October 15, 2007

Necessary and Unnecessary Evils

by PG

Reading about Evan Coyne Maloney's latest iteration of the conservative complaint that it is wrong to have race-based affirmative action at university admissions in the name of diversity, especially when there is no affirmative action in faculty hiring based on political affiliation in order to have intellectual diversity, reminded me of a discussion I had with a Republican who told me that I had "no problem" with affirmative action. On the contrary, I protested, I think affirmative action is a necessary evil, and would be happy to see it end once the goals it seeks to achieve can be reached without it. I figure Republicans feel this way about torturing detainees: if the detainees would talk without it, we could stop the water-boarding and rendition. However, I think affirmative action is slightly more likely to lead to a society in which no race needs a "boost," than torture is likely to lead to an end to terrorism. But one can have a reasonable difference of opinions on this, as evidenced by the conservative saw that "the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." I prefer David Schraub's less grandiose point: "The way to stop segregation on the basis of race is to stop segregating schools on the basis of race."

I would much prefer a substantial social and economic investment in ending the causes of certain groups' underrepresentation in Good Places (college, high-paying jobs, elected office) and overrepresentation in Bad Places (prison, poverty) than the Band-Aid fix of simply putting some into the Good Places even if they are not the most qualified, and not worrying about the many more in the Bad Places. If the most visible affirmative action opponents put an equal amount of energy into lobbying for sufficient health care, nutrition and education for children before they become potential college students or job applicants, such opponents might win over people who currently see them as careless about inequality.

For Maloney and other who are upset by the shortage of Republicans on college faculties, if someone professes to worry about diversity and discrimination, he ought to be concerned about a shortage of any group in any Good Place. I see it quite differently, perhaps because I can conceive of a less racial and more ethnic set of biases, as the selection biases that are held by the individuals who are deciding whether to enter a field. If, for example, some of the departments of a faculty are in areas that Republicans generally consider to be bunk, such as gender or race studies, then Republicans are unlikely to pursue a career in that field. In fields of study that conservatives and libertarians tend to take more seriously, such as the hard sciences, engineering, economics and business, they are present in numbers equal to or greater than liberals. In the employment field as a whole, Republicans certainly do not seem to be underrepresented in the top income quintiles, which seems to indicate that they are succeeding more than Democrats in some areas. In short, they do not seem to be overrepresented in the Bad Places as a whole.

While being a college professor isn't a stepping stone to much except perhaps being a college administrator, going to college is an almost necessary step to being middle class, and going to a well-ranked college and/or graduate school greatly smooths the way to jobs and connections that lead to the Good Places. Hence the U.S. military's support for affirmative action in admissions: they want officer candidates who are reflective of the enlisted soldiers. The military, of course, has a tremendous overrepresentation of conservatives, yet Democrats mostly don't seem to feel the need to demand politically-based promotions of liberal soldiers. That would be an unnecessary evil; there are enough Democrats broadly spread through the Good Places that there's no reason to take action to get more of them into a specific Good Place than come through their own desire and effort.

It's a bit like the workings of affirmative action in India*, which is a tremendous mess but does have a few bits of common sense, such as: there's no need for people from different geographic regions to be equally represented in all areas. The government worries about the lower economic position and discrimination against dalits and other "backward classes" because it believes them to be generally underrepresented in Good Places and overrepresented in Bad. While the caste affiliations more known to the West are based in a socio-economic hierarchy, geographic affiliation is arguably more important in cultural respects, because it affects everything from one's language to food to the particularly prioritized gods of Hindus' worship. It also tends to affect one's choice of career, an aspect brought into sharper relief when Indians immigrate to the U.S. and self-segregate into different careers based partly on cultural tradition. For example, Gujaratis are identified with business ownership, Telugus with engineering and medicine. Indians as a whole have been economically successful in the U.S., and I would find it ludicrous for, say, corporate franchising to give an advantage to Telugus in order to get more of them into business ownership, if they are already doing well in professional work.

* Has anyone heard of Bannahalli Hundi, a village that supposedly has only brahmins and dalits? That's a really weird town to have existed historically (it would be more explicable if artificially created), because of the very old associations between caste and occupation; it would be like having a town with only priests and street sweepers. And with regard to the brahmins withdrawing their children from a school that would have had a dalit cooking for them, I can say that people who really are priests -- and not just of the caste -- often refuse to eat food cooked by lower caste people, even middle-class castes.

October 15, 2007 05:37 PM | TrackBack

There are the blind, who know they cannot see, and the misguided - who are much worse, because they walk in exactly the opposite direction.

Posted by: Timothy Don-Hugh Mak at October 16, 2007 11:28 PM

It's sad when America is importing crap toys from the world's greatest manufacturing power and crap ideas on affirmative action from the world's greatest spiritual treasure. What else can go wrong?

The only thing America had going for it was its Constitution. It was the best ever written. I say that in the past tense.

No one cares about that "dying" document today.

Look where the revered liberal "Living Constitutionalists" are taking you.

Please (with an open mind) take a look at Ron Paul, I beg you. Seriously. No joke. Just, quietly, in a reflective serious way, think about it.

And remember the 5th of November.

Posted by: Timothy Don-Hugh Mak at October 31, 2007 09:51 PM
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