PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Thursday, June 12, 2008

from Lawrence, PhiloMadrid, Sunday meeting: Are equal opportunities achievable? + NEWS (Take 2)

Dear friends,

We'll try again this Sunday to have the meeting, I guess you all know
why we didn't have it last Sunday!!

The subject, therefore, is: Are equal opportunities achievable? I am
including the essay just in case you missed it last week. However, in
this morning's edition of the Times on Line there is an article on the
rich-poor divide in the UK which is very relevant for our discussion.
And although it is basically bad news there are some rays of hope thanks
to the initiative of some people. Ironically, it seems that I
anticipated the article by one week.

The article is called: Unequal Britain: The future has already been
decided for our children. And the link is:
For copyright reasons I am not including the article in this email but I
strongly recommend that you read it. If you have problems please let me

In the meantime this is the news from last week and this week:

Before I find a more permanent accommodation in Madrid I was wondering
if you could help me find what they call an aparthotel for July. I would
be arriving end of June and would stay until end of August let's say. To
start with, I would rather stay in the Salamanca district because that's
where I would be working. I can offer up to 1200 euros for a studio for
the month
Any suggestion? Francesca

+++++++++++++From Asun++++++++++++++
Lawrence this is a job position to cover urgently maybe you can resend
to your list to se if nybody is interested
Enviado el: jueves, 05 de junio de 2008 17:45
Asunto: Fw: Enviando por correo electrónico: Formulario de requerimiento
de personal 3
Te reenvío documento sobre el puesto de Recepcionista a cubrir ( no se
trata de sustitución por vacaciones sino como puesto fijo ), en Príncipe
Sports II. Este Club está en la C / Serrano Galvache 20 y hay 2 medios
para ir allí aunque dado el horario de salida, lo ideal es que disponga
de coche; uno y como ya he dicho, en coche y otro, la Estación de
Chamartín y cuya distancia andando es de 20 minutos.
...., ¡ nunca se sabe si conocerás indirectamente a alguien que pueda
interesarle !.
En cualquier caso, agradezco tu esfuerzo y es urgentísima la necesidad a
Un abrazo !
Ana Martínez Leal
* Mi correo, que en este momento no puedo usar es
+++++++++++++I have the application form on a word doc++++++++++++
Take care
PS: Adverts at the end of message


+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
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Are equal opportunities achievable?

Since we have discussed aspects of equal opportunities before I will  limit myself to two issues:  The first is: what is the nature of unequal opportunities (to  disadvantage others)? Do we disadvantage people or discriminate against  them because we act on social whims? Or is there a more fundamental  reason why we would disadvantage people? To put it more directly, is it  natural to disadvantage people?

The second issue is: what are the necessary and sufficient conditions  that will help us achieve equal opportunities? And by extension, can we  achieve universal equal opportunities or do we have to accept what we  can possibly achieve?

By establishing the nature of unequal opportunities (I am using this  term to mean disadvantage people and the opposite of equal  opportunities) we would be able to decide with more confidence the  complexity of our problem and the possible options open to us. If, for  example, this form of disadvantage is a social whim, we might have to  take measure that change behaviour. But if the problem is more natural  then we might have to educate and inform ourselves to achieve the  desires effects.

The importance of necessary and sufficient conditions is that they would  provide us with a predictive model of this form of human relationships.  Thus, we can say that the positive/positive instances of equal  opportunities we encounter the more our conditions might prove to be  causal rather than correlations. For example, we cannot tell whether the  results of affirmative actions are caused because of a reduction in  discrimination in the general population or because of a suppression of  discrimination in the general population. I would therefore say that  affirmative action might seem to bring about the "desired" results, but  in my opinion the most we can say is that this is a correlation and not  a causal effect. Forcing someone to behave in a good way is not the same  as someone behaving in a good way because of their good nature.  "Equal opportunities" is an intellectual concept and not very well  defined. We apply it to many situations such as employment, education,  medicine etc. But does it make sense to speak of equal opportunities in  our personal life? Are we obliged to have a good representation of  minorities in our group of friends?

For a very detailed article on equal opportunities in philosophy I  strongly recommend the article in The Stanford Encyclopedia of  Philosophy, Equality of Opportunity* (Encyclopaedia).Wikipedia has a  brief but equally good article on Economic discrimination** (Wikipedia).  I will therefore won't try to give a historical perspective of the issue.  For a working definition of what we mean by equal opportunities we can  start with the following definition from the Encyclopaedia article,  "..when equality of opportunity prevails, the assignment of individuals  to places in the social hierarchy is determined by some form of  competitive process, and all members of society are eligible to compete  on equal terms." And usually for job applications the criteria would  include something like, "...applications are judged on their merits, and  the most qualified according to criteria that are relevant to job  performance are offered positions."

The key terms must surely be to compete on equal terms and judged on  merits. The Wikipedia entry for Equal Opportunities (very short article  and mainly gives other links) defies it as people "not excluded" from  the activities of society. These social activities are mainly,  employment, education and health care. We strongly associate equal  opportunities with employment opportunities for women; or rather with  career development opportunities for women. But it is now accepted that  there are minority groups or disadvantaged people who also do not have  equal opportunities in society.

