There’s a lot of ruckus over laws that either require or don’t require businesses and individuals to interact with each other. Most of the discussion is focused on the identity of various parties in favor or opposed to the laws – gay couples, Christians opposed to gay marriage, liberal or conservative activists, etc. It’s an ugly debate to watch. Everyone is battling for control over the laws that determine who should associate with whom and under what conditions. The real problem is not which people like and dislike which other people. The real problem is the acceptance of forced association as a concept.
Forced association is any kind of social, civil, or commercial interaction that is hemmed in by force rather than choice. It demands inclusion and exclusion based on rules passed down from authorities, rather than the free interplay of autonomous individuals. Immigration restrictions are a form of forced association (in this case dis-association). So are most anti-discrimination laws. The idea that your social network must be determined for you is destructive of genuine community, and breeds hatred. Everyone is left fighting over the rules and calling names instead of simply choosing to interact or not interact with whomever they wish. How do you manage your Facebook friends? Imagine if there were laws dictating certain people you were not allowed to friend, or certain pages you had to follow, or that you must treat all friend requests equally no matter who they came from? A terrible recipe for genuine and meaningful interaction, friendship, and exchange of ideas.
Yet in society at large nobody seems to question forced association. And why should they? After all, most people have been conditioned since age 5 to accept a social scene tightly dictated by authority figures, not chosen by themselves. School is forced association. You must be with people the same age and zip code all day every day. You can’t freely wander the halls and pop in and out of classes. You can’t shop for teachers or friends or mentors across the entire community. You get your cinder block cell with your pre-assigned seat and social group. Better hope you find someone to get along with.
Bullying is a phenomenon borne almost entirely out of age-restricted groupings. The response is never to allow kids to exit the cohort, or class, or school district, or school altogether. That would work. But it would mean free association. Free association is too dangerous. What if kids don’t become the widgets we want to fashion them into? Instead efforts to stop bullying are just like the absurd efforts to curb rudeness in society with laws of forced association. It’s a battle over who gets to define the bully, the victim, the reporting process, the burden of proof, the new rules, the banned items and words, the sensitivity training, the punishments, and who gets to be the ruler of the forced association.
Forced association is ugly, inhumane, and barbaric in all its forms. As long as people are raised in environments of forced association it should come as no surprise that when they encounter a jerk they immediately begin a debate over what rules should force the jerk to behave differently and why. Debates over who the real victim is erupt. Some side with the jerk, some side with the others. Crowdfunding campaigns and public debates and interviews and one-upsmanship and absurd hypothetical and real court cases emerge. The whole spectacle is dirty, rude, vicious, and pernicious.
No one needs to make rules for who can or must associate with whom and in what way. Free association can and will do a better job of sorting out all the conflicting beliefs and behaviors of members of society than any plan or rule. Break from the mentality you’ve been raised with. Apply the mentality you use on Facebook. Forced association is never the answer.