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Thursday, June 05, 2008

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Are equal opportunities achievable? + NEWS

Essay + Francesca requires accommodation + Exhibition Saturday + Message
from Ian and Mercedes
Dear friends,

This sun day we are discussing Are equal opportunities achievable?

In the meantime I have the following news items to share with you:
FRANCESCA IS LOOKING FOR SOME SHORT TERM ACCOMMODATION
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



EXHIBITION WITH KIM THIS SATURDAY
Kim, Isabel and I are going to see the Eugene Smith photography
exhibition at the Centro Cultural de la Villa, Plz Colon. Sometime
around 6pm. Send me a message to find out what the situation is.

MESSAGE FROM MERCEDES
Un amigo mío está llevando grupos musicales a Lux Cinema, te envío lo
que va a haber este fin de semana para que lo reenvíes a todos, creo que
es muy interesante¡¡¡
http://www.luxcinemas.com/
http://www.barrioartdeco.com/

MESSAGE FROM IAN
Hi All,
I found this interesting new news site, which is not part of the MSM
(Main Stream Media) that has video and transcript alongside.
www.therealnews.com
Chow!
This is a great site for stuff!
http://deputy-dog.com
Ian

Take care
Lawrence
PS: Adverts at the end of message

IF YOU DON'T GET AN EMAIL BY FRIDAY PLEASE LET ME KNOW

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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
Lawrence

*.Arneson, Richard, "Equality of Opportunity", The Stanford Encyclopedia
of Philosophy (Winter 2002 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =
<http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2002/entries/equal-opportunity/>.
** Economic discrimination. (2008, May 28). In Wikipedia, The Free
Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:29, June 3, 2008, from
http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Economic_discrimination&oldid=215551489
***CBS Radio
Tuesday, March 4
SICK PEOPLE OR SICK SOCIETIES?
http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/calendar/2008/03_march.html
+Dr. John Medina
http://www.brainrules.net/about-the-author
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from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Are equal
opportunities achievable? + NEWS

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