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Against antidiscrimination laws

Everybody today thinks laws against employment discrimination are a great good and even a moral requirement. I think they’re an obvious evil. I think they’re inconsistent with any reasonable conservatism, which means I think they’re inconsistent with any tolerable society. I’ve complained about them here and there on Turnabout, but a summary of the objections might be useful to focus the issues.

A basic problem with such laws is that employment is a complex relationship. Hiring, assignments and promotion involve subjective issues of trust, compatibility, mutual comprehension, and ways of cooperation. It’s impossible to separate judgments of those things from one’s sense of who people are. Antidiscrimination law insists on doing just that with respect to basic dimensions of personal identity. Whether you’re a man or woman, white or black, recent Chinese immigrant or Mayflower descendent, can’t have any effect that matters on how anyone deals with you at work. That doesn’t make much sense:

  • Is the separation even possible? How do you go about thinking about someone you may know well, and decide how to deal with him and how things will go for him in various complex and demanding situations, in abstraction from who he is and everything you know about him? And if you don’t know someone well, how can you avoid basing judgments on what you see and what your experience tells you?
  • How can anyone figure out if the laws were violated? People usually don’t announce they’re violating antidiscrimination law, and if the law requires something they’ll go through the motions, but the real reason A was promoted instead of B or C is going to be invisible. All you can do is look at overall results, and that’s why antidiscrimination laws soon require quotas or the equivalent. Statistics don’t show much, though, since there are real differences among groups in orientation, motivation, and the relevant abilities and skills. It follows that the enforcement of antidiscrimination laws is always going to be based on ignorance and false presumptions. Rather than remedy injustices it will create them.
  • Suppose the forbidden considerations are in fact relevant? If A promotes B instead of C because B has a better personal and working relation with A or his colleagues or customers, and part of that is sharing a common background, it’s not obvious what the abuse is. That sort of situation comes up all the time. Beyond that, someone’s background is information that remains relevant to understanding him regardless of how much else you know about him. Conduct that looks discriminatory is usually rational.
  • If the laws can get passed, why are they needed? If everybody hates people from Iowa, and nobody will hire them or do business with them, the laws won’t pass. If a government is remotely representative the lawmakers will share the universal view. If there are enough people who don’t mind Iowans to make it possible to pass the laws, the Iowans won’t be in much economic danger in any event. Instead of a thousand possible employers they’ll have 400, who will hire them because they want them rather than on compulsion. Why would that be a catastrophe? It’s possible the wages of Iowans might become depressed because they have less choice among employers, but that would make them more attractive as employees so it seems unlikely the effect would be very great.
  • The usual objection to arguments like the foregoing is that they’re at odds with reality. It seems though that a lot of what’s taken for reality in this area is constructed. For helpful discussion of whether the 1964 Civil Rights Act actually helped black people economically, see Epstein’s Forbidden Grounds . I’m told Sowell’s Civil Rights is also useful.

The real objection to antidiscrimination laws, though, is not that they are incoherent or useless or unjust but that they have serious bad political, social and cultural consequences:

  • Who to link up with is an endlessly repeated decision that pervades social and organizational life. Antidiscrimination laws mean that people aren’t allowed to think about that decision with their own minds or discuss it with their own voices. Experts and government agencies have to tell them how to think and what conclusions to draw. That means an end of common sense, and the imposition of control through mindlessly dictatorial means like PC, quotas, zero tolerance rules and what not. Rational self-government, which requires discretion to be diffused through society, becomes impossible.
  • Every institution has to try hard to mirror the demographic makeup of society at large and become equally welcoming to every group imaginable. Old boy networks get rooted out or opposed by old girl or new boy networks with official organizational support. The results include divisiveness and destruction of informal understandings that tie people together and enable them to get the job done efficiently and pleasantly. Institutional independence and diversity are severely compromised, and management styles become more bureaucratic, oppressive, and even totalitarian.
  • Since enforcement is based on statistics, the wickedness of white males becomes the official explanation for difficulties encountered by women and minority group members. Universal bad feeling is the consequence.
  • It becomes riskier to deal with members of protected groups. You can’t rely on their apparent qualifications, since the same standards haven’t applied, you’ll have trouble getting rid of them if things don’t work out, and they can’t make up for uncertainties and risks by offering to work for less. As a purely rational matter it’s better to have nothing to do with them if you can manage it. Like a lot of protective legislation, antidiscrimination laws are bad for people at the very botton.
  • To exist, culture requires particular settings in which it is authoritative. Antidiscrimination laws mean that no particular culture can be authoritative in any significant social institution, since if it were that would discriminate against those from a different cultural background. Antidiscrimination laws therefore mean the abolition of culture, since there is never a setting in which any particular culture can be authoritative, and its replacement by manipulation, bribery and terror as means of social organization. For that reason such laws are at bottom inconsistent with a tolerable society.

Other things I’ve written on this topic (mostly some time ago) include my Anti-Inclusiveness FAQ, which includes a list of helpful resources. Note that since sane reputable people mostly avoid these topics some of the resources have to be used critically. I also have several pieces on the general issue in the defunct on-line periodical Pinc (“Politically incorrect”): Anti-racism, Freedom, Discrimination and Culture, and Vindicating Stereotypes and Discrimination.

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