Thursday, April 5, 2012
I have a short essay, here, at Public Discourse, about the application of Vanderbilt's "nondiscrimination" policy, and about discrimination -- and when and why it is, and is not, wrong -- called "Confusion about Discrimination." A bit:
. . . We believe that “discrimination” is wrong. And, because “discrimination” is wrong, we believe that governments such as ours—secular, liberal, constitutional governments—should take steps to prevent, discourage, and denounce it. We are right to believe these things. The proposition that it is not only true, but “self-evidently” true, that all human persons are “created equal” is foundational for us. The principle of equal citizenship holds near-universal appeal, even though we often disagree about that principle’s particular applications.
At the same time, it is not true that “discrimination” is always or necessarily wrong. Nor is it the case that governments always or necessarily should or may regulate or discourage it—say, through its expression and spending—even when it is wrong. “Discrimination,” after all, is just another word for decision-making, for choosing and acting in accord with or with reference to particular criteria. We do and should “discriminate”—we draw lines, identify limits, make judgments, act on the basis of preferences—all the time. As Alexander has put it, “All of us well-socialized Westerners know that discrimination against other human beings is wrong. Yet we also realize, if we think about it at all, that we discriminate against others routinely and inevitably.” The practice is ubiquitous and unremarkable: We don’t blame someone for drinking Brunello rather than Boone’s Farm or for preferring The French Laundry to Arby’s.
It is an obvious point, but still worth making: It is not “discrimination” that is wrong; instead, it is wrongful discrimination that is wrong. . . .