November 04, 2016

Source: Bigstock

Did the framers of this oleaginous “€œcommitment”€ mean that the owners of accommodations should take no notice if their potential lodgers are satanists, or members of the Ku Klux Klan, or Black Panthers, or soldiers of ISIS? Everyone means everyone, not le tout-Paris.

It is true that Airbnb asks potential lodgers to sign the same declaration, but not everyone is like George Washington, that is to say incapable of telling a lie. It does not take a very high degree of sophistication to agree to such a commitment with mental reservations or an outright determination to flout it.

Is there anyone in the world who is without biases, who goes out into the world every day as if it had been remade overnight, as if he had no previous experience to guide him? Would anyone in a crime-ridden slum have precisely the same thoughts at the approach of a tottering old lady as of that of a loping young man (even if the majority of loping young men would do him no harm)?

Now, either the list of characteristics against which one is supposed not to be biased is exhaustive or it is not. If it is exhaustive it means that bias on grounds such as intelligence, level of education, political opinions, physical comeliness, and indeed on an infinite variety of other characteristics is permissible. If, on the other hand, it is not exhaustive, the implication is that bias on any grounds whatever is impermissible. But the totally unbiased person, if he could exist at all (which is very doubtful), would be as vulnerable as a hermit crab without a shell.

In short, the ridiculous “€œcommitment”€ is demanded not because it will do any good, but because it exhibits the virtue of those demanding it. Those who demur from such a commitment, not because they want to commit acts of racial discrimination but because they object to a world of saccharine bullying and moral exhibitionism by commercial enterprises, will nonetheless find themselves condemned for bigotry. Most people will sign the commitment not from conviction, but simply for convenience. Nevertheless, signing up to what we do not, and probably cannot, believe undermines our moral and intellectual probity, even if only fractionally. Truth, like humans, can be executed by a thousand cuts.


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