Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On People as Abstract Groups

Do good-looking people have a higher annual salary, on average, than uglier people? It's quite likely, though I don't know whether there have been any official studies done to confirm this. Do thinner women get employed as waitresses and actresses more often than obese women? One would assume so. Do taller individuals have a better chance at making it to the NBA than shorter individuals? Without question.

What should be done to address these "inequities"? Is it incumbent on society to ensure not only equality of opportunity, but also equality of results? Should the NBA feature teams whose average height is equal to that of the average height of society at large? It seems unreasonable to expect this of society. Indeed, to expect this of society would require 'society' to impose it's standards of equality on people who may or may not share the opinion of 'society' as to whether equality of results in all facets and aspects of life are achievable, or even desirable.

But at least this notion, as unreasonable as it is, deals with actual human beings who are here on this Earth. More unreasonable still is the notion that not only should 'inequities' between abstract groups of living humans (i.e. rich/poor, black/white) be addressed and rectified, but also between abstract groups of the living and the dead. This idea is most commonly represented by advocation of policies such as racial quotas for hiring, and calls for reparations for slavery. As Thomas Sowell writes in his book Intellectuals & Society:

Abstract people have an immortality which flesh-and-blood people have yet to achieve. Thus, a historian writing about the newly-created state of Czechoslovakia after the First World War, said that its policies regarding the ethnic groups within it were designed 'to correct social injustice', and to 'put right the historic wrongs of the 17th century,' despite the fact that actual flesh-and-blood people from the 17th century had died long before, putting the redressing of their wrongs beyond reach of human control. Much the same kind of reasoning has continued among the intelligentsia in 21st century America, who speak of 'whites' and 'blacks' as intertemporal abstractions with centuries-old issues to be redressed, rather than as flesh-and-blood people who take their sins and their sufferings with them to the grave

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