Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hiatus no longer

It turns out that my vacation hiatus was very much devoid of posts instead of light on posts.  I felt like it wasn't worth trying to use the internet when loading up the main google search page took 4 minutes.

Dodgeball Champ and I talked a while over the holiday about revenge for discrimination in times past.  It was brought up by a series of posts that I was involved in on another blog Here where I argued about how a particular point about advocating for women was made.  The fundamental issue behind the arguments to my mind is the question of whether or not it is reasonable to get revenge for discrimination in the past as a way to remedy the situation.  In particular, is it ok to have very different standards for gender discrimination that hugely favour women because of past discrimination against them?  This argument applies equally well to other groups that have been disadvantaged - which pretty much means anyone who isn't a white male.

It should be noted that I absolutely support equality and I also support efforts to assist those who have disadvantages to have all the opportunities that someone like me (white english speaking male) has.  It does make me uncomfortable though that wearing a Gay Pride / Black Unity / Girl Power Tshirt is considered acceptable but a White Unity / Male Power / Straight Pride Tshirt would be the ultimate in bad taste and might well get me beat up.  Thing is, I know that in many places and times being gay, female or nonwhite was/is a tremendous disadvantage and those people had to obey the white straight men in charge and that situation was downright awful.  I want gender, sexual orientation, culture, heritage and many other things to be no barrier whatsoever for employment, social status, comfort, power and many other things.

The trick is that we want all these groups to have equal opportunity but we don't want to perpetuate a cycle of revenge.  It is possible to think that we should solve previous inequalities by simply punishing those who were ahead in the past until they are no longer advantaged.  I think that by doing that we end up making the divisions between the groups larger and more durable though because those who were ahead end up resenting and discrediting the people receiving the benefits.  If someone gets a job ahead of me or is given freedoms I am not I will resent them and resent the measures used to force equality.  That creates an incentive for people who are disadvantaged by the current rules to band together to attempt to circumvent those rules for their own benefit and to share their frustration with the current situation.

On the other hand I do think it is extremely valuable to provide extra support where it is needed and to recognize that that support may need to be focused around groups like I have outlined above.  It makes a lot of sense for us to focus on providing additional counselling, training and support for natives trying to enter the workforce for example because they have (on average) a lot of additional barriers to overcome.  It obviously makes sense to have women's shelters and not to have an equal number of men's shelters.  There are many things we can and should do to support disadvantaged groups.

Regardless of those I will continue to find it frustrating that people celebrate aspects of themselves that I cannot celebrate, even though I don't particularly *want* to celebrate them.  I am proud of my country in general and my city in particular because they are so accepting of differences and marginalized groups.  (Not to say we couldn't do better, but we do very well.)  I am *not* proud that any particular person is gay, I honestly don't care who they want to fall in love with or have sex with, but I am proud of their ability to do so happily and comfortably in my society.  I do think though that by setting different standards for behaviour based on race / gender / sexuality / etc. we end up supporting the divides between people instead of eliminating them.

ETA:  I have no desire at all to wear a White Power / Man Pride / Straight Unity shirt.  I just want my ability to wear one to be equivalent to the comparable ones.


  1. People find far too much comfort and care far too much about being in their own little culture or subculture. We as people tend to celebrate the things that make us different from everyone else more than the things that are the same with every other person, which is unfortunate, as it tends to go too far. The world would be a better place if instead of seeing a group of gay people outside wearing gay pride t-shirts, you just saw a group of people.

  2. Oh gosh, where do I start...

    You raise two distinct points here.

    One is regarding the appropriateness of systemic accommodations made based on disadvantaged minority status.

    The second is regarding pride.

    Let's go in order:

    There is discrimination baked into our system, whether we like it or not. Just like there are criminals, whether we like it or not. There is disagreement as to the cause, but by pretty much every empirical measure diversity groups are underrepresented in government, corporate boardrooms & senior ranks and academia. Those same groups are massively overrepresented in homeless shelters, food stamp lines, jails and hospitals. (And yes, I am referring to studies which factor out class & locality.)

