2009-07-27

Equality

Equality is a dangerous word.

There are some things that have been done in the name of equality which are counteractive to its principle. That's hypocrisy at its grandest.

I am writing this blog post as a reference for myself and my acquaintances; I have wanted to make this point on many occasions, and it would help if I could simply refer to this, a hopefully well-formed, well-expounded argument. As a disclaimer in advance, I want to mention that I've been in many arguments in which my opponent, so to say, thought that I was denying the existence of a problem, such as sexual prejudice. In reality, I was fully aware that there was a problem, but I simply felt that we were going about solving it in the wrong way. This is one of those cases. I am not denying the existence of a problem, but I am considering the many manifestations of said problem, and refuting that the "solution" indeed solves anything.

The two main targets I concern myself with here are Title IX and Affirmative Action, but there are certainly others. Many of you are familiar with these two instances of enforced equality in the United States, but if you're not, Title IX (well, it's executors) requires universities to spend equal amounts of money on men's and women's sports, which Affirmative Action places minimum bounds on the numbers of so-called "minority" employees (or students, etc.). In both cases, someone is required to give preference to, or increase the participation of, a certain group of people, when compared to the general population.

Both legal measures started with a good heart. The lawmakers noticed (or claimed to notice) a disparity, and they moved to correct it. Good for them, I say, for seeing a problem and then correcting it.

But they went about it wrong, unfortunately, and this has been realized, as witnessed by the general disuse of Affirmative Action in today's workplace. This is not the case with Title IX. Despite the fact that the big Title IX boom around the turn of the milennium has come and gone, its effects still linger. The "problem", whichever way you want to look at it, has not gone away.

Let me [carefully] explain my opinion. As a mathematician, I like logical reasoning, so I'll go about my arguments in that--my favorite--way, in a fictionalized hypothetical circumstance.

Let us first consider the case of men and women in the workplace, and further assume that a certain lawmaker would like to increase the number of women hired, an idea similar to, if not a part of, Affirmative Action.

Now, when I ask this lawmaker why he wants to pass a law to increase the number of women hired, he might say, "The number of women hired today is considerably lower than the number of men; men and women should be equal."

"Equality," I might say. "Interesting. Why do you think there are fewer women being hired?"

"Because they're being discriminated against in the workplace, and I won't stand for it!" The lawmaker might reply.

"So there should be the same number of women in the workplace as men?" I say.

"Yes," the lawmaker says, "Well, the same as the proportion of working-age individuals. So, perhaps slightly more women than men."

I reply, "You're saying that, proportionally speaking, there should be no difference between men and women?"

"That's correct. They should be equal."

Then I would get to my point: "Are men and women equal?"

The lawmaker would get cross, "No! Of course not! That's why I'm trying to make a law! To stop the discrimination!"

"No," I'd say, "I mean: are men and women the same?"

He might look confused. "Well, no, but in the workplace they should be considered the same!"

"So, they're not the same, but in the workplace they should be considered the same?" I say.

"Of course there are differences between men and women; that's anatomy, you know, but that doesn't matter."

"It doesn't matter?" I reply with a smirk on my face. "Should basketball teams hire equal numbers of short people and tall people? Should Google be forced to hire half of its employees from the under-100-IQ set? Should we have deaf telephone operators? I'm sorry for the absurd examples, but to say that we must treat two vastly different groups of people (the biological difference doesn't get much bigger than that between males and females) exactly the same in every case in the workplace, or the university?"

"Well, we can't discriminate!" might be the lawmakers response.

"You're saying we're not allowed to discriminate at a job interview? That sounds counterproductive. Interviews are held in order to discriminate between candidates."

"Yes, I know," the lawmaker says, "in each case, that's true. But, on average, we should see equality between men and women."

"What if I told you that more men than women want to be, for example, engineers?" I ask.

"There's no reason that women can't be engineers," he replies, "there should be equal numbers."

"Then why are there more female than male elementary school teachers?"

"Because that's an arena where women are no longer, or never were, discriminated against," the lawmaker says confidantly, "Engineering is a different type of job."

"So you're telling me we should have quotas based on sex for the jobs in which there are more males than females, but not in the jobs in which there are more females than males?"

