I just went through this series of posts on diversity (link to the last post in the series) by William Briggs. Here, in India, one does not hear much about diversity and I have not spent time evaluating policies to promote it. So I was a little surprised to see a five part series on diversity, making rather obvious points to come to this conclusion:

The whole point of this laborious, pedantic essay up to this point has been to prove to you what you might not have heretofore granted. That “diversity” as it is used by its proponents retains no shade of meaning with its plain English sense. It instead is a code word; a dodge to hide ulterior motives, perhaps even motives not fully understood by the word’s users; a phrase having a purely technical definition which runs something like this:

Within in a scope diversity is the state of (maximal or proportional, whichever is more convenient to my politics) difference in behavior and characteristic, both of which are chosen from a narrow range most conducive to my personal likes and political goals. Diversity is not diversity—a state of difference; dissimilitude; unlikeness.—but unity with my desires.

So I went ahead and read the comment thread on the last post and saw some passionate defence of policies to promote diversity. In this post, I will present my position on such policies.

Consider a hiring decision for a particular position

There is a desirable set of characteristics as determined by the position itself. These characteristics can include physical attributes, intellectual abilities, work experience etc.

There is also a practically infinite set of characteristics that are irrelevant (depending on the position).

The best hiring decision is clearly one that ignores the irrelevant characteristics completely. However, it is important to recognize that the persons making the hiring decisions can be influenced by biases, perhaps unconsciously. Biased decisions hurt everyone’s interests. In a world where such biases (both conscious and unconscious) are very obvious, it is desirable to have a policy in place that prevents biases.

Avoiding biases is a difficult task especially when some of the biases are unconscious. It requires active thought and effort. Statistically, avoiding biases results in diversity of irrelevant characteristics. A policy to promote diversity substitutes the goal (avoiding biases) with its statistical results (diversity).

This inversion of cause and effect in social relations is the essential and defining characteristic of social engineering. Policies to promote diversity can thus be classifed under that same concept. The only difference between such policies and policies like reservations and quotas is one of degree.


In comments on a previous post on discrimination against Muslims in Mumbai, Krishnamurthy asks

…suppose you have a “weak” government, which does not run schools, provide health care, etc.

What’s to prevent the “majority”– “those in power” — from denying education and other resources to the “minority”?

The concern is that a section of people who possess “power” – political and/or economic – engage in irrational discriminatory behavior to the detriment of certain other sections of people. The Indian caste system is a case in point. The issue is whether this concern should be addressed by political measures such as laws against discrimination, affirmative action, reservations etc.

It is clear that political measures against irrational discrimination necessarily infringe on the freedom of the individual to act according to his own judgement and therefore are unjust. On the other hand, the discrimination is also clearly unjust. This is seemingly a moral dilemma. This dilemma must be resolved before one can evaluate the practicality of political measures.

The first step in resolving the dilemma is to distinguish the concept of justice from the concept of fairness.

Fairness (in its most plausible form) is the idea that people are entitled to benefits that are in line with their capabilities – commonly referred to as equality of opportunity. Consider the question: Is it fair that some people are born rich and some are born poor? If it is unfair, who is responsible for it? Next consider the question: Is it fair that some people are tall and some are short? If it is unfair, who is responsible for it? It should now be clear that whether one is born rich or poor, tall or short is a metaphysical fact. It is neither good nor bad, neither right nor wrong, neither fair nor unfair. It simply is. Metaphysical facts are not subject to normative judgement. A person’s genetic makeup, his family, his attributes are part of his identity. Different people will necessarily have different identities. To hold that this is unfair is absurd. The concept of fairness has no basis in reality.

What about justice? What facts of reality is the concept of justice based on?

What fact of reality gave rise to the concept “justice”? The fact that man must draw conclusions about the things, people and events around him, i.e., must judge and evaluate them.

Justice is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake the character of men as you cannot fake the character of nature, that you must judge all men as conscientiously as you judge inanimate objects, with the same respect for truth, with the same incorruptible vision, by as pure and as rational a process of identification—that every man must be judged for what he is and treated accordingly,…

                  — Ayn Rand

The concept of justice arises from the individual’s need to judge people. Justice pertains to the mental process by which an individual judges others. A mental process cannot be forced. The injustice in discrimination lies in the fact that the person making judgements includes considerations that are not relevant to the judgement. The only way to correct this injustice is to make him realize the error in his judgement. The appropriate tool for this is arguement and persuasion, not coercion. Judgement cannot be forced. When one attempts to correct the injustice in discrimination by coercive measures, one is severing the concept of justice from the facts that give rise to it. The motivation for making good judgements is to be able to act on them. Forcing a man to act against the judgement of his mind is the worst imaginable way of improving his judgement. One cannot achieve justice by destroying the need for it. Man must be left free to act on his own judgement as long as he allows others to do so.

The potential for injustice is inherent in the fact that man is neither infallible nor omniscient. As such his judgements will not always be right. It is not possible to eliminate injustice. One can try to reduce its consequences when it is in one’s own interest to do so. That is what proper charity should be about. This is the resolution to the dilemma. As long as the injustice in question does not involve coercion, such injustice cannot be criminalized. It should be worked around by charity.

Now that the moral questions are resolved, one can address the practicality of political measures against discrimination. As the history of caste based reservations in India shows, these reservations do not work. 50 years after they were instituted, political parties continue to call for increasing their scope. If there could be a plainer indication that they do not work, I don’t see what it might be. What does work is just plain self-interest and appropriate charity. Those who see the injustice of discrimination stand to benefit. They get to work with a larger pool of deserving people. Those who engage in discrimination lose out. The free market at work. It takes its time – changing people’s ideas always does – but it is the only thing that works.

As with any idea, one of the most effective ways of determining its truth is to examine all of its logical implications. If it can be beneficial to abolish discrimination in education and employment decisions, why stop there? Why not go further and abolish discrimination in friendships? Why not abolish discrimination in marriage? Surely these would have a greater effect? Most people would shudder at this suggestion. Yet this is just one of the implications of the same idea. This absurd suggestion only makes plain what is a little more difficult to see when one is merely looking at economic effects. Economic judgement cannot be forced just as personal judgement cannot be forced. There is no such thing as forced justice.

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