Thursday, January 19, 2006

Affirmative Action: Poisoning the Wells

I don't do informal fallacies so I'm not sure whether this is the tag for the fallacy that appears in these two articles on affirmative action and assisted suicide.

In the first, the author argues that since the "role model" argument for affirmative action is unsound and therefore that affirmative action is unwarrented. In the second the editorial writer from the NYTimes applauds the Supreme Court for supporting the Oregon law premitting assisted suicide on the grounds that assisted suicide is opposed by the Bush administration invoking a conservative Christian ideology.

The gist of both is that because a given argument for a thesis is bad the thesis is bad and that, whatever you call it, is a fallacy. Even though the role model argument for affirmative action is, as the author notes, baloney, there are good and, I believe, compelling arguments for affirmative action as the only practical means for counteracting ongoing discrimination. There are also good, though I'm not sure whether compelling arguments, against assisted suicide that do not assume any religious doctrines, namely that if the practice is legal and socially acceptable, patients who do not want to suicide out will be under pressure from over-burdened families and medical personnel allocating scarce resources.

From the logical point of view, piling up bad arguments for a thesis shouldn't make any difference. From the rhetorical point of view it undermines credibility. The remarkable thing is that politically savvy operators, who are not logically fastidious but interested in persuasion by fair means or foul, pile up bad arguments in support of the positions they want to push. In camera they may discuss the legitimate reasons for the policies they want to push but in public they throw in the kitchen sink--every bad argument, every sentimentality, every myth that they believe will promote their agenda. Invariably this program undermines credibility.

Members of racial and ethnic minorities do not have anything special to offer as faculty members. They are not needed as "role models." "Diversity" in schools or workplaces is of absolutely no value: the business of these institutions would go just as well if they were staffed entirely by white, Anglo males. Women do not have anything special to contribute to the workplace; they do not have distinctive "management styles" that make it in any firm's interest to hare them for management positions.

The purpose of affirmative action and equal opportunity policies is to counteract ongoing discrimination, to benefit women and members of minorities who would otherwise be excluded or treated unfairly. It would be nice if that were a win-win situation but it is not: it is a win-tie situation where employers are required to adopt practices that benefit women and minorities but do not either harm or benefit them. It is hard to sell these policies by appeal to fairness, which is their true justification, because employers are self-interested but the Good Lie that "diversity" is good for colleges, schools and firms has worn thin, obscures the real. compelling arguments for maintaining them and undermines the credibility of supporters.

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