    So these groups, for a myriad of reasons having to do with historical pressures and present-day prejudice, are at a statistical disadvantage from birth. If we truly believe in an equitable society in which everyone has an equal opportunity, we should constantly strive to level the playing field. This is why we have universal healthcare, universal education, and anti-discrimination laws.

    But it's not enough to just put laws on the books to prevent discrimination, just like it's not enough have laws on the books to prevent thievery. We also have the opportunity to address societal issues which cause people to discriminate, just as we address societal issues which cause people to become criminals. This is a "good" use of energy, as it prevents a greater loss in productivity than it costs.

    So minority groups are disadvantaged, empirically true. We strive, as a society, to provide equal opportunity to every individual. Until discrimination is empirically negligible, we should continue to support minority groups as a way of accommodating the unseen hand of the (prejudice) market.

    ie: it doesn't matter _why_ minority groups are disadvantaged. It is empirically true that they are. And so long as they are, we are morally bound to try our best to counteract that disadvantage.

    Very good (and very difficult!) questions which are still up for debate include:

    * To what degree are minorities disadvantaged by system, and to what degree by choice? Women being more likely to take time off in their childbearing years feel the effects on the rest of their career, but they chose to have children. Does that mean we should measure their disadvantage against men who chose to take the same amount of time off (for whatever reason), or are they facing the subtle discrimination of it being "less acceptable" for men to take that time off and many women are paying a commensurately greater price for their choice than a more willing husband (or wife) might?

    * What of a culture which is self-defeating? Muslim women and African American men are both held back as much by their own chosen religion/culture as their environment, is it right to accommodate that? The group is at fault, but the individuals within it are less so.

    * Are there better ways of overcoming this divide? We have quotas, intervention programs, mass media advertising campaigns, etc. It's really unclear whether these help and to what degree, not to mention which are most cost effective. This is a very valid topic of debate, even among minority groups. (ie: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas famously opposes affirmative action.)

    Ok, second point coming up...

  3. Pride, oh pride...

    The reason it is not acceptable to wear a "white pride" or "straight unity" t-shirt is that *every day* is white pride day, *every day* there's a straight pride march. One big part of discrimination is the subtle discrimination of expectations and self-identification.

    That systemic racism I mentioned earlier acted in more virulent times to create a culture of power which is heavily white male centric. In the absence of a countervailing force, that is self-perpetuating *even without* active discrimination.

    Pride is a way for minority groups to balance off the indirect demoralization of seeing nobody "like them" in a position of power. Particularly for children & adolescents, who are still trying to find their way (and really, doesn't that include all of us?) role models are incredibly important, and many minorities have none. So sometimes it's useful to be reminded that you can, and should, be proud of who you are. Most importantly it's an opportunity to talk about what it means to be in these groups, to bring it into the light, and get it out of the dark corners of the mind.

    And since you aren't in a minority or disadvantaged group, it's not your place to say whether pride days/months/parades are helpful to a person's self-image. The groups who run and participate in these periods/events consider them to be very important, it's incredibly patronizing to assert that they're wrong.

    But if they can do it, why can't you?

    When you celebrate your ethnicity or gender, you are doing so from a position of either equality or superiority. You don't need to be reminded that males make up 435 of the 500 highest-paid people in the Fortune 200. You don't need to be reminded that whites in Canada one third as likely to be homeless as blacks. You don't need to be reminded that straight people can travel safely in any country of the world, or that the cis-gendered are two *hundred* times less likely to be the victims of violent crime and *fifty* times less likely to commit suicide than those who are trans.

    Every day is white pride. Every corporate boardroom shows you a place you belong. You see yourself in every college recruiting brochure, and hear your culture in every newscaster. Every suggestive poster and commercial celebrates your sexual preference.

    The logistics of majority means that, whenever one has to choose a message, that message is always going to be tailored to the majority. Minorities will never be represented because it makes no sense to do so. This is where society needs to step in to compensate artificially.

    Pride events, to a disadvantaged group, are an action against the logistics of majorities. When you're in that majority, pride has a different connotation; it implies the perpetuation of that majority. It's saying "I'm proud to be better than everyone else, to be luckier than everyone else."

