One of the topics I've been teaching for the past year or so is affirmative action. I reviewed a lot more material on it during the spring semester in a short period of time than any previous time teaching it, and I've had the opportunity to teach on it this summer after having done all that. As a result, I think I've got a good presentation now of the various considerations offered for and against it, and I think I've figured out that a balanced presentation should conclude with a choice between two options. Either the arguments for affirmative action are strong enough that the negatives get outweighed, or the negatives are so serious that the reasons for affirmative action aren't good enough. It really does seem to me that those are the only two reasonable positions. Some think affirmative action is always wrong by its very nature. Others think that our history and current circumstances don't just make it a good idea but make it essential to racial justice. Those two absolute positions don't seem to me to hold water, even though at times in the past I've held both of them (not at the same time, of course).
In the case of hiring, choosing people for positions of influence, etc., I can see some forms of affirmative action as worthwhile and even sometimes necessary. This can't involve lowering standards a lot, since the people selected must be qualified, but it can involve lowering them enough to find qualified people of underrepresented races if having them there is worthwhile enough. If you see race as a qualification, this argument is easier to make, but I think that's harder to do than someone people make it sound. I also think it's easier to do than some people would like. So I'll end up taking an unusually complicated view on hiring and qualifications, which in the end will probably offend conservatives and liberals alike. When it comes to college and university admissions, however, I think the negatives are so bad that I think the Universtity of California system did the right thing to cancel race-based affirmative action in favor of income-based policies. It will take some great effort to explain why I think both these things, so you'll have to bear with me as I work through a number of different issues. In this post, I want to deal with a couple more preliminary issues and then list the arguments for and against affirmative action that I'll analyze fully in forthcoming posts.