Jul 012002

Read Part 1.

The official version — at least the former official version, I don’t know if Barbara Branden’s hagiography in Who Is Ayn Rand? is in the canon any more — of how Ayn Rand met her husband goes like this:

One morning, she boarded a streetcar as usual for the long ride to the [de Mille] studio in Culver City…she glanced across the aisle.

He was tall and slender; a strand of fair hair fell over his forehead; he wore an open shirt, and slacks over long legs. The skin of his face was taut against high cheekbones. His mouth was long and thin. His eyes were a cold, clear blue. He was half-dozing, his body relaxed with the boneless elegance of a cat….

She knew that if she were a painter and were asked to put on canvas her own private vision of the perfect human face and figure, it would be this face and this figure that she would struggle to create. She felt as if she were chained to her seat — or chained to him — and unable to move.

Then she felt the jolt of a sudden terror: he would get off the streetcar, and she would never learn who he was.

Not to worry, kids: he turns out to be an extra in the de Mille extravaganza King of Kings, just like her. They’re together for days and she doesn’t open her mouth. Finally she manages to make him trip over her on the set and she finds out his name is Frank O’Connor. Then, disaster:
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Jul 012002

Peter Beinart argues in this week’s New Republic that whoever opposes affirmative action on moral grounds must oppose racial profiling on the same grounds. The syllogism runs: opponents of affirmative action base their moral case on “the principle of color blindness”; they often support racial profiling, which isn’t color-blind; therefore they don’t believe in color blindness at all. This sounds wrong: it is wrong. But it will be useful to exhibit the precise fallacy.

My source for this link writes:

Beinart misses the point. If we extend the principle of racial profiling — using actual, genuine, data about groups to help us make better guesses about individuals — to the spheres in which affirmative action operates, we get fewer blacks at prestigious universities. Racial profiling is about reality. Affirmative action is about ignoring reality.

True, but not quite satisfactory. The logical error lies in the term “color blindness.” Color blindness, as used by its advocates, does not mean literal color blindness, the belief that the state shall ignore race in every context, but something very different: the principle that the state shall ignore what is irrelevant. Race, being the most common of invidious criteria, serves as a rhetorical stand-in for all that is usually irrelevant, like religion, or sexual proclivities, or eye color. But Beinart insists on being literal. He takes race blindness, removes it from the context of university admissions, where it’s irrelevant, and transports it to the context of profiling potential terrorists, where it’s highly relevant for the obvious reason that most Muslims are Arabs. This is the fallacy of equivocation. It won’t do.