But before we can consider the necessary and sufficient conditions issue  we still have to consider the nature of equal opportunities. Therefore,  what test can we employ to find out whether disadvantaging people is  natural or rational (i.e. social based)?

To answer this question we have to look at the genetic and evolution  background of human beings. For example, one important feature of the  evolutionary and genetic process is that we naturally prefer to  cooperate with those who are in our genetic group than those who are  not. In evolutionary history it made sense to help a member of our tribe.  Moreover, it made sense to select mates who were healthy. This gave any  offspring not only better chances to have good genes but also to be  provided for during the formative years of their life. This is why it  makes more sense to have both parents provide for a child rather than  one parent: division of labour.

What else can we look at, as philosophers, to help us establish whether  a particular act is based on some natural criteria or social whim. I  propose that if we can conclusively exclude natural criteria we ought to  be left with social ones. And the most direct way to help us decide this  is to look at actions based on emotions.

Emotions have a direct causal link to our physical (genetic) make up.  Thus, an aversion to distrust strangers would be a natural thing to do,  but what is not natural is to exclude them from say, medical care,  simply because they were a stranger (or an immigrant). Or maybe offer a  job to someone from our race and exclude someone else purely on the  colour of their skin or social background.

A lot of discrimination is based on stereotyping: blacks are lazy, women  are not interested in careers. But stereotyping is probably a very bad  form of statistical discrimination (see the Encyclopaedia). However,  statistical discrimination is also very common in our society: single  men in their forties tend to have unhealthy lifestyle, so we exclude  single males in their forties from health care. Statistics will tell us  what the group dynamics is like, but not necessarily tell us what the  individual is like. Stereotyping, is statistics without the maths, in  other words prejudice based on hearsay or whims.

But why should we care whether discrimination is natural or not? Some  might even see this fact of discrimination as being natural as a  justification to discriminate. For example, in a programme on CBS  Radio*** it is shown that hierarchies are natural phenomena in groups.  And an experiment conducted on monkeys showed evidence that low status  monkeys had a natural tendency to be submissive to the dominant members  of the group. It might therefore be argued that some people might indeed  belong to a low status group precisely to be exploited: consider the  caste system in India and the status of the Dalit who are sometimes also  called untouchables, or outcasts. (Wikipedia relevant terms)  It might very well be the case that in the wild and with small tribes  discrimination was de jure, but today we have evolved into larger  communities were brute force has been supplanted, in whole or in big  part, by rational strategy. In other words: apply cooperation or win-win  strategies also with strangers.

Thus, although there is no natural reason to allow immigrations, should  this be adopted we ought to do so on the basis that these new comers  also participate in our win-win strategies. And if we don't we can  conclusively infer that the reason to open our borders for immigrants is  to exploit these new comers. In my opinion when Alpha members of a group  start advocating the need for more immigrants, it is time to polish our  conspiracy theories.

I would therefore argue that whilst discrimination is indeed a natural  phenomenon, social type of discrimination (employment, education etc) is  not nature based but social based. Employment, medical care etc are  win-win strategies for a group and therefore rational strategies.

We usually consider cases of equal opportunities at the demand-supply  end of social relationships. An employer is looking for someone to fill  a position: a woman wants to make a career move by joining the board of  directors. What sort of necessary and sufficient conditions ought to be  in place so that the applicant to a job gets a fair assessment or the  woman an equal chance to be promoted?

One of the solutions to this problem is to legislate against such  discrimination. For example, demanding that women form a proportion of  board members in a company or parliament. But as I have already pointed  out with affirmative action, legislation does not tell us whether the  discrimination behaviour is eliminated from society or simply  suppressed. Maybe to manifest itself in other ways, for example, moving  production to a country where they don't have ethical labour laws.  More importantly, this solution of legislating solutions does not tell  us whether the job applicant from the minority group or the career  minded woman were themselves members of an Alpha class in their group  who might have exploited subordinates in that group. Not only doesn't  legislation tell us anything about this background but it also does  nothing to solve this very possible discrimination.

Thus legislating is not sufficient for our purposes, and in any case  this type of legislation addresses the wrong issues any way. The problem  might be that we are trying to solve the problem at the demand and  supply end of social relations. When applying for a job or trying to be  promoted to the board. Maybe the solution lies with offering equal  opportunities throughout someone's life. It is not enough to offer  someone health care when they develop some fatal disease.

Consider what Clive Hertzman*** says on CBS programme about the  conclusions of a study aimed at find what happened to British children  born in March 1958. The conclusion of the study was that the health  status of a 40 year old depended on whether, when they were young (about  7 years old), they (1) were read to; (2) adjusted early at school; and  (3) achieved a certain height proportionate to adult height. And the  reason why this has a direct bearing on someone's health is because they  have a direct causal link to status and earning capacity at 40. In other  words, those who were read to when young, adjusted early at school and  had a good height ratio stood a better chance of earning a good salary  at forty years old. And studies have shown that there is a direct link  between income, status and health. The equal opportunities at the demand  end for a woman in the labour market might be too late for her career  prospects.

