UPDATE:  This was edited after Alexander R. Cohen (rightly) offered critiques on two points:  the nature of anti-discrimination law and the unjustified ad hominem nature of some of the claims…Significant changes are marked in green text and cross-outs…

I have tried in the past to parse the problem of implied contracts and “open for business,” and the rights and duties of a business.

My friend David Henderson has expressed a different view, which is fair enough.  He’s wrong about other things, too, I’m sure.  But there is a difference that rests in anti-discrimination law, an asymmetry, that separates rights of consumers and rights of businesses.  These might be “wrong,” in some larger sense, but they provide the context in which the discussion should take place.

Still, there is a new “case” which brings some issues sharply into focus, while obscuring others.

Here are the facts, as far as I can tell.  One version.  And another version.  Just reading the two accounts tells you that something deep is going on.  It doesn’t sound like they are even describing the same incident.

A couple (they happen to be lesbian women, if it matters) went to a jeweler.  The reason they went to that jeweler, and not some other, was that the business came highly recommended for good service and good prices.  And that was exactly the experience of the couple:  they were happy with the service, and agreed on a custom design that they liked.  They paid for the rings.  And this was a custom ring, so the transaction is not reversible. Unless, it appears, the jeweler expressed a view (in a sign) that the couple disagreed with.

At this point, the couple asserted a particular right:  They demanded to be allowed to return the ring for the full price  Saying that the customer is “allowed” to return the ring, of course, means that the producer is OBLIGED to accept the ring, and return the purchase price, even though it was a custom ring and can’t be sold to someone else at anything close to the same price.

There is no reason to believe there is anything wrong with the ring, no flaws in manufacture, etc., and the customer service received by the couple was impeccable, polite, helpful, and professional.

What the couple is asserting is a right to refuse to do business, after the fact, after the transaction is completed and materials are committed to the manufacture, with a business because they (the couple) happen to dislike the beliefs of the owner of the business.

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Virtually everyone abhors the crimes committed by radical Islamists. However, it is difficult these days to criticize Muslim practices that fall short of terrorist violence. These practices include, among others, mistreatment of women, intolerance towards non-believers, oppressive laws in Muslim countries, and the endorsement of censorship and apostasy. Those who have dared to do so (Bill Maher and Christopher Hitchens come to mind) have often been accused of Islamophobia. In many circles, a critical attitude toward mainstream Islam is branded as bigoted and intolerant.

As a preliminary matter, the notion of tolerance is inapplicable to rights violators. If a man beats his wife, it makes no sense to say that we must be tolerant with him. When a government bans women from driving cars in public, it is even more ridiculous to suggest that we ought to be tolerant with public officials. When a court orders a death sentence for leaving the religion, it sounds equally perverse to say that we should be tolerant with the executioner. Maybe there are reasons why we should often not interfere, but it is certainly bizarre to suggest that one of such reasons is that, as liberals, we must be tolerant of such practices. Rights violators are not the proper objects of tolerance. Those who call critics of these practices Islamophobes commit a fallacy: they move from the correct idea that we must be tolerant toward different religions to the incorrect idea that we must likewise tolerate anything that is done in the name of religion. So critics of these practices are not intolerant of Islam. They are not Islamophobes. They simply point out that people have rights, and so there are certain things others may not do to them even if done in the name of religion.

On the other hand, there are liberal Muslim scholars, groups, and activists who defend human rights and democracy. Most of them live in free societies, but a few advocate liberal values in Muslim countries at great personal risk. They stand for free speech, freedom of religion and conscience, the right to elect their government, and political pluralism. We don’t hear much about them, precisely because they are marginalized by the Muslim establishment. Yet I think liberals of all stripes should support these courageous individuals. They are the genuine (true, best) Muslims. Not only do they condemn violence, but they also reassure us that their religion is consistent with human rights, individual freedom, and democratic governance. They treat Muslims as rational agents worthy of respect, not as children. The others, the mainstream Muslim voices who support and endorse rights violations in the name of Islam, are wrong as a matter of morality, and are also on the wrong side of history. They think that Muslims are incapable of being free, that they cannot confront the responsibilities, opportunities, and challenges of our modern world. They treat Muslims as children. They are the true Islamophobes.

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One of the principal arguments against designer babies is that the rich would use this technology to give their children further advantages, but such technology would remain out of the reach of the typical person. In a previous post, I argued that this is probably false–most likely the technology would eventually be available to most–but even if were true, because of comparative advantage, we should still welcome designer baby technology.

Today, I want to push harder on the zero-sum mentality.  Many people believe it’s bad for the rest of us if the rich design smarter, stronger, more beautiful, healthier, more advantaged babies. They subscribe to a zero-sum worldview in which one person’s advantages come at everyone else’s expense. If that’s your worry, then in principle you should be in favor of using genetic engineering to design dumber, weaker, less healthy babies. It would sure be surprising if the status quo just happens to produce optimal amount of variation in natural talents from the zero-sum point of view. Are we right now at the ideal distribution of natural talent? I don’t see how or why a person worried about designer babies could answer yes. After all, thanks to assortative mating, the rich and successful are already giving their kids a leg up on the competition, namely by giving them better genes.

So, if you believe we shouldn’t allow the rich to engineer healthier babies because this will give their kids too many advantages, please explain why you don’t also favor (in principle) using genetic engineering to remove genetic advantages.

You needn’t imagine the government forces the advantaged to engineer  average kids. Imagine instead that the rich, now motivated by a strong sense of egalitarian justice, subscribe to the zero-sum mentality. Out of the goodness of their hearts, they choose to invest their money in producing less talented offspring. If you fear them engineering more talented offspring, shouldn’t you welcome them choosing to engineer less talented offspring?

EDITS: Fixed some typos. Added a sentence.

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