views have anything to do with my enjoyment of their performance?

Such tribalism is only human, I guess, but I don’t have to feed it; getting past tribalism is human, too.

Which is where one-law-for-all comes into play: it’s good for pluralism. When we enter the public sphere, each of us is by law equal to the other, which means that by law each can go where and do whatever anyone else can do*. It is a basic kind of justice.

(*Yes, there are some exceptions to this—“employees only” and “you must be this tall. . .” and all that—but the general rule stands.)

It is—horribly—clear that not everyone is treated equally and that injustice is a daily part of life. Still, that we are all to be equal under the law promises, if only in the breach, that each of us deserves to be a part of public life, that however different we may be from one another, we belong.

All right, I’m getting tired, my thoughts are wandering, and this argument is falling apart even as I make it, so lemme just jump to the end: having different laws for different groups disrupts that basic equality and obscures the basic standard of justice. Instead of being free to move about the country, one has to worry about getting/determining who to shut out.

And the second end: if we instantiate the lines we draw around ourselves, those lines come to matter more than anything else—more than the beer, the books, or the movies we could enjoy, more than ease of moving through our towns and our cities, more than the experience of being in the world.

I don’t want society to be a mush; I want us to be able to differ. And the best way to do that is to make sure that, whatever our differences, we are, by law, treated the same.


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