On Bearing the Burdens, Being Considerate, Special Pleadings, and Policy Fights
I like being on time and punctual. I consider this a form of politeness and consideration. Running late makes me anxious. Not only that. I would rather do things on my own than miss an opportunity. A few weeks ago I went to see Sleater-Kinney perform. My girlfriend was surprised that I went on my own because she sees concerts as a group activity. The reason I went on my own was because I heard about the concert (thanks Glyph!!) at the last minute before tickets went on-sale. I would have loved to gone with friends but the idea of trying to find people made me anxious about the possibility of losing out on a chance to see SK play. Turns out my intuition was correct this time, I only got to see them because they added a second concert after the first one sold out.
A friend of mine from college is horrible with being on time. My friend posts countless things about trying to be on time but failing because they know people are annoyed. My friend will also post social media pop-psychology about why some people are chronically tardy. Stuff like this. A while ago, my friend posted on facebook about how always being late was just part of who they were and people could just deal or not deal.
This is not an uncommon attitude on social media. There is a never–ending supply of clickbait along these lines. The answer is always the same, “this is who I am and will always be. You are the one should deal. I am not going to change.”
I’ve been thinking about this after Burt’s post on the Supreme’s Court decision about whether Abercrombie and Fitch violated the law by not hiring a teenage girl who a hijab. My thought is that almost all of our policy fights especially social and economic policy are about who should bear the burden of a particular problem, law, or regulation and being considerate after a sense.
Abercrombie & Fitch is a clothing store. As a clothing store, they have a brand and image that they want to convey. The image that A&F wants to convey is one that is youthful, athletic, and sexy. Many A&F ads feature young adults with perfect bodies, in various stages of undress, and getting it on. A&F wants their retail staff to convey the same image as their advertisements. This is not the first time A&F has been taken to task for employment discrimination against a person who did not fit their desired branded image.
They never say it outright but A&F clearly felt that a woman wearing a hijab was incapable of conveying their desired, sexy, casual image. They want their retail employees to look like they could come from the advertisements. If the advertisements feature young men and women undressing each other for a fuck session, is this compatible with hiring a Muslim woman with religious convictions? A&F clearly felt the answer was no even if they were unwilling to say it out loud. The cultural fight in this case is whether A&F bears the burden of complying with a multi-religious and homogeneous society or do individuals bear the burden of finding employment that confirms with their religious, moral, and ethical beliefs. There are plenty of non-Muslim women with conservative beliefs on sexual activity and modesty including waiting for marriage but they might not show it through an obvious outward appearance like Muslim women or ultra-Orthodox Jewish women.
Last week was another banner week for Inequality Studies. The Atlantic published an interview on how the recruiting process favors elites especially at top firms and businesses. Many elite firms do most hiring via on-campus recruiting at a small list of schools usually Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford (notice how many elite colleges and universities are not included here). Firms might also have individual teams dedicated to looking at every resume from a handful of schools. The rest could be discarded or end up in the HR-equivalent of the slush pile unless the applicant has a solid connection. Pouring salt on the wound is a new economic study that shows there is also a 1 percent of firms and industries that have done much, much better than everyone else.
You can probably find a one percent in geographical regions as well that do better than the rest of the nation economically.
The issue with income inequality besides human suffering is that it exposes the contradictions of American social and democratic life or potentially of representative democracy. On the one hand, there is the right of businesses to go about doing things as they see fit. On the other hand, there is the deeply held belief that the United States is a nation where anyone can be successful through hard-work and determination. I don’t see how we can call ourselves a land of opportunity if most of the spoils go to a handful of firms which only recruit from a handful of schools in a handful of geographic pockets. This issue here is a fight over burdens and being considerate. Are Apple, Google, McKinsey, and Wall Street missing out on top talent by only recruiting from a handful of places instead of looking at graduates from Directional State University? Almost certainly!! Why should they bear the burden of looking when they can get enough good or great talent from their handful of universities and do very well is a tough question. I think they should but the steps of making this into a law are going to be draconian. Yet the current path we seem stuck on where the majority of the riches go to smaller and smaller groups of people also seems politically untenable in the long run. The question is how bad do things have to get before they get better and more equal. Will society be able to correct before it becomes pitchfork time?
There are plenty of people who don’t want to work at top firms. We can have a whole discussion on why we think working at Apple, Google, A Big Law Firm or Wall Street bank is supposed to be prestigious. We can also have an entire discussion on brain drain and geographic luck equaling opportunity destiny. This issue repeats in all labor fights like over clopening and split hours. Who should bear the burden of downtime during the middle of the day? The employer or the employee? Does the answer change when the employer is Starbucks or Becky’s Coffee and Chocolate? Ideally we would find a way to put the burden on those who could afford it the most and those who could afford it the most would see it as their societal responsibility. The answer seems to be that everyone wants someone else to be Atlas bearing the load.