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A difference without a distinction?

Yesterday, I brought up the subject of hate crime laws. I expressed my distaste for them, and a host of people all chimed in. I found the arguments on both sides pretty compelling, and didn't find my position had shifted much.

Until I read Bat One's. That one sold me.

I've always been fascinated with math. One of the reasons is that, in most cases, it's black and white. Something is correct or it is not. There are very few nuances, shades of gray, and conditionals in math. And applying mathematical principles to political and social issues has been a great boon to my decision-making.

For example, in the area of affirmative action, as I recall the Michigan Law School case, the score needed for admission was 100. Minorities were automatically given 20 points for simply being minorities (more points than perfect SATs were worth, as I recall). I wondered at the time what people's opinion would be if the minimum score was lowered to 80 -- but any non-minority was docked 20 points, while minorities were exempt. In practical terms, the standings were unchanged. Mathematically speaking, it makes no difference if you add 20 points to one set, or subtract 20 points from another -- it will not affect the order in the least. But how would if affect people's opinion if instead of tacitly punishing one group, by denying them a benefit granted others, was made explicit? In my case, it's enough to sell me.

Likewise, Bat did the exact same thing with hate crime laws, and I'm kicking myself for not thinking of it first. Instead of making it an additional crime to beat someone because they're gay, why not simply ratchet up the penalty for assault, then allow the victim's status to serve as a mitigating factor? "Your honor, my client did beat the crap out of Mr. Jones, sending him to the hospital, but Mr. Jones is a heterosexual white male, and my client was merely upset that Mr. Jones had spilled a drink on him. I'd like that to be taken into account, and have his sentence reduced accordingly."

Mathematically, it makes no difference. The end result is the same -- those that commit a crime out of a sense of discrimination or hatred of a group or class will serve longer sentences. The only thing changed is the way the sentence is calculated.

And as the only saying goes, a difference that makes no difference is no difference.

Comments (2)

One thing, JT. A perfect S... (Below threshold)

One thing, JT. A perfect SAT score used to be 1600, but now it's 2400 with the introduction of the evil new version. I just barely managed to avoid taking the new version. I took the last offered old version before the new one kicked in, got a high score, and quit while I was ahead.

What you are describing, Ja... (Below threshold)

What you are describing, Jay Tea, is a rhetorical device called the Baseline Reference -- whether a set of conditions is considered to be a bonus or a penalty depends entirely on what your baseline reference is.

This is a relatively common technique (one which the Left has been much better at implementing than the Right over the last 70 years, in my opinion), and applies to all sorts of things other than criminal law and affirmative action.

Just look at the Wal-Mart controversy that was debated here a few days ago. One Lefty commenter wanted to portray the fact that Wal-Mart wasn't paying health insurance for some employees as a kind of special benefit to Walmart (because these employees then turned around and collected Medicaid benefits). He even called it "corporate welfare."

The only way that one could interpret the payment of Medicaid as a form of "corporate welfare," when these benefits are paid directly to people who happen to be Wal-Mart employees, is if you had already decided that Wal-Mart ought to be paying for those health care costs.

In other words, this Lefty (I have no doubt he got this line from some DU talking points) was attempting to shift the baseline reference from one in which employers and employees negotiate their own compensation, to one where Wal-Mart is already required (at least morally) to pay these costs. The fact that Wal-Mart does not is then portrayed as a deficiency.

So, to make your case appear stronger, just shift the baseline reference to one in which your position is already the status quo.

Conservatives caught onto this little Baseline Reference-Shifting trick about 10-15 years ago, but the best phrase they could come up with to rebut it was the phrase "moving the goalposts."

Typical Republican leadership (at that time) -- a clumsy sports analogy.

Good thing we have the internets now. Conservative PR has gotten a hell of a lot better, and is getting better every day.






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