I propose that in order to achieve equal opportunities parents, for  example, need to be informed and guided on how to bring up their  children based on solid scientific evidence and not some woolly headed  mumbo jumbo educational policies. Hugging trees might not be the best  way to create geniuses in our society.

This study alone has already shown us what kind of necessary conditions  we are looking for so that we can achieve equal opportunities. By  setting up programmes that address these issues and were also  universally effective, in the same way VAT and Coca Cola are universally  effective, we would be addressing the natural (genetic) aspect of our  problem. Adopting rational solutions to genetic problems is something we  human beings are very good at; think sliced bread here. Taking this  approach might not even leave us time to contemplate what merit and  equal terms mean, because we'd be too busy solving real problems.  But we probably have to do more. There is a direct link running across  health, social status and income as I have already mentioned. Thus  universal health care is also, in my opinion, a necessary condition.  People get sick, they need health care. This is a fundamental fact of  life but political philosophers seem to have forgotten about this when  they wrote there red books, green books, blue books, capital books and  all the various shapes and colour books.

But having a health care system is not enough, there should also be a  healthy food policy as well. There is no point spending billions trying  to cure obesity if one cannot find healthy food in the shops.  Malnutrition is not just an emaciated baby in some African desert which  the media love to splash on their front pages or screens. Malnutrition  is also something that might happen to your neighbour.

Another set of necessary conditions might probably be the way we conduct  our work and educational routine.

Dr. John Medina in his book Brain Rules+ suggests twelve rules on how we  can improve the performance of our brain. For my purpose of establishing  the necessary and sufficient conditions for equal opportunities, I want  to refer to two of these rules.

Medina suggests that the present educational system disadvantages a  large number of students because it is based on the age of students for  progress and not their brain development. He suggests that our brains  are all wired differently and therefore the development of our brain is  not the same as everyone else at a given age. But the educational system  does not make allowances for this; they assume all brains are the same.  Imagine what humanity might be like, as Medina wants to persuade us, if  we received our education tailor made to our unique individual brain  development.

An important factor that determines our performance at work (and  education) is sleep or rather sleep deprivation. Not only do we need a  certain number of hours of sleep for the brain to function normally, but  that our waking-sleeping habits (chronotype: owls, larks and humming  birds) determine how we perform at school and at work. The 10 to 20% of  the population who perform best at night (owls) might have a serious  sleep deficit which affects their performance; because many social  activities start in the morning. But those in charge, think that owls  (I'm one of these) are lazy, unmotivated and not interested in the  activities at hand just because they look so groggy in the morning.  Medina suggests that having schools and places of work scheduled to take  into account these chronotypes would revolutionise our performance. Owl  doctors can do the night duties and larks can do the early morning  duties thus patients have, literally, the full attention of the doctor  and not of someone who should be in bed asleep.

Studies like those of Dr Medina can probably serve as blue prints to our  necessary and sufficient conditions. They show us how to solve genetic  problems by applying rational solutions. Thus, by creating a social  environment where everyone is performing, whether at school or at work,  at their maximum brain capacity we might be that close to achieving  universal equal opportunities. The woman who is prevented from reaching  the top of the company might have had a better historical performance in  her career if she were able to manage her sleep routine. But because  baby decided to cry at night and her company has a policy of stating at  9am sharp she probably went to work with a monster size sleep deficit.  It is not that women are less clever than men, or that woman prefer to  have babies instead of pursuing their career that stops them from  reaching the top. But maybe the fact that management consultants did not  discover during their MBA years that women are genetically made to have  babies and they these little mites tend to cry at night.

To conclude, introducing first impressions type of solutions (i.e.  cosmetic solutions) to solve problems concerning equal opportunities do  not necessarily help us achieve our objects. Not to mention that they  address the wrong issue and have nothing to do with what is really  required. Thus affirmation policies, calling someone chairperson, having  holidays for heroes of minority groups, genetically engineer babies or  pretending to learn the language of immigrants do not go to the core  issue of discrimination or unequal opportunities. Don't forget our genes  have survived more serious challenges than these cosmetic solutions.  Maybe Kant was right when he suggested that we ought to do unto others  what we want others do unto us. This might be right, logical and  rational but these criteria have not always been enough to move people  to do something. Everyone knows that driving on the left is much better  and more rational, for example because most people are right handed, but  the 66% of the world population who drive on the right are not about to  change their bad habits soon. (Wikipedia: Right- and left-hand traffic)  By the same token, it is probably just as hard to persuade seven billion  people to go forth and be good.

Take care 


*.Arneson, Richard, "Equality of Opportunity", The Stanford Encyclopedia
of Philosophy (Winter 2002 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =
** Economic discrimination. (2008, May 28). In Wikipedia, The Free
Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:29, June 3, 2008, from
***CBS Radio
Tuesday, March 4
+Dr. John Medina
**********HOLIDAY FLATS**********
Mayte; Almería (Villa de Níjar);
Paloma; Marbella (near Elviria);

from Lawrence, PhiloMadrid, Sunday meeting: Are equal opportunities
achievable? + NEWS (Take 2)

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