Microevaluativism and Macroevaluativism: A Romeo and Juliet tragedy

You’ve heard of microeconomics, which deals at the level of specific transactions (e.g. price-setting), and of macroeconomics, which deals at the level of entire economic systems (e.g. unemployment rate).  Discrimination also operates at the micro- and macro- levels, and tragedy befalls anyone who attempts to address one but not the other.

Romeo, Juliet, and CinderellaThe stories Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet provide classic examples of discrimination operating at these levels.  Romeo is a Montague, but Juliet is a Capulet.  At the macro-level, the Montagues and Capulets are segregated—they don’t have much opportunity to get to know each other, so they have to accept on faith that everyone from the opposing camp is ultimately bad.  However, Romeo and Juliet happen to fall in love.  When they discover each other’s identities, they must deal with discrimination on a micro-level, confronting their personal biases against people of the other kind.  They overcome discrimination at the micro-level, but not at the macro-level, so their love is doomed.

In contrast, Cinderella stories have happy endings (at least in versions following the popularization by Disney).  Again, two lovers come from socially segregated groups—different socioeconomic classes.  That’s the macrodiscrimination.  Again there is a necessary grappling with personal biases when their identities are revealed.  That’s the microdiscrimination.  The difference in the plot of Cinderella stories is that one of the lovers has so much social power that ending their microdiscrimination automatically ends the macrodiscrimination; if the prince will not discriminate against people like Cinderella, then neither can anyone else in the kingdom.

For macrodiscrimination to fall with microdiscrimination seems too good to be true.  They are typically two separate struggles which require separate solutions.  Microdiscrimination typically ends by achieving humility, but humility is achieved one person at a time, while macrodiscrimination is system-wide.  In contrast, macroevaluativism typically ends through institutional reform—for example, the end of macroracism required the abolition of slavery—but institutional reform is not sufficient to end microdiscrimination which continues even subconsciously in certain individual brains.


A More Realistic Scenario

For those who intend to overcome evaluativism (i.e. discrimination against people of different kinds of values), it is important to understand the difference between microevaluativism and macroevaluativism, and to appreciate the need to fight on both fronts.  Here’s a realistic modern example: Suppose you teach your daughter that education is valuable, and send her to a nice college where she meets a bright physics student, and they fall in love.  Her lover is a natural gadfly, and develops the opinion that college does not provide very good education—it exists mostly for dogmatic purposes that are wasting his youth—so, in his senior year, he drops out of school (like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg did) to join a start-up company.  His business has a remarkably good start, and the lovers get married.

Then the company hits some bad luck.  It struggles for about ten years before petering out.  Your son-in-law applies for other jobs as a scientist or engineer, but is disqualified because he did not complete his degree.  He applies for jobs unrelated to science, and is able to get some temporary and part-time work, but jobs are designed for particular IQ levels, and employers are reluctant to award full-time positions to anyone mismatched.  He becomes depressed.

The system seems to expect people of his IQ to have certain credentials, but getting the credentials requires much more than just taking an IQ test.  He cannot simply finish his senior year; college students quickly forget most of what they learned in school, so he would need to retake all his prerequisite classes as well.  These complications reinforce his conviction that his education had no educational value, and he cannot stand to subject himself to such hazing all over again, this time with eyes wide open and no scholarship or parental contribution to pay the bill.  He’s the kind of guy to stand against hypocrisy and injustice, not the kind to suffer them.

Your daughter is not naturally a risk-taker, but she overcame her bias against gadflies to fall in love with this man.  Now she is falling out of love.  Managing microevaluativism is an endless job—we say it has been “overcome” when the struggle gets easy, but it is always possible for the struggle to become difficult again.  She previously managed her bias through empathy, but empathizing with someone who is trapped makes her want his release, and it is exhausting to want what she cannot control.  Like most other human beings, your daughter’s brain is designed to stop empathizing when exhausted.  Her marriage has become a trap for her because being herself with her husband impacts her brain in a way that prevents her from being herself.

Your son-in-law doesn’t want to trap anyone, so he projects a front designed to minimize her pain; he enjoys life as much as he can while waiting for his big break to magically arrive.  They don’t talk about his career.  In fact, they don’t talk much at all.  Each has his/her own support-network of friends, and spends more and more time with those friends as things get worse and worse.  He comes home late each night.  They sleep in the same bed, but that’s about all the interaction they have.  It’s better than hurting each other.

You are part of your daughter’s support-network, and like everyone else in both support networks, you are fighting microevaluativism.  You struggle to convince yourself that this guy’s values are not messed-up, that they do not create an impasse, that the evaluative diversity of your daughter and son-in-law is a gift which brings strength to society and to their marriage.  You can make progress at accepting them both in your own heart, and that may help them to accept each other.

However, your son-in-law is also a victim of macroevaluativism, and is dragging your daughter down with him.  To filter job-applicants by educational credentials perpetuates classism—which is the justification for financial aid—but also perpetuates evaluativism against natural gadflies, some of which will rebel against the education system.  To supplement your struggles with microevaluativism, someone needs to address the macroevaluativism by reforming the job-applicant filtering process.

The institutional reform required to make hiring processes non-evaluativist would be as intense as the reform that was required to make the cotton industry non-racist (i.e. to abolish slavery).  It would likely create economic disaster for some businesses, so even just discussing such reform could be threatening to some people.  Most people simply want to reduce the pain—they have no intention to threaten anybody—so they avoided deeply discussing the situations of slaves and now avoid deeply discussing your son-in-law’s career and marriage.  Unlike in the Cinderella story, there is no prince who has the power to reform the system by himself (although someone who employs scientists might be able to bend the rules of the hiring process for your son-in-law, if nepotism is allowed—in that way, all forms of discrimination could be more painful for the poor).


What is the solution?

We are fortunate to live in an age in which we can be encouraged by progress already made against various forms of discrimination.  We can be assured that the situation is not hopeless, and can use the history of social progress as a map for future advances.

Macroevaluativism and microevaluativism cause each other.  Social stress causes discrimination to flare-up, which causes more social stress.  The quality of your son-in-law’s relationship with his wife (and with you) depends upon his dignity, which, in turn, depends upon the quality of his relationship with society.

Progress made on microevaluativism will unravel if macroevaluativism is not also addressed.  For this reason, we need large national/international organizations to address various forms of discrimination through institutional reform.  On the other hand, we also need to address microevaluativism because discrimination comes in forms laws cannot punish.  For example, studies have shown that subconscious racism influences clinical decisions, robbing minorities of life-saving prescriptions.  We can see that pattern statistically, and even identify doctors most likely to make racist decisions, but not all of those doctors’ decisions are racist, and we cannot tell which particular prescriptions are inappropriate.  Likewise, if we do not overcome microevaluativism, job applicants will misrepresent their natures, and diverse teammates will not leverage each other’s strengths—no laws can fix these inefficiencies.

It may not be practical for a single advocate to fight on both fronts simultaneously, but that’s OK.  It is appropriate that advocates for interdependency are interdependent.  Don’t consider yourself adequate to address evaluativism alone.  Be part of something larger.