Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Getting The Discrimination Balance Right

Combating racism is one of the most essential things humans do, and like every case of seeking the common good, it is a work in progress. Sadly as the actions of some minorities after the EU referendum result confirmed, we still have a way to go yet.

But that's not what this blog post is about - pretty much everyone knows what I said above, and everyone worth their salt is all for kicking racism out of society.

No, the purpose of this blog post is to say that when it comes to racism and discrimination, and indeed other forms of supposed unfairness in society, progress doesn't just mean weeding these things out of society, it also means not going so far the other way that we become trepid little mice unable to cope with a world in which a lot of our discrimination is good and necessary (a danger that is starting to materialise in many pockets of society).

Take, for example, something that happened a couple of months ago, when the BBC sought to target supposedly “under-represented” parts of Britain with an internship that white people were not permitted to apply for.

In order to “rectify the imbalance of people who do not recruit black and Asian people”, only black, Asian and non-white ethnic minorities could apply for the BBC internship, despite it emerging later that the corporation is already scoring above what is expected of them in that area of diversity.

The way things are going, there is a real danger that the prejudice and unfair discrimination accusers will swing things round 180 degrees and cry foul against people accused of discrimination for not discriminating. Make sense? If not, here's what I mean.

If we carry on like this, I can envisage a time when there is widespread paranoia that unfair discrimination is occurring whenever there is, say, a TV drama show without a certain number of Muslims and homosexuals, or a university without a certain number of black graduates, or when a police force has more than a 50% proportion of white officers, or when there is a Cabinet consisting of more of one sex than the other.  

With some degree of irony, the unfair discrimination cards that we used to nobly play against genuine injustices are starting to make appearances as faux-discrimination cards played by discriminators against those accused of not discriminating enough.

The antidote to this shift is to realise that most discrimination is actually perfectly fine, and actually to be encouraged, because the majority of the time when we discriminate we do so because we understand the trade off better than our accusers.

Don't get me wrong, where there is still genuine unfair discrimination we should help weed it out. But genuine unfair discrimination doesn't occur half as much as most people think - it is simply the result of people making rational choices, like choosing a Cabinet or a work force based on merit, not on sex or skin colour.

Rational discrimination occurs everywhere, and for good reason. At school in wanting to date girls I fancied, I was discriminating against girls I didn't fancy. But that's perfectly okay. When I go to the pub I want to sit and talk with friends I know, and discriminate against strangers by not joining them at their table. But that's perfectly okay too.

Vegetarians want to discriminate against burger bars by not eating in them; lesbians want to discriminate against heterosexual men by not having sex with them; women usually want to discriminate against employers that run garages by not working for them; economic think tanks want to discriminate against not very bright people by having bright people contribute to their research; and the Congolese social group in my city wants to discriminate against non-Congolese people by only wanting fellow Congolese people to attend - and all of those things are perfectly fine.

Not only are the majority of our life's discriminations fine, but even at times when certain patterns appear to be evident people should first check to see if there are other good reasons for this before making accusations of 'unfair discrimination'.

Or in other words, they should adhere to the wisdom of Chesterton's fence. That is, if you see a fence somewhere that you think is doing no good, don't pull it down until you've first understood why someone built it in the first place. Only when you're sure the fence is serving no beneficial purpose should you pull it down.

The same is true of the many cases where there aren't more of a certain type of person in those roles - instead of assuming a system isn't working fairly, you have to instead consider why it doesn't already work in the way you assume it should (something our Prime Minister Theresa May failed to learn when she was Home Secretary) .

Because the thing is, quite often you'll many of those patterns are not cases of unfair discrimination at all - they are simply a reflection of a wide society made up of individual choices bootstrapped by rational assessments of taste and merit.