Discrimination revisited

November 16, 2010

I was… how can I say this… rather delighted to hear the news that after protesting at the funeral of Sgt. Jason James McCluskey in Oklahoma, members of the Westboro Baptists found their tyres slashed and couldn’t find anyone to repair them. If you don’t know who these people are, this is one of the more well-known interviews. It’s one of the few times I’ve agreed with a Fox News contributor.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate Fred Phelps and his deranged family. I’d even go so far as to put him on the crotch-kicking list (btw Glenn Beck’s now on it after this lunacy – I think that puts us up to 5 so I guess I’d better write it out and stick it on my wall). But I don’t think it’s controversial to say that slashing the tyres was wrong. It’s property damage, it’s definitely unlawful (although I’m surprised they can find lawyers to fight their cases) and it’s in poor taste. PZ Myers brings up the point that they have a a right to freedom of speech, but I think that’s irrelevant, whoever slashed their tyres wasn’t stopping them saying the odious things that they said. If anything they were responding with a little free expression of their own, but in an illegal and morally wrong way.

But what about the mechanic who refused to repair their car? Was he wrong? Anti-discrimination laws generally say that we can’t refuse service to people based on their age, sex, race, sexuality, religious belief etc. Does this come under that? Am I legally obliged to serve a racist, for example? Would a black person be obliged to?

As you may know, I work part time in a bar to put myself through uni. There was an incident a couple of years ago that I still remember vividly, even though it’s one amongst many. A Yorkshireman in his 50’s came into the bar, ordered a pint and we were having a bit of pleasant conversation when more or less in the middle of his sentence, he came out with this:

Him: You know what, son? You’re not very intelligent.
Me: What’s that?
Him: You heard. Some people are born to serve and some people are born to be served.
Me: (taking the half-pint left in his glass away) Well I think you’d better leave.
Him: Give me the brass back then.
Me: (after a moment’s thought, I threw the rest of his pint into his face) There’s your brass, now get out.

Now was I wrong here? I don’t think so. Maybe throwing the pint into his face was overreacting a bit, but he was trying to insult me, trying to provoke a response, so he shouldn’t have been surprised when he got what he was looking for. Should I be obliged to serve someone who insults me? Now as we all know the management reserves the right to refuse service to anyone, but it wasn’t so long ago that you’d see signs outside bars saying “No blacks, no Irish”. That’s obviously wrong.

So what’s the difference? We can draw the line in one of several places. If you look at the things that anti-discrimination laws include, only one thing on the list is something that you can choose, and that’s religious belief. You don’t choose what sex you are or what race you are, but you can choose what your religion is. Why are religious positions given any more protection than any other position you might hold? Maybe religious beliefs shouldn’t be included in the list of things you can’t base discrimination on.

Now I think discrimination on the basis of religious belief is wrong. But I also don’t give religious beliefs any more respect than any other, so should I be obliged to serve a racist? Maybe each belief should be judged on its own merits, regardless of whether it’s deemed religious or not, and if it’s harmful, or likely to lead to a harmful action, then you can discriminate on that basis.

Or maybe we shouldn’t discriminate on any kind of belief, and only treat people differently based on their actions. But sometimes actions are a part of a belief or another protected group. For example, hotels can’t refuse to put up gay couples because they don’t like what they do, but a landlord can refuse to let their property out to a smoker.

It’s a hazy issue. Anyway I probably would have given them their fricking tyres, on the basis that not doing so would only serve to reinforce their persecution complex and help convince them that they’re right. But they’d get a big earful from me while I was at it.

Alcohol Consumption

October 2, 2008

This morning I, along with about a hundred other students, went to a protest outside the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood about the proposed ban of off license sales of alcohol to under 21s. We felt it was discriminatory, that it went against the evidence, that it wasn’t even internally logical (if they’re trying to tackle anti-social behaviour in public, why are they targetting young people drinking at home?), and that it wasn’t in line with the law as it exists now and as the SNP proposes to change it (granting the franchise to 16 year olds whilst banning under 21’s from buying alcohol is sending mixed messages, to say the least). What really got me (and continues to annoy me about the system in the US) is that someone can take a bullet for their country, but they can’t have a drink afterwards. Some system that is. I won’t bore you with details but suffice to say we won.

