Pretend we’re next door neighbors. If you’ve read this blog much, you’re probably thinking “Cool, he won’t be bothering me with what I do over here on my property…”
Well, one day, I decide to stroll out of my front door and onto my front lawn…completely naked.
You might think I’m crazy, but I don’t think that should be considered criminal activity. Who is the victim here? For there to be a victim, there has to be someone who was unwillingly subjected to some form of violence (that burning sensation in your retinas doesn’t count though). While you may consider my behavior unsavory, I’m not violating any of your rights.
Just because you may find my behavior unpleasant, it does not give you the right to use force to prevent it. What if other people in the neighborhood don’t have a problem with it? What if I turn around and say that the bushes in front of your house are a complete eyesore and I want them taken down so I don’t have to look at them?
Still, you find it necessary to call the police on me since the town in which we live has laws against this sort of behavior. But the police never show up. Eventually, you bring this issue up with the local government, but you soon discover that I am good friends with all of the town officials. The government will do nothing for you here.
Are you left with no options? Of course not! As mentioned before, since I’m not physically doing you or your property any harm, assaulting me would end up landing you in trouble, so that’s not a reasonable solution. What else could you do?
Remember back to when you were a kid. Maybe you had a sibling that was acting annoying with the intention of bugging you. When you complained to your parents, they just said “Ignore it and he’ll stop.” It wasn’t exactly what you wanted to hear, but if you actually took their advice, it usually worked. There are people out there who will do and say ridiculous things just for the attention. The more attention you give, the more they’ll continue to act up. Just spend five minutes on an internet message board and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
But ignoring me doesn’t work. I’m not in it for the attention.
You decide to build a fence on your own property to block your view and it does a pretty good job while you’re in your own house and yard. But you still see me most days when I wave to you while watering my hyacinths as you pull into your driveway coming home from work.
Moving away crosses your mind, but you like everything about where you live except for your naked next door neighbor. And you know that you’re not going to get the full value of your property with people knowing there’s a guy who likes to stand around naked outside living right next door.
By this time, though, the rest of the neighborhood is starting to get fed up with me as well.
Since the government has proven itself useless in dealing with the problem, someone in your community calls together a meeting of those concerned about the problems. The people in attendance are neighbors and some local business owners. What you all decide to do is dissociate yourselves from me.
Our mutual neighbor from across the street owns the neighborhood bar that everyone in the community patronizes, including me, and he states that he won’t let me in as long as I walk around my property naked. Members of my church are in attendance and they agree to not let me at church functions anymore. It’s agreed among everyone that I will be prevented from attending the neighborhood block party in the coming month. Someone even drafts a letter that everyone signs to my place of business alerting them of a boycott of the company that I work for. Ideas like this continue to come forward.
I’m given the choice between standing outside in my yard naked for everyone to see and being shunned by the rest of the community or quitting the naked act and enjoying benefits being a part of the neighborhood community has to offer. By continuing my behavior, I could lose my job, not be able to purchase food, or lose the ability to engage in leisure activities. If I stop, I get all of these things I consider good, but have to forgo my little hobby. Just like you and the rest of the community had to weigh the pros and cons, I now have to decide what’s most important to me.
Now this was a bit of a silly example (and trust me, I would not be happy at all if my neighbor started to walk around his property without any clothes on), but this is why the idea of freedom of association is so important to a society. It allows individuals to choose who they want to be in community or do business with. No one can force you to associate with anyone and you’re left to decide for yourself if you don’t want to be a part of an individual’s or group’s behavior.
Instead of a neighbor trying to sit in his yard naked, think about how this applies if your neighbor is a bigot. Think about how this applies to any sort of behavior that you find offensive. This follows the same principle of how you would act towards a friend that gets into the habit of drinking too much and won’t accept your help to correct the issue. You reach the point where you let your friend know that you’ll no longer associate with them until he or she fixes the problem or is willing to take help.
Also, think about how this applies when only one or two people take offense to your behavior. What happens if these one or two people are the government officials writing the laws?
If we are to live in a just society, we cannot act aggressively toward behavior that does no harm to us despite our dislike of it. You have no right to attack a gay couple for kissing in public just like someone doesn’t have the right to deface or destroy religious decorations in front of your house. We need to exhibit tolerance for others, but at the same time, tolerate the negative consequences resulting from dissociation that others direct on us for own our behavior.