Economics, Dialectic, Culture

Debiasing Desire an Interesting Paper

I found this paper, or rather, saw it linked on Twitter. It purports to criticize the behaviors of online dating platforms for their sexual racism, suggest that sexual selection is the result of more than individual choice, but rather of cultural factors as well, “In this view, individuals’ intimate affiliations are not the product of “pure” individual choice, but are instead shaped by accretions of state and social power.” The paper then suggests that one can resist such assortative mating, “resistance simply requires recognizing that desire is malleable,” particularly it can be shaped by online dating platform algorithms. But whose desires should be shaped, I wonder. I’ll simply drop this paragraph here indicating whose desires should not

While it may strike us as normatively acceptable to encourage intimate platform users to be open to more diverse potential partners, we might find some categories more palatable for such intervention than others. For example, it might seem inappropriate to suggest that a Jewish user seeking other Jewish people “expand her horizons” past those preferences, which might be based on a number of religious and cultural considerations. Similarly, a platform suggesting that a gay user “consider” dating someone of a different gender would likely strike us as problematic. Intimate platforms can be very useful for minorities looking to meet others who share their background and values. Instead of drawing a bright line on what should or should not be acceptable categories to consider, we suggest that designers should take the needs of marginalized or historically oppressed populations into account when considering how intimate platform features are used. Careful consideration of the outcomes of the exercise of intimate preferences may reveal that some of these groups are at greater risk for harm than others, and that platform features should be implemented accordingly.

Debiasing Desire (14-15)

So, the paper is clear that cultural factors are a partial cause for romantic interest in similar looking individuals. But then it also says that certain groups’ cultural dating preferences (namely local minorities) should be respected and not influenced by dating app algorithms. This is already incoherent, as to influence majority users into dating outside of their preferred ethnic/religious/cultural boundaries necessarily encourages them to date minorities. I do wonder though, do the authors of this paper think that world minorities should get special treatment or only local ones (say, Irish individuals should be left alone to date as they wish, but Chinese users should be influenced to date non-Chinese people)?  Also, what of countries like Somalia. Should members of the Italian minority in Somalia be influenced to date/marry members of the majority since Italty has a larger population than Somalia or should Somalian Darod Clan (something like 50% of the population) be influenced to date the Italians but not the reverse. 

All of this is to say, what are they teaching people in these schools? Do they engage in deliberation or do they just write words about things and ask editors to take out grammatical errors? Also, what exactly are the intentions of such a paper if the practical results of its efforts were so poorly conceived? 

2 Comments on “Debiasing Desire an Interesting Paper

  1. Hello, Geoff.
    You have raised some interesting points, similar to those that have been on my mind for some time now, but in the specific context of public health and infectious disease epidemiology in the United States. That is the field in which I worked from 2006 to 2010. (I subsequently departed for the less ethically conflicted domain of US federal savings bank credit risk modeling and governance. If one is poorly behaved, the OCC RAD–Office of Comptroller of the Currency, Risk Analysis Division–comes after you like avenging furies, which is only right, and eminently fair.)

    I refer specifically to this passage in your post:

    Also, what of countries like Somalia. Should members of the Italian minority in Somalia be influenced to date/marry members of the majority since Italty has a larger population than Somalia or should Somalian Darod Clan (something like 50% of the population) be influenced to date the Italians but not the reverse.

    This reminds me of commentary I read from purported experts, during my tenure in the field of public health. Specifically, The Gay Advocate published a detailed piece about the prevalence of HIV positive status among homosexual black men, versus other homosexual men. Several putative public health commentators noted that gay black men tended to prefer other gay black men as sexual and long term relationship partners. Rates of HIV positive status were higher among gay black men in contrast to gay men of other racial/ ethnicities. Paradoxically, gay black men reported being MORE, not than less vigilant about adhering to safe sex practices, e.g. using condoms, being monogamous, avoiding intravenous drug use.

    Instead of investigating further, from an etiological approach, so called experts in the field recommended that gay black men alter their behavior and pursue relationships with gay men of other racial/ ethnicities than their own. That is appalling to me. It is not the role of contagious disease epidemiologists to dictate with whom one should engage in intimate sexual activities and long-term relationships! What is wrong with these people?!

    P.S. References to follow. I wasn’t sure if live URLs were permitted in your blog comments. Also, I need to be at work at the Bank in a few hours. No, I am not a bank teller.

    P.P.S. Thank you for being my friend on Twitter. Feel free to expurgated some or all of this overly-candid comment

    1. This is good and helpful stuff. The idea that these scientists are capable of recommending alternatives to processes they have yet to understand is arrogrance of the highest sort. I really cannot believe it, except that I see it everywhere!

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