Monday, June 22, 2009

The opposite of prohibition is not permission

Ron's First Law states, in a self-deprecating and hopefully somewhat humorous strange loop, that all extreme positions are wrong. But that is only a useful aphorism if you actually know what the extreme positions are. Unfortunately, many people mistake moderate positions for extreme one simply because the extreme positions are so extreme (and so obviously wrong) that they don't even enter the conversation.

Take gay marriage for example. This is framed as an argument between prohibiting gay marriage and allowing gay marriage, with the moderate compromise being civil unions or some such thing. But this misses a very important point: permission is already a moderate position. The opposite extreme of prohibition is not permission, it is requirement. The counterpart to prohibiting gay marriage is not allowing gay marriage, it is prohibiting straight marriage. Those are the two "extreme positions" that Ron's First Law warns against.

The same applies to abortion: the opposite of prohibiting abortion is not allowing abortions but requiring them.

There's another important point that people often miss: permission is not endorsement. Just because the law permits something does not meant that it's right or desirable, just that we've decided to place the responsibility of making the decision with the individual rather than the government. I personally think that it's a terrible thing to, say, raise a child as a creationist. But if there were ever a law proposed to forbid the teaching of creationism (in private -- public schools are different) I would be first in line to oppose it.

So you can be vehemently opposed to abortion and gay marriage and still oppose laws that prohibit them on the grounds of moderation, restraint, and (dare I say it?) even conservatism. Because once you set the precedent that it is acceptable to pass laws that support extreme positions, the only thing protecting you from the opposite extreme is your status as a member of the majority. And majorities are often fleeting, as the Mullah's in Iran are lately learning to their dismay.


Dennis Gorelik said...

Ron -- that's a very important point: don't limit others' freedoms without very serious reasons of doing so.

Ron said...

Thanks. It certainly seems like a no-brainer to me, but someone gave me a "bogus" mark. Whoever you are, I'd like to hear from you. Why do you think this is bogus?

Dennis Gorelik said...


I guess you got "Bogus" remark because allowing gay marriages seems so preposterous to somebody that he considers your suggestion [of protecting gays' freedom of choice in marriage] a bogus.