    In summary, I think the white male majority is missing out on one critical nuance of pride events. It is not a way of saying "I'm proud of this quality"; rather, it's a way of saying "this quality which makes me feel devalued by society is one I will not be ashamed of." It's not white males' fault that they're luckier, but so long as they're the majority _and_ luckier, they're not going to have anything to celebrate **in the same way.** There's simply no analogue.

  4. Of course there is discrimination against women and cultural minorities at top corporate levels but you can't expect perfect divisions to occur suddenly, or at all in some cases even with zero discrimination. I think there are some kinds of help that have the combination of being effective and causing minimal friction such as targetted job training, counselling, social assistance, etc. Those sorts of resources are available to anyone who really wants to take advantage of them but we can try to tailor them to those with the greatest need. I am much less supportive of things like affirmative action because it creates very negative feelings on the part of the dominant group and can lead to continuing separation and discrimination.

    Remember that when everyone in society feels equal and wants others to succeed things move much more quickly and easily than if you have a segment of the population feeling like they are being punished for crimes they did not commit. It may not really change the outcomes when you choose to enforce affirmative action instead of investing in targetted job training but it *feels* hugely different to the people involved. People take pride in being selected based on merit even if that merit came from targetted government intervention, whereas they take less pride in being selected just based on race / gender / etc. The same logic applies on the other side of the fence: People feel much less offended when someone else is being helped up than when they are being held down even if the net effects are identical.

    Eliminating discrimination is the goal. My point is that we need to consider that that goal is forwarded by everyone being on board and some kinds of interventions make people resentful and some do not. We need to consider that effect when making interventions and rules, particularly since sometimes the people the interventions and rules discriminate against have never contributed to discrimination.

  5. There is inequality baked into the system somehow now, not just thirty years ago. For a whole host of reasons, being in many minority groups puts children far behind the curve by the time they hit elementary school, and they never catch up. It's perfectly fine to discuss how that happens, but it's certainly not fair (IMHO) to blame a 7-year-old child for her parents' lack of interest in her studies or poor diction.

    Affirmative action isn't taking jobs away from white people. It's a heavy-handed approach to forcibly leveling a playing field which has been biased against white people their entire life. Indeed, affirmative action at the entry level can be seen as the _least_ odious form of supporting minorities, since it provides a one-time reset which lifts everyone up to the same point.

    Historically, affirmative action has been tremendously successful when applied. Racial quotas, amazingly enough, turn out very well, in that those admitted under the quotas score higher (on average) on the USMLE than a normative group, without requiring any ongoing investment in that minority group. So in a strictly logical, least-cost/max-benefit analysis, you should be strongly pro affirmative action. The only true cost is ill-will.

    And affirmative action by way of quotas is also self-obsolescing. Once whatever societal barriers which have been holding back that minority are lifted, the quota will simply stop meaning anything.

    Appeasing the voting majority (there's that "M" word again) is of course the primary motivation of pretty much every policy maker, and that certainly keeps affirmative action off the table. Unfortunately, it tends to keep pretty much every form of social equalization off the table for exactly the same reason. And so divisions persist.

    In 5-10 generations all this will fade away, I'm sure. But it'd be awfully nice, and save a whole lot of heartache, if it only took 2-3.

  6. Ah Snidely, remember in university when I said there was hope for you? And look at you now! I'm so proud!

    Anyway, I am tempted to ramble on forever, but I am going to instead address various things briefly.

    First, the way that discrimination functions right now is very subtle. I remember it being pointed out by a friend of Rev. Jeremiah Wright during the last US election that while Obama was taking heat for being affiliated with Wright, white politicians never take any heat from affiliating themselves with white church leaders that actively call for violence. What the Jeremiah Wright controversy came down to was that white people weren't comfortable with black churches. It doesn't come up every day, but it had the possibility of being a real factor in determining whether Obama or Clinton got the nomination.

