a blog about philosophy in public affairs

Category: Rights Page 1 of 7

Why we need alternative voting methods

Don’t you find it highly frustrating when you want to vote for a person or party you like but you can’t really do it because you know that the person or party has a very low chance of being elected or being part of a coalition government? You may think it’s frustrating yet unavoidable. After all, isn’t it part of what making a choice means to sacrifice some attractive options? Well, no, or so I argue in a recently published article. We have a right to voting methods that allow for a more honest and complex expression of our preferences, that do not force us to sacrifice the expression of our genuine preferences. And the good news is that appealing alternative voting methods exist.

Invisible discrimination: the double role of implicit bias

In this post, Katharina Berndt Rasmussen (Stockholm University & Institute for Futures Studies) discusses her recently published article in the Journal of Applied Philosophy (co-authored by Nicolas Olsson Yaouzis) exploring the roles that implicit bias and social norms play in discriminating hiring practices.

The US, like many other countries, is marked by pervasive racial inequalities, not least in the job market. Yet many US Americans, when asked directly, uphold egalitarian “colour-blind” norms: one’s race shouldn’t matter for one’s chances to get hired. Sure enough, there is substantial disagreement about whether it (still) does matter, but most agree that it shouldn’t. Given such egalitarian attitudes, one would expect there to be very little hiring discrimination. The puzzle is how then to explain the racial inequalities in hiring outcomes.

A second puzzle is the frequent occurrence of complaints about “reverse discrimination” in contexts such as the US. “You only got the job because you’re black” is a reaction familiar to many who do get a prestigious job while being black, as it were. Why are people so suspicious when racial minorities are hired?

In a recent paper, my colleague Nicolas Olsson Yaouzis and I offer an explanation for both puzzles: we model the workings of implicit racial bias in a population of egalitarian norm followers. Implicit biases have been shown to affect basically all of us. They are, roughly, automatically activated stereotypes about social groups. They are often unnoticed and unendorsed by their bearers. And they correlate with social inequalities on population levels. But how, exactly, should we understand the underlying mechanism? Here’s our model:

Imagine a big firm consisting of a large number of subsections, each headed by a manager. From time to time these managers hire new people. Assume that the firm was initially all-white (think of the early sixties Mad Men era). Managers knew that there was some great competence among the black applicants, which would benefit the firm overall. Still, each preferred to head a racially homogenous subsection, because it saved them trouble. They were thus all trapped in a prisoner’s dilemma: each doing what was (supposedly) better for them, while the firm missed out on competence.

Social norms solve prisoner’s dilemmas. Suppose that (in the early seventies) the managers become aware of an egalitarian social norm: “When hiring, hire the most competent candidate, regardless of their race”. This norm changes their incentives: as long as they believe that enough others will both comply with it and expect them in turn to comply, they want to comply with it themselves. Imagine now that each manager comes to believe this about the other managers. Each then complies with the egalitarian norm and hires black applicants whenever they are the most competent. Slowly, the racial composition of the firm will change.

However, if there are implicit racial biases among the managers, this will sometimes distort their actions. They want to comply with the norm but sometimes make mistakes. Due to the nature of implicit bias these mistakes are asymmetrical. That is, they sometimes occur when the most qualified candidate is black (such that a white candidate is hired instead), but never occur when the most qualified candidate is white (such that a black candidate would be hired).

Now, assume that there are many decisions and many managers, so mistakes add up. This could, on the whole, explain large scale hiring inequalities. But this would mean that each of them, observing that the egalitarian norm is violated time and again, would cease to believe that enough others complied with it. Moreover, observing that such frequent norm violations are not met with protests by the others, each manager would cease to believe that enough others expect them in turn to comply. Then, each would no longer want to comply and the norm would break down.

