Friday links! Captive to others’ rights edition

Mexico City seen from above—photo by Pablo Lopez Luz

Mexico City seen from above—photo by Pablo Lopez Luz

More than seven billion people live on planet Earth right now, and each of them is as important as you are. I haven’t checked his math, but Gabor Zovanyi of Eastern Washington University has something sobering to say about population growth:

“If our species had started with just two people at the time of the earliest agricultural practices some 10,000 years ago, and increased by one percent per year, today humanity would be a solid ball of flesh many thousand light years in diameter, and expanding with a radial velocity that, neglecting relativity, would be many times faster than the speed of light.”

To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, I suppose they will all want dignity. Today is Friday, and your rights end where my nose begins. Won’t you find yourself enclosed in a thicket of sharp elbows with me?

First, the good news: religious conservatives in Indiana are sad. You’d think their god would protect them, since they’re so right and all, but Republicans in the state legislature have announced that they will change their religious freedom law to specifically prohibit discrimination against homosexuals. That shouldn’t disappoint the law’s supporters, since it was never about discrimination in the first place. Still, a certain paranoia obtains. Here’s Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage:

“It’s like paying ransom to a captor, and will put people of faith in the cross hairs of gay activists who will use this new legislation as a weapon to force people of faith to participate in same-sex ‘marriage’ ceremonies and other activities that violate their deeply held religious beliefs. Refusing to be part of a same-sex ‘wedding’ is not discrimination, but this new legislation treats it as such.”

Bro, I’m pretty sure that refusing to be part of one kind of person’s wedding is the definition of discrimination. You can say your religion instructs you to discriminate in that way, but A) Leviticus has remarkably little to say about the professional obligations of florists, and B) the verb remains the same.

Probably we should just invent a religion for corporations and be done with it. At Harvard School of Law, a working paper by John C. Coates IV argues that since 1972, corporations have increasingly become the beneficiaries of court decisions related to the First Amendment. Coates traces the phenomenon to the Supreme Court tenure of Lewis Powell and First National Bank of Boston v. Bellottti in 1978, which determined that corporations are legally people. According to the author, a combination of jurisprudence and general friendliness to business since then has led to:

“…a pure redistribution of power over law with no efficiency gain—‘rent seeking’ in economic jargon. That power is taken from ordinary individuals with identities and interests as voters, owners and employees, and transferred to corporate bureaucrats pursuing narrowly framed goals with other people’s money. This is as radical a break from Anglo-American business and legal traditions as one could find in U.S. history.”

A corporation is just a person with much more money who never dies and cannot be imprisoned. It makes sense that it would have the same rights to expression and practice of religion under the Constitution written a century before the LLC was invented. That’s bad news for us, though, because as the good church people of Indiana and Arkansas remind us, you can’t give one person rights without taking away the rights of somebody else. Just ask Indiana’s religious freedom czar, Don Beederman:

This premise—homophobes are gay—never gets old. It is comedically perfect: the behavior Don Beederman uses to tamp down his own urges obviously amplifies them, and everyone can see it but him. Also, I have fully come around to Chris Parnell. I didn’t like his work on Saturday Night Live, but his recent deadpan portrayals of quacks and supercilious bumblers are so strangely good-hearted that I can’t help but laugh. And you know I hate to laugh, so I resist mightily.

But comedy is one of society’s few unstoppable forces. Ben al-Fowlkes brought my attention to this New Yorker profile on Harold Ramis, director of such classics as Animal HouseCaddyshack and Groundhog Day. He’s pretty much the inventor of what is now called the snobs vs. slobs picture, in which the heroes see through the veneer of institutional respectability and unleash the anarchic forces lurking underneath. When you put it that way, such premises are inseparable from the ethos of the Baby Boomer generation. I’ve spent the last few minutes trying to think of the unifying principle of contemporary film comedies, from Anchorman to Role Models. I’m afraid the answer is “improvisation edited into a series of punchlines.”

Probably everything is getting worse, and we should focus on expressing the specific texture of our despair. When you think about it, most of your problems come from other people, and there are more of those every day. Nick Cave was right.

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