Why libertarians should care about Tolerance

by Alex Merced

After my article on advocating for tolerance of/acceptance for the transgender population I got several critical messages not about whether people should be accepted/tolerated but attacking my libertarian bona fides for even discussing it, as if being libertarian means being completely agnostic on the outcome of all issues all the time. If anything, these individuals have seemed to miss the point of my article, and possibly of libertarianism itself.

From the libertarian perspective just about everything should be solved by the interplay of individuals and their choices, also known as markets. Which cell phones should be sold? Let the market decide. How should you educate children? Let the parents decide. Which house should you buy and how should you finance it? You should decide. This extends to the market for values and preferences (what you think is right or wrong, what rituals and traditions do you practice, how do these things change), etc. Although these things evolve in an interplay of individual choices (a market) as well, even if there aren’t direct exchanges of money, decisions are made and some social norms succeed and fail over time.

These markets work because people act on their preferences and values. As a libertarian, I want people to have a view on which cell phone they want, to choose to act on that view, and even evangelize their choice. I just don’t want anyone making the choice for them. As a participant in the market for social norms, I am entitled to being able to choose the norms I like and evangelize them. I’m free to make the claim that if people voluntarily embrace these norms the world may be better off (I just don’t advocate forcing people to adopt these norms).

To me, engendering a culture of tolerance and acceptance has many consistently libertarian benefits:

– Libertarians are against violence and coercion. It’s one of the primary reasons we have such a distaste for government as a mechanism for economic or social engineering  (the fact that it often works poorly at doing so doesn’t help). Intolerance can often be a big motivator of violence (a good transgender friend of mine was recently beaten and sent to the hospital with her boyfriend). While I think there should be equality under the law and a crime should be treated as a crime for a jury (the judge should have the discretion to lessen or worsen a punishment based on circumstances in my view, but the jury should only determine if a crime has been committed not determine whether they liked the motivation for the crime which is what hate crime legislation does). Although, if social norms were more tolerant from the get go, the violence may have never occurred for it to be a legal issue in the first place.

– Promoting tolerance doesn’t mean people don’t have the right to be intolerant with their own property and choices, but promoting tolerance is about ending the atmosphere that makes people feel it’s alright to destroy someones property because they may be different in some way.

My point is that if libertarians are anti-coercion and anti-force, creating a culture that exalts individual choice and property ownership and shames violence/coercion from government or individuals is a project that must be actively taken on. If this isn’t, other cultural norms that may be ok with violence/coercion will win out in the cultural market.

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