A Simple and Inescapable Blindness, Research Time, 28/07/2017

Yesterday’s post was an attempt to express an idea that I’ve been jamming through my head whenever I read modern conservative thought. Right now, there’s a strong racist nationalism in American conservatism, one of many ideological strains.

My question, when I consider these texts and ideas, is how much that racism slides into those other ideologies. Racism appears in the online communities most frequently, especially in the cesspools of anonymous meme exchange. “God Bless George Zimmerman” and all.

There’s enough plausible deniability in the philosophical writing that you can say that the racism is incidental. Yet it remains so ubiquitous – awful shit about black, Hispanic, Muslim, and Asian people is everywhere in these conversations.

That doesn’t even mention the terrible shit people in conservative circles say about women, non-straight people, and trans people. But I want to keep this one short, and since I’m writing this at the end of yesterday, I don’t want to go to bed feeling depressed.

"I don't see race. I don't see colour. I hate everyone equally, so when I
discover that someone is from a marginalized group, it just gives me
more ways to hurt them."
Milton Friedman – writing Capitalism and Freedom in the early 1960s – doesn’t say anything openly racist. What he says is no more problematic than any of the things said about black people by any old men you might know who’ve never known a black person in their lives. Occasionally awkward as hell, but his heart’s in the right place.

Some more examples I took a couple of notes on from chapter seven. Friedman speaks totally ahistorically about racism. Even a few days of history doesn’t enter his thinking. He discusses racism only in terms of isolated acts – a word spits out, one customer is turned away, one unlawful arrest.

Never in a context of a society’s own history. Not even really in the context of an individual’s own biography. Not even in terms of aggregate effects.

Friedman says that there should be no preference of race given in the classic scenario: Two job applicants, a white man and a black woman, are equally qualified. He brings up this exact example – typical in the diversity hiring clause of many company policies and collective agreements. Including one negotiated by my own mother.

Milton Friedman says that you’re being just as racist when you hire the black woman because of ethnicity or gender, as when you hire the white woman because of ethnicity or gender. We will stop discrimination on the basis of race when we stop discriminating on the basis of race.

The reason you push to hire the black woman in that scenario is to create aggregate effects that only become visible at the societal scale. By encouraging more companies to hire someone from a marginalized or racialized group when considering equally qualified job applicants, you change the overall diversity of that rank of position in your whole society.

They’re inconsequential acts when made, and often look like the fabled “reverse racism” to some. But their purpose appears on a macro scale while it’s still invisible to our micro scale of one individual job.

It’s a profound irony I find in a lot of the model libertarian economists. Their entire science largely depends on statistical mathematics. But when they talk philosophy, they can never conceive of any purpose beyond the individual scale.


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