The conversation with the headhunter was going well. She liked the qualifications and experience on my resume, but she wanted a piece of information that wasn’t on it. “What year”, she asked, “did you graduate from college?”. I answered the year, indicating that the event was 24 years past. Immediately, she responded “Excuse me, I just got a call on the other line. Can I call you back?”. Click. She never called back.
It was the second time that had happened in a week — with two different headhunters. I was clearly being discriminated against.
Was it unfair? It certainly was not in my interest, I was being done an injury in the form of getting fewer job interviews. These headhunters, evidently, judged that I was over the hill. Would it have been “unfair” if they had discriminated in my favor on account of my lengthy experience?
Was it irrational? I can certainly see a reason why employers might not want to waste time interviewing a middle-aged engineer for a non-management slot, when they have younger talent available. Most employers, when they hire someone, are hoping the person turns out to be a superstar who rises quickly through the ranks. Someone who hasn’t made it to management in 24 years is far less likely to do that than someone who hasn’t been in the industry long enough to have had a chance. So there were sound reasons to discriminate against me.
It was definitely illegal. Our society has decided that it is unfair to discriminate against non-minors on the basis of age when evaluating job candidates.
However, the law in this case is so difficult to enforce that it’s hardly worth the paper it’s printed on. Since we have decided that we don’t want people discriminating on the basis of age, perhaps there might be some means of achieving that end other than legal.
One approach might be to arbitrarily declare that people don’t lose their cognitive edge as they get older. If enough people, especially society’s intellectual leadership, were to go out of their way to promote such a view, and to punish anyone who dissents from it by calling them names, such as “bigot”, perhaps we can brainwash people into believing us, and they will voluntarily choose to forgo discrimination.
But there are costs to such an approach. Calling people names makes enemies. And people who are very old are obviously in decline; would a claim that this decline doesn’t begin until after the Social Security retirement age be very credible?
Furthermore, there is something I find highly obscene about a society that punishes people who refuse to believe lies. Such a society will persecute its most honest people, and will find itself growing increasingly cynical.
Brainwashing people to believe lies is not the proper response to discrimination; we should just tell people that it’s wrong to do certain kinds of discrimination, but leave them free to believe as they please.