Rationality for Affirmative Action

Rationality for Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action

The first strong argument, that rationality is not always the best guide to action, seems an unlikely candidate in support of affirmative action and preferential policies in matters affecting the workplace, education, and citizenship. If being rational is not right, then what is? Emotion? Intuition? Reason is the foundation for the rule of law that limits arbitrary authority and protects the less powerful from oppression. Emotion is the guiding force for prejudice. Reason is the antidote to hysterical arguments that get us nowhere.

The "community choice" argument does not seek to replace reasoned decisions with emotional appeals. Rather, it recognizes the limitations of rational procedures and suggests a healthy supplanting of the logical conclusions of bureaucratic process with deliberate, corrective measures most reasonable people would endorse. Consider the following.

A company needs to increase its sales in order to remain competitive. At a staff meeting the director of public relations reminds everyone that most clients are middle-aged white males who have a preference for working with affable, attractive staff younger than themselves. When hiring is done, a rational decision would be to exclude persons over age thirty-five and applicants with any physical blemishes or who are plain looking (or just plain ugly). Affirmative action policies would prohibit the company from practicing such hiring discrimination, and most people recognize this as a good thing.

Let us examine this a bit more closely. The rational choice approach to decision making is predicated on an individual's gains and losses, largely irrespective of the needs or good of others or the larger community of which the individual is a part. Any policy that hinders the unfettered choice of individuals to maximize their own gain with a minimum of cost would appear to be anathema to conclusions reached by rational people. The rational choice view is that the larger good...

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