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Innocuous vs Unjust Systemic Discrimination

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It's now widely recognized that problematic discrimination need not involve malicious attitudes: certain political structures might systematically disregard the interests of ethnic minorities, for example, even if nobody involved was "racist" in the traditional sense of harbouring prejudicial attitudes.  Still, sometimes people -- even highly-respected philosophers! -- move from this to the opposite error of assuming that any disparity in group outcomes is in itself constitutive of unjust discrimination against the disadvantaged group.  I've found this especially common in debates about QALYs. (One may, of course, raise reasonable questions about how QALY values are determined in practice: perhaps they fail to accurately track the welfare facts in some cases, adjusting down for certain disabilities that are actually harmless. But my target here is the more sweeping complaint that any form of the metric will be "ageist" and "ableist" simply in virtue of its being systematically disadvantageous for the elderly and (detrimentally) disabled, relative to an alternative system that sought to indiscriminately save as many lives as possible.)Granted, if a vulnerable group is systematically disadvantaged in some context, that will often be a sign of unjust discrimination: we know it's not uncommon for minority interests to be systematically disregarded, after all, so that will often be a natural hypothesis for explaining disparate outcomes. (I think this is true of the criminal justice system in the US, for example.)  But it's important to remember that it is the underlying failure to give equal weight to their interests that is the injustice here, not the mere disparity in outcomes.  Disparate outcomes can come about in entirely innocuous ways.Here's a simple example: Compared to indiscriminate systems that ignore expected lifespan, QALYs (in prioritizing longer life-extensions over shorter ones) systematically disadvantage men, due to. . .

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