I may not be the Rapid Response Team, but I do have some thoughts on Rand Paul and the applications of philosophy. (Wow. That sounds pretty freaking dry. Oh, well.) I was cooking on a big post about the limits of libertarianism and how Paul's appearance on the Rachel Maddow Show shows, conclusively, that libertarianism is a fine idea and all, but not an actual, functioning governing philosophy. But you know what? Ta-Nehisi Coates, Adam Serwer, Matt Yglesias, Josh Marshall and Steve Benen all got there before me and said it all way better than I could. So you should go read them.
There's one point, though, that I think applies to theatre and our semi-constant diversity battles.
If you haven't, go and watch the Rand Paul interview with Rachel Maddow. Watch the full thing. It's pretty stunning and pretty interesting, as someone who writes and thinks about dialogue and how people communicate all day long. Maddow asks him some hard questions, point blank. In fact, she asks him the same question, "Should Woolworth's lunch counter be able to discriminate?", about three times and each time, he pauses, purses his lips and says, "It's interesting..." and then deflects. Watching him, I think it's clear he knows the answer, but knows he can't say it, not on national television. Because it's the wrong answer.
What makes me think of the diversity fight we're still in the midst of (make no bones about that), in particular, are the points Adam and Matt made yesterday: it's easy for Rand Paul to say living with discrimination is the hard part of freedom, since it's virtually impossible to imagine any world where he would be discriminated against. The hard part, for Dr. Paul, is that he'd have to suffer through, watching his local businesses discriminate at will. Poor Dr. Paul. Such hardship.
It's difficult to put into words that aren't bile-filled cusswords what it feels like as a member of a minority to hear someone say, "Well, you'll just have to suck it up, buddy. Sorry!" when you're talking about matters of actual life and death. Whether a private organization can deny a public service can be very much a matter of life and death. I would say to Dr. Paul that the hard part of governing is that sometimes you have to fail your philosophies to do what's right.
But the other thing that all of this puts me in mind are the anti-diversity forces at work in our theatre community. And let's not put too fine a point on it: they are anti-diversity. I'm saying they're all bigots or racists or sexists, in the same way that I do genuinely believe that Dr. Paul is not a white supremacist. But in the same way that he believes the free market will take care of all the ills of the world that could possibly affect him, they believe that the notion of "quality rises to the top when it fits my standards of quality." And the end result is the same: if the tenets of libertarianism say that discrimination is a necessary evil, the tenets of quality-ism say our stages will be full of plays by and about white men. If you're shut out, well, sorry for you, but that's the price of freedom.
The thing about Rand Paul, however, is that he's aware that this is an unpalatable, offensive and obnoxious thing to say in public. Oh, it took him a little bit to fully learn it. But he learned it. The Qualitist voices in our community and in our field have no such sense of shame. In fact, they're pretty open about their beliefs. If you expand the gates of access to include more works by women or writers of color, you'll be lowering the quality, they say. No one wants to lower the quality of the work, do they? But there's never any question about who's setting the standards, who's keeping the gates, who is determining quality. And what everyone else is left with.
Just to be clear (because I know how this goes): I believe firmly in judging a script or a production by its quality. At the end of the day, the work is what matters. But I do believe that in our field, as holds true for most of our country, the playing field is tilted toward the privileges of white men, in terms of opportunity and in terms of how quality is judged. If more diverse works by more diverse writers is a goal, something has to be done to address the unlevel playing field. If you're going to shrug your shoulders and say, "We'd like more diversity, but we can't sacrifice quality," you're part of the problem.
It's a shame when someone like Dr. Rand Paul has more of a sense of shame than you.