Friday, May 14, 2010

The Detriment of First Impressions

In general society humans seem to favor instant categorization. Perhaps such a mindset is brought on through evolution and survival instincts. First impressions allow humans to instