Affirmative Action and Philosophy vs. Reality


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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184 Responses

  1. Avatar Chris says:

    Philosophy can get you somewhere on an issue like this:

    (I know I posted it in the comments to the first post, but seriously, it’s a must read.)Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      I got about three sentences in and I said, “Hey, this is positively Aristotelian!”

      Am I going to be thinking the same thing on page 24?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I doubt it. It starts out Aristotelian, in a way I suppose, because our concept of citizenship is built largely on Aristotle. But she actually argues against a notion of universal, equal citizenship, so I suppose in that way it becomes distinctly non-Aristotelian.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          Aristotle had at least four classes of people.

          Citizens: People who engage in Politics with virtue (guys like him)
          Everybody else (resident aliens, children, seniors, most ordinary workers, priests, whathaveyou)

          You don’t offer offices to priests, for example. I’ll read it 🙂Report

  2. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Philosophy cannot fail, it can only be failed.Report

  3. Avatar Boris says:

    At the core of affirmative action is the decision that a human being’s value is not necessarily rooted in his/her contribution, skills, value to society, merit, or any other attribute that can be changed, but on their race. While AA may have been necessary at times, the champions of affirmative action programs have rarely owned up to the fact that AA isn’t fundamentally a fair deal, but instead a bit of unfairness in an attempt to undo a larger injustice.

    I really have no clue where we are in race relations. It seems like if someone wants to find proof of racism they will find it. And if someone wants racial harmony, they have the tools at their disposal to create it. And for those whose living depends on painting the world in terms of “it’s always us vs them”, they can do that as well, since they can’t imagine a world without that sort of thing.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      “the champions of affirmative action programs have rarely owned up to the fact that AA isn’t fundamentally a fair deal, but instead a bit of unfairness in an attempt to undo a larger injustice. ”

      That does not seem a reality based view. AA has always been presented as a way of correcting past or current injustice. Is it painted as unfair in itself, you may have a point there at most.

      What is to rarely part of philosophical AA discussions is the data on how various groups are doing, theories on why, if its a problem and a problem that can be ameliorated by AA.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        Mr. Ewiak is correct: Legacy admissions perpetuate past injustice. No way around that fact; legacies will be overwhelmingly white.

        It’s actually the Asians who take it in the shorts with AA, but few care.Report

      • Avatar Boris says:

        I must admit, my experience in this country, as a first-generation immigrant for the past 17 years hasn’t been the same as yours. I’ve met different people, lived in quite diverse environments. To me the “champions of AA” are those that have attempted to explain the merits of it to me and the loudest public proponents of it (Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton). I’m yet to hear any of them admit that AA is fundamentally unfair, but necessary as a way to correct past unfairness.

        But I haven’t heard everything they have to say, and if you think I’ve missed something important in their speeches/articles, let me know; I’m willing to change my mind.Report

        • Avatar Will H. says:

          You’ve pretty much stated my own view.
          To this I would add that AA is one more of a long list of things distinctly Leftist in this: persons are rewarded according to their (perceived) incapacities rather than according to their capabilities.
          These proponents of AA are a people who wish to be cherished and held dear while announcing their own ugliness.
          Were they to truly believe in their own capability, they would prefer to argue vehemently against it.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      At the core of affirmative action is the decision that a human being’s value is not necessarily rooted in his/her contribution, skills, value to society, merit, or any other attribute that can be changed, but on their race.

      This view, like Tim’s, is just way too simplistic. It’s not necessarily the case that affirmative action, meant to address past or present disadvantages, says anything about the value of an individual being in any way related to his or her race. It could mean simply that because of a person’s race, that person has been handed a plethora of disadvantages, and affirmative action programs are merely meant to recress those. If affirmative action programs are specifically designed to promote diversity, then they do not say that a person’s value is rooted only in his or her race, but that racial diversity itself is a value. You can debate this, of course, but it certainly doesn’t imply that there can’t be value (perhaps the bulk of the value) in contribution, skills, value to society, “merit,” or other such abstract ideas.Report

      • Avatar Will H. says:

        I’m not buying it.
        AA states to every black that they are nothing more than a “darkie,” nor will they ever be.
        Similarly with women, that they are merely a set of genitals.

        For that reason, I endorse Michele Bachmann as the next President of the United States.
        Hoping that will shut up all the Hillary voters from the last election cycle.
        They should be pleased.
        To think that someone with this set of genitals might hold an office!
        I would like that.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          “To think that someone with this set of genitals might hold an office!”

          Actually, Bill already held the office.

          Oh, wait… you mean her own. Sorry.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          No, it doesn’t. That you see it that way says more about you than it does about affirmative action or its supporters.Report

          • Avatar Will H. says:

            Not really.
            You can read that into it if you want to, but that says a lot more about you than it does about me.
            Sort of like Melissa Harris-Perry seeing racism in progressive whites not being so starry-eyed about Obama these days.Report

    • Avatar Belafon says:

      Personally, I think you have the two parts of your first paragraph entirely backwards. AA is an attempt to show that the value of a person extends beyond the immediate judgement that has been made in this country for over 200 years based entirely on the person’s skin color. Because of the use of skin color as a criteria for so long, it has seriously skewed the other criteria we assume to be impartial.

      Actually, I think a lot of people who push AA realize that some other people will be harmed where they otherwise wouldn’t have. But the reason they will be harmed would theoretically be the exact reason they would not be admitted into a college if there were no discriminiation based on race (or gender or sexual orientation). With 20-some-odd-million people in CA, it’s hard to argue that the percentage of blacks in college is a statistical anamoly.Report

    • Avatar karl says:

      “if someone wants racial harmony, they have the tools at their disposal to create it.”

      I want racial harmony, please tell me what tools I have at my disposal to create it.Report

      • Avatar Boris says:

        If you are actually interested in something like that (and not just being a smartass), I can probably help you find a few non-profits around you that are dealing with the generational poverty and revenge-based justice that’s at the core of a lot of the racism/classism/sexism in our countryReport

      • Avatar Will H. says:

        You could give inter-racial marriage a chance.
        Go ask someone out from another race.
        It’s easy.Report

  4. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    Would “sophistry” or perhaps “ideology” be a better term to identify the combative, absolutist, reality-rewriting intellectual game you’re (rightly) concerned about? I’m puzzled why you call this kind of thing “Philosophy.”Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      I like this Cupp guy.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      Kyle – I use this word because when I call people on it their defense is that they are using “philosophy.” I think of it as their word, not mine.

      But beyond that, I think that there is a kind of arguing – debating is perhaps a better word – that we are taught in philosophy, law, and poli-sci classes that is designed to both sharpen reasoning skills (academically) and vanquish your foe (in practice), regardless of your position’s merit. I get why this is useful as a mental exercise, or desirable for an attorney in a court of law advocating someone they are paid to advocate for.

      I think it is a bad tool in public policy discussions, as – despite what people tell themselves about the techniques used in philosophical arguments – is really designed to beat an opponent, and not to look look at their or their adversary’s position either critically or fairly.

      I think this is not just ideology, but a defect in the very style of the school that uses it. (After all, a lot of people like attorneys use this technique on either side of a debate, back and forth, without missing a beat.)Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I think it is a bad tool in public policy discussions, as – despite what people tell themselves about the techniques used in philosophical arguments – is really designed to beat an opponent, and not to look look at their or their adversary’s position either critically or fairly.

        That’s what sophistry is. I too think “philosophy” is probably the wrong word for what you mean.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          “Wouldn’t it be better if philosophical arguments left the person no possible answer at all, reducing him to impotent silence? Even then, he might sit there silently, smiling, Buddhalike. Perhaps philosophers need arguments so powerful they set up reverberations in the brain: if the person refuses to accept the conclusion, he dies. How’s that for a powerful argument?” — Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations

          Not incidentally a view he endorsed; rather one he disdained.Report

        • Avatar scott says:

          I agree. Philosophy when you really break it down is trying to solve problems by asking questions about our concepts and assumptions so that we can figure out what we want and what we really mean when we’re making certain arguments. It’s a path to clarification, not obfuscation, so that we’ll better understand the choices that we can make. The other kind of argument he’s talking about isn’t philosophy, or at best it’s using philosophy in bad faith.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            Philosophy clarifies the questions, so we can ignore them and call people racist anyway.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              Someone called Tim a racist (I’m not sure why), but I hinted that someone (look, he’s right up there) was a racist for suggesting that he could spot the affirmative action student. If that’s not racist, it’s, well, it’s racist. So far, though, the discussion has been fairly devoid of accusations of racism, given the topic.Report

      • Avatar Jib says:

        I wonder how much better public policy would be if most of the wonks were mechanics instead of lawyers by training. Lawyers have clients who have interests that need to be defended or advanced. Mechanics have customers that have problems that the mechanic works on to fix.

        It may not be the discipline, it may be the vocational training that is the problem.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          Some of the best software dudes I know started out as electrical engineers, not computer scientists.

          You might have something here.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            tch. Met a guy once who wouldn’t hire CS grads for nothing. Claimed they couldn’t handle math for anything (he was working for NOAA at the time)Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          That’s a really, really interesting take, Jib. Thank you for that.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe says:

          Otoh, among the worst US Presidents in history are the two with engineering backgrounds.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            hey! I like the hoover dam! He was a fine president in a really hard time, which he made worse by being bloody stubborn.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

            Thomas Jefferson being the other one?Report

            • Avatar Kolohe says:

              Jimmy Carter (though you could make a case for both Jefferson and Washington) (and any West Point grad)Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                And Carter hired Volokher, who saved America.
                Can we please stop picking on the Engineers?Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                “He was a fine president in a really hard time, which he made worse by being bloody stubborn.”

                is also an accurate description of Carter’s faults.

                You can also throw in that Carter (and Ted Kennedy!) receive too little credit for deregulation.

                And I’m also an engineer by training. I jut see that people with little political experience before coming President tend to get rolled over and/or make bad decisions as President (Hoover, Carter, J.Q. Adams, Wilson, etc)
                The profession of Lawyer tends to give people more ‘political’ experence than the profession of Engineer.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Ten points!
                The smart folks who can do things that presidents can’t, woudln’t ever want to be president. too much time being a figureheadReport

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                Jefferson was certainly an engineer. Carter did a lot better than his reputation suggests; not only was Paul Volcker good for the economy, but Carter began the deregulation that continued under Reagan.

                Curiously, Republicans praise Reagan and not Carter; Democrats blame Reagan and not Carter. The reality is a lot more complicated.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Believe me, you can find Democrat’s who don’t like how Carter couldn’t work with congressional Democrats to pass good things. Now, the difference is that most of the deregulation did was in industries that actually needed deregulated, not industries that can cause say, the world economy to collapse if they aren’t watched carefully. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                reagan deregulated pensions, turning the stock market into a glorified ponzi scam.
                *grumpy today*Report

  5. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    “For school admissions, what is the purpose of our higher education system?”</Ii

    This is the central question. The liberatiran case against AA is weaked by failing to substantially answer this question. Especially, when offering philsophical accounts of people being meaningfully free from necessity/compulsion (from Tim's post):

    Voluntarism [a system, according to Fischer, in which relationships, organizational affiliations, and living circumstances are largely a product of individual choices rather than of necessity or external compulsion]

    I’m not sure how you get there after taking into account the prior 200 years.Report

  6. Avatar Tim Kowal says:


    Let me cite the rest of the Arkes passage, since reading the first half alone led you to a conclusion different than the one made by the whole:

    When we say, for example, that it is “wrong to separate children in schools on the basis of race, do we mean that it is indeed categorically wrong—wrong in principle, wrong in itself? Or do we mean that it is only contingently wrong: it is wrong only because of its effects—because (in the words of the Supreme Court) it may affect the motivation of children to learn? Would a poor performance in school affect, in turn, the chances of black children to earn, in their maturity, incomes equal to those of whites? And if we attain an equality of performance in the schools, or a parity of income between the races, are those things good in themselves, or are they merely means to other ends? The questions lead on, once again, in a search for a final point, an understanding of something right or wrong in itself. . . . When the wrong of segregation is understood to hinge upon its material effects, we must necessarily dissolve the conviction that the segregation of people on the basis of race is categorically, in principle, wrong.

    I underscored the point when I wrote in my post: “The problem is not only that lawmakers enact bad policy. It is that they make the scope and nature of their policies inscrutable. Modern policymaking is all making and no policy.”

    You pose questions that you contend need to be asked before we can settle on effective university admissions policies. That is a different issue than the one I raised in my post. I contend, simply, that racial discrimination is a moral wrong in itself. I understand your basic point that my taking a moral position on this issue appears to you as “combat rather than collaboration.” On fundamental issues, however, there is simply no room for collaboration. I suspect you’d agree if we were talking about an issue that you regard as fundamental. Unfortunately, however, most folks are very secretive about their first principles, if they acknowledge having them at all.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      > Unfortunately, however, most folks are
      > very secretive about their first principles,
      > if they acknowledge having them at all.

      I only have two.

      “It is very likely that our given understanding of any issue is limited.”

      “Most people are very bad at math.”

      All the others have enough weakness to ’em I don’t really call them first principles. Maybe second principles.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      Tim, the problem with this argument is that you are using debate strategies to paint your opposition as people who wish to have racial discrimination rather than eliminate racial discrimination – when I think you know this is not the case. Do you really believe that AA came about because everyone was equally treated, but women and black people wanted more than everyone else? I know you don’t. (If you DO believe this was the motivation, you need to get out and talk to non-white people more often.)

      Not acknowledging that – pretending that you are unaware of the circumstances that led to AA being used in the first place – gets you “strong debate skill” points, but it’s not honest.Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal says:


        What I am trying to do is learn what values you would elevate higher than the principle of racial nondiscrimination. This is not a trap. I just don’t believe meaningful conversations can happen while keeping our most sacred values a big secret.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          And Tim, I’m trying to get you to either see or admit that AA is designed to be used as an instrument to eliminate racial discrimination. You can argue that it does so – or not, or you can argue that there is a better solution – or not.

