May 092017

Guys, I’m totes gonna solve discrimination today.

People are complicated and hard to get to know in a short amount of time. But sometimes you need to make quick a judgement without the time to really get to know someone. So people often use simple heuristics based on what they can see. Things like clothing, race, accent, etc.

This kinda works, because in the aggregate there are statistical difference between groups. If you pick a random man from the population, statistically he’s likely to be taller than a random woman. There are a lot of these sorts of statistical correlations, the most controversial of which deal with intelligence and criminality, which I won’t get into because you already know them.

The most important thing about statistical correlations is that they are SUPER fuzzy. A few percentage aggregate difference between groups that measure in the hundreds of millions, or possibly billions, leaves for astounding variance between individuals. I’m tall-ish for a man, and I’ve met a number of women taller than I am. The tremendous variance between individuals makes it unfair for someone to be pre-judged based on a group they fall in. It is claimed that “Research in human genetics has highlighted that there is more genetic variation within than between human groups, where those groups are defined in terms of linguistic, geographic, and cultural boundaries.” Statement 2. Guiding principles on using racial categories in human genetics (Soo-Jin Lee et al., 2008)

So we’re left in a tough dilemma — the information available to us is crappy and unfair to any given individual. But it’s based on aggregate statistics, and when that is the ONLY information someone has to go on, they will go on that, because even unfair data is often better than nothing at all. IE: if you want to optimize your group for tallness, you’re better off rejecting all female applicants (if the only info you have on applicants is their sex), despite the fact that a mixed group picking from the tallest candidates from both sexes would be taller.

But you know what groups actually have a very low degree of variance within them? Families. Specifically, children to their parents.

When I was a wee one, I believed strongly in blank-slate-ism. Almost everything was Nurture, in my opinion. To the point that I argued very strongly on Xena forums that it was evil for Xena to try to murder the infant child of Satan, because if it was raised by Gabrielle it could have totally grown up into a kind, caring, productive member of ancient Greek society. I still do think that it was probably wrong for Xena to have attempted that particular bit of child-killing, but I’m now far more sympathetic to the side of “Look, her dad is literally the embodiment of evil.” Turns out genes really do make a lot of difference, and everything is at least partially heritable.

This has been floating around in my head for a while, but I was recently reminded to post about it due to someone saying:

if you have a kid with some kind of horrifying predatory criminal, and now your kid is a horrifying predatory criminal, and you have no idea how this happened because the father left before he was even born and your new husband is a great guy and you’ve both always done your best to raise your kid well and give him a good home, your kid’s psychiatrist will listen empathetically to your story, and then empathetically give you a copy of The Nurture Assumption.

Also, “But we’re his foster parents! And he was taken away from his biological parents at age two weeks old! And we’ve given him the best home and every advantage you could imagine!” Lady, as soon as my next bulk shipment of The Nurture Assumption copies come in, boy do I have a book for you!

If someone wanted to eliminate all practical reasons for discrimination in situations where there’s enough time to run a quick database look-up on someone, I think by far the best way to do so would be to implement a strong genealogical record and make it entirely legal to look people up at will and base decisions on the results. Now the black kid with a teacher mother and an electrician father has a FAR better chance on his job application than the white kid with a mom in-and-out of rehab, and a dad who’s been in jail twice for assault.

Yes, it’s STILL unfair. Popular fiction would be full of stories of the kid who’s parents are horrifying predatory criminals, but the kid is kind and gentle and doing his best to cure cancer or break the lightspeed limit, and he’s almost there, but The Man is judging him based on a past that he had no hand in creating and couldn’t control. But it would be FAR MORE fair than what we have right now, because the correlation between parent-child is far stronger than within-racial/religious/sex/etc-group. It would help decision makers as well as applicants in almost all cases.

There would be ways for people to get around the stigma of awful parents, just like there are ways to get around the stigma of being poor, or female, or the wrong race or religion nowadays. But instead of every single member of groups that measure in the billions being forced to use these techniques for proving themselves, the numbers would be restricted to those who have problematic parents. Which I (naively?) assume is much lower.

I have this silly dream that it would drastically reduce the prevalence of racial/etc stereotypes if this sort of thing was widespread. People would grow used to accepting that there’s no real difference between races, or religions, at all. The difference is between parents, and families. This has the benefit of being closer to the the truth than the current status-quo, even if it isn’t the actual truth. And it’s much harder to paint an entire country/race as subhuman monsters that your nation needs to subjugate in a Just War if no one believes those are a natural grouping we can generalize about, and instead asks “Look, how many of the families in that country are known to be horrifying predatory criminals? And is there some way we can target just them, rather than wiping out the whole nation?”

I’m looking forward to a future where “Who are your parents?” is consider due-diligence rather than rude.

  9 Responses to “Fixing Discrimination via The Sins Of Our Fathers”

  1. I hope you understand the downsides of your suggestion. Firstly it would legitimize racism. Racist people aren’t exactly known for their fair and rational way of dealing with things. So this system would be abused like all heck to institutionalize state condoned racism.

    I’d argue that there are way more problematic parents than their are people suffering from negative racial stereotypes. I also think that at least 90% of parents are problematic which is why the general population is just so insane and raising the sanity waterline is so hard.

    My real question is this: With two fucked up parents do I either get a life on benefits as given to keep me from crime or do I get executed at birth or do I just do the life of crime thing (even though keeping me imprisoned would outweigh the cost of benefits many times over).? I’d just like to choose which of these fates you would be advocating.

    Having state condoned discrimination occur against me being heaped on top of having problematic parents while also knowing that if I did have children they would be marred with my records. I’d have no reason to not just go on a killing spree at that point.

