People are more consequentialist than they assume
By Scott Sumner
This confused me:
Most liberals have what I would characterize as a deontological opposition to discrimination. That is, they think that discriminating against or maligning someone on the basis of membership in a protected class — women, trans people, black people, and other racially oppressed communities, etc. — violates a rule that should be inviolable.
In this view, such discrimination (be it legal, or expressed through hate speech, etc.) is not just wrong because it has bad effects, or because it harms members of the groups in question; it’s wrong because we have a duty to treat humans as equals, and it is never acceptable to violate that duty, even when doing so seems politically expedient.
I’ve argued that liberals are basically consequentialists (more specifically utilitarians.) This Vox article claims that liberal views on discrimination are deontological. But the argument makes no sense to me. If you deleted the term “protected” from the first paragraph, then it would make perfect sense. But as written it looks like the author is claiming that the principle of non-discrimination only applies to groups where discrimination can and does major harm, and does not apply to groups where discrimination is not a big problem. That’s probably a correct description of “liberal” (progressive) views on discrimination, but it’s a consequential argument.
I suspect this ambiguity reflects that fact that progressives are conflicted on this issue. Deontological arguments seem more inspiring. Think about the phrase “it’s a matter of principle”. At the same time, progressives cannot easily escape their basically consequentialist moral intuitions.
This inconsistency is probably sensed (if only at an intuitive level) by the general public, which makes it hard for progressives to have electoral success on “identity politics” issues. The public correctly senses that many progressive arguments are a bit phony.
PS. On the right, white nationalists exhibit a similar inconsistency, wavering between deontological and consequentialist arguments. They often try to justify their opposition to low income minorities on consequentialist grounds, but their sympathy for unsuccessful white groups (such as hillbillies) and distrust of successful minorities (Asians, Jews, etc.) is the “tell” that something else is at stake.)