          But arguing that people who advocate AA are against racial equality – not by unintended consequences, but by the very act of choosing and wanting to live in a racially discriminatory society – is absurd. Worse, I think you know that it’s absurd.

          Seriously, do you really not listen to those that disagree that much?Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            But arguing that people who advocate AA are against racial equality – not by unintended consequences, but by the very act of choosing and wanting to live in a racially discriminatory society – is absurd. Worse, I think you know that it’s absurd.

            Seriously, do you really not listen to those that disagree that much?

            Dude, you haven’t read Tim before, have you?Report

          • Avatar Tim Kowal says:


            I think I see some of the sources of our disagreement here. I have never argued that “people who advocate AA are against racial equality.” While I have not delved into the weeds on this point, there are drastically different popular conceptions of “equality.” To put the matter very simplistically, my view is that people are born with equal moral rights of man, have a right to equal protection of the laws, and to be largely left free to pursue very unequal achievements and riches commensurate with their voluntary (and thus unequal) efforts and natural or God-given (and thus also unequal) abilities.

            Another view is that people are born with natural inequalities, social forces press on that inequality, and thus the state should “make” us equal. I do not deny the premises here. But I generally reject the view that the state should resort to such vulgar, imprecise, and quite simply arbitrary means of counteracting such social forces by crediting (or discrediting) individuals for their membership in a racial group.

            In short, no, my argument is not that proponents of SB 185 have some invidious discriminatory motive. Instead, it is that racial discrimination is arbitrary, and thus crediting or discrediting people on such a basis is immoral. The end of establishing an artificially “equal” society is not worth and does not negate that fundamental moral wrong.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              Out of curiosity, what is your opinion of Augusta? Should we force them to admit women, or let them be? Prior to 1990, should we have forced them to admit blacks?Report

              • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

                There are actual differences in men and women’s golf, to my understanding, so there might be a justification for a men-only golf club. Not so with white men and black men’s golf. If I lived in that state, I would have favored a racial nondiscrimination law applying to private businesses, including golf clubs.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Thanks. I can’t deny that it’s a consistent answer.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Just to stir up some trouble…

                Black Caucus: Whites Not Allowed


                By JOSEPHINE HEARN | 1/22/07 1:01 PM EDT
                As a white liberal running in a majority African American district, Tennessee Democrat Stephen I. Cohen made a novel pledge on the campaign trail last year: If elected, he would seek to become the first white member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

                Now that he’s a freshman in Congress, Cohen has changed his plans. He said he has dropped his bid after several current and former caucus members made it clear to him that whites need not apply.

                “I think they’re real happy I’m not going to join,” said Cohen, who succeeded Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., in the Memphis district. “It’s their caucus and they do things their way. You don’t force your way in. You need to be invited.”Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                I thought that story was sad, when I heard about it the first time.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                TVD, you live in DC? I’m wondering if anyone there can give us another review of this play?Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                oy, that was bad. Did you catch skeptical brotha’s blogpost on Cohen’s competition, the second go-round? Had to be some of the best ranting i’ve seen in teh blogosphere.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              If the discrimination is non-arbitrary, why would redressing it based on the categories discriminated against necessarily be arbitrary?Report

          • Avatar wardsmith says:

            Tod, do you REALLY believe AA eliminates racial discrimination?

            Echoing Pat’s comment above, do you know the mathematical concept of a discriminant? The discriminant gives information about the nature of the variable in question’s roots. Just like we do with people, we endeavor to discriminate their roots. The Romans used discriminatus to separate their slaves and other conquered peoples.

            Regardless of the intent of the effort, as soon as we take people of this or that race and gather them together (for quotas for instance) or separate them (for the same reason) we’ve already discriminated. Therefore the law CANNOT work as intended because discrimination is inherent in the law!Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              wardsmith – I don’t believe that it eliminates discrimination, no. But I think those that advocate for it due it with the intent of eliminating, or at least curbing racial discrimination. Do you not?

              Are they right? I’m not sure that they are. But I’m also keenly aware that the same arguments against AA 50 years ago have proven to be mostly wrong; I think there is far more equality between different races and sexes now, and race relations are substantially better now than back then. It seems dishonest of me not to give some or a large amount of credit to AA for this evolution. And though I know that in every decision like this you have a loser, I think a valid argument can be made that we are better for having done what we have done.

              That being said, is it still required, or have we reached the inevitable tipping point where AA is doing more harm to society than good? I suspect this might be the case, and am open to the possibility that that it is not. But whether it is or not, ignoring the reasons we as a society felt compelled to institute AA in the first place seems unproductive.Report

              • Avatar Koz says:


                (And hat tip to the American Spectator for this.)

                The public only has so much attention for engagement with political-cultural affairs. If we give up on certain things, like having the educational establishment micromanage the racial bean-counting of the student body, we could do other things.

