January 21, 2015

Discernment and Discrimination

Discrimination is a much maligned word. People use it most often to describe unfair or hostile treatment of broad groups of innocent people. Whole sections of our federal code address the evils of discrimination. Millions of people have been victims of discrimination when seeking employment, attending school, searching for a home, or even where they shop.

However, discrimination may not be exactly what we think it is. And, it may not be all bad. Think of a related word: Discern. What does it mean? dictionary.com say it means "to distinguish mentally; recognize as distinct or different; discriminate". There it is again. Discriminate. So what does that mean, in a dictionary sense. Again, dictionary.com says it means "to note or observe a difference; distinguish accurately". So, discrimination is when we accurately distinguish the difference between things. That doesn't sound all that bad, so where does the problem lie?

To address this, we will again go back to dictionary.com, but do another entry. It says "to make a distinction in favor of or against a person or thing on the basis of the group, class, or category to which the person or thing belongs rather than according to actual merit; show partiality;". This sounds less nice. The real problem here is the partiality, and ignoring actual merit. Our laws specifically talk about discrimination, but discrimination can be good, as long as actual merit is recognized.

We have laws that say we can't discriminate on the basis of certain group memberships. The list of groups so protected has grown, and will continue to grow. Then we have other laws saying some discrimination in favor of certain group members is required. I couldn't agree more that we should avoid discrimination against a class of people without regard to personal merit. But what about when we discriminate against that personal merit. What if we decide that the specific qualities, traits, and characteristics of a specific individual are completely unacceptable, or at least inferior to some other alternative.

I think we all must do this in some degree or another in many aspects of our life. I see this in hiring whenever I see hiring done. Companies want the best employees that they can afford. Likewise, employees want to work for the best employers. We have to make such judgement calls in many aspects of our lives. There are a few, however, that can become very controversial very quickly.

Take dealing with neighbors for example. If you live in a neighborhood, and someone moves into the neighborhood that changes the nature of this neighborhood. What if it goes from being a place you loved to live to being a place you are looking to move away from. What kind of things might this new neighbor be doing that could make such a change. What if they are dealing drugs in what previously was a very child friendly place. What if they are a hoarder that fills their yard with such massive piles of junk that you begin to have major rodent and insect infestations. What are your avenues of recourse. Do you just move away and abandon your once wonderful neighborhood and take the financial hit that comes with such circumstances.

In some places, there have been local statutes which address these issues. A common phenomenon in real estate is the use of Home Owner Associations which enforce codes, covenants, and restrictions with the ability to file leans against and foreclose on homes for behavioral problems in neighborhoods. Some cities have created neighborhood preservation services which try to regulate these problems.

But what if your neighbor is just a jerk. What do you do then. I guess you are back to moving. What if all the other neighbors feel that same way. Generally speaking they have no recourse. But perhaps they should. Now, it isn't fair to foreclose and take the property of someone just because you don't like them.

But here is a crazy idea. What if the neighbors could get together and if a high enough percentage, like, 80%, decided they wanted some other neighbor to be forced to move, they could do some kind of forced buyout? Of course, they should probably have to pay a premium for the inconvenience, like maybe 15 or 20 percent. The neighbors would have to front the cash for it. There would have to be legal protections and a very specified process to go though, but, then, the neighborhood might be able to protect itself against deterioration, even if the problem was not a health or safety issue.

Now that I have presented such a nice little fix, now lets view what are ways it could go wrong. First, lets just assume that the hated neighbor is hated only because of race or religion. Is it fair they should be kicked out of where they live just because of discrimination? Also, what about those that rent? Should they have a say? Could a landlord be forced out because of bad tenants? Should they be able to? What are the ramifications? Might we end up with completely segregated neighborhoods? Most of our neighborhoods today are quite segregated. Would it be any worse using this system? Invariably, this subject, whatever side you find yourself on, is ripe for abuse. If it were implemented somewhere, there would have to be a lot of safeguards to protect against abuse. However, by not having such a law, we do not get rid of abuse, we just make it less visible. Under such a system, perhaps, the real benefit would be bringing existing abuses and persecutions out in the open.

I am not saying I think this is the ideal system, nor am I saying I favor unmerited discrimination. I do not. I am just saying that the current system is not working. It would be interesting so see a city, or small state, or even a small country institute such a policy for a trial period and what it would result in. It might turn out bad, but it might actually turn out with less unmerited discrimination than we now have.

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