Why does discrimination exist?
My question: What is supposed to make discrimination so tempting? For adultery, we’ve got a crisp evolutionary story: Cheating on your spouse without getting caught has a massive genetic payoff. I just don’t see how discrimination is remotely comparable. How many people really enjoy inflicting unmerited suffering? I can easily believe that people enjoy discriminating when everyone else is doing it; people are sheep, after all. But once discrimination is publicly unacceptable, our evolved desire for conformity ought to push in the opposite direction.
My favorite explanation: what popular culture impugns as “hate” is, by and large, merely misunderstood statistical discrimination. Firms are tempted to discriminate because stereotypes save time and money. If you don’t buy this story, though, I’d like to hear your alternative. If discrimination isn’t lucrative, why are employers continuously tempted to break the law?
I disagree with throwing “unmerited suffering” into the equation. If an employer discriminates he likely is not thinking about how the other job candidates will suffer as much as he’s convinced himself that he’s made the right decision in hiring the person who more closely resembles him. But that’s a minor point. But I do agree with Caplan that discrimination is not at all about hate. I don’t know if that’s what progressives actually believe discrimination is about; if they do, they are off the mark.
I’m not a discrimination-denier. I believe it does occur. But I don’t think that those who police discrimination and want to eradicate it operate on a personal enough level to appeal to the discriminating employer. I think the evolutionary instinct to protect and promote the people who share more of your genetic material exists albeit in a pretty weak form.
The rest is cultural. Absent heavy pressure to diversify, a white boss will opt for a white candidate because he understands “where he’s coming from”. It’s that simple. And when we look at it on an individual level it does not seem as evil as progressives make it out to be when they look down from 50,000 feet and see more widespread statistical discrimination. A boss-employee relationship is a social one. We discriminate who we hang around with in our outside social lives. We usually choose to hang out with the people we are most comfortable around. The ones who get our jokes, whose body language we can read, who we trust to be honest with us. The workplace is this plus the profit motive – where reading these cues goes beyond social import.
Discrimination as it exists today in the typical white boss-minority applicant form is not about white supremacy or gratuitous racism. It’s about weak tribalism and comfort.