The idea of safe spaces, traditionally associated with feminist and LGBTQ communities, refers to areas designed for marginalized people to feel free from the kinds of intolerant social norms, bigoted harassment, and general persecution that dominate mainstream culture. Safe spaces take the notion that “people shouldn’t push other people around” to its maximum extent within a minority community.
When society doesn’t treat a particular community with respect and toleration, the people in that community aren’t helpless, though it may sometimes feel and seem that way. They can cooperate to form networks that allow them to flourish despite widespread bigotry. Safe spaces are a manifestations of people’s need to form communities; tightly knit groups that face oppression on a daily basis have nowhere to turn but to each other.
Safe spaces are natural expressions of “living ideas.” Intellectual research and discourse only takes us so far. At some point, it takes real people putting the general principles into action to actually create change and help others here and now.
A completely 100% safe space will not come to fruition outside of our imaginations. Remember: risk is inherent in liberty. There will simply always be work to be done to advance the principles of tolerance, acceptance, and respect.
Just like the economy is always advancing towards total equilibrium, but never fully reaching it because individuals and their values and goals constantly fluctuate, a totally safe society is but an ideal towards which we should constantly strive.
Equilibrium is untenable in the real world because profit opportunities constantly reveal themselves to entrepreneurs in the marketplace. What earns the capitalist a profit is always shifting according to consumer preferences. Only in a world where people were the same would the economy remain in a state of equilibrium. The people that make up the economy (all of us) are forever changing and varied. This means the economy we make up will, too, be forever changing and varied.
The same analysis applies to the world of social interaction. The varied and changing people that make up the economy are the exact same people that make up the social world. Situations in which individuals are marginalized call for social entrepreneurs to get involved, with the do-it-yourself mindset, an ethos similar to that of the entrepreneur pursuing a profit opportunity. They recognize that people have different values and morals, so clash and conflict are inevitable. Social interaction without bumps in the road is a fairytale. “Safe” spaces doesn’t mean “easy” spaces, after all.
So, instead of maximizing monetary profit, social entrepreneurs try to maximize mutual respect.
We can’t sulk over the brutal life truth that oppression and domination are in some sense inevitable. We must understand that the totally safe society lives in Utopian models of a perfect and predictable world, next to models of perfect competition and equilibrium.
But, we must also recognize that translating our principles of autonomy and mutual respect to the real world in all our actions improves the lives of oppressed people at the margin and that is always worth the effort.
Feminist and LGBTQ communities’ idea of safe spaces is at its core libertarian. Safe spaces emphasize “living liberty,” independence, and a general culture of autonomy and liberty. They create an open area wherein people are free to succeed or fail; free to pursue their goals without reverence for oppressive social norms and traditions; free to be their real selves and not conform to an authoritarian culture of sameness and obedience.
Safe spaces are about saying, “No” to those who wish to suppress individuality and freedom with widespread cultural assumptions and even direct harassment or violence. In the words of Ayn Rand, “The question isn’t who is going to let me. It’s who is going to stop me.”
The libertarian vision of a tolerant, free society is really just one big safe space. Ludwig von Mises recognized the value of tolerance in the libertarian cause, “Liberalism demands tolerance as a matter of principle, not from opportunism.” A free society offers everyone, especially the poor and marginalized, options to improve their lot, alternatives to oppressive arrangements, and the ability to exit harmful systems and relationships. A free society is one that values and respects freedom of association and personal space.
The world will never be close to a safe space unless we create our own safe spaces in our personal spheres of action and social life. Step one: Making your friend groups and social circles a safe space for marginalized people. Transforming the libertarian community into a safe space is vital to our political, long-term vision of a free society, and also necessary to prevent horrible tragedies in the short-term that marginalize people at libertarian gatherings, meetings, events, socials, and conferences.
It’s time we in the libertarian movement took our ideas to heart and put them to work in our own lives. It’s time to stop living in the world of economic theory and philosophy, and to foster a mindset that can really change the world. It’s long been time to cultivate a culture of trust, charity, solidarity, tolerance, mutual aid, intellectual and expressive freedom, and most of all, community.
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