The basic argument for affirmative action agreed upon by virtually all those of a liberal stripe may be stated as follows (From Hugh Murray, Whos to Blame for the Affirmative Action Fiasco?, The Barnes Review, Dec 2001:
"Since all peoples are equal, it follows that in a just society, all peoples, equally talented in all fields, will each have their proportional share of lawyers, doctors, fire chiefs, criminals. But, as this is clearly not the case in America today, the aim of justice is to strive for such in society. Thus, it is necessary, and fair, to give preferences to groups that have been excluded or underrepresented in various fields. So if a white teen has a higher score than a black teen from the same high school on an SAT for a scholarship, it is not really discrimination to deny the white that award and give it to the black. It only seems like discrimination; in reality, it is fair and just. "After all, why is the black teen not performing as well as the white on the test? His father may be in jail; his mother on drugs; he may have been discouraged from academic pursuits. His cultural milieu is the heritage of slavery and segregation. The SAT test, far from measuring the intelligence or academic abilities of the two teens, merely measures the privileges inherited by the white. And so the SAT, the LSAT, the medical exams, nursing exams, teachers exams and all other objective exams are objective only in highlighting the degree of prejudice experienced by blacks, women and other minorities. Such objective exams are thus objectively racist and sexist. "Similar are police and firefighter exams, even if minorities help to construct the tests. Even drug tests are racist because it is natural that more oppressed minorities might be more prone to use illegal substances. Clearly then, seemingly colorblind objective exams are racist; sex-blind exams are sexist. The only test, the only examination that should be allowed is proportionality. Only when the same proportion of women and blacks and Hispanics do as well as whites on an exam is that examination truly free of immediate bias and the effects of bias past. The proportionality exam thus proves the test for discovering bias, for discovering the measure of bias and the method of overcoming such bias. The proportionality test is the test that tests all other tests. Thus, the white teen and his successor should be denied the scholarship until the black teen, and his successor, have a proportional number attending college, teaching in college and as CEOs."
So what's the matter with the above argument? The first thing is that it assumes that all races are equal -- a pretty big assumption, and quite insupportable. However, we should ask if is there any justification for it -- IQ tests for example? Clearly, liberals would reject IQ tests, or indeed ANY test, because they would say, should the tests prove inequality, that the inequality was a 'legacy of slavery' or some other feature of the environment, rather than the genes. So in other words, there is no way to PROVE the races are equal or unequal; and given this, there is no way to prove that INDIVIDUALS are equal or unequal, since the tests which would prove individual differences can always be said to be 'environmental'.
This, however, raises the question of what we mean by 'equal'. Do we mean 'equal performance' or do we mean 'equal potential'? This can get tricky, because while the result of an IQ test obviously measures performance on that test, the importance of the test is to show POTENTIAL. Liberals obviously must concede that blacks do not perform as well as whites on IQ tests, but they do not concede that this shows that blacks have less potential, in some sense of the word 'potential'. They may even acknowledge that IQ tests are good predictors of future performance, hence show that blacks have less potential than whites in this sense; but they will still not admit that this is the 'potential' they are talking about. Instead, they are evidently saying something like "IF blacks had not had a legacy of slavery and IF they were not subjected to discrimination and 'white racism' and IF possibly a few dozen other things in the environment whose nature is currently undetermined were different, THEN blacks would perform equally with whites." Which is to say, if nothing else, that black potential, or equality, is a bit 'iffy'.
I believe we have made an important advance by discovering what might be called the 'root difference' between liberals and sensible people, namely, that liberals use a different definition of 'equality' and 'potential' than the rest of us. This is important because this difference does not ever seem to have been elaborated, with the result that thinking on the subject has been permanently clouded, and the fabric of society has been rent asunder. I say this because one never sees a liberal come out with a list of 'ifs' which constitutes his definition of 'equality' or 'potential'. One could argue, however, that a liberal would never compose such a list, because no matter WHAT conditions held, if blacks and whites did not show 'equality' then there would always be some other 'if' that would have to be added to the list.
From the above analysis, it should be clear that, if we are to avoid insanity, 'equality' must mean 'equality of performance', and 'potential' must mean 'good PERFORMANCE on a test which PREDICTS GOOD PERFORMANCE in a statistical sense.' If we do not use such definitions, but instead sink into an abyss of 'ifs', then we will end up with mush for brains, in which we are all 'equal' because either we assume this to be the case, or we 'prove' it by adding another 'if' wherever equality fails.
In closing, we may recall the words of John Greenleaf Whittier's poem Maud Muller:
Of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: "It might have been."
It may be sad that blacks are not the equals of whites, but this does not justify taking leave of language and logic to 'prove' otherwise.
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