Virtue-Signaling Run Amok in America

A friend of mine and I recently had a political discussion that I found disturbing.

He told me that a long-time family friend had come to his house the weekend before.  His friend was an academic and a black man, and their dinner discussion involved whether black men can get a fair shake in today’s world, professionally, relative to white men.  In short, his friend argued that institutional racism holds black men down, while America offers some unspoken and unquantifiable “privilege” enjoyed by white men.

My friend and I have had several political conversations in the past.  In general, we tend to agree on many things. 

I suppose this is why he felt comfortable in telling me that he told his friend that the exact opposite is true.  Black men are not held down by institutional forces.  In fact, he said, if a black candidate and a white candidate were vying for the same position, he would probably offer the black man the job because he “wants to see more black people succeed in our industry,” even if the black candidate was less credentialed, less experienced, or even a lesser candidate in the sales capacity that is required for success among the employees my friend manages.

He smiled, as if looking for validation that he had made a good point about phantom “institutional racism” that we’d discussed many times before.  It struck me that he did not understand the pure, if unintentional, racism in the statements he had just made.  If the merits of the individuals in question were the measure, the white candidate in this hypothetical scenario would have been denied an opportunity that he deserved, and the black candidate would have enjoyed an opportunity that he would otherwise not deserve.  One would have been given preference over the other due to a preferred skin color, and in no sane world does that not amount to racism. 

This would be a perfect example of discrimination, which is, of course, prohibited by law, though actively practiced as a matter or corporate and governmental bureaucracy (more on this in a moment).  I had no idea if he would actually make the choice to do it if presented these circumstances, though.  I suspected that he cares enough about the success of his business that he would hire the most qualified candidate.  His choice to say that he would do this in the company of his friend, however, is perfect example what we know as “virtue signaling.”

But this was a social and political calculation that was not the creation of his own mind.  The social consensus pushed by the media and the culture at large has placed some sort of practical value on “diversity” in many industries in regard to inconsequential things like race, sex, or sexual preference, and has somehow forced those inconsequential things as viable considerations in the hiring process to create a workforce more “diverse” in those things that shouldn’t matter.

It’s often viewed as a “progressive,” or even “centrist,” thing to promote this line of thought.  But hiring someone who is less practically qualified to do a job would hardly be viewed as “progress” in any reasonable sense.  His team that he manages might be made more colorful by his hypothetical decision, but it would not be more productive or competitive for his having done so. 

Getting down to brass tacks, we should have no qualms with a lack of diversity in those things that should not matter -- like race, sex, or sexual preference.  Those things should not matter when merit is the measure, and merit is by far the greater measure in cultivating success. 

For example, I don’t think the NFL would benefit by establishing racial quotas.  Black players are far more prevalent than their overall demographic representation in America.  The abundance of black players is simply not a problem that needs to be counterbalanced by less talented white players, or Asian players, or women players, or gay players.  None of those other factors matter more to the product than the players being the very best at what they do.

In an ironic twist of the narrative, if anyone was to stupidly suggest that an abundance of black players in the NFL is a problem of institutional racism among the people selecting the players, that would be construed as a racist statement.  It’s a meritocracy, after all.

Why does the same knee-jerk aversion to such a broadly suggested racist impulse to hire based upon skin color, gender, or sexual preference rather than merit not reversely operate elsewhere in our culture?

And far worse, how has it become federally mandated practice in things that matter far more than a football game?

As Tucker Carlson has worked feverishly to expose, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had, during the Obama years, worked in a very cloak-and-dagger method to actually penalize certain candidates for work as air-traffic controllers for their education, their experience, and even their skin color if it was not the preferred shade.

Carlson reports that the FAA was “seeking out the unqualified intentionally” by adding “biographical questionnaires before any other screening.”  Those who “answered the questions in a way that diversity monitors don’t like cannot be considered for hiring, no matter how much experience they have, or how well they do on other portions of the test.” 

This screening actually penalized candidates for excessive merit and hired solely based upon considerations of “diversity.” Adding mountains of problems to this travesty, the FAA didn’t care if people “cheated on their already watered-down test.”

Why did the FAA commit to this incredibly racist and dangerous policy?  “A group within the FAA, including the human resources functions within the FAA and the National Black Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees, determined that the workforce was too white,” said attorney Michael Pearson, who is currently suing the Federal Aviation Administration for discrimination.

My family and I travel on airplanes often.  To think that there should be a premium placed upon race for the position of monitoring and directing air traffic rather than a premium upon unequivocal merit required to do the job is a bigger deal than my observation about the NFL, or my friend’s observation about the merits of his prospective sales force.

And yet, though some examples are more destructive than others, both things are part and parcel of the same disease.  And to be perfectly clear; racism and other useless biases are at its core.  To deny someone an opportunity to utilize his or her greatest talents or skills because he or she may not fit a preferred template of “progress” that are racial quotas is to regress into a world where actual “progress” is less attainable. 

We should fight and challenge these terrible ideas whenever possible.  However popular they may be, they are an affront to individual liberty, and they may yield far worse outcomes than we know.

And I did exactly that with my friend.  When I laid it out in simple terms, his response was, “Yeah, you’re right. It would be stupid to not hire the best person for the job.”

Virtue signaling may be convenient, at times.  But truth is immutable among people willing to hear and understand it.

William Sullivan blogs at Political Palaver and can be followed on Twitter.

