Citizen’s Police Academy, Part 7

Last week’s class was about discrimination, but not in the manner that the word is typically used. We learned to discriminate between various types of guns. Some guns were easy to hold and fire, while others felt clumsy and uncomfortable. And while that was an interesting and informative experience, I found the class to be more interesting as an example of the importance of discriminating.

Discrimination has become what Ayn Rand called a “package-deal“:

“Package-dealing” is the fallacy of failing to discriminate crucial differences. It consists of treating together, as parts of a single conceptual whole or “package,” elements which differ essentially in nature, truth-status, importance or value.

The purpose of a package-deal is to destroy a legitimate concept by replacing it with an illegitimate cousin by attempting to integrate things that are essentially different.

Discrimination means to identify differences between two things. This is a valid and important concept–no two things are exactly alike. But those differences are contextual. In some contexts they may matter, and in others they may be irrelevant.

For example, cats and dogs are very different types of animals. If I am studying the characteristics of animals versus plants, the differences between cats and dogs are irrelevant. But if I am choosing a pet, the differences between cats and dogs would be very important. The importance of those differences would depend on my values and my purpose for wanting a pet. It would depend on my context. Rational people recognize that there are differences between cats and dogs, and they make their choice on the basis of those differences.

Depending on my context, cats might be good or bad, dogs might be good or bad, or either may be good or bad.

But what if I am told that I can’t recognize differences–i.e., discriminate? What if I am told to treat cats and dogs as the same? No rational decision could be made. If I select a dog, I am discriminating against cats; if I select a cat, I am discriminating against dogs. Unless I simply flip a coin, any choice I make will be regarded as “discriminatory.”  Flipping a coin isn’t making a choice. Quite the opposite. It is the willful suspension of one’s mind and a surrender to chance.

The modern meaning of discrimination ignores context and treats all acts of identifying differences as essentially the same. The modern meaning of discrimination tells us to ignore differences regardless of our context and purpose. The modern meaning demands that we turn off our mind and refuse to make judgments about what is good or bad.

Certainly, some individuals make judgments on the basis of irrelevant criteria. So? People make bad decisions regarding jobs, investments, lifestyles, and everything else. We are each responsible for our choices, and we should not be shielded from the consequences of our decisions. If someone wants to be sexist, racist, or homophobic, let us ostracize him and allow him to wallow in his misery.

Certainly, sometimes our judgments cause harm to others. If I buy my groceries at HEB, I am causing “harm” to Kroger, Randall’s, Aldi, and every other grocer I deprive of my money. So? The issue isn’t harm, but the means by which that harm occurs. If I cause harm by force, fraud, or negligence, then I should be held accountable. But if I cause “harm” merely by refusing to engage in a voluntary interaction, that is my moral right.

There are differences between guns. There are differences between grocers. There are differences between people. Some of those differences don’t matter. Some do. That is for each of us to decide, and we have a moral right to act according to our own judgments. I don’t want to tell you what gun to buy (or whether to buy one or not), where to shop for groceries, whom to befriend, or whom to hire and promote. That is for you to decide. Those are decisions that each of us should be free to decide on the basis of our values and purpose.

No law can prevent us from recognizing differences. The law should protect our freedom to make such identifications, and suffer or benefit accordingly.

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