"Yes," the lawmaker says, slightly unsure of his answer, "but it's not that simple."

"I'll leave that that battle for another day," I say, "but let me ask you something else. Are you telling me that even though we can both admit that there are huge biological differences between men and women--namely sexual organs, but also height, weight, body composition, voice pitch, and the list goes on--you won't admit that perhaps women and men differ also in such intricate areas as preference for a certain type of job?"

"Men and women should be treated equally." And the lawmaker's eyes glaze over.

I turn to the camera and say, "And that, kids, is why you can't ever win an argument with a person who doesn't think logically. But, if you're wondering what good can come of all this, I can tell you there is hope. You see, I'll admit that there is still prejudice in the workplace, in universities, and elsewhere, but we can't just force everyone to be treated "equally". First of all, it's not an efficient use of our resources if we force organizations to make choices that are not in their best interests. And, using a law to discriminate is just as bad as the original discrimination, even if it is in the "reverse" direction. Who's to say the orginal discrimination even exists? If you know it exists, fire the person who's doing it. Trace it all the way back to the source; prejudice should not be tolerated. But, as in the case of Title IX, perhaps girls don't like some sports as much as guys. I find that believable, particularly because high school sports see the same disparity as colleges, even when boys and girls truly have equal opportunity."

"We need to fight any kind of prejudice, but putting a Band-aid over the problem isn't going to help, particularly when that Band-aid is prejudicial by design. Too many qualified candidates have lost job opportunities, too many companies have lost better-qualified candidates, and, perhaps more to the point, the single largest effect of Title IX was to take opportunities away from men instead of giving them to women. We can certainly do better than that. Let's instead make laws that get rid of the immoral discrimination, and don't just cover it up."


I apologize if you read this far and this is old news to you. But, I'm sure you know someone who might benefit from the arguments I present above. There are still people in this world for whom "equality" means men being allowed to be wet nurses, and the blind being given jobs as chauffeurs. If you disagree with anything I have written here, please write to me, whether in the comments section, or the email address listed in my profile. I enjoy having my opinions changed for the better.

28 comments:

alyssa said...

I'm interested to hear your argument about the military before I actually counter this. Would you argue that not as many women want to be in the navy, and that's why women make up less than 20% of the population at the Naval Academy? Or that men are just made better for the service and so it's right that they can make up the majority of the population?

Ben said...

mind if i use this next time someone asks me for an example of a straw-man fallacy?

fbg said...

@alyssa: If I apply my arguments to the military, I would say (1) I have no idea why there are so few women there, but it's worth investigating and taking action upon, and (2) it would be a dumb idea to make a rule stating that 50% (or even 45%) of Naval Academy enrollees MUST be women. That wouldn't solve the problem, but it might make it look better on paper.

By the way, thanks for not jumping to conclusions about things that I didn't say, and waiting for my reply. :-)

@Ben: My lawmaker would be happy to be your example of a "straw man", but I doubt you'll find a fallacy here. ;-)

Once again, we agree on the problem, but disagree on the solution, like we do with religion, assuming you disagree with me here. You adopt the far extreme (positive action and atheism, respectively), while I prefer the middle road (a form of agnosticism, not to be confused with inaction, in both cases).

Ben said...

i just think that most proponents of affirmative action don't use the word "equality" - they use the words "equal opportunity". So, by using a weaker version of the opponent's argument you are by definition engaging in a straw-man logical fallacy. Booom!

fbg said...

@Ben: So you're saying my fallacy is that I'm not arguing against equal opportunity? You'd be happier with this post if I wrote reasons why women and men should be given different opportunities? Sorry; I'll try to be more sexist in my next post. ;-)

Seriously, I'm not trying to argue against equal opportunity. I'm to afraid of what you and Alyssa would say about that. :-) The point here is perhaps exactly the difference between "equal opportunity" and "enforced [approximate] equality of numbers". The two are not the same.

I thought I made it clear that I am against prejudice, and hence for equal opportunity, but my problem with these laws is that they enforce quotas. Quotas are bad. Or, there must be a better solution.

Thus, "equality" suffices. Q.E.D. :-P

MultiVar Dens Est said...

