Saturday, June 11, 2016

Heightism is next - capitalism is never

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the identitarian war on heightism is coming. There are two major reasons for this. The first is that liberalism relentlessly co-opts identitarian politics as a way to channel civil unrest away from class stuggle. The second is that this strategy, when focused on the oppression of any particular identity, yields diminishing returns for liberalism. As long as capitalism exists, you can only do so much to mitigate and regulate the oppression any given identity group faces; policy and educational approaches become less and less effective, and it gradually becomes more and more obvious that radical solutions antithetical to liberalism are necessary.

All of this means that, inevitably, liberalism will shift its attention towards new symptoms of oppression. Heightism is an obvious candidate! As John Kenneth Galbraith noted, "The bias towards tallness and against shortness is one of society's most blatant and forgiven prejudices." It is intersectionally implicated in just about every form of bigotry there is. Height is commonly implicated in racist stereotypes; stunted growth is a well-known symptom of poverty; and it has received significant attention in feminist scholarship, persisting as such a major factor in sexism that Miller writes,
...much of what we normally assume is sex discrimination is height discrimination. Of course, heightism affects men and women, but because women average 4 to 5 inches shorter than men, it affects them more... (WSJ, 10/28/95)
Heightism also imposes virtually all the disadvantages we see in other forms of oppression. Short people make far less money and also experience significant educational and job opportunity impacts; they experience constant psychological trauma to the point of facing a higher rate of suicide; they face overt bigotry throughout our society and culture; they have fewer sex parters and face such significant disadvantages in coupling that Friedman describes heightism as "the last acceptable dating prejudice"; and so on. (It should be noted that while many of these studies focus on the plight of short men in particular, women also suffer from the same discrimination - as well as additional biases when they are unusually tall, a problem generally not experienced by men.)

Accordingly, the first signs of anti-heightist media and activist organization have already begun to emerge. Academics have also begun to consider policy approaches to the issue - and tellingly, most of them focus on its economic dimensions. One paper by Rosenberg, for example, considers "a federal law that would flatly prohibit height-based employments decisions"; another, by Mankiw and Weinzierl, contempltaes "a credit for short taxpayers and a sucharge for tall ones".

The policy solution we are not likely to see, of course, is the radical redistribution of property to people of all heights, nor are liberal identitarians likely to seize the means of production from statistically tall CEOs and hand them over to the generally shorter proletariat. Presumably, liberals will spend a few decades trying to regulate, thinkpiece, and call-out heightism into oblivion - and when that's accomplished all it can accomplish within a capitalist framework, instead of challenging capitalism, they'll move on to the next problem.

The fight against heightism is a worthy cause, of course, as is the fight against all forms of oppression - but that's not what liberalism is interested in. Liberalism is animated by a defense of capitalism, and it is only to that end that it draws our focus towards other forms of oppression. An intersectional politics must resist this opportunistic, counterproductive core of liberal identitarianism, even as it maintains an expansive and inclusive posture towards emerging identitarian concerns.