Tuesday 15 June 2010

How the ideal of neutrality/ impartiality actually serves a radical agenda

Neutrality is a lynch pin of elite political thought. Much of modern quasi-scientific social research is dedicated to demonstrating that some modern social system (law, education, the military) is not behaving neutrally. All that is required of such research is to show that people of different sex, ethnicity or whatever are treated differently, and points are scored, the system is discredited and demonstrated as being ripe for radical reform.

(Actually, it is worse than this, because any research which fails to find differences between sexes or whatever is suppressed or ignored - while even clearly erroneous or made-up research showing differences – e.g. radically-motivated research which is actually based on pre-selected anecdotes or fails to control for major confounders like age may be given tremendous publicity.)

However, if it is impossible for an individual, an organization or a culture to be neutral - then this debate takes on a different complexion altogether; because if impartiality is unattainable, then the debate would not *really* be about failure to attain the ideal of neutrality, but *actually* a debate over *who* should be favoured.

The ideal of impartiality in social systems probably derived from the ideal of Roman law, in which (as I understand it) the same system is applied to everyone - everyone goes through the same basic process.

The same idea applies to bureaucracies, as described by Max Weber, in which administrators are required to devise and apply procedures impartially, treating sufficiently-similar cases as operationally-identical.

But in the real world there are major differences in the application of the law and the application of bureaucratic procedures - differences such as: who gets investigated, who gets prosecuted, the type of sentence they receive, who has regulations enforced on them - and so on.


One classic political scenario nowadays involves someone (a radical) attacking a procedural system (such as the legal process, employment practice or educational evaluations) as being biased, while another person (a libertarian or conservative) defends the system as being impartial-enough for the purposes.

The radical pretends to argue that impartiality is attainable but requires change, while actually seeking privileges for a particular group. The libertarian/ conservative always gives ground in the direction the radical is pushing, because any actually existing system is indeed partial – if you look hard enough.

Hence the evaluation system is overturned. That group which used to be privileged is now suppressed, and vice versa. This can most clearly be seen in employment policy relating to gender.

A reactionary perspective, by contrast, would accept the radical’s assertion that one group or another must in reality be privileged, and would challenge the radical on the grounds of which group ought to be privileged. The focus of debate changes.

For example, if it is accepted that neutrality is impossible, then employment policy must favour either men or women – the proper question then becomes which is it best for employment policy to favour?

For example, the organization of the military or care for young children will inevitably favour either men or women – the proper question to ask is: which is the most functionally-appropriate favoured group in each specific case? (Clue: the answer is different for each of these two examples…)


One big advantage of acknowledging the inevitability of partiality is that this is what most people believe anyway and always have believed – in fact it is only a minority of the intellectual elite (libertarians and conservatives) who really believe in impartiality as a desirable and attainable goal of social systems.

But radicals, socialists, liberals and corrupt politicians are simply exploiting the failure to attain impartiality as a justification for imposing a revolutionary inversion of values.

Hence a belief in the ideal of neutrality unwittingly serves a radical and nihilistically-destructive agenda, since it actually leads to partiality in the opposite direction from that which is socially functional.