    Second, not only is it hard to see discrimination from the privileged position, but it is hard to see it when you live in Toronto. Snidely mentions studies that show that minority groups are disadvantaged even when factoring out class. A recent study of education in Toronto showed that this was not the case. The only factor they could tie to education performance was wealth. But Toronto is a tremendous aberration. Living here it is pretty easy to think that things are going pretty well in terms of equality. You don't have to go very far out of the city limits to see a radical change.

    Also, Snidely, when it comes to people participating in the discrimination against them, that does validate the situation at all. When you oppress a population for a while, they start oppressing themselves for you. In the South during slavery, slaves were as much a part of maintaining slavery as their owners. This is really the source of the need for the pride events that you are talking about. If you are gay and even gay people are likely to discriminate against you for being gay, you really have nowhere to turn.

    Finally, as for women being behind as a result of having children, that, to me, is less a question of discrimination and more a question of us being, collectively, a bunch of idiots. This is an unrelated point, but one I feel compelled to make. From an individual point of view, the desire/incentive to have children decreases as wealth increases. From a societal point of view, the value of children increases as wealth increases (since the value of people increases). Right now, if you are making economic choices, you'd be a fool to have children in a developed nation. But a nation that doesn't have children is not in good shape at all. Right now most developed nations are banking on biological clocks and abstinence-only education to keep the kids coming. We should be developing a better strategy for this.

  7. Hey Sthenno, I was wondering how long it would take you to jump in. :)

    Too much time spent in the South and volunteering locally has cost me my objectivist naïveté. :( Ah, the wild-eyed innocence of youth, when we could assert that the world should live up to our ideals, instead of having the humility to accommodate it as it is...

    re. Toronto being different: It's really incredible how true this is. New York isn't even close to representative of the US, and New York is still a hell of a lot grittier and divided than TO. Try Memphis, Dallas, Los Angeles, Chicago. I've lived or spent months in each of those places, and it's stunning and shocking how foreign they are.

    Heck, try China, Japan, or even Europe. I've lived in those places too, and there as well the minority and factional divides (on race, gender, orientation, heritage, caste) and oppression is overt and rife.

    I suppose when you've seen prejudice and discrimination displayed blatantly and aggressively, it makes it much easier to recognize when expressed in more subtle (even unintentional) ways.

    Also, re: self-oppression, I had not considered that, excellent point. I suppose I've just proven my point about us straight white males not getting the whole picture. :P

    Regardless, as a complete tangent, one major societal benefit (for the rest of us) of pride events is the opportunity to experience different cultures in simpler ways, such as music, dance, food (yum!); I see a heritage street festival about once a week here during the summer, and it's awesome and mind-expanding.
    What on earth would a white-straight-male pride event look like? Hamburgers, hockey & the Rolling Stones? (Actually, it'd be pretty awesome to have a Canadian-pride event in Beijing, for example. A big BBQ cookout and street hockey in Red Square... but then, there we would be a valid minority!)

    To paraphrase Winston Churchill, "If you are not an objectivist at 20, you have no brain. If you are not a socialist at 30, you have no heart."

  8. Isn't the quote “If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain.”

    Churchill was arguing exactly the opposite point you are Snidely.

  9. That is the original quote, which is what made it paraphrasing. :)

    I think though the true meaning of the quote is more that it's both natural and laudable to hold the world accountable to ideals in our youth, yet once we've seen the real of the world those principles take a back seat to pragmatic incrementalism.

    I would love to live in a meritocratic republic, where everyone's basic needs are attended to by the state and a free market drives growth and channels personal ambitions. Where each of us is measured by our contributions to the greater good, and none of us is lessened by factors beyond our control.

    Outside of Themyscira that seems unlikely in our lifetimes. So a better question is: what can I do now to overcome the suffering I see today?

    So long as I'm misappropriating quotes by British PMs, I guess what I'm really suggesting is that I now believe in "peace for our time".

  10. (Also, this is all an underhanded whisper campaign to convince Sthenno to let me play a priest in Cataclysm.)

  11. Snidely, have you been replaced by some kind of alien body double? Even if that's the case, I don't think I'd even trust a super-intelligent alien version of you to lifegrip me.

    Also, meritocracy makes me sad. It is simply rule by the people who get to define "merit."