A friend of mine and I recently had a political discussion that I found disturbing.

He told me that a long-time family friend had come to his house the weekend before.  His friend was an academic and a black man, and their dinner discussion involved whether black men can get a fair shake in today’s world, professionally, relative to white men.  In short, his friend argued that institutional racism holds black men down, while America offers some unspoken and unquantifiable “privilege” enjoyed by white men.

My friend and I have had several political conversations in the past.  In general, we tend to agree on many things. 

I suppose this is why he felt comfortable in telling me that he told his friend that the exact opposite is true.  Black men are not held down by institutional forces.  In fact, he said, if a black candidate and a white candidate were vying for the same position, he would probably offer the black man the job because he “wants to see more black people succeed in our industry,” even if the black candidate was less credentialed, less experienced, or even a lesser candidate in the sales capacity that is required for success among the employees my friend manages.

He smiled, as if looking for validation that he had made a good point about phantom “institutional racism” that we’d discussed many times before.  It struck me that he did not understand the pure, if unintentional, racism in the statements he had just made.  If the merits of the individuals in question were the measure, the white candidate in this hypothetical scenario would have been denied an opportunity that he deserved, and the black candidate would have enjoyed an opportunity that he would otherwise not deserve.  One would have been given preference over the other due to a preferred skin color, and in no sane world does that not amount to racism. 

This would be a perfect example of discrimination, which is, of course, prohibited by law, though actively practiced as a matter or corporate and governmental bureaucracy (more on this in a moment).  I had no idea if he would actually make the choice to do it if presented these circumstances, though.  I suspected that he cares enough about the success of his business that he would hire the most qualified candidate.  His choice to say that he would do this in the company of his friend, however, is perfect example what we know as “virtue signaling.”

But this was a social and political calculation that was not the creation of his own mind.  The social consensus pushed by the media and the culture at large has placed some sort of practical value on “diversity” in many industries in regard to inconsequential things like race, sex, or sexual preference, and has somehow forced those inconsequential things as viable considerations in the hiring process to create a workforce more “diverse” in those things that shouldn’t matter.

It’s often viewed as a “progressive,” or even “centrist,” thing to promote this line of thought.  But hiring someone who is less practically qualified to do a job would hardly be viewed as “progress” in any reasonable sense.  His team that he manages might be made more colorful by his hypothetical decision, but it would not be more productive or competitive for his having done so. 

Getting down to brass tacks, we should have no qualms with a lack of diversity in those things that should not matter -- like race, sex, or sexual preference.  Those things should not matter when merit is the measure, and merit is by far the greater measure in cultivating success. 

For example, I don’t think the NFL would benefit by establishing racial quotas.  Black players are far more prevalent than their overall demographic representation in America.  The abundance of black players is simply not a problem that needs to be counterbalanced by less talented white players, or Asian players, or women players, or gay players.  None of those other factors matter more to the product than the players being the very best at what they do.

In an ironic twist of the narrative, if anyone was to stupidly suggest that an abundance of black players in the NFL is a problem of institutional racism among the people selecting the players, that would be construed as a racist statement.  It’s a meritocracy, after all.

Why does the same knee-jerk aversion to such a broadly suggested racist impulse to hire based upon skin color, gender, or sexual preference rather than merit not reversely operate elsewhere in our culture?

And far worse, how has it become federally mandated practice in things that matter far more than a football game?

As Tucker Carlson has worked feverishly to expose, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had, during the Obama years, worked in a very cloak-and-dagger method to actually penalize certain candidates for work as air-traffic controllers for their education, their experience, and even their skin color if it was not the preferred shade.

Carlson reports that the FAA was “seeking out the unqualified intentionally” by adding “biographical questionnaires before any other screening.”  Those who “answered the questions in a way that diversity monitors don’t like cannot be considered for hiring, no matter how much experience they have, or how well they do on other portions of the test.” 

This screening actually penalized candidates for excessive merit and hired solely based upon considerations of “diversity.” Adding mountains of problems to this travesty, the FAA didn’t care if people “cheated on their already watered-down test.”

Why did the FAA commit to this incredibly racist and dangerous policy?  “A group within the FAA, including the human resources functions within the FAA and the National Black Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees, determined that the workforce was too white,” said attorney Michael Pearson, who is currently suing the Federal Aviation Administration for discrimination.

My family and I travel on airplanes often.  To think that there should be a premium placed upon race for the position of monitoring and directing air traffic rather than a premium upon unequivocal merit required to do the job is a bigger deal than my observation about the NFL, or my friend’s observation about the merits of his prospective sales force.

And yet, though some examples are more destructive than others, both things are part and parcel of the same disease.  And to be perfectly clear; racism and other useless biases are at its core.  To deny someone an opportunity to utilize his or her greatest talents or skills because he or she may not fit a preferred template of “progress” that are racial quotas is to regress into a world where actual “progress” is less attainable. 

We should fight and challenge these terrible ideas whenever possible.  However popular they may be, they are an affront to individual liberty, and they may yield far worse outcomes than we know.

And I did exactly that with my friend.  When I laid it out in simple terms, his response was, “Yeah, you’re right. It would be stupid to not hire the best person for the job.”

Virtue signaling may be convenient, at times.  But truth is immutable among people willing to hear and understand it.

William Sullivan blogs at Political Palaver and can be followed on Twitter.