    Your idea isn’t about ” I’m totes gonna solve discrimination today.” Your post is more of a “I’m totes going to turn discrimination into a legally protected shitstorm which may never end”. You live outside of social norms yourself. Would you be ok with someone not hiring a child of yours as a result of your polyamarous lifestyle? Picture the kids admission into a school looks at you and decides your kid has parents which are too atheist and so no.

    I don’t want to rip you down since I enjoy the things you do and I hope you already know that not all of it would be met with wide spread approval. Having your children be judged by a freely available heavily informative bio of yourself would just be crazy. The last people who need to be discriminated against are those with shitstorms for parents. Unless you are willing to execute us at birth ? But hey if the rest of the population will sign off on that I wont stand in their way.

    • I’d like to think it would greatly reduce racism, since people would stop judging based superficial characteristics and stick with actions taken. Although if someone was determined to be racist, yeah, I guess it would make it very easy to overlook problem parents for people of the preferred group, and be super-strict on those of the hated group. And giving them a legitimizing cover would be bad. I tend to have faith that this wouldn’t happen much, but I admit I have been known to have an overly-optimistic view of humanity on many previous occasions.

      Like, I *really* hope that 90% is an extreme overestimate. I would’ve thought less than 10%. Because everyone is crazy and has issues, “normal” is a bald-faced lie, but we all know this and accept it, right? So that’s taken into consideration and regular dysfunction isn’t counted against anyone, it’s only stuff like “horrible, predatory behavior that lands you in prison” or “drug abuse that severely interferes with normal functioning” that’s looked at. But again, that relies on the evaluators not being awful people and acting in good faith. Which, I guess, isn’t a given.

      And I certainly don’t mean for this sort of thing to lock anyone out of societal life! Minorities and women do get jobs and home loans and college acceptances nowadays! I viewed it as replacing current discrimination. So people with bad parents would have the difficulties minorities have today, which is to say playing life on a harder setting, but not shut out of life! I imagine there’d still be affirmative-action type programs, they’d simply be targeted at children of bad parents rather than minorities. The assumption is everything stays like it is today, just the focus changes.

      Which yes, would suck for people who have bad parents and have done nothing themselves, and are struggling to prove themselves. I know this doesn’t help for shit to say, but I’m sorry that includes you. Not because of any hypothetical silly world, but because having bad parents already makes life very difficult, and I’m sorry you went through that and struggle against it. It’s a shitty position to be in, especially as it was inflicted on you as a child.

      My only contention is that this sort of system would, on average, be less crappy than the sorts of discrimination we have now. Because at least there is some accounting for actions, rather than purely surface characteristics. Your children, should you choose to have any, could be the beneficiaries of your hard work and striving. :) They could proudly point out to administrators that their parents overcame worse circumstances than most to become outstanding citizens.

      And yeah, if I had kids I suppose they could be hurt both by my atheism and polyamory. I guess it depends on whether those are counted as “strikes” even if I led an exceptionally unproblematic life. This would motivate me to push harder for atheism and poly acceptance in general society, the same way people are currently pushing for Muslim-acceptance and trans-acceptance in the US.

      So no, I don’t want you to be euthanized, or marginalized, or anything else. I just think that in a fantasy world where everything else was held equal but the focus of discrimination was altered, this alternative would be less arbitrary and less bad, overall.

      • If we wanted to assess people using a method birthed in fairness we would be using aptitude tests. As an added side benefit the POTUS would be licking stamps and absolutely forbidden from anything with more impact.

      • This form of discrimination isn’t exactly a new idea. The UK used the idea of social shunning and ostracizing family members of “undesirables” for generations. For example, one way of discouraging women from having sex outside of marriage was the threat to their siblings, being “ruined” didn’t just destroy your chances of a happy marriage, it did the same for your sisters. Similarly, orphans were treated as second class citizens, partly based on the idea that most were the product of “sin” and therefore must be corrupt themselves.

        My main issue with this is similar to Iajawl; people with bad parents have enough disadvantages, we don’t need to make it worse by insisting that their parents’ behavior means they should be considered suspect at best for the rest of their lives.

        • I still think “You’re closely related to someone who makes bad decisions” is better basis for discrimination than “You belong to a group of hundreds of millions, some of whom have made bad decisions.” Again, I think the problem with the past examples you mention is that they went to some *extreme* lengths based on that. Becoming socially shunned and unmarriable is not a proportional reaction to that sort of data.

          The original post was written soon after reading about Japanese Salarymen – – A society with baked-in discrimination based on your “family” where corporation=family. Those without a prestigious family have significantly more hardship getting through life than those with a corporate patron smoothing everything for them, but it’s not intolerable… and it’s kinda heroic? Although I guess imposing heroic suffering on people isn’t really a great goal for a social system. :/

          • I find the argument that a new system is less bad than the old one to be specious. You can say in context that primogenitor was better than the prior system of civil war between the kings offspring, but if you’re going to propose a new system from scratch, I think people could have found a better way.

            Historically, social reactions are rarely proportional to evidence. But the concept of shunning/ostracizing of not just the offender but everyone they are closely connected with was a somewhat effective way of punishing behavior certain people/groups had a vested interest in minimizing; whether it was rational or not.

  2. Haha someone literally made a compelling case for infanticide! :D

  3. We’d need some careful analysis of exactly which situations exist where we have
    a) Access to information about someone’s parents’ past behaviour, but
    b) Little or no access to information about their own past behaviour, and
    c) Lack of ability to run any other tests that would foretell future behaviour, and
    d) A purpose in mind for which we need to know the information.

    a) and b) would be the case for children who don’t yet have much history to go by, but that leaves d) kind of up in the air. School admissions perhaps? But when schools are allowed to discriminate they’d usually prefer standardised tests – leaving aside for now societal pressure to discriminate in specific “approved” ways – so long as the cost of running the tests is low enough.

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