Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Friday, November 30, 2012

Legally Protected Relationships

Today in class we discussed the distinction made about certain kinds of relationships protected under the law and those that are not. For instance, information between spouses, even information that is criminal, is protected by law. Other relationships include professional ones-- lawyer/client privilege, doctor/patient confidentiality privilege-- but I intend to focus on more personal relationships (as this was the qualification that framed our discussion today in class). If a personal relationship between spouses is legally privileged, why not the relationship between parents and children? Or between brother and sister? Though not in all cases, these personal relationships can be as close and rewarding as a spousal relationship. The only significant difference is that, presumably, the relationship between spouses involves a sexual relationship and the relationship between family members does not. If that is the only discernible difference, then do not all adults in consenting, long-term sexual relationship constitute protection under this principle? The protection of the law, however, does not apply to same-sex couples or couples who choose to live together without obtaining a marriage license for whatever reason.
So what makes loyalty between spouses fundamentally different before the law than other personal relationships? It seems that I can usually identify some kind of guiding philosophy when we have discussed US laws before, but in this case I cannot see a philosophical distinction.


     In class today, we talked a lot about the importance and value of loyalty, and we tried to determine what situations where the obligations of loyalty are outweighed by the obligations to the greater good. Loyalty is an interesting test of ethical conduct because it seems to fall in the grey area between the categorical imperative and utilitarianism. For example, most of our concerns about loyalty stemmed from utilitarian calculations of the greatest good combined with the categorical idea that loyalty is something that ought take precedence to many other concerns. In class, we demonstrated that loyalty is a force that encourages us to keep contained and minimize the potential harm we do our fellows, such as when many of us said that we would prefer to report someone within an internal chain of command rather than cause more trouble by bringing in outside influences. Though, we must all admit that there is a point where loyalty breaks down, mainly in two cases: where the result is somewhat  insignificant and when the result is extremely destructive. For the first, it would be akin to having to testify against a close friend for some small thievery or other small crime. Most would not deliberately perjure themselves, and I doubt that many would plead the fifth. We would thus inform on our friend, and yet we would not feel that we had violated any claims of loyalty in this case. On the other extreme, if the result would be destructive with no positive gain, such as the example with the football team, most of us would still remain silent. What do you all think? Have I correctly represented our in class discussions?

Affirmative Action: Benefits and Consequences

As we read in Sandel's Justice, there are many arguments for and against affirmative action. Justifiable moral arguments abound on both sides of the discussion. I would like to take a consequentialist look at the benefits as well as the ramifications of affirmative action.

First off, affirmative action does work. It is certainly preferable to the absence of affirmative action programs in that regard. And the goal of affirmative action is a lofty one. Equal opportunity for all, regardless of race, sex, gender, or religious persuasion, is important to the success of a democratic society. It is even more important to the foundation of a just society.

The arguments against affirmative action usually come from those who feel that they have been discriminated against due to affirmative action programs. Those opposed to affirmative action are generally residents of the majority demographic of a society, and receive no immediate personal benefit from these programs. If you're interested in reading an article from the anti-affirmative action side, I found one that basically sums up this position. Opponents of affirmative action in the United States often cite the founding documents of our country as evidence for the injustice of such programs. For instance, the article listed above begins with Jefferson's famous quote from the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

Ignoring the fact that relying solely on centuries-old documents for our moral judgments is likely a bad idea, this quote and others like it bring to light an important value in American society.  We value equality to an extensive degree.  So, when we feel that equality is not being upheld, or when we feel that discrimination is taking place, we are upset by it.  This indignant response to inequality is further complicated by the rather inflated issues of race and gender in our society.  I say "inflated" because these attributes are given far too much importance as separative features in our society.  Race or gender should not determine our moral judgments of a person.

