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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Tiny Steps

A reenactment (with some license) of an argument with my Libertarian father:

Dad: Governmental regulations designed to protect a population from itself are seriously flawed and inefficient. You can't always save people from hanging themselves, or blame yourself for allowing them to buy some rope.

Me: Agreed... although successful programs like Social Security suggest that while these programs are difficult to design correctly, it's not impossible.

Dad: But take an idea like affirmative action. It is inherently unfair to both sides, and will never create a better society.

Me: Maybe you're right... I'm not totally sold on existing affirmative action plans either. But, I'd argue that it hasn't worked out as badly as some people contend.

Dad: I don't like the idea of someone less skilled getting promoted ahead of me at work simply because of the color of his or her skin.

Me: Has this ever actually happened to you?

Dad: There was this one guy who got promoted to foreman. He definitely wasn't the best machinist in the shop.

Me: Okay, but what about other factors? Did he have seniority? Did he have managerial experience or a degree? And surely you aren't saying that the best machinist would necessarily be the best manager? It seems you are suggesting a true meritocracy, but how does labor skill translate into foreman skill? It's not that simple.

Dad: Yeah, I guess he did have seniority over the other candidates, but a lot of people felt he got the job because they wanted to hire a minority.

Me: I think that's just what I'm talking about. There's a perception of "unfairness" out there related to affirmative action and people jump to conclusions without looking at the whole picture in order to justify their outrage. You assumed it was purely an affirmative action appeasing hire, but he could well have been the best candidate.

Dad: Well he wasn't much of a foreman.

Me: And what does that prove? How many managers have you met that knew what they were doing?

Dad: Point taken.

Me: Look, Dad, let us agree that growing up as a minority in America comes with it's share of difficulties... that there are a lot of little traumas and probably a few big ones that go along with that path. And let's also agree that as two white guys, we can't really relate to that experience.

Dad: Okay. I think that's true.

Me: Now let's look at another population... one that you relate to more: Viet Nam war vets. The guys coming back from Viet Nam had definitely gotten a raw deal. They were fucked over by their government, exposed to chemicals, spit on by citizens back at home. Plus they were exposed to some of the most awful war conditions any Americans had ever faced... unable to distinguish friend from foe, asked to torture people, etc.

Dad: Yeah, now that's trauma.

Me: Okay, so can we agree that when these guys got back from Viet Nam all fucked up... mentally and physically wounded because of our society's structure... that we owed them some help? Isn't it fair to say that these men and women deserved good, free mental health services, help with finding jobs and reintegrating back into normal American society?

Dad: Absolutely, but your talking about people that really got shafted here by their own government.

Me: Regardless of which power structure did the shafting, these people deserved the benefit of affirmative action-style legislation in order to overcome the trauma. They deserved special privileges which are inherently unfair.

Dad: Yeah, in that particular case I'd agree. But that's a short term problem with a short term solution. How long are we supposed to pay for people to overcome race trauma? 150 years? I don't see the Chinese people failing to thrive in America, and they were brought here as slave labor to build the railroads.

Me: I don't know. Maybe we need to figure out better ways to pay that bill. But you don't just walk away from the table. Something is obviously still wrong. I refuse to believe that certain races are better than others, so you have to look at social conditions and history to explain why we're where we are now.



At 4/26/2006 12:05:00 PM, Blogger Ned said...

Dude, you are so Socrates!

At 4/26/2006 08:20:00 PM, Anonymous mel said...

Definitely the Socratic Method at its best.

That is a rough conversation topic and interaction to get through calmly, and it sounds like you did it well.

At 4/27/2006 01:53:00 AM, Blogger ScottyTuxedo said...

I really enjoy reading your blog, John.

At 4/27/2006 10:16:00 AM, Blogger Johnbai3030 said...

"Getting through it calmly" is part of the artistic license I took. The actual conversation drove my mother to another table in the restaurant.
But thanks for all the encouraging words! I encourage y'all to go forth and have similar conversations with all the godless Libertarians in your lives.

At 4/30/2006 05:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool blog Johnboi.



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