Discrimination And Disparities, by Thomas Sowell
This was a particularly interesting book to read for several reasons. For one, this book was by far the last of the books by the author that my library had that I was able to read, so there was a bit of a gap between this book and the rest of the books by the author that I was able to find, which probably made this book more fresh given that it has the same approach and perspective of the author’s book in general. For another, this book mentions several times the hillbilly problem spoken of in the great book Hillbilly Elegy, which I had not read at the time I read the other books and which has caused such a controversy when it comes to demonstrating that the disparities that exist are due to far more than simply race alone but due to aspects of culture that are present across several races. Those who view disparity as proof of racism or discrimination have a hard time dealing with the cultural factors that lead to increased crime and decreased success in life, as these cultural habits are things that work against people but are not the fault of a wider society that (with good reason) finds certain cultural traits and tendencies problematic, particularly those springing from the culture of the south as it relates to prickly senses of honor and dignity and a quick recourse to violence.
This book is a very short one at just over 100 pages and it makes its point without belaboring it, something a lot of writers would do well to emulate. The book begins with disparities and prerequisites (1) and looks at how it is that cultures sometimes need only a bit more to succeed while others lose the qualities that allowed them to succeed in previous generations. After that the author looks at the costs of discrimination (2) and examines how in many cases (like 1920’s Harlem or apartheid era South Africa) the desire for profit undermined racism against blacks when it came to jobs and housing. This leads to a discussion about the importance of sorting people so that troublesome groups can be properly distinguished and dealt with in such a way that it does not harm the entire group as a whole (3), and how well-meaning efforts at preventing discrimination often prevent the sorting that limits discrimination to its proper levels. After that the author examines the issue of statistics as it relates to questions of disparities and discrimination (4), and then a closing chapter of the wide gulf that exists between social visions and human consequences (5), after which there are acknowledgments, end notes, and an index.
When one examines the tricky relationship between disparities and discrimination, the existence of a disparity merely forms as the beginning of an investigation rather than the end of one. As the author notes, there are various definitions for discrimination, and not all of them are bad, and in fact, some of them are quite proper and warranted and a very good thing. The ability to distinguish between good and evil, for example, is a question of discrimination, as is that between good and bad art as well as good and bad people. On the other hand, to judge people by erroneous views of the groups that they belong to is something that all of us could agree is bad, whether we are middle-aged white men or young black men or rich or poor or women or whatever. The author notes that it is far from straightforward a task to make sure that our discrimination is in the area of proper discernment, and frequently disparities arise because of cultural reasons rather than reasons of hostility and racism. Unfortunately, it is not easy to provide a space where people can be treated justly because that which is politically popular may hinder the task of making proper distinctions and sorting and may make whole groups pay for the sins and flaws of a few members of those groups. And that is a great shame.