There is no doubt a legacy of discrimination in the United States.  Affirmative action seeks to correct the aftereffects of this legacy by favoring certain individuals over others.  The trouble with this is that many members of the unfavored group under affirmative action policies now feel discriminated against, as well.  Whether this feeling is legitimate or not is another debate entirely.  Illustrating the conflicts between the pro- and anti-affirmative action camps in this manner serves to obscure an even more severe consequence of affirmative action.

This consequence is that affirmative action policies, through their virtuous goal of promoting equality, actually proliferate the illusory divide between those with certain racial, religious, etc. attributes.  By maintaining race, gender, etc. as factors in selecting individuals for certain positions, these attributes remain unnecessarily divisive.

This argument is sometimes used to discredit affirmative action programs altogether, which is, in my opinion, a totally ridiculous moral position.  Affirmative action is in reality necessary to the creation of a truly equal society, where race, sex, gender, and religion are not given arbitrary positive or negative identifications.  We should understand, however, that affirmative action alone cannot eliminate these prejudices in our society.

Affirmative Action

For the past 50 years, many colleges and companies across the United States have tried to increase diversity in their populations. In order to do this, they enacted affirmative action policies that gave minorities an advantage in the admissions and hiring process. Many of these colleges and companies have justified their discrimination by saying that these affirmative action policies are a way to increase diversity and a way to compensate for past wrongs. I believe that affirmative action policies are examples of blatant racism and it is imperative that we find another way to solve our low diversity issue.

Why is it racism? The simple answer would be because they unfairly favor minorities. Sandel stated that it’s not racism because the colleges need a black person and that’s the trait they are looking for and that this makes it okay. Using this logic, it would be fair to say that discrimination against blacks in restaurants in the 1950’s was completely okay. If blacks did eat at the restaurant then it would drive out the whites and the whites are the customers that the restaurant owners are looking for. Using that logic it was okay for colleges to discriminate in the 1950’s because at that time they were looking for the white trait. I just can’t comprehend how one could justify this.

Fighting fire with fire, that’s what affirmative action policies are doing. We are discriminating so that we can compensate for past wrongs—the past wrongs being discrimination. I believe that the better way to increase diversity is to start at the bottom and work our way up. How? Well, the first thing that should be done is secondary school reform. In the US, a majority of high schools are in poor order. Many can’t meet the minimum competency requirements. In the US, dropout rates are at an all-time high—especially for minority students. In 2009, there were 3 million 16 to 24 year olds who never enrolled in high school or nor had a diploma or GED (Huffington Post).In 2009, 4.8 percent of blacks and 5.8 percent of Hispanics between the ages of 15 and 24 dropped out of high school. More astounding facts include: 70 percent of eight graders can’t read proficiently, and most will never catch up. 44 percent of dropouts under the age of 24 are jobless (The Broad Foundation). These are very surprising numbers. This is what leads to decreased diversity in post-secondary education and in many workplaces. If there are honest efforts at bettering the public school system, then I believe that diversity in the workplace and in colleges will automatically increase.

A Better Affirmative Action System

Affirmative action is a program that could potentially overcorrect the system of admission into schools the attempt to end racial prejudices.  But this is not to say that those who created these admission techniques or those that support them by any means have bad intentions.  They in fact have very good intentions and are closer to a solution to the unjust inequalities in our country than those who would like to completely abolish affirmative action.

But is affirmative action really the right way to go about correcting the system?  By implementing affirmative action, the board of admissions and the applicant himself are taking into account an attribute that is not correlated to the person's merit, abilities, or personality.  In my opinion, it is not a correct assumption to say that just because someone is of another color that he or she magically brings to the table all of these cultural differences.  I believe that a person is a product of their environment and rearing, not the color of their skin.  I think one of the reasons we see differences in people of different racial backgrounds is because we expect to see differences.  And as long as society continues to regard individuals as mentally different because they are physically different, there will be no progress made in culturally integrating our society.

