Saturday, December 07, 2013


Key Largo, Tarpon Basin, Florida
25 07.220 N 080 25.746 W

In modern American society we are taught that discrimination is a sin. Especially racial discrimination is an egregious sin. On the other hand, should our grandchildren fail to discriminate when choosing a spouse, parents and grandparents go ballistic. Teachers of English as a second language must have problems with that word.
dis·crim·i·na·tion: 1) the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people: 2) the ability to recognize the difference between things that are of good quality and those that are not
People in Florida and elsewhere want passionately to discriminate against "bums" in their localities. They keep running into blocks because what they see as good judgement in telling the difference between "things that are of good quality and those that are not", other people see it as a case of "unfairly treating a person or group of people"   Frustrated, they try to use the law to achieve their goals.  Unable to make outrightly discriminatory laws, they try to outlaw behaviors that in their minds are more associated with "those that are not".   The trouble is that they are frequently wrong and off target.

Bums afloat versus ordinary boaters is the case so apparent to us.  All over Florida but especially here in the keys, one sees so-called derelict boats at anchor.   How is that defined?  Well, I know one when I see one.  Some of the people on those boats earn the label bum.  They are very unpleasant to have around.  Bums on boats are unfortunately much more visible and irritating than bums who camp in hidden spots in the mangrove forests.

Here in Tarpon Cove there is a forest of No Trespassing signs intended to scare away "bums" from landing their dinghys most places.   If it were not for one spot owned by county government, there would be no place at all to land.   As tourists, touring by boat, that is an unbelievably hostile reaction. Someone with a local vacation boat charter business must be aghast.

It seems clear to me that the lesson to learn is that we do much more harm by covert discrimination in law, than we would with overt discrimination.  Behaviors correlate poorly with identity.  Laws targeting the imagined behavior of bums almost always miss the targets and impact non-bums more.  As a libertarian I hate to admit it, but logic seems to imply that a "no bums" law leaving it up to the police to know who is a bum and who isn't is the better approach.

Speaking of discrimination, here's a case of book that can't be judged by its cover.  We passed the man below on the side of the highway today.  At first glance, he looked like a bum of the type very common in the keys. We did not plan to stop and talk with him.  But we did stop, and soon learned that this man, (who calls himself Nomad) is not a bum but an adventurer.  He is a college graduate, 4000 miles into a walking tour of this continent.   His story reminds me of the movie Forest Gump.   Nomad is a cruiser.

I'm sure that nearly all of us would not be repelled by Nomad, despite his lack of a recent shower, but instead would be attracted to the man to hear his interesting stories.   Negative discrimination turns to positive discrimination in the blink of an eye.  Back to the point: discrimination is a very slippery concept.

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