Monday, May 24, 2010

News Flash: Life Ain't Fair

Courtesy of Stanford law professor Deborah L. Rhode comes this jaw-droppingly stupid editorial from the Washington Post on "beauty bias". Certain people, shockingly, are considered more physically attractive than others by society, and this, equally shockingly, advantages them unfairly in their professional and social lives:
Just like racial or gender discrimination, discrimination based on irrelevant physical characteristics reinforces invidious stereotypes and undermines equal-opportunity principles based on merit and performance. And when grooming choices come into play, such bias can also restrict personal freedom.
The solution? We must, of course, include people who are ugly, fat, bald, and the like in the category of victims of discrimination and extend the umbrella of civil rights legislation to cover them. Don't worry, Rhode assures us, this will not result in a spate of frivolous litigation or the undermining of popular support for legitimate civil rights claims:

Such bans have not produced a barrage of loony litigation or an erosion of support for civil rights remedies generally. These cities and counties each receive between zero and nine complaints a year, while the entire state of Michigan totals about 30, with fewer than one a year ending up in court.
That, of course, might change if lawsuits based on this sort of claim ever gained any traction in the courts, or if we actually instituted the kind of legal apparatus that would be necessary to enforce a society-wide ban on discrimination based on appearance. As Andrew Sullivan (quoted in the article) succinctly put it:

By the time you've finished preventing discrimination against the ugly, the short, the skinny, the bald, the knobbly-kneed, the flat-chested, and the stupid, you're living in a totalitarian state."
I know that unattractive people are disadvantaged by their looks, and I sympathize, I really do. But all the evidence science can muster suggests that our preference for interacting with individuals we find attractive rather than those we find unattractive is a biological reality hard-wired into the human psyche. Progressives are very fond of arguing that certain things of which conservatives disapprove (homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, youthful irresponsibility, etc.) are ineradicable artifacts of human nature, often with justification. Why can't they accept that that's also quite likely true of things they don't like, such as behavioral gender differences or the tendency to judge others on the basis of appearance? How can a woman with a law degree and a teaching position at Stanford not have learned the elementary lesson that life isn't always fair?

Every totalitarian state in modern history got its start by assuming that human nature could be changed and the imperfections of our existence legislated out of existence if we only had enlightened enough leadership and instruments of social control well-designed enough to do the job, which ought to persuade any rational person of the folly of such assumptions. We can ensure, to an extent, equality under the law, and perhaps even equality of access to opportunity. But there's no way to ensure that absolutely everyone gets a fair shake in every situation. Unless I'm wrong. Perhaps we should give Rhode's proposal a try? And if civil rights legislation fails to correct the problem, we can always push for ratification of the 211th, 212th, and 213th amendments.

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