Affirmative action is meant to right the wrong done to minorities in the past.  While I do think we have a duty as a society to take responsibility for our communities past wrong doings, I also believe that our actions in correcting today's societal issues should come first.  Today we do not need any further distinctions between race.  We need to help all who are least advantaged.  This system would instead take into account the economic situation of applicants rather than the color of their skin.  Because, as philosopher Walzer argues, the main problem with our society is the hold the sphere of money and commodities has over the other spheres of justice.

Though race does still have an impact on the attitudes of our society, it is money that is the bigger factor in determining one's ability to lead a successful life in this capitalistic society.  Because race and poverty are correlated in our nation today, affirmative action does have its benefits.  But this system does not lead to a solution, but a path to overcorrection and the eventual need for developing a new system that makes the playing field equal.  The only way to having a just affirmative action system in admissions is to give the upper hand to those in worse economic situations.

Can We Collectively (As A Nation or Group) Justly Inherit Good Fortune/Advantages?

From our reading and lecture, it seems that there is at least some conception of collective responsibility in the average person. When talking about Patriotism and immigration laws, Sandel touches on the issue of equality among nations:
The inequality of nations complicates the case for national community. If all countries had comparable wealth, and if every person were a citizen of some country or other, the obligation to take special care of one’s own people would not pose a problem--at least not from the standpoint of justice. But a world with vast disparities between rich and poor countries, the claims of community can be in tension with the claims of equality (230). 
I pose this question: if you can collectively inherit obligations to address past injustices, can you also collectively inherit good fortune/advantages? At face value, one would seem to follow the other.

The first thing that comes to my mind is a Rawlsian argument. Placing yourself behind a “veil of ignorance” would compel you to correct imbalances and injustices unless an imbalance  could be determined as favorable for everyone.  This would compel us to correct injustices and oppose both benign and harmful imbalances. The problem with using Rawls’s principles here is that they are meant to be the governing principles of a single society, and it isn't clear from our reading what Rawls’s foreign policy might be. Perhaps one could make the argument that we’re all part of a larger, international society, but I think this argument would be met by a string of  equally valid objecting arguments. At the very least, the current state of affairs don’t seem to indicate that we view the international community as an amalgamated society.

One could also make the argument that collective wealth and advantages directly affect human rights and the quality of life (things we tend to view as universal). To see an example of this, check out this chart (I highly recommend spending some time looking around Dr. Rosling’s site. He has some great data graphing techniques. He has also presented some great TED talks.). At this point, it becomes a contested issue between universal obligations and loyalty-derived obligations, and I think we have all agreed that either may win over the other, depending on the specific person making the judgment.  Perhaps one could make the argument that we all have loyalty to people in general? If it isn't restricted to a subset of the population, is it really a loyalty?

What do you think, and what’s the argument for your viewpoint (let’s try to exclude ideas of practicality)? In this instance, the well-being of people across the globe overwhelms my feelings of patriotism. I'm essentially applying Rawls's principles on a global scale. I also apply utilitarian calculus to convince myself; if there are people suffering because their basic needs aren't being met, I don't think other subsections of people should be happily living in excess.

Affirmative Action

            We have talked about affirmative action numerous times in class, but we talked about it in the most depth on Wednesday. I think affirmative action is just, and I think that Sandel points out three good arguments that support affirmative action: correcting for the testing gap, correcting past wrongs, and promoting diversity. The first argument I think in some ways avoids a larger problem, which is the state of the education system. As for compensating for pas wrongs, I personally think that it is less about compensating for things like slavery directly but more about how we as a society view people as a result of it and because I think that is something we can’t exactly control, I think we have some responsibility to try to correct it. I think that the third argument is something that most people can agree with, a classroom isn’t the same with any majority of people, or as we talked about in class, a whole group is not represented. Affirmative action helps to not only diversify classrooms, but as we saw with the University of Texas Law School case, it helps to diversify a profession as well.
            Though those are all good arguments for affirmative action, is affirmative action achieving its goal? As Dr. J pointed out on Wednesday, more women attend college than men (there are also more women in the US) so why does that not reflect in the business, or the political world? Despite affirmative action why are there still so few minorities in big positions? Is affirmative action helping to only correct the testing gap, compensating for past wrongs, and to diversify the classroom, is it helping society any? Do you think affirmative action is supposed to do anything more? What do you think?

