|This is, of course, real.|
You know about racism and sexism. But what about likabilism?
In our society, a lot comes down to just how likable you are. Almost all hiring and promotion takes into consideration some subjective factors -- things like "leadership skills," or "being a good communicator." It's no secret that if people like you they judge you to have these skills, and if they don't, they don't.
Of course, I am not saying that somehow likabilism displaces other -isms as if we're in a post-racial, post-feminist, post-whatever world. world. Obviously not. In fact it's the opposite. Likabilism functions as a conduit for other forms of discrimination. Or maybe money-laundering is a better metaphor. You can't express your racist and sexist and other discriminatory attitudes and judgements as such. But you can still say "Just doesn't have the leadership skills," or "isn't an effective communicator.
But likabilism expands on and overlaps with the traditional forms of discrimination. Because as long as there are these subjective judgments in evaluations, likability is going to be a huge factor in getting ahead.
I was reminded of this reading the incredible-along-so-many-dimensions NYT story about trying to combat gender disparities at the Harvard Business School. Astonishingly, subjectively measured "class participation" makes up "50 percent of each final mark." 50 percent! Obviously likability is going to influence whether you read someone's remark as challenging something in an interesting way or as not-being-a-team-player or whatever.
The article raises the important issue of social capital: the ways social networks have economic benefits. Not surprisingly, students are attuned to the ways the social experience of HBS would benefit them: for example, "if the professors liked you, students knew, they might advise and even back you." If you aren't living in a cave, you can imagine how that affects the women in school: they can't seem ambitious, and they can't seem non-ambitious. Quotes from the article:
"Judging from comments from male friends about other women ('She’s kind of hot, but she’s so assertive'), Ms. Navab feared that seeming too ambitious could hurt what she half-jokingly called her 'social cap,' referring to capitalization."Of course it's not just a gender issue. Anyone who doesn't look right, doesn't act right, or can't afford expensive outings can't become part of the in-group -- in this case, an in-group that will determine in real terms how well you do in your career.
"The men were not insensitive, they said; they just considered the discussion a poor investment of their carefully hoarded social capital."
OK maybe you're thinking, "Boo-hoo, people at Harvard Business School." But honestly, this is everywhere now. As I touched on in the previous post, everyone now has to present a certain kind of face to the world, through social networking and the internet, through positivity and team-playerism, and so on: Like me! Pick me! I'm the one for you, world!!
Likabilism functions as part of what Philip Mirowski calls the "entrepreneurial self": you have to market and brand yourself, and you have to develop exactly the "self" that an employer wants to hire -- not just at work, but with your whole personality. Various forces have come together to create a language and framework in which any ill-fit with the expectations of corporations is considered a personal failing, something you need to deal with. For example, Mirowski quotes a passage from Barbara Ehrenreich's description of a boot-camp for the unemployed: "It's all internal .. it's never about the external world... it's always between you and you."
So: what are you gonna do? I often feel like lurking behind discussions of these topics is an unspoken hope that somehow freedom -- of people to do as they please -- and fairness -- everyone getting what they deserve for their talents and efforts -- and equality -- OK, not equality, but not massive inequality either -- are somehow essentially in harmony. Like, if we could just get people to stop being racist and sexist and discriminatory in all the awful ways, you could have a society in which everyone does what they want, and everyone gets their just deserts, and no one is too badly off.
Some of the Harvard interventions seem to reflect a hope along these lines. Like, if we could just get things sorted out, things would all ... get sorted out.
But likabilism means the problems of exclusion and inequality are much deeper than this would suggest. If you let people do what they want, they're going to exclude the people they don't like, and include the ones they do. You can't legislate equality of social capital. So fairness and rough equality are not going to just happen.
My own view is that because these are different and conflicting values, you have to find a way not to let one of them run away with you. You can't legislate social capital, but you can legislate against too much inequality: there are lots of economic policies and institutions that will have equalizing effects. And you can legislate that no one be too badly off as well.
An approach like this won't allow for everyone doing what they want and it won't produce full justice of what people deserve either.
But it might not suck.