Feb. 23rd, 2012

commodorified: My hair, flying in the wind, and my right arm, in sunlight (Default)
That the ADA is proof, all by itself, even if other proofs did not lie thick and bountiful as manna upon the ground, of the fallacy of the too-often heard proposition that you "can't legislate attitudes."

I mean, even aside from the Looking-Glassish proposition that "legislating attitudes" was the important thing, as if the function of legislation of this nature were to address the morals and mental hygiene of the bigoted, not to improve the quality of life experienced by the people facing discrimination by keeping our less forgivable stupidities off of their radar by inducing in us the salutary fear of bad consequences for bad behaviour.

But, in fact, even if I were in a fit of extreme, nigh-terminal absentmindedness inclined to overlook that large detail, which I am not, at all, ever, it's not true.

One can legislate or otherwise correct the attitudes people display quite easily, and quite often one ought to. It is simply a matter of giving people very strong incentives to behave in the manner that they ought to, or very strong disincentives to behave in the way that they want to, or think they want to, or both.

And most of them will shrug and do it, if you've done a remotely reasonable job of identifying the necessary quantity of carrot or thickness of stick; this is why the keepers of the status quo love to attack the effectiveness or fairness of legislative remedies and the moral quality of those who propose them ("victim culture" rants, which are by the way pernicious nonsense: creating and holding together a coalition of the oppressed long enough and well enough to get a piece of fairness-increasing legislation signed into law and enforced or defeat and replace an unfairness-creating one does not turn you into a mob of weak little victims; it turns you into a bunch of tough, experienced activists and agitators. This is what people who work hard to keep the term "victim culture" in the public mind don't want you to know: this approach works really well.)

Above and beyond inducing more decent behaviour in a wider range of people almost immediately, this approach has two good longer-term effects:

1) As some enormous number of people have noted since the beginning of time, we come to hate those we mistreat and to like those we are aware of having treated justly or kindly or both. It's a form of post-hoc rationalisation that we engage in to avoid feeling guilty on the one hand or weak on the other.

2) When we treat people justly and kindly their lives are easier and pleasanter, and this makes them happier people, and so they act more pleasantly and kindly themselves, on account of not attempting to carry out the everyday acts of their lives through a haze of rage, hurt and extra hassle.

3) Which makes the people they interact with more willing to behave justly and kindly towards them for the sake of the emotional rewards, not just to avoid the punishments and reap the rewards provided by society.

4) Which as a rule will cause the members of the oppressed group to become even more comfortable and happy which is both an intrinsic good and tends to encourage creativity, productivity, extroversion, and other good things, as they and their efforts get closer and closer to being able to flourish unbruised by bigotry.

5) Some large number of rounds later, you have a formerly oppressed group, which is an excellent situation indeed.

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