Patriotism vs. Universal Humanity

What I found most interesting in Sandel's consideration of loyalty dilemmas was his discussion of patriotism.  Sandel cites Jean-Jacques Rousseau's argument that communal attachments, such as patriotism, are vitally important to an idea of universal humanity.  Rousseau argues, though, that we are limited in our ability to sympathize.  He writes, "It seems that the sentiment of humanity evaporates and weakens in being extended over the entire world."  I thought this was fascinating.  He seems almost to suggest we should feel a sense of universal humanity, but it is an ideal that is, because of our limited capacity to sympathize, impossible.  For this reason, patriotism is important because it encourages us to sympathize with one another.

It seems problematic, though (and Sandel mentions this, too), that patriotism also compels us to place more concern upon those within our community, whatever that community may be, than those in other communities.  It's a complex problem.  We cannot sympathize with everyone, so it is good that we practice sympathizing with, for example, other Americans.  Doing so is good, because it means we feel a communal responsibility, but it also means that we perhaps unrealistically overvalue those within our community.  This complicates our sympathy for the rest of the world.  Patriotism means that we feel an obligation toward one another that is stronger our obligation toward others.  To me, this actually seems to discourage our sense of universal humanity.

Strong patriotism is good for the country, but if Rousseau is correct that we ought to feel a connection to every human being (and our patriotism is just that feeling as far-reaching as it can go--only to the boundaries of one's country), then too-strong patriotism does something wrong by obscuring our feelings about other countries by imploring us to value one another, as Americans, over every other human being. 

Rousseau seems to suggest that we ought to feel this kind of sympathy with the world, but because we cannot, patriotism is a good substitute.  Really, though, it seems like we would be more compelled toward universal humanity if we did not value citizenship in the same country as some special connection requiring special loyalty.  By valuing one another over other people, we're actually making universal humanity even less possible.  It seems to me that, if it is the ideal, we should seek to achieve it, even if we can't fully get there.  If Rousseau is right, I mean, we should encourage a more communal vision of the world. 

I think Rousseau is probably right that we cannot feel tied to everyone, but so often we see near-religious patriotism causing strong antagonism between countries.  I think we, as humans, want to feel communal ties, but perhaps we cannot expand those beyond the borders of our country, and unfortunately this causes us lots of problems.  What are your thoughts?  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Affirmative Action Thoughts

While reading Sandel’s chapter “Dilemmas of Loyalty”, I was reminded of our discussion yesterday in class. Sandel says, “you can’t apologize for something you didn’t do. So, how can you apologize for something that was done before you were born?” (211). This got me thinking of the possible reasons for affirmative action that we came up with. It seems safe to say that there is a sense of guilt held that affirmative action is in a way, an attempt to assuage. Although I agree that the intention of affirmative action is a good one, it isn’t executed in an effective way. Like the examples in Sandel’s chapter we read for Wednesday tries to illustrate, sometimes the best candidate doesn’t get the spot because race is looked at too much. A fault of affirmative action is that by trying to create a balance, an overcompensation is the result. Race ends up being blinding at times and taken as the defining characteristic of a person instead of looking at the person as a whole. I do not want to assume and generalize that this is the case every time but it is something to be aware of. Also, I think it is interesting that when talking about affirmative action people start talking about it first in terms of race not gender. I think this is in part because we are trained to be more sensitive to racial issues rather then gender ones. Gender dialogue can be more intimidating because we are not trained to use it as much. Affirmative action is a sensitive subject but it is important to remember that just because someone may not agree with the way it is carried out does not mean that the intention of it is not appealing.