Okay, I shall begin with politics, post on something I've often mused about, and which is brought for me into renewed focus by topical politics - the search for Souter's replacement, and Sonia Sotomayor's chances at getting to the US Supreme Court. If you've followed the story this past week, I shouldn't be surprised if you shared my sense that this hatchet job has been disturbingly successful. Despite considerable push-back, I suspect that throughout any nomination period the major subtext is going to be dubiously qualified Latina, not editor of Yale Law Review, not breakthrough minority candidate, not graduate summa cum laude from Princeton, not remarkable success story from underprivileged background. The only non-flat-out-indecent reason I've seen people in comment threads give for discounting her achievements is Affirmative Action (though if she's an "unfair" beneficiary - assuming she is one - I'm not sure what precisely an instance of fair beneficiary might look like.) Which brings me to this:
I don't know if it'd help that much, but I've wondered often and wonder again if there's a good case for having American colleges follow the Indian example on Affirmative Action / reservation in one regard: in India of course there are separate admission pools, one for all candidates, and another set aside for various underprivileged groups. People from scheduled/backward castes compete for admission both within the general pool, and again in the separate quota pool if they don't qualify under the general criteria. Lists of accepted applicants are provided and published separately for each pool (with ranks!) I think this might be a useful process to adopt. Here's how I weigh the idea, in increasing order of difficulty for my case:
a. The benefit, for the Sotomayors, Obamas and Roland Fryers of the world, seems clear.
b. So too is the benefit to society from getting superstar minority scholars and journalists and role-models completely free of asterisk.
c. People who end up on the reserved list, but for whom a glance at biography reveals non significant hardship (broadly construed), do much worse. C'est la vie, I mostly shrug and say.
c1. Might even shame universities into more aggressively recruiting minority candidates from the ghettos and lower-middle classes, lowering grade/test score requirements to the required extent, which seems like it'd be an extremely happy outcome.
d. People who'd wind up on the reserved list, but whose biographies do indicate hardship:
This is, I suspect, the case our judgment should turn on. To me, it seems like there's a subsidy effect ended here, as in effect the luster of people in (a) would cease to dilute the 'stigma' of AA for others. It's not quite clear to me whether a need to help people in category (d) should outweigh the desire to be 'nice' to those in category (a). I'm able to consider the 'no' option, because:
- we'd seem to be redistributing social stigma, not creating more of it
- As suggested in (c1), it could create its own need to re-dilute stigma in ways I'd regard as socially beneficial, refocusing AA on social uplift and away from diversity qua diversity - my instinct is that making (a)'s involuntarily shoulder a burden of benevolence isn't quite kosher, a fortiori when the (a)'s themselves demonstrate economic hardship in addition to minority status, as with Sotomayor
Let's conclude on lighter matters. Just for lulz, I googled Terry Eagleton "rather like". If you'd like to see some of the weirdest analogies ever used by a reasonably well regarded thinker, you might do the same. Giving this idiot child a thousand words and a deadline is rather like stir-frying a coconut in elbow grease. Or something.
[Hiya. call myself D, am twentysomething, in grad school, Indian, ditto gay, do some particle physics, and recommend Hajmola and Diet Coke (NOT Coke Zero, which is as sewage) to anyone who asks. The most played song in my itunes from the past few months is 'Apeman', which is mildly embarrassing (and very catchy. Repeat after me, with the over-population and inflation and starvation, and the crazy poli-ti-shiuns. And again.]