Anyway, I’ve been reflecting on my position about alcohol consumption. As you may know I’ve been a barman for a few years now and I grew up in the pub culture because my parents were licensees. Just last night I had a mental night at work where one drunk guy was crying on my arm because his friend had died in his arms of a heroin overdose, and was quite obviously considerably more depressed because he’d consumed so much alcohol. Alcohol was certainly a significant factor in an accident where one man slipped off the kerb and cracked his head open quite badly right outside the pub; I got him taken to hospital right away. Over the years I have seen people quite literally lose their lives to drink, losing their families and their careers. When you’re the only sober guy in the room and you have to decide who’s had enough, it’s an awfully big responsibility, and one I take very seriously. Just recently a friend of mine was arrested and will be taken to court because he served a drunk.

So I’m caught in a number of positions. Firstly I am only too aware of the serious implications alcohol can have. On the other hand I believe that prohibition of alcohol is an infringement on our civil liberties, and that at the end of the day it is your own choice whether to drink or not. Then again I am the one who decides whether someone on the other side of the bar can have a drink or not, so in a sense I undermine that freedom of choice. And if I see the effects of alcohol on a daily basis (both long and short term), why am I involved in dispensing it, when it’s so crippling both for society and for individuals? The issue gets even more complicated when I bring in my opinion on other drugs. I have said for a long time now that if tobacco and alcohol are legal, cannabis should be legal. In fact whilst we’re on the issue of prohibition, I have several good arguments for the legalization of all drugs (which I won’t go into now), ones to which I struggle to find any counter-arguments, but still I don’t think I would vote to put them into practice. It’s a conundrum of many sides.

I’d welcome other people’s views on the matter.

Feminist frustration

January 17, 2008

There’s an article in this week’s Student, Edinburgh Uni’s weekly newspaper, entitled “Musings of a Closet Feminist”, by Claire Stancliffe. It’ll probably be on their website in a couple of days, but at time of going to web, it’s not yet.

I’ve got to say I agree with her on the vast majority of what she says. As a former A Level English Language student, I’m all too aware that feminist issues DO still exist, contrary to popular belief, not least in language (although it’s certainly not the most important manifestation of sexism). I’m always confused when I hear words like ‘actress’, ‘waitress’, ‘manageress’ etc. Why do we need a female alternative to the word ‘actor’ (ie. someone who acts), ‘waiter’ (someone who waits on people) or ‘manager’ (someone who manages things). And there’s still the issue arising of how we should avoid the ‘generic he’ in situations like “a police officer should not wear his uniform while off duty”. The majority of readers would not realise that the police officer in this sentence is not necessarily male, because in the English language, when the sex of the subject is not specified, the generic ‘he’ can be used to refer to either a male or a female, since we have no neuter pronoun to refer to people. In any case such a usage of the word contributes to what is commonly known as the ‘invisible female’. What people prefer instead is to use what is being called ‘the singular they’, ie. “a police officer should not wear their uniform while off duty”, which avoids the awkward “his/her”. But it’s grammatically incorrect to refer to a singular subject with a plural noun. Recently I’ve noticed that a small number of my lecturers are using a ‘generic she’, which could be an alternative, just use both terms equally. Just one of the many boring controversies in contemporary English Language studies.

In any case there were a couple of parts that I had very minor objections to. Firstly she appears to imply that men encourage women to objectify themselves as proof that they’re sexually liberated, when in my experience that’s not exactly true. Frequently when women are going out they themselves choose to wear an inch of makeup and less than an inch of clothing, as well as a pair of heels that would cripple even the most balanced of mountain goats. When you ask them why wear such impractical and over-revealing clothing, the usual response is that ‘they have to’. I’m not telling them to, and I’d prefer if they didn’t, so where’s this pressure coming from? I suspect it’s from other women, that if you’re not showing off loads of skin then you’re not dressed up enough.

Secondly, when she describes her discussion with her friends about her musings, she says “unsurprisingly the boys responded with the usual witticisms involving bra-burning lesbians”. I wonder whether this conversation actually took place, because I can’t think of many men who would actually do this. Maybe Claire should get some better friends. I know that if one of my female friends came to me and wanted to talk about a feminist issue, I’d be 100% behind her, particularly if she felt I’d done something to offend her.

But going along with all this is the misconception that feminism is all about women. It affects men almost as much. Sexual prejudice and discrimination tells me that I should be being macho all the time, wearing blue instead of pink, and changing car tyres in my spare time, just as much as it tells women to stay at home and do the housework. Maybe it’s not such a big deal for men as for women, but feminism isn’t just the fight for women’s liberation, it is a more general fight against sexual discrimination and prejudice, which affects men too. I feel this fact has been neglected in writers of feminist literature.