Discrimination is neither good or bad

Discrimination is not a bad thing, but it is not a good thing either. Discrimination, like any tool, is morally neutral. What matters is how that tool is used, and against whom. Only in that context can we truly determine if discrimination is good and justifiable or bad and indefensible. Saying that discrimination is inherently bad is a willfully myopic, absolutist statement. Even the people who say that do not really believe it when push comes to shove. First, let’s review Merriam-Webster’s definitions of the word:

  • The practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people.
  • The ability to recognize the difference between things that are of good quality and those that are not.
  • The ability to understand that one thing is different from another thing.

Clearly, discrimination is not universally wrong. Let me use an example. Someone owns a donut shop. A customer shows up a few times, and in his visits he is belligerent to the staff, rude to the other customers and litters his speech with obscenities. He wears clothing with obscene messages and is prone to flying off the handle and screaming at other customers or staff for the slightest provocation, real or imagined. Is the donut shop justified in “discriminating” against him and banning him from the store?

Do I even need to ask that question?

We as a society discriminate against sex offenders all the time. (I am not addressing the wisdom of those restrictions here. That is an entirely different subject.) They cannot live or work within a certain distance of schools or parks, their employment options are limited, and they are monitored by the government. And yet this is done for the sake of public safety and preventing these folks from being a danger to others – especially children. Is this discrimination a good or bad thing? In some cases, the answer is clearly that discrimination can be a good and helpful thing.

There are more examples. Employers discriminate in the hiring process, in order to find the applicant who most closely meets the needs they have for the position. Employers will discriminate against unqualified applicants, and in many cases they will even discriminate against the most qualified applicants for fear they are “overqualified” and will leave for a higher paying job after a short time. We all discriminate in our shopping, for which products or services best meet what we want for the price we are willing to pay.

Obviously, discrimination can be a bad thing, and can even be evil. But what we need to do is get beyond our simple-minded mentality on the subject, and apply a little bit of discernment in our arguments. Shouting slogans that have little thought behind them does no one any good and does not advance our arguments.

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