#38 On unfair, necessary or different differences

Dear Jamie

You said “women are treated unfairly in overt and subtle ways”. That’s true. All groups are to different extents in different ways. And groups on average are different in preferences, while individuals are all over the map in terms of capability. This is a multi-level, fractured problem that can never be perfectly solved. Indeed by definition it will never be even satisfactorily solved, because you can’t solve all competing, fluid preferences at once.

You’ve kind of walked the line with the dichotomy I gave you before (free market vs enforced ideology). You say they should “die by the sword” but do it on a “level playing field”. It sounds like you’re advocating a regulated capitalist system if I were bring back the economic analogy. But I can’t see that working at all. The competing fluid preferences problem would be the least of your worries. You would be advocating legal or psychological regulation that is 1) unpopular, 2) has an unascribable causal effect, and 3) would likely widen the outcomes differences between the groups you seek to equalise (as we discussed previously). Do you accept these problems or am I missing something?

Rather than debate solutions I’d like to see if I can understand the problem better. Differences are here to stay. I was thinking the other day it is useful to distinguish between them. Some differences are unfair but some are just different. Biology, biases and laws affect groups differently and it’s clear that these biases can combine* to especially debilitate some people. But not all differences are debilitating, and not all differences can or should be rectified.

When I try to separate the two the best definition I can come up with is:

(1) If I could achieve more but I can’t for artificial reasons, then it’s unfair. Otherwise it’s different.

Let’s see how it fares in some examples. If I’m a great painter, and I really want to be a painter, but a conspiracy of merchants stop my art getting out for their own personal (i.e. artificial) gain, then that seems obviously unfair. Maybe even some rectification is in order. On the other hand if I’m a really shit painter but I really really want to be a painter, then unless I get better I can’t complain that others out-compete me. This isn’t unfair, it’s a natural difference. Tough.

So where do biological differences fall? Are biological differences artificial in the above way? Technology can equalise biological differences but that doesn’t mean they were artificial to start with. Is it unfair that, even if I were the most maternal man in the world, that I could not have a baby myself?

But things get juicy if we ask if cultural differences are artificial. Actually it applies to biological and cultural differences. Are they a matter of opinion or do they exist for a reason?

Here’s a controversial modification to the above quote

If I could achieve more but I can’t for civilizational existential reasons, then it’s necessary. Otherwise, apply (1)

So I’ve invented yet another triad: necessary, unfair and different. The trouble with necessary differences is that it’s very hard to know what destroys civilizations. I think that because we know civilizations can unravel, we know that they either broke something that used to work, or didn’t adapt to something that threatened them. “There are snakes inside and outside the garden” as Peterson would say.

Peterson would also say that “You can’t get a more pathological civilisation than one that undermines the role of the mother” because without them you don’t have a civilisation. I’d say the maternal/paternal roles are the most obvious differences that one could argue are necessary, and I think they are also the most falsifiable to a modern progressive mind. It might be an interesting topic for us to explore. Would you say the mother/father roles are outdated? If so what tells you this?

Let me know what you think of my triad, and while you’re at it answer the seven (!) questions I have above. Before I go I’ll leave you with a quick survey of the field. Biological differences are immutable and not artificial and so it doesn’t really make sense to call them unfair. Taleb and Peterson would think almost all biological and cultural differences are necessary ones for evolutionary reasons we simply don’t understand yet (conservatives). Libertarians and hardcore progressive think all differences are merely different and that we can laissez faire to a better world.


*If it looks like I’m tortuously avoiding the word “intersect” that’s because I am.

Also published on Medium.