Tuesday, September 6, 2022

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: why, in balance, it's wrong

Some Americans benefit from affirmative actions intended to make up for past wrongs, promote diversity and insure fairer shares. That seems laudable — provided it's both wise and fair. But it isn't.

First off, with respect to it being wise, anyone with moderate intelligence should recognize that affirmative actions create unfortunate blowback and byproducts. For instance, they obscure our mutual humanity by emphasizing differences based on race, gender and ethnicity. They also introduce doubts about whether a hire or promotion is based on merit. And they can result in hiring or promoting lesser talents and the less diligent. 

The above explains why affirmative action undermines organizational effectiveness. Consider this example: seventy percent of present-day NFL players are African-American. Yet that group constitutes just twelve point seven percent of the general population. Why not adopt affirmative action to add more white players? Females too, maybe? Simple; it's because WINNING is the goal in assembling any NFL team.

Affirmative action difficulties are obvious in any endeavor where performance is paramount — though in many fields it's still ignored. But there is another difficulty affirmative action poses that most miss entirely. Attempts at greater fairness totally ignore a host of obviously disadvantaged people. That's right, tons of people suffering from limiting handicaps receive no affirmative action whatsoever. How can that possibly be fair? 

Here are just a few examples:

Physical Unattractiveness
If you're ugly, you are truly disadvantaged. Need proof? In a study entitled "What Is Beautiful Is Good," researchers from the American Psychological Association showed photographs of attractive, average, and unattractive people to university undergraduates. The students were asked to rate the people in the photos on various personality traits and behavioral tendencies, based solely on their appearance. These same students rated good lookers as: confident, strong, assertive, candid, warm, honest, kind, outgoing, sensitive, poised, sociable, exciting, and nurturing.  

The physical-attractiveness stereotype has been replicated using numerous experimental paradigms. It holds true in every case. Aristotle got it right when he noted, "Personal beauty is a greater recommendation than any letter of introduction." So, if we're really interested in fairness, and not just the people who now are being positively discriminated for, how about affirmative action for the unattractive? 

When you think about it, the unattractive are actually discriminated against. How so? Giving some special advantage means everyone else is being discriminated against. Don't think so? Check with the white guy who is having a devil of a time finding a decent job precisely because he is a white guy.  

Obesity is another characteristic resulting in unequal treatment. Research decisively demonstrates that obese Americans are often perceived to be: lazy, unintelligent, slovenly, and unattractive. Negative attitudes toward obese individuals also contribute to discrimination in the work place. Obese people are not hired as often as people of normal weight; are less likely to be promoted; and often report being discriminated against by managers and peers. 

How big of a problem is this? The  National Center for Health Statistics most up to date statistics show that 42.4% of U.S. adults were obese as of 2017–2018 (43% for men and 41.9% for women). And the same questions that asked about unattractiveness apply here. Where's the fairness?

Short Stature
Short stature, particularly in men, is another physical attribute associated with negative stereotypes and discrimination. A 1992 study by researchers from Michigan State University, for instance, demonstrated that short men are often judged inferior to tall men in several personal attributes. People tend to judge taller men as more socially attractive, higher in professional status, more masculine, more athletically inclined, and more physically attractive than short men. 

Other studies have found that short men experience discrimination in professional settings. For example, short job applicants are not hired as often as taller applicants; short employees earn less, on average, than taller employees; and short political candidates lose elections more often than taller candidates.Again, the same questions apply. Where's the concern for fairness? What about affirmative action for shorties?

Some Other Limiting Factors
Research also shows that people, again especially men, who have red hair are often stereotyped as "clownish" and "weird." Negative stereotyping based on language and dialect (i.e., Southern accents, ebonics) also is common. Negative stereotyping even extends to clothing. Children who wear brand-name clothing and shoes are judged "popular," "wealthy," and able to "fit in with their peers." Children who don't wear them are unpopular, or at least less popular. 

Negative stereotypes also limit the opportunities of East and Southeast Asians, blondes,  women with STEM ambitions, homosexuals, Jews, Italian-Americans, native Americans, and so forth and so on. A person can also actually be too smart, too pretty, too hard working, and so forth. In short, there is a long, long list of unfair limitations imposed on people because of one or another characteristic. All of them are rooted in a fact, and well-known to social psychologists. The bottom line is this: difference attracts negative appraisal.

Consider too that when we appraise people we combine multiple individual differences. 
That can really mess up affirmative actions.  Think about it this way. Which would you rather be, a tall, slim, financially secure, intelligent, good looking black guy or a short, fat, poor, unintelligent, unattractive white guy? All we are doing here is going beyond just one criteria, race, and asking you to extend your judgement into the complex real world where multiplef things matter.     

When we add all this up the sum total is: So many people are handicapped by such a wide variety of differences combined in complex ways that establishing fair affirmative action is literally impossible. And we haven't even considered that many profound handicaps are hard to even identify, much less accommodate. Are we not agreed, for instance, that a loveless, abused childhood is horribly damaging? But how shall we even identify, much less take affirmative action, to even things out for individuals laboring under this burden?  

What does any of this have to do with today's affirmative action? Everything. All kinds of people, probably most people, experience discrimination of one kind or another. And many, many of us labor under hidden handicaps that are hard to even identify much less accommodate. Yet presently folks qualify for affirmative action (positive discrimination) based on only one characteristic. In no sense is that right, proper or sensible. 

Instead of focusing on any single characteristic, we must focus with razor sharp precision on each individual person's character, ability, accomplishments, and effort. That must happen if fairness is to reign? Our "woke" era fixation on race, sexual persuasions, or some other single categorization, makes this impossible. We're dogmatically doing wrong things for the right reason — namely trying to use single category affirmative actions to establish a fairer world. It's way past time to focus, instead, on appraising individuals. That won't be easy. But it will be a helluva lot fairer and less divisive than what we're doing now. 

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