Yet this is not what seems to happen. Rather, the norm stays in place (people uphold the norm when asked) and large-scale hiring discrimination persists (causing the pervasive racial inequalities). Our model can account for this, by illuminating the intricate interplay between implicit bias and job competence. To see this, consider a specific recruitment case, where the most competent candidate is black. Their race is a clearly observable feature – their competence typically is not. Suppose that the hiring manager makes an implicit bias-mistake and hires a less competent white candidate. The other managers likely cannot directly observe that a norm violation has taken place. They can, however, observe the successful candidate’s race. If they (like most of us) hold implicit racial biases, they may perceive the white candidate as more competent than they actually are, and (falsely) infer that the egalitarian norm was followed. Thus no one protests, and no one changes their belief that enough others comply with the norm and expect them in turn to comply. The norm may be repeatedly violated, but does not break down. This explains the first puzzle.

Now consider the same case, but suppose the manager doesn’t make a mistake. The most competent black candidate is hired. Again, the others can observe the candidate’s race but not their competence. Again, if they hold implicit racial biases, they may perceive the black candidate as less competent than they actually are – and (falsely) infer that the egalitarian norm was violated. If this happens repeatedly, observers might eventually (falsely) conclude that the egalitarian norm has come to be replaced with a norm of “political correctness”: “When hiring, hire the most qualified minority candidate (to increase firm diversity)”. This explains the second puzzle.

In sum, we propose a toy model of hiring decisions. Those are, of course, much more complex in real life. Still, the model helps us see the double role of implicit bias: in the hiring decisions themselves, and in bystander evaluations of these decisions. It solves the two puzzles by explaining how hiring discrimination can be invisible in seemingly egalitarian social contexts — and why instead non-discrimination may appear suspicious.

A final word: in a world where explicit racism is on the rise, why worry about implicit bias? Our analysis does not imply that explicit racism doesn’t matter (and we certainly think it does). It just shows that focusing narrowly on eradicating explicit racism will not be enough.

Katharina Berndt Rasmussen

Israel “Is at War with Hamas”, What Does the Ethics of War Say about That?

This is a guest post by Anh Le. Anh currently works in the NGO sector on environmental issues but previously taught at the University of Manchester, where he also got his PhD, writing on the ethics of force short of war.

It’s important to note at the outset that what unfolded on Saturday October 7th in Southern Israel when Hamas fighters overran the Israel – Gaza border, infiltrated deep into Israeli territory, murdered more than a thousand Israelis, and took more than a hundred hostages back across Gaza was a war crime (or at least most of it was, the killing of Israeli soldiers, even if most of them were unarmed can be argued to be the legitimate targeting of combatants in an armed conflict). Equally important to note is how the Israel Defence Force (IDF) has responded to the initial attack also violates the International Humanitarian Law, e.g. the blockade of Gaza, indiscriminate bombings of residential areas. At the time of writing, the IDF hasn’t officially conducted a land invasion of Gaza, although some ground incursions have occurred. In this post, I argue that, contrary to what has been taken as a fact – that Israel has the right to go to war against Hamas following its attack on Israel and the only question that is morally, and legally, relevant is how they go about doing that, a question of jus in bello – it’s not clear if Israel’s war meets the criteria of jus ad bellum – the right to go war, and thus if Israel has a right to go to war against Hamas.

I should first make clear that I will not weigh in on the ethics of the situation between Israel and Palestine. The history is protracted and there are others eminently more qualified to unpack it than myself.

What Claims Do We Have Over Our Google Search Profiles?

This is a guest post by Hannah Carnegy-Arbuthnott (University of York).

We’ve all done things we regret. It used to be possible to comfort ourselves with the thought that our misadventures would soon be forgotten. In the digital age, however, not only is more of our personal information captured and recorded, search engines can also serve up previously long-forgotten information at the click of a button.

Countering Social Oppression

In this post, Suzy Killmister (Monash) discusses her recently published article in the Journal of Applied Philosophy giving an answer to the question, what, if anything, can members of oppressed groups do to counter that oppression?

© Adam Fagen (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

During the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968, protestors marched through the streets carrying signs bearing the slogan ‘I Am a Man’. Today, protesters march through the streets carrying signs declaring ‘Trans Rights are Human Rights’, while others proclaim ‘No Human is Illegal’. What’s going on here? And more importantly, what explains the rhetorical power of such statements?

Language, justice, and linguistic prejudice in academia

Guest Post by Sergi Morales-Gálvez and Josep Soler

This post provides a tentative view about the justice issues that arise from linguistic prejudice in academia. It introduces the plights that affect non-native English speakers, and how these may count as forms of epistemic injustice.