                Sometimes liberals tend to think they don’t need to worry about this because they can control the various government bureaucracies to their favored ends. They can’t.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                Just because there was AA in favour of groups 50 years ago, who have now gained more parity, it doesnt follow that AA worked.Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                I think it’s more a product of the 50 years that have passed rather than the AA policy which have done the most good.
                Assimilation takes time.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Where do you get that they were starting to assimilate prior?Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                Mingled military units were not a product of AA.
                Integration in sports was not a product of AA.
                Just a couple off the top of my head.

                I have to question this matter of diversity for the sake of diversity though.
                I am originally from New Mexico. I work on a team with persons from Memphis, Terre Haute, Louisville, Houston, and other places.
                We were brought together for our skills rather than our diversity. We stand or fall according to our skills, and not our place of origin.

                Things turning over in my mind. That’s all.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                The sports is a pretty good point, but integration in the military was a government action.

                I have to say I am a big advocate for diversity, though – but I don’t necessarily mean in the “the bar in the Coors commercial has to have one black guy, one latino guy, a hot Asian woman, etc” kind of way.

                I think there is something to be said about diversity of ideas and experiences, and that it leads to growth – in school and out. And that also includes people from different race, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds as much as it does political viewpoints. If you will forgive me wandering mentally:

                I noted that Tim’s original post (that I was highly critical of) was being discussed by Freddie over at Balloon Juice. So I went over to take a peek. Freddie was long gone from here before I came around, so I have read very little of him – but what I have read I have really enjoyed. He seems smart, clever and compassionate. And I liked his criticism of Tim’s post and defense of AA a lot. But the comment section… oy. It made me want a drink.

                I seriously don’t know how those guys can just keep agreeing with one another over and over and over, day after day after day after day without wanting to stick a knitting needle in their eyes. And I am the guy agreeing with them!

                Diversity is healthy.

                Diversity is actually one of the reasons I choose to call this site home.

                Diversity is good.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                @Tod, viz your diversity point, I’ve been waiting since the days of mansplaining (talk about scotch coming out your nose) to post this link here. Don’t know if we’ve chased Kimmi (nee Kim) off yet but women probably do help the diversity meter more than we’d like to believe sometime (spoken by someone married to one for a statistically significant length of time).

                Here’s hoping E.D. finds a willing woman (that sounded wrong) to guest post here.Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                I certainly agree that diversity is preferable in most cases, but I think it’s more of a secondary consideration.
                And I keep wondering as I read through the thread of how all this might apply to gender-specific schools.
                Considering the matter further, suppose there were a class of 100 students, all of whom were white males from families with similar incomes and from the same geographical location. Wouldn’t the members of this group discover differences between them? You know darned well there’s going to be at least one nerdy kid that gets picked on a lot.
                Which makes me believe that the issue isn’t so much of diversity in and of itself, but the degree and <type— that certain manners of diversity are being given preference over other manners of diversity.
                For example, racial make-up is being given preference over country of origin, even though in most instances the country of origin would be a greater chasm.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                That’s two cool links in about 10 minutes. Nicely done! I wonder how much of this finding is due to men trying harder when women are watching? (Since it seems to imply that the men get smarter when women are added to the team.)

                And I agree. People here were asking a while back why so few women commented here. Having them post more (at all?) would help there, I think.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                I think we could look at France’s attitudes on this. They /refuse/ to count races, that’s how egalitarian they are. Therefore it becomes difficult to derive some of the metrics that Patrick likes so well. However, if you truly want an officially colorblind society France is a better example than Brazil.

                Affirmative Action has a corollary, Passive Inaction.

                BTW here’s an AA link with pro’s and cons side by side.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Also, fwiw, I’m not claiming to know what life would be like today w/out affirmative action, but I think it’s fair to say that France lacked some of the historical ‘difficulties’ we had to deal with.Report

        • Avatar L2P says:

          You don’t need to elevate ANY values higher than the “principle of racial nondiscrimination” to be in favor of affirmative action. I gladly support affirmative action because I know that the vast majority of non-white people in America suffer greatly from overt, hidden, inherent, or implicit racism, both from government institutions and social and governmental constructs. Women also suffer compared to men. Affirmative action is necessary because supposedly “objective” tests reflect these biases.

          In short, any support for “the principle of racial nondiscrimination” DEMANDS that I also support affirmative action. In fact, I’ll go stronger: your argument against it simply reeks of racism. The failure to acknowledge the true state of affairs can only show willful blindness to or actual support of racism. The failure to support affirmative action simply means you are comfortable with a society that will for the foreseeable future condemn millions to lesser education and prospects simply because of the color of their skin.

          Aren’t we done here?Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Aren’t we done here?

            Before Hitler is brought up?

            Bite your tongue.Report

          • Avatar Matty says:

            Affirmative action is necessary because supposedly “objective” tests reflect these biases.

