Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Identity Politics

Two very different types of identity politics to talk about today:

  • Romney - I really wish that Americans were good at spotting that they're being manipulated by politicians and businessmen and would hate that. Recently we saw some of this in a speech by Mitt Romney where he talked about things he likes about Michigan. Pandering identity politics; "I am one of you and your local daily attractions are the best", he says, saying *nothing* about his ideas or qualifications for office. Rubbish. I was also reading on TVTropes about Walmart's failure to catch on in other parts of the world, and was rather jealous of the nations that didn't give them enough business to survive there (or just banned them).
  • Affirmative Action - The United States Supreme Court may be addressing the constitutionality of affirmative action in the United States again soon. Affirmative Action is a difficult topic for me; it does go against a very strong intuition that I have, that social justice is to be found in eliminating nonphysical-related legal/institutional and social roles/preferences/customs relating to men and women (the core of gender-role-abolitionism). I do approve of it in some circumstances regardless, and have so far held that while we're nearing the tail end of those circumstances, we're not done with it yet.
The why of affirmative action is social justice, and in this case that's a strong enough concern to override the general preference we should have to tear down (rather than accept or build) distinctions. The specific things we're targeting here is a lack of feeling of vestedness in society, and seeding. In the first, we recognise a great social harm when groups (that we did not create, and were far more harshly discriminated against in the past) have members that grow up with the sense that the system is rigged against them because it once was. I claim that the system is no longer explicitly/intentionally rigged against them, but the perception persists; affirmative action demonstrates that they can succeed in the system. The second concern, seeding, is the concern about the continuity of condition between generations leaving people in the same position of degradation long after it is no longer forced on them; access to quality education in childhood and job opportunities after college are not possible without bootstrapping some portion of the population into those opportunities, enough to create seeds in their populations so their job/class spread more closely resembles the American mainstream. I am willing to accept these concerns overriding my general intuitions for a time under some circumstances that I claim we're near the tail end of.

The circumstances are as follows:

  • A population was treated, by law and custom, as a large monolithic group that was severely limited in their ability to do well in society, with little access to education, wealth, or legal rights
  • The population is still very significantly damaged by their past abuse, even as the present-day abuse is relatively mild (and would not itself warrant such intervention)
  • The affirmative action is not intended as a permanent or long-term solution (after a hundred years or a few generations of complete legal equality and a maximum of mild remaining racism, I would consider its remaining to be no longer justified; if we're still using it in 2050 we're probably doing it wrong)
  • The affirmative action is not so strong as to promote unqualified people into opportunities. A preference might be alright, but it should be moderate-to-mild and never wasteful of the opportunity (be it a job, a slot in a university, or something else).
  • The affirmative action not be phrased as collective guilt
  • The strength of benefits be reasonably proportional to the distance from the time of legal abuse. Immediately after the end of slavery, a direct payout to help newly-freed slaves get started would have been acceptable, but it would not be acceptable today (by my metrics) in the United States.
This is a philosophical argument, not a legal one. I don't have an opinion as to whether affirmative action is compatible with our legal system, or how to justify it in those terms if it is. I am arguing that it has been and remains the right thing to do for now.

I would be most comfortable having a publicly known schedule (ideally requiring a strong supermajority to change, as the principles counterweighing it are foundational) for the sunset of affirmative action, with certain years as milestones for its shift from being desirable, acceptable, regrettable, and forbidden here.

Tags: philosophy, politics

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