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31.4: Identity-Based Ethics

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    The most important point for us to keep in mind when engaging in moral decision-making regarding issues concerning identity is the role our existing schemas, stereotypes and biases are likely to play. If you are not a member of the group being discussed, you likely don’t have much of a sample to be working from in terms of what their experience is like. Worse still, your sample may largely be populated by representations from fiction or other media sources which themselves are unlikely to be fair and accurate depictions of the lived experiences of the group members. You can end up in a situation where you are applying the availability and representativeness heuristics (which can already be problematic) to bad data sets that lead to the out-group homogeneity bias, rendering your reasoning close to worthless.

    A better strategy would be to listen to members of these groups. If you are willing to listen, women, people of color, trans people, people with disabilities, etc. are pretty clear about what their experiences are like. This way, you don’t need to be as reliant on the stereotypes and biases you may have formed, and you can develop more accurate schemas. The information cost to listening is low, and it will lead to a must more robust understanding of others.

    More often than you might think, we can also consult base-rates. Rather than relying on subjective experience or anything else about an issue like discrimination in law enforcement, we can look at the numbers. Comparing the incarceration rates for drug possession based on race to drug use rates based on race helps make the case the such discrimination is real. Similarly, looking at the rates at which people of various races are pulled over for pretext stops helps tell the story. We should always remember to consult the data when there is good data available. When people are justifying racially prejudicial views, they typically fall back on reasoning supported by confirmation bias. If we focus on the objective data, we can avoid this problem.

    One final element to keep in mind when evaluating these issues is the way some people leverage appeal to emotion. When considering trans bathroom access, for instance, you will find that people looking to restrict bathroom access engage in a fair amount of fear-based arguments. Aren’t you concerned about you wife and children? What if it makes things easier for sexual predators? As we discussed in Chapter 9, we should be very skeptical of scare tactics. These arguments are intended to hit us on an instinctual level, and if we react to them, we are likely to miss the bigger picture. In the case of these arguments in particular, some calm reflection should lead you to realize: 1) that trans people are far less likely to sexually assault someone than cis people (it’s a numbers game); 2) people who commit sexual violence clearly aren’t all that concerned with rules, as we already have laws against that behavior (so they are likely to enter a bathroom even with restrictions if they think it is advantageous); 3) these bathroom restrictions would require transmen to use the women’s room (something that would likely make the proponents of these restrictions uncomfortable as well); and 4) if people really are concerned about violence, then they should also be concerned about sending transwomen into the men’s room.

    Scare tactics about identity issues are not new. In 2003, U.S. Senator Rick Santorum literally argued that if we allowed same-sex couples to get married it would lead to people marrying their dogs. This argument in particular does double duty, as it is also a twist on the line-drawing fallacy, as Santorum is saying that if we don’t uphold his view of marriage, then the term will cease to have any real meaning.

    This page titled 31.4: Identity-Based Ethics is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Jason Southworth & Chris Swoyer via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.