            Would it not be better to identify how the tests are biased and fix that rather than add extra procedures to compensate? Otherwise you aren’t addressing the problem just covering it up.Report

          • Avatar Murali says:

            I gladly support affirmative action because I know that the vast majority of non-white people in America suffer greatly from overt, hidden, inherent, or implicit racism, both from government institutions and social and governmental constructs. Women also suffer compared to men.

            citation needed

            even if minorities are being discriminaed against, it doesnt follow that AA is the best way to address this.

            Affirmative action is necessary because supposedly “objective” tests reflect these biases

            The mere fact that there is a race gap in standardised testing, it doesnt follow that standardised testing is racially biased. There are other more plausible explanations for the race gap like poverty, which can have sverely detrimental effects on early child development.

            Therefore the rest of your argument was just bullshitReport

            • Avatar Kimmi says:

              did you look up the book about Colorblind Racism? That’ll get you started. Then start looking at Field Negro’s website (that’s his nic… it’s riffing off Malcolm X). Read about twenty posts from his website, and learn you something about other people.

              Can you cite a link saying that all race gap is because of poverty? Because I think you can’t. For one thing: middle class blacks tend to be poorer in wealth than white folks making the same amount of money.Report

      • Avatar Koz says:

        “Tim, the problem with this argument is that you are using debate strategies to paint your opposition as people who wish to have racial discrimination rather than eliminate racial discrimination – when I think you know this is not the case.”

        The problem with this train of thought is that it doesn’t distinguish what we have control of vs. what we don’t. We cannot control the distribution of races for this or that or discrimination in society but we can (through the political process) determine the content of the laws. Big difference.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          Are you then arguing that AA has had no impact – of the kind it sought to create, I mean – in the past 50+ years?Report

          • Avatar Koz says:

            Not necessarily. But whatever impact it’s had is conflated with a bunch of other things, and the proponents of AA have made little if any effort to sort them out.

            Btw, you are talking about AA being 50+ years old which leads me wonder if you aren’t conflating AA with other things yourself.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              Actually, I’m not suggesting you’re conflating things. When I am talking about AA, I am talking about the process of the government stepping in (right or wrong) to change and eliminate racial or sex discrimination; to that end, I am in fact going all the way back to Brown vs. Board of Education.Report

              • Avatar Koz says:

                Well, that’s a category error I think, pretty clear from the definition of affirmative action.

                Among other things, it puts you on the other side of my comment half a screen above. We clearly can end the de jure segregation of the public schools.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Well then, let me simply rephrase my question. Do you think that either AA (from the sixties on) or the actions of govt in general to impose a reversal of perceived racial barriers (let’s stay with BvB and say from the 50s on) has been successful? Or do you think that the increased equality and integration of women and minorities in workplaces and higher education would have happened similarly (or better?) without the government interference? (This is assuming that we do all agree that there has been progress in that time, of course.)Report

              • Avatar Koz says:

                If I understand you correctly, we take increased AA participation in various professions and higher education as goal. And the question is do I think all the litigation, executive orders, AA, and other government or quasi-government actions since Brown vs. BoE have helped that goal? Well, yes, I don’t see why there’s an problem admitting that.

                My issue is that framing the problem that way is substantially misleading.Report

              • Avatar Koz says:

                At least three ways I can think of:

                1. Historically. This is all stuff that’s happened sometime roughly between 1950-2011, we’re not going to look too much harder than that.

                2. Legally, which is Tim’s point. Whereas before we were trying to enforce the principle of racial neutrality, now we’re looking to enforce racial favoritism for our ends.

                3. My point, which is that AA as it’s currently implemented is a clusterfkkk of bureaucratic overreach that has no accountability or understanding of what is subject to fiat and what isn’t.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Sorry, got off thread. Let me retrace…Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                OK, I’m back.

                I’d say you and I agree about what, but maybe or maybe not about when.

                I think for me there was a justifiable reason for the implementation of affirmative action, and that from my vantage point the fruits of that decision are both good and obvious.

                But I disagree with a lot of AA advocates I know in as much as I think even if you assume that AA is a positive force, you by definition automatically reach a point where it begins to be destructive for all sides.

                Are we at that point yet? My guess is that you probably think we’re way past, and Freddie (I’ll use him cause I just read him) thinks that time is far, far in the future. I think we are near but not quite there, but I am willing to be convinced that we are there now.

                But as I say in the OP (and, Christ, just about everything I write here) that’s the conversation I think we need to have. I’m not sure the accusations of racism being flung both ways helps anything. (I am not including you in that group btw, Koz.)Report

              • Avatar Koz says:

                Ok, in a sense you accept #1, (though I think you’re a bit sloppy about it) in that AA isn’t a “decision” to be “implemented” but a grab bag of various different policies whose justification may wax or wane as time passes.

