L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 327, July 10, 2005
Closing the Door on Political Correctness
Exclusive to TLE
In the downtown Manhattan neighborhood where I live, an intruder beat a woman and tried to rape her in the laundry room of her co-op building last week. Fortunately, another woman came along, and her screams scared the attacker away. The co-op is just across the street from mine, and my wife and daughters often visit friends in that building, making the attack too close to home for all of us.
Security cameras caught the attacker on tape, and that led to a suspect's apprehension a few days later. But the cameras caught something else almost as unsettling. The attacker did not have a key to the building, yet well-meaning but misguided residents held the door open for him to let him in. This prompted a memo from the co-op management company reminding all shareholders about the importance of not allowing anyone into the building who they do not know personally.
One might think that would be the end of it. A hard-learned lesson would sink in, and the residents would know not to hold the door open for strange young men. Curiously, however, several of my neighborswho I believe are representative of the larger populationhave raised issues with the no-strangers policy. On our online community bulletin board, they "confess" to having held the door for old ladies and mothers pushing strollerseven when they didn't know the grandmothers and mothers in question. "I now am torn about what I would do if I see a mother with a carriage who I do not know... but I bet I would hold the door open," one neighbor worries.
Another neighbor concurs. "Who you hold the door for really is a tough one. In general I hold it for everyone."
That's quite the dilemma. Close the door on every stranger, including seniors with pushcarts and mothers with strollers, and you are a cad. Open the door to all, and you let in the next would-be rapist.
Allow me to propose a modest but apparently radical solution to this puzzle. This proposal will not only make my neighborhood more secure and more polite, but it will probably work in your neighborhood as well. Even if you have a doorman or live in a single-family home, you can apply this solution to other areas of human interaction where conventional approaches have failed.
The answer, my friends, is good old-fashioned discrimination. Profiling, if you prefer.
No, I'm not talking about racial discrimination. I mean using the good sense each of us was born with to detect unambiguous context clues and make a hasty judgment.
Knowing who to hold the door for is easy if you refuse to indulge in politically correct rubbish. Old lady in a walker? Of course you hold the door, even if you don't know her. Young punk? Let the door slam in his face. Mother pushing a carriage? Let her in, whoever she is. Crazy homeless guy? Door slam.
Sure there's a chance that the young punk is harmless and lives in your building, but don't take chances. If you hold the door for the old lady you don't know, you're not taking any chances. Trust me on this one.
The all-or-nothing approach is the same mindset that makes random airport security checks so intolerably stupid. Everyone from the Transportation Security Administration agents to the passengers knows perfectly well that it's a waste of time to pull the middle-aged lady in a pantsuit out of the line and make her remove her shoes. Just stop the charade, leave her alone, and everyone will get through the line faster.
One might argue that it's one thing for private individuals to discriminate, but the government has a special obligation to treat all citizens equally. I would agree. That is one more reasonbeyond the general incompetence common to most government agents, to say nothing of the 4th Amendment violationsto privatize airport security. Let the individual airlines take responsibility for deciding who is a security risk and who isn't. Unlike the federal government, the airlines have a powerful profit incentive to ensure that their customers are both safe and not mindlessly inconvenienced. If the airlines want to spend less time grilling little old ladies from Pasadena and more time questioning surly young men from Detroit, that's their business. If the airlines abuse the situation and alienate customers, competitors will carve a profitable niche catering to the young and surly.
There are small signs of progress against dangerous political incorrectness. After the assault in my neighborhood, while the suspect was still at large, the newspapers described him as 5-10, about 200 pounds, and wearing a cast on his right arm. They wouldn't mention his skin color, of course, but they did reveal the color of his arm cast. It was red.