14 March 2004 Welcome - Charles - Thoughts - Discrimination

Social discrimination

Our wonderfully short-sighted society has a strange notion that it pays lip-service to. It is that discrimination is wrong. This strange notion has gained hold almost certainly because of a dearth of real judges within our society and time.

Let me make a basic case for discrimination. We pick our friends. We (mutually) choose our spouses. We claim the freedom to select our religion. We buy our groceries from the merchants we want to deal with. Our whole lives embody the concept of choice, which is discrimination. In opting for one, we reject another. In going one way, we find we cannot be going in a different way. So how can it be that we are generally not allowed to discriminate in respect of whom we employ? Or who we educate? How can we have arrived at the ludicrous position where we are encouraged to "positively discriminate" whilst being positively forbidden to discriminate?

The concept of treating all people with equal respect in the first instance has mutated into the foolish and very dangerous concept of all people being equal. If I end up on a hospital operating table, I really wouldn't want a blind idiot as a surgeon. If I were an airline passenger, I would like to have a stable, thoughtful and skilled person as the pilot. A happy go lucky, pot-smoker incapable of getting a driving licence (more discrimination) would not really do much for me. Clearly, all people are not equal. Even without male/female considerations. I have no concerns over whether or not the surgeon is male or femail, black, brown, white, red, or yellow. Likewise with the pilot. But I do expect a sugeon to know what (s)he is doing with a scalpel, and I expect the pilot to be able to fly the plane properly.

I have heard of employing typists who could not type, and drivers who could not drive. The argument made is that the people were in all other respects OK for the job, and their lack of skill could be rectified with appropriate training. How does that stack up for those who had already been trained? Non discrimination on one count turns into discrimination on another. Moreover it turns into senseless, discouraging, non productive actions. Trained and able people are rejected in favour of un-trained or un-able in order that someone or some organisation can appear to be "forward-thinking", modern and caring.

Now before you decide that I'm making mountains out of molehills, or that I am simply very uncharitable (you may do that later, if you want to...), before you say that the real world isn't really like that, I think I should point out that the whole question broadens quite rapidly into a quite significant failing throughout all our formal dealings with each other. It hinges on the question of who has the right to decide? The right to judge? Too often our collective answer is "no-one". There are a few exceptions, of course, but in the main, if we can't see an immediate personal danger, then the "all are equal" means that all have to decide, or more usually, dither.

For proper discrimination, there has to be a discriminator; some object, behaviour or property that the subject is tested against. Consider having had a wall built. Is the wall high enough? Is it sufficiently well built to do its job? Is it worth what it cost? These are three questions that might be asked, and the discriminator gets increasingly more subjective. By the time we get to questions like "Would you recommend the builder to someone else?" we are likely to be including factors other than those directly affecting the wall; timekeeping, cleanliness, politeness etc. While we can usually point out that we are offering an opinion where appropriate, so we might say something like "The builder did a very good job, but I spent so much time clearing up after him that I would not recommend him." this is not an easy option in some cases. Did that person commit a crime? How long should he go to prison for? This sort of question is where we struggle in looking for the discriminator. We want a definite. But there often isn't one. He killed someone can be quite definite. But purpose - accident or deliberate action - is not so definite. Fraud is not so obvious, and intellectual rights infringement can be really obscure.

We need to understand that a necessary part of life is making judgments. Discriminating. We need to allow people to do it and admit to doing it. Moreover we need to train people to do it, and make use of the ones that are good at it. By all means expect them to be able to explain their decisions, but recognise that decisions have to be made. So much of modern bureaucracy and proceedings are defensive. We act, someone wants to sue. Why? because they think their opinion is at least as valid as ours, and they think we got it wrong, made a mistake, acted like a human being. Or, more likely, just see it as a way of acquiring money, knowing that they can confuse the issue and introduce a higher level of uncertainty. So the paperwork increases, the laws get ever more complex and the lawyers get fatter. The able get frustrated and the un-able sit back and get an easy living.

We find ourselves in the hypocritical situation of claiming that discrimination is wrong, yet having to discriminate in everything we do. We already recognise that sexual discrimination can be wrong. (It is still OK in th context of picking a spouse, I think.) Similarly racial discrimination is often wrong. But these are usually the results of using an inappropriate discriminator. There is a sensible solution. Get rid of the thinking that brands discrimination wrong, get rid of the ludicrously misnamed "positive discrimination" and encourage and train people always to use appropriate discrimination.