                #2, you’re not buying, that’s the point of the OP.

                But I don’t think you’ve come to grips with #3 yet. The idea that we empower a government bureaucracy with no accountability creates all sorts of collateral damage that has little or nothing to do with race.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Ummm…. I’d say less haven’t come to grips, more just not seeing it yet.Report

              • Avatar Koz says:

                Well yeah, that’s actually kinda my point.

                Empowering a unaccountable government bureaucracy to some vaguely specified end creates a lot of collateral damage. Among other reasons, the license that the bureaucracy gets is taken at the expense of the citizens and takes away, in large ways or small, their freedom to act.

                And because, just like you said, you’re not seeing it, you don’t put it on the scale of the negative consequences of AA (and things like it). This is contrast to Tim’s argument, where you do, even if you and Tim have a difference of opinion on the matter. In slightly longer form, this is what I wrote in response to another commenter:


                And here’s a useful case in point from the WSJ


              • Avatar Koz says:

                Have you been following the Ammons/Connell debacle at Widener Law School, Tod?


                It’s pretty outrageous to me.Report

  7. Avatar joey jo jo shabadoo jr. says:

    damn you reality and your anti-libertarian ways!Report

  8. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    Is there any actual research confirming concrete benefits of racial diversity in higher education? Specifically, the presence of large black and Hispanic populations, since you get large Asian populations without AA?Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

      How about the benefit of the publicly funded institutions actually looking like the whole of the state instead of just the nice parts?

      Also, in general, the idea of having to interact with people who aren’t like you is seen as a good thing in the rest of the known universe. 🙂Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        At my college, the Asian kids sat over there, the African-American kids sat over there, and the White kids sat over there.

        They didn’t interact with each other.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        I said actual research, not hand-wavy assertions.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          To elaborate, this has always struck me as something its proponents just assume to be a Very Good Thing, without any real evidence that I’m aware of. Which means that it’s an extremely compelling argument, as long as the person you’re trying to convince already agrees with you.Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

            Confirming that suspicion isn’t really helping your case.

            Also, my kingdom* for an edit button.

            *I do not actually have a kingdom.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

            This is an objection that has some merit.

            Certain things are not easily subject to direct observation.

            One could build a nice little composite metric for measuring successfullness of diversity programs using empirically measurable inputs, but I doubt it would be anything other than bad proxy. Most of the theoretical payoffs for a diverse environment would be either difficult to measure, or longitudinal in nature.

            On the other hand, I can imagine it being easier to build a negative proxy. “Lots of interracial epithets and fights in the dining hall” would be a reasonable measure that it’s a *bad* idea, at least.

            Do you have an underlying theory as to why you think it would be bad?Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

            BBerg, do you mean affirmative action in general? If so,can’t we just look at the difference in both equality and race relations from, say, 1950 and today?

            I understand the need for hard, empirical data, but life for blacks from Reconstruction to Brown vs. Board as opposed to BvB to now seems a good indicator. And certainly it suggests “AA Makes things worse for minorities” pretty obviously false – or at least true only under certain circumstances.Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

              Well, no, because many, many things have changed since then. It’s entirely possible that some of those things have had good effects and some bad.

              But specifically, what I’m asking is whether there’s any evidence that it’s beneficial to students generally, and not just to the AA admits specifically, to have a higher percentage of black and Hispanic students than would be produced by a race-blind admissions policy.Report

          • Avatar Creon Critic says:

            BB, for evidence I’d suggest this UMich page as a jumping off point. Here’s an abstract from “Effects of Racial Diversity on Complex Thinking in College Students”,

            An experiment varying the racial (Black/White) and opinion composition in small-group discussions was conducted with college students (N=357) at three universities to test for effects on the perceived novelty of group members’ contributions to discussion and on participants’ integrative complexity. Results showed that the presence of racial and opinion minorities were both perceived as contributing to novelty. Generally positive effects on integrative complexity were found when the groups had racial and opinion minority members and when members reported having racially diverse friends and classmates. Findings are discussed in terms of social psychological theories of minority influence and social policy implications for affirmative action. The research supports claims about the educational significance of race in higher education, as well as the complexity of its interaction with contextual and individual factors.

            I’d add looking through the bibliographies would add depth of understanding as to what those promoting the diversity rationale are saying.

            (Social psychology is not what I study or have studied in any depth, but the challenge, find the research behind these claims in favor of diversity, was too enticing to pass up.)Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

              Yes, that’s the sort of thing I was looking for. Granted that the effect of a racial diversity was much weaker than the effect of opinion diversity (maybe we need affirmative action for people who oppose child labor laws?), it’s fascinating that there was any effect at all based on the race of the plants, given that they were just reading scripts.Report

  9. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Philosophy, seen from afar, seems to recurse over itself, endlessly revisiting its own axioms. Like the Blind Men and the Elephant, mathematicians too, philosophers map their own part of the landscape, building models and attempting to integrate them as best they may into the larger landscape. And philosophy is almost always a reaction, an attempt to reformulate.

