by Alex Merced
Libertarianism is often well known for its concerns over the use of government power in solving economic and social issues, primarily because such power often attracts the wrong people to wield it and can often do more harm than good (a government that is powerful enough to establish and enforce hate crime legislation is also a government strong enough to establish and enforce the fugitive slave act.) So when it comes to issues of tolerance, you won’t find a philosophy more celebratory of diversity and tolerance (a free market works because of a diversity of goods, services, firms, and individuals) but often lambasted for its refusal to cross the line of using government power to compel tolerance or intolerance (or compel anything in that matter).
Although, just because libertarians do not want to use government power to force social progress, it doesn’t mean libertarians shouldn’t express social values and engage in the discussion of social norms. Over time, social attitudes have changed to more tolerant ones. Tolerant in a greater way than just “I don’t mind those people” but extending to being able to share space and participation in social institutions such as entrepreneurship, leisure, and family. In the generation prior to mine this battle over tolerance was focused here in the U.S. over tensions between the African American and White populations, and in my generation it has been about tensions between homosexual and heterosexual populations. These days it’s not just that there is tolerance for African Americans and Homosexuals but widespread acceptance of their participation as business owners, as co-workers, consumers, and as part of household formation.
The struggle for tolerance and acceptance in the coming generation will have a lot to do with gender identity. We are currently witnessing controversy over how to handle bathrooms for transgender students, and physical assaults against them in photos on instagram or video on YouTube. While the transgender population has enjoyed an increase in tolerance along with homosexuals (the two populations are not the same despite often being lumped in the same category) acceptance of the transgender population still has a long way to go.
Now, tolerance and acceptance is not just about feeling good that peoples lives are a little bit better. It serves an economic and social function as well. A broader participation in economic institutions such as entrepreneurship benefits everyone, adding people to the labor force benefits everyone, but sometimes intolerance and a lack of acceptance can reduce participation in these institutions.
So how can libertarians improve tolerance & acceptance of Transgendered and other populations suffering intolerance at no fault of their own without the use of government force?
– Media: Shows like Cosby, Will & Grace, and other introduced these populations in a broader way not as a spectacle but as people with their own lives, challenges, and families. How about a sitcom with a transgender protagonist facing many of the same family issues we all do? The images we grow up with in our culture determine many of our sensibilities, so we should use this to our advantage. Transgender characters often do exist in media but often as a “spectacle” in roles that societies “allow” to be accepted (hairdresser, model, prostitute) but where is the transgender business owner or engineer (they do exist) in the public eye?
*The character of Sophia Burset in Orange is the new Black is by far the boldest transgender character on tv with complex family and health issues that make her interesting, although she is often found doing hair, thus keeping transgender activities in a narrow band.
– Support: Sometimes it’s just about breaking vicious cycles, many young children who open up to their parents are often cast out and forced to be runaways. Being ripped away from the support system of the family affects their ability to get educated and to later be able to participate in the traditional labor force. Fundraising and volunteering for shelters and education for runaway youth can help break the cycle.
While empowering government to solve social problems will often result in empowering them to create social problems, libertarians should not allow big government progressives to attempt to hold a monopoly on the fight for broader tolerance and acceptance of individuals of all types. We should come with a message not just more tolerance for a particular community, but that we want to include everyone in the greater community of individuals who can participate in social and economic institutions to all our benefit. We must make real front line efforts to advance these values through education and volunteering, and help craft the norms that make society wealthier economically and socially.