Friday, January 21, 2005

Comment 1/20/2005 on Left2Right

Biological explanations can do two things: they can justify different policies, or they can explain outcomes. I would argue that the first is almost always illegitimate, but the second is very useful.

Sam’s rule of government: governments should consider individuals as individuals, not as members of a group. Making group-based policies strengthens factionalism, increases tensions between the groups and hardens definitions of the group, and is thus dangerous and corrosive to liberty.

However, government treating people as “equal before the law” does not mean that all groups will end up proportionately represented in every field of endeavor. Studying how groups differ in ability, inclination, etc is useful for understanding why that happens.

One area of law and practice where this realization is very helpful is in anti-discrimination law. On principle, I oppose anti-discrimination law that applies to non-government actors—but that’s another issue. One big problem with anti-discrimination law as currently implemented is that numerical disparities are considered evidence of discrimination. (If there is significant under-representation of a protected group, the burden of proof is on the employer to prove that it does not discriminate.) Realizing that there can be real biological reasons that groups will not, in every endeavor, be represented proportionately, helps show why this presumption is inaccurate and can be dangerous.

Just to clarify--I believe biological differences almost never justify governments treating people differently. Most of the abuses mentioned above (eugenics, segregation) are examples of governments treating people differently on the basis of biology.


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