    Philosophy has its own terms of art. If it seems pretentious, it is an artifice. If it distracts, it attempts to draw your attention to what the philosopher finds important. I would not say philosophy is purposefully exclusionary any more than any other discipline: it demands intellectual rigor and if it seems to be a linguistic tool to reshape reality, it is only another set of lenses. Reality remains safe from philosophy: we all wear our own set of lenses through which we interpret the world we see and the world of ideas. Belief systems come and go, all of them are wrong at some level. I rather like that bumper sticker I saw the other day “You have faith. I have proof.”

    Considering how many philosophers have built upon the frameworks of their predecessors, the genealogy of philosophy (especially of the Continental School) seems to be more a process of accretion than competition.

    In Brazil, where people come in every skin tone imaginable, they find American racism amusing. The Spaniards and French worked out their racism in terms of precise fractions, mulatto half black, cuarterón one quarter black, tercerón, one third. But the Brazilians are far more class-conscious than Americans, for in our culture today’s poor man might be tomorrow’s rich man as the wheel of fortune turns more rapidly here.

    Philosophers are products of their own time: it is most clearly seen in their axioms. Plato’s Republic strove to define justice in terms honest men could clearly understand. In attempting to distil the essence of the various regimes, he would arrive at the concept of the philosopher-king. But no such philosophers have ever governed mankind, for politics is not a matter of abstract principles. Bloody-minded and petty considerations pull the philosopher off his contemplative pedestal and force him to be a king of men. There is no regime governed by principles of honor and justice. There are only the guard rails of law and at best those laws are enforced with impartiality. We can only hope for dispassion in our judges for we shall never have it in our politicians.Report

  10. Avatar Gorgias says:

    I suspect you dislike philosophical arguments because you routinely misunderstand them. Case in point is your spectacular failure to follow a pretty basic example of analogical reasoning. No, using affirmative action and slavery in the same analogy does not mean the author is equating them in severity of harm. There are many aspects to compare, and in this case, the author hopes to establish that, as with the abolition of slavery, justification for affirmative action rests on arguments of inherent rightness, not the utilitarian impact of the policies.

    This analogy is not particularly persuasive, but it is in no wise the emotionally manipulative argument you make it out to be.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      Dude, using slavery in an analogy to something you don’t like is always an emotionally manipulative argument. That’s why people use it. It’s like saying that someone is ‘similar to’ Hitler, or that certain policies are ‘reminiscent to’ what the Nazis did.Report

      • Avatar wardsmith says:

        I purposely referenced Romans above this morning just so I wouldn’t be Godwin’d and then Jaybird goes and does it and now you too?Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal says:


        That’s a dogmatic rule from which my analogy deserves exemption.  The analogy is not based on some wispy abstraction:  our civic morality against slavery and racial discrimination arose out of the same basic conflict.  The question, apt in my view, is why we are left with a bedrock moral principle in the case of involuntary servitude, but only a loose guideline in the case of the underlying moral right to equal protection of the law.

        Humanity has purchased much invaluable moral wisdom, at great cost, through some of the violent episodes in our history such as slavery, the Civil War, and, yes, Nazism.  I refuse to cede the use of examples from these rich subjects just because the occasional troll or wayward ‘loon-juicer violates Godwin’s Law. 

        Given that, I hope you will see there is no need to feel emotionally manipulated by the argument.


        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          What is Godwin’s Law?

          Also, if you meant no emotional manipulation with your analogy then I will take none from it. If I were in Cali, I would buy you a beer. Or a martini. Your choice, really.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          I refuse to cede the use of examples from these rich subjects just because the occasional troll or wayward ‘loon-juicer violates Godwin’s Law.

          Technically they’re fulfilling Godwin’s Law, not violating it.

          Like Jesus.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        Its not necessarily so. Sometimes comparisons to clear, obvious examples like slavery is wrong or hitler was evil etc do not say that the acts are morally equivalent, but merely draw attention to a particular principle by using an example where the application and scope of the principle is more stark. It is a blatant misreading to argue that the former is taking place when it is the latter. Freddie, of course, does this all the time. He is perpetually uncharitable in his reading of others, yet demands charity when others interpret him.Report

  11. I responded to you before w.r.t. philosophy:

    “I profoundly disagree with this paragraph. Philosophy is the anti-ideology, as someone (I think it may have been TVD) pointed out in an earlier thread. Ideology is baseless belief. Philosophy attempts to establish reasons for things. It is the struggle to find better explanations than those we have received.”

    I still totally stand by this now.Report