Hi Brian,

A small comment about interests (and their strong correlation with cultural factors):

In my year, in Computer Science we were more than 50% girls (I studied in Romania). For mathematics the proportion of girls was higher.
There was selection: we had to pass an entry exam (3 x 3.5 hours: algebra, analysis and geometry+trigonometry), 5 times more candidates than places.
I wouldn't say that Romanian society is less prejudiced than any other.

Moving to Austria was a shock (from this point of view)!

Cheers,
Leila

ps: I don't think a quota is necessary, as the Romanian case shows (but i don't know what IS necessary)

fbg said...

Thanks for commenting, Leila! This information about Romania is very interesting. (Plus, I didn't know you read my blog at all :-)

I think there's a good chance that the huge difference between Romania and Austria is caused mainly by the entrance exams. Do you know how many men and women take the exams? Also, maybe I can find data on Germany, where they also have exams.

I think your question about what we can do about this, if not quotas, is important. I don't think there is one solution. But, we have to pay attention and, if there is any evidence of unjust discrimination, do what is best in each particular case. There are many reasons why such discrimination might take place, and I think one "umbrella" solution could potentially do more harm than good.

Ben said...

if you don't understand how creating a story where you intellegently put forward your argument - while your "opponent" stupidly sputters some weak-ass mantra isn't a straw-man, than i don't know what to tell you.

in my masters program we studied selection procedures and how some procedures are more likely to lead to "disparate impact" than others. i'm not saying that quotas are the answer - there are plenty of ways to reduce the chance of ending up with mostly all white males without using quotas. By the way, most quotas are illegal in the US - even some statistical procedures, such as banding (treating all individuals who score within the confidence interval of a test as the same) which would moderate disparate impact on women and minorities without using quotas are illegal in the US. the most common legal way to limit disparate impact is to use job-specific selection tests rather than general intellegence tests. studies have shows that these job-specific tests have smaller differences between races and they also predict job performance more strongly than IQ tests.

despite what the authors of "the bell curve" wrote - there is no generally accepted theory as to why we find significant differences between races in intellegence tests. over the years these differences have lessened - which seems to show that environment plays a more important role than previously thought.

fbg said...

@Ben: Whaaaat!?! I ALREADY ADMITTED that my lawmaker was a straw man! (see my first response to you above) I'm not arguing with you about that. But a straw man is not automatically a fallacy. I thought my post would be more entertaining with that dude saying lame stuff, but he doesn't hurt my argument, unless he's just too distracting.

I like the rest of what you wrote, though. For jobs, a good job-specific test would be the ideal solution. What kinds of "banding" are illegal in the U.S.? That sounds kind of weird.

It's also funny that you say that quotas (at least, a certain type of them) are illegal, but yet something like the way they enforce Title IX is extremely similar, and not illegal.

I really like what you wrote about the statistical differences in intelligence between racial groups. I think it shows that the situation is much more complicated than it first appears, and that if "environment" is a large factor, one of the first things we should do is improve education for people in all "environments". That way, disadvantaged people (whoever they are) improve themselves and the gaps can be closed.

MultiVar Dens Est said...

I don't know about how many men and women take the exam (in case there are much more women = women are much more interested in maths, if there are much more men = women are much more successful? :D :D :D)

As for Germany, I am sure you'll find very significant differences between East and West Germany (no matter how much i resent the idea that the previous political system has something to do with it).

My personal credo is: good teachers, from the earliest study years + lots of competition(s) (which might bring a different hierarchy then gender, race, social status etc., I mean some sort of meritocracy based on school exams, entry exams, olympiads etc.) + less mistification ;)
(I admit, it doesn't work always. You need parents' cooperation.)

Btw, to stick to the sport part too (and apologies for using again Romania as example): disproportionately more women medals than men medals for the last 3 olympics (at least). And i really don't believe Romania invests more in women sports and anyway we are not a sportive nation (i guess it's more egalitarianism in expectations)

MultiVar Dens Est said...

Sorry for the naive question: is it possible to have IQ tests at job interviews?????

Ben said...

brian - a straw-man is an informal logical fallacy. look it up.

fbg said...