Image by Melk Hagelslag from Pixabay (Free to use under Content License)

Have you ever had something to say at the tip of your tongue, but you momentarily forget the correct word to express it? We are sure that’s an experience many of us are familiar with. For people who speak two, three or even more languages on a regular basis, this can be a frequent occurrence. This is, at least, our experience as speakers of Catalan, Spanish, English, and other languages. Although a momentary lapse like this does not mean that someone is not a capable speaker of a particular language, it might be interpreted negatively.

Why schools should teach that it’s okay to be LGBT

In this post, Christina Easton (University of Warwick) discusses their recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy about the value and appropriate shape of LGBT-inclusive education.

Image by Cinthya Liang from Pixabay

All schools in England now teach about LBGT relationships as part of a new, compulsory Relationships Education curriculum. Unsurprisingly, some parents have been unhappy about this. But even amongst those supportive of LGBT-inclusive curricula, there’s some confusion about what the purpose of this teaching should be. England’s Department for Education sometimes talk about LGBT relationships as “loving, healthy relationships”. They also say that religious schools can teach the curriculum whilst “reflecting their beliefs in their teaching”. But conservative branches of major religions say that LGBT relationships aren’t healthy at all – they’re sinful in fact. So what are teachers actually meant to be teaching? Should the state curriculum be taking a stand on whether LGBT relationships are “healthy”, or not? In a recent article, I argue that the answer is ‘yes’: schools should aim for children to believe that there’s nothing wrong with LGBT relationships.

Inequality, Segregation, and Gentrification: It’s Complicated!

by Hwa Young Kim and Andrew Walton

Image by Ilona S from Pixabay

Something as arbitrary as which neighbourhood we live in should not determine our future. However, residential segregation between people who are rich or poor and people who are black or white is highly pervasive and highly correlated with socio-economic inequality. Neighbourhoods that are disadvantaged face notably worse prospects in terms of economic opportunities, public services, and local amenities. To make this image starker, many people who are disadvantaged live in areas of concentrated poverty, with high rates of violence, street crime, and unemployment. Surely, this situation is unjust and requires action.

But what action? Some argue for providing those living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods subsidies to move to wealthier locations. Others have called for greater redistribution of wealth from rich neighbourhoods to those communities who have less than they should. In a recent article, we argue that there is potential to another, less conventional, route: reducing residential segregation through those who are advantaged relocating to disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Our reasoning is that integration has a beneficial role in reducing the prejudice that sustains inequality. What’s more, we think this can occur without crossing a line into a problematic form of gentrification.

Small in the City: The Exclusion of Children from Public Spaces

by Nico Brando and Katarina Pitasse-Fragoso

I know what it’s like to be small in the city…The streets are always busy. It can make your brain feel like there’s too much stuff in it.

Sydney Smith – Small in the City

Don’t look by Cristian Blanxer & Victor Garcia Delgado

More than a billion children grow up in cities. This means growing up in densely populated areas with political, and cultural prosperity, but with radical inequalities. While some have access to parks, playgrounds, and child-friendly streets, others are forced to navigate crowded roads, deal with violence, and difficult (sexist, racist, ageist) environments. Children are among the various groups (think, as well, of individuals with disabilities, the elderly, or animals) who suffer from discrimination in their right to make use of public spaces safely. Especially in large urban areas, public spaces can be highly threatening to children of all ages. Smaller children suffer from lack of accessibility, and high risk of busy roads. Older children and youths, even if able of navigating urban areas alone, can have their free movement limited due to status offences, insecurity and violence.

In this short reflection, we wish to introduce some preliminary thoughts on the issues that affect children living in urban spaces. Why are children excluded from equal use of public spaces? Do children have a right to responsive and inclusive urban design?

A puzzle of liberal childrearing: may neutral states allow parents to dominate children’s value-formation?

This is another post about childrearing and, like my previous ones, it is complaining about the status quo. This time I’m thinking about what we actively do to expose children to various ways of living and views about what makes for a good life (too little) and about how much we let parents screen such sources of influence out of children’s lives (too much.)

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