Monday, October 15, 2012

Atheism+: Of Opportunity and Outcome.

I know that some of you might be capital-L Libertarians, and that some of you might be the lowercase-L ones who find the American Right Wing Nutcase Libertarians absolutely insufferable. And yes, I know that some of you aren't libertarians at all. But there's an argument that keeps getting thrown around that I thought I'd debunk.

The following material is flagged Yellow Level. It contains material that is disputed by some experts but accepted by others. Caution is advised when deciding whether you personally choose to believe it.
Now then, some people say "I'm not against equality of opportunity, I'm against enforcing equality of outcome. It isn't fair to the hard workers for someone to be given the same outcomes they earned just for being black/female/gay/etc. Why do you keep insisting that I'm racist/sexist/homophobic for saying this?"

And here is where I will explain, in detail, that yes, that is a bigoted argument. I will tell you why accepting that argument makes you bigoted. If you dislike being called bigoted more than you dislike actually being bigoted, this is the moment when you should  leave now and come back next week.

Let us start with a few basic premises:
P1: Inequalities of outcome exist, when not compensated for.
P2: Those inequalities have a statistically significant tendency to favor some ethnic groups, genders, sexual orientations, and such over others.
P3: Any difference in individual outcomes results from an inherent trait (defined as a trait that is purely internal to a person), an extrinsic trait (defined as a trait that results from the actions of others, including actions based on intrinsic traits; this is what we will discuss when considering differences of opportunity, [EDIT: as well as initial conditions, such as family situation]), or a difference in luck (defined as traits or differences in circumstance that are neither intrinsic nor extrinsic as defined above, such as differences in the realization of an opportunity due to events beyond the control of either the individual or any person with power over the individual).
P4: Luck cannot account for statistically significant differences between groups. That is what statistical significance means.
P5: Any inherent trait that is evenly distributed (defined as distributed as probability dictates without any bias toward nor against any population) between all populations cannot cause a statistically significant difference of outcomes.

Let us add an implication of that argument as a premise:
P'6: It is possible, given the current population, for general equality of opportunity to coexist with general inequality of outcome.

Now, let us draw conclusions:
C1 (P3, P4, P5): If a statistically significant difference in outcomes exists between groups, it must result from either a difference in opportunities or an inherent trait present in one group to a statistically significant greater degree than in the other.
C2 (P2, C1): Either different groups have significantly different opportunities, or inherent traits are distributed such that an inherent trait impacting outcomes is predicted by membership in one group.
C'3 (P'6, C2): An inherent trait impacting outcomes is predicted by membership in one group.

Or, in other words, if you believe that significant inequality between average outcomes of racial, gender, or similar groups does not imply inequality between opportunities, you logically must believe that one group is less moral/intelligent/hardworking/suited for the task in question than another, which is the definition of bigotry.

That said, though, there's multiple kinds of bigotry. You might be making arguments that you haven't thought all the way through, or you might not have noticed the tendency of black characters to die a lot in movies, or you might be the person who uses the word "f*****" without realizing what it means. The fact that you are actually concerned about being seen as racist/sexist/ableist/etc. seems to show that you aren't the sort of person who goes around burning crosses.


  1. If that's how we define bigotry, then I'm not sure that "bigot" should be an insult. What if one thinks that a certain demographic, on average, values hard work more or less than its counterparts, but one harbours no malice toward that group? Is that bigotry?

    To give an example, I believe that Asian-Americans, in general and because of cultural influences, have a greater work ethic than many other racial groups, including European-Americans. It can be inferred that I also think that Whites are generally lazier than Asians. I don't dislike White people. I AM one. I just think that, in general, they lack a trait of success that another race has because of a difference in cultures. Is that a bigoted view?

    Do you assert that all demographic groups possess the same innate capacity for success in all fields? Do genetic and cultural differences count for nothing?

    1. Well, there's a few things:
      1) Cultural influences are, by the definitions used, classed as an extrinsic trait unless they are the specific factor being studied (that is, racism and ethnicism are treated as different things, even if they are related).

      2) Bigotry does not require malice to cause harm. To use one example, there's a common perception, even in African-American and African-Canadian subcultures, that someone with intellectual interests "isn't really black". Even if the person holding that view holds no malice toward the persons affected, and even if they are themselves affected, the view is still harmful.

      3)I'm not going to make the claim in the final paragraph (since there are obvious cases where a mixed explanation [intrinsic and extrinsic factors combined] is necessary; e.g. disability), but the burden is on the person proposing that genetics or culture or gender or whatever the intrinsic in question is to demonstrate that such applies to the specific case.

  2. Algernon CumbersnatchJanuary 10, 2013 at 7:36 AM

    Now then, some people say "I'm not against equality of opportunity, I'm against enforcing equality of outcome. It isn't fair to the hard workers for someone to be given the same outcomes they earned just for being black/female/gay/etc. Why do you keep insisting that I'm racist/sexist/homophobic for saying this?"

    Would you not say it is unfair for someone to get the same outcome having done less? I appreciate that some groups have a harder time being seen as equal, and I support the idea of "topping up". It doesn't seem fair for one person to work hard and be rewarded, only to turn around and see someone from a disadvantaged background simply being given the same level of reward having done little or no work. This would be like a teacher saying there would be rewards for the people who work well, and then giving ALL the kids a chocolate, even the ones who made paper planes and spitball launchers.
    Here in the UK we have problems because our minimum wage is so low that actually it is possible to receive more money by NOT working and claiming benefits. Is this situation only fair if the benefit claimants come from disadvantaged groups? Is it NEVER fair? What are your thoughts?

    1. In a truly fair society, someone who doesn't do the same work wouldn't get the same outcome. In society as it currently exists, people who do the same work get different outcomes, and people in certain groups don't even get the opportunity to do the work. Pretending that someone in a disadvantaged group gets a poor outcome because they don't work and that their disadvantage doesn't play into it is exactly what I'm discussing here.

      To borrow your metaphor: the way (US) society currently works is that the teacher gives a chocolate to the well-behaved kids, then another chocolate to the ones from good families, then assumes that any kid with a chocolate is well-behaved.

      I can't speak for the situation in the UK, never having been there, but it seems to me that that isn't a question of fairness, but rather of work simply not paying off. If a disproportionate amount of benefit claimants are from disadvantaged groups, that points to a second problem of their work not being valued as highly (so no, the situation could only be fair if the claimants' disadvantaged/non-disadvantaged status reflected the population at large).

    2. Erm, assuming means-tested benefits, of course.