@Leila: I was thinking that there might indeed be more men taking the test, but that proportionally more women are successful. In my experience, women who choose a tradionally male-dominated career, such as computer science outside of Romania ;-), math, engineering, and whatever else... these women tend to try very hard because they are sure that's what they want to do. I have met few women who have studied these subjects who are unsure if they enjoy it. But, that's just my experience.

I have been to job interviews where I have taken a test, and I presume a part of that could be related to IQ. So, I think it's possible to have such a test.


@Ben: Did I offend you somehow? If I did; I'm sorry. Am I being too glib or sarcastic?

I did look up "straw man" on Wikipedia yesterday, and the second paragraph says, "Presenting and refuting a weakened form of an opponent's argument can be a part of a valid argument," which is what I meant when I said I have a "straw man", but no fallacy.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man

Even if Wikipedia didn't say this, I think that all of the necessary arguments to further my point are present in the blog post. I could take the straw man out, and my logic still stands. I don't understand where the fallacy could be, because my argument is not based on the straw man.

Ben said...

it's legal to have an IQ test as part of the job selection and/or promotion process. however, if that IQ test leads to disparate impact (disproportionate selection of one group over another)than the employer must explain the need for the test. Disparate impact is usually defined as when the selection rate for one group is less than 80% of the selection rate of another group.

that's what's interesting about the sotomayor case that the supreme court overturned. the fire dept was following this rule. they had a test where no minorities were selected - and they didn't feel that they had a strong enough case to use that test instead of another. So, they threw out the results rather than leave themselves open to lawsuit. but, the supreme court went against previous rulings by stating that the fire dept had to have a stronger reason than just the fear of a lawsuit to throw out the results of a test.

MultiVar Dens Est said...

Thank you for the answers.
I lived with the impression that the IQ test is at most a sort of research tool.

Ben said...

brian - you didn't offend me. but, that quote from the wiki article is misleading. it says a straw-man can be part of a valid argument. but, only if the original position implies that at least one of two other statements are true - and these two statements are weaker forms of the original position. but, belief in a quota system doesn't necessarily imply that "equality" is necessary in every situation.

your blog post is titled "equality". that's the whole point of your post. that "equality" is over valued - and that it is a rediculous criterion in many situations. but, you use that to argue that quotas are logically indefensible - when there are much stronger arguments in favor of quotas than "equality". that, my friend, is why this is a logical fallacy. you use the easily disputed argument of "equality" to rag on the validity of quotas. and since belief in quotas does not imply the belief of "equality" in all situations it is still a straw-man logical fallacy.

RM said...

WOW...15 responses on this one?? You really got it cooking here BG.

Here is something that I actually know that some may not, in regards to Title 9. It had nothing to do with sports, at first. It was originally intended to ensure chicks had the chance to get into Medical School. They then translated it across the board, and most prominently in sports. The rule is not that you have to have 50/50 dudes and chicks in sports, or even that you have to 50/50 in funding. It's that the percentage of funding has to at least match the ratio of men to women at THAT institution. So for instance, James Madison - very low pop of dudes (lucky them). Their funding goes 60/40 in favor of the girls, so dude's sports get cut there easily.

As far as the equal opportunity employment, etc, I think BG's points are valid. I lived with a girl who was an engineering major. Girls made up such a minor portion of engineering majors. Whose fault is that? Not the school's, that's for sure. It's the gender stereotypes OFTEN times reinforced at the HOME.

Blame the parents, that's what it ALWAYS comes down to.

My suggestion, if you want more "equality" then it's up to particular industries or whatever to market their shit differently.

I *think* I see where Ben is coming from and I feel like Ben and BG are arguing the same point but the symantecs are off.

Equal opportunity is necessary. If there is a qualified candidate it shouldn't matter if they are boy or girl, black or white. The best person for a job should get that job.

I'm put-off occasionally, particularly in the political arena, when seemingly qualified individuals are not chosen for a position, while less qualified people are chosen in what seems a very "political" move. Now, in fairness, since I don't know enough about what they do, I have to put my trust and faith in the system to make the right choice on the behalf of the people.

I think that if the Naval Academy wants more girls then it's up to them to recruit them, nobody else. You can't force someone to do something they don't want. If girls want to become preschool teachers, I'm okay with that. They're hot, and everyone wants to hook up with a preschool teacher.

Our professions are chosen for us by our DNA. It's a fact.

fbg said...

@RM Nice. I agree with what you said. In particular, I was just about to write that Ben and I are just arguing sematics (again), but then you said it first. It's my fault for using a very general term, "equality", so haphazardly.

fbg said...

Oh, and I like the part about how girls funding has to be at least that of guys funding, proportionally speaking. Is there no leeway? I mean, if you apply the same rule, but with the sexes switched, you'd have to have a perfectly proportional budget.

If they're going to set such money quotas based on sex, why don't they set them based on sport, too? Why should the track team get less money than the football team? That's discrimination against skinny people!

fbg said...

@Ben: I seriously thought that we were arguing semantics, and I was going to leave it for today, until I just read your last post again. Now you've got me curious.

Yes, I was going on these assumptions:

(1) Quotas are implemented in order to make the numbers of men and women in a particular position approximately equal.

(2)The main argument for quotas is: (2a)"equal opportunity" should lead to equal numbers. And, (2b) if there are unequal numbers, that means that there must be discrimination, which the quotas would remedy.


I find fault in both parts of (2), as I've already described. I believe (2) is the idea of "equality" to which you are referring. You wrote that there are much better reasons in favor of quotas than this "equality" in (2). What are they? I honestly can't think of any, and if they exist, it will definitely change my mind.

THE KRIS said...

i think it's just easier to enforce equal numbers than it is to ensure equal opportunity. how do you measure "opportunity"? who decides that men and women have the same opportunities?

fbg said...

I completely agree with you, Kris, but I think enforcing equal numbers oversteps the goal, and potentially causes harm to the system it's trying to correct. It's dangerous to substitute one idea for a similar one. "Equal numbers" and "equal opportunity" are definitely not the same thing, but they are close enough that some people think that they are the same thing. This post was supposed to provide the argument of why they shouldn't make that jump without thinking about it first. I'm not sure if I did a good job, considering the confusion in the comments.

alyssa said...

Hmmm. Where to start. I've waited so long to respond because 1. I dont understand the words ben types and 2. My thoughts are all over the place on this.

I actually agree with Ryan, in that socialization of males/females in the home, and in school, etc, and that the institutions that be need to market themselves differently and. With the military, active recruiting of women will never draw numbers even close to equal of males because -women are still not offered all of the career paths than men are and -things like wearing a uniform made for a dude certainly plays a role as well. If girls are brought up and bombarded by the idea that they must be feminine - no matter how capable they may be for a military career - something as simple as the uniforms can deter them. On the flip side, the women who were brought up with a "anything boys can do I can do better" attitude will *still* be put off because why would you go into a career field where you inherently are given less opportunities than a man? That would just breed frustration.

While I am opposed to the idea of quotas, I have to wonder if until there is a mandated number of women at higher ranks in the military, what will change? The bottom line is that there is a huge amount of discrimination and harassment going on in the lower ranks towards women. I think that we need to get women in higher positions. The tough part of that is that they actually need to be respectable women and do a good job. When the males below are lead by females whom they respect, they will treat their peers with respect.

I guess the comparison to education here would be to say that having more women as professors in engineering/math departments in universities will have the same effect.

fbg said...

I agree with you, Alyssa. As a side note, based on your original comment, I thought you were preparing to ream me out for dissing quotas, but I'm glad I was wrong. :-)

One question about the military: how do you know that women have fewer opportunities? Is there still open discrimination, or is it more of a feeling you got while you were there?

Another thought that I had yesterday, which you wrote more clearly here, is that perhaps quotas can work as a temporary solution. I am adamantly opposed to long-term quotas because I find absolutely nothing wrong with boys and girls being different. The issue is why are they represented differently and elsewhere. I think it is probably fairly easy to show that women have fewer opportunities in the military (but I don't know how exactly; that's why I'm asking), and in such a case where we can pretty much prove unequal opportunity, a temporary quota could change the status quo enough to alleviate the situation. For the military, that would mean more promotions for women until the "newness" of female generals wears off, and girls can feel comfortable enrolling. But this would be a tool we must weild with caution, because we don't need underexperienced generals commanding anybody.

I have the feeling that the military stays predominantly male simply because every woman has to be a trailblazer of sorts if she wants to get anywhere. Not many people are ready to blaze their own trail, present company excepted.

RM said...

Dude, this is comment 25!

I can't believe Alyssa and I are on the same page on something. That may be a first.

BG - it's also a myth that schools HAVE to be Title IX compliant. Like the point about the fire dept throwing away some results because they were worried about a lawsuit, the same goes for schools. You really only have to comply if it's mandated and some of the bigger schools in the south (particularly the football/basketball SEC and ACC powerhouses) do not follow this to a T.

What the progressive, female AD of Maryland did was start up a few new women's sports programs in order to help give the men some more funding. They added women's water polo, competitive cheer and something else.

Also I know why Alyssa felt discriminated against at Navy - she was always giggling, spraypainting her shoes, eating snacks. Ha.

I think we all just need to watch G.I. Jane again. But really, I bet chicks that want to get to the top really do have to do some F'd up stuff, and that's not really fair, but it's all in the struggle of advancement I suppose.

alyssa said...

@ryan: I need to pull my disciplinary feedback form for you for a good laugh. Something along the lines of "midshipman godesky continues to laugh at trivial matters and roll her eyes at her superiors" was one of the better lines. And one time I did get in trouble for sneaking a reeses cup in the middle of a "rack race." (note: rack races include stripping your bed and putting all your sheets into your pillow case. The mids form up in the hallway outside their rooms holding their sheets out in the pillowcase until their arms hurt and an upperclass yells GO! Then we sprint to our romos with our roommates and make all of our beds in regulation as fast as possible. I think I smelled like chocolate or something when I got back because there is no other way they could have known since my roommate and I were always one of the fastest.)

@BG - in regards to the fewer opportunities women have. I'm not too familiar with the Army/Air Force, but I know that in the Navy women are still prohibited from becoming SEALS or going into Submarine Warfare. SEALS brings with it a whole question of physical fitness, and we don't need to get into that. But in terms of subs, they don't allow women on them because the quarters are "too close" and the deployments are long - so basically they'd be asking for sexual misconduct...or that's how they put it. Of course - why not just make a submarine of all women? When I asked that, I was onyl given the response that "the country is not yet ready to lose an entire submarine of women/mothers if something were to happen.

So, those are the big ones. But day to day life has many examples as well. I was lucky that I'm pretty awesome so I was friends with most dudes and I didn't really have to deal with much. But spend a couple hours on the campus and I garuntee you'll hear someone talking about a "wuba" (woman used by all). There's a bajillion other little nuances like that which unfortunately are swept under the rug most times.

Ben said...

ok - brian, i think i found a posting on another blog that might explain why i was so annoyed by your post. http://www.juliansanchez.com/2009/07/29/i-think-what/
The post is basically a critique of another blogger who said that vegetarianism is wrong because vegetarians think that actions against animals and humans are morally equivalent. so the guy writes - "I know very many vegetarians and vegans. I do not think a single one of them holds the view that 'animals are morally equivalent to humans.' File this under what is fast becoming one of my chief pet peeves: People who purport to specialize in political commentary and show no sign of having even the vaguest idea what people with different views actually believe."
so, here is what i believe was your sin - you argued against quotas by stating that quota proponents believe something that 99% of them don't believe. do you see how that could be annoying?

fbg said...

Ben, I would definitely find that annoying. That's obviously a huge logical fallacy.

I am primarily arguing against the necessity for equal numbers of sexes/ethnicities/whatever in various jobs/universities/etc. The fact is that quotas enforce approximately equal numbers. That's what they do. Now, if 99% of quota supporters don't believe in enforcing equal numbers, what do they believe in that would cause them to support quotas?

So, that's the reason I'm still resisting you; you're going to have to explain what it is that these 99% do believe, and not just what they don't believe. Maybe I can argue against that, too. ;-) But for now, I can't claim to be well-read on the subject, so I don't know what I'm up against.

That's what this post is for: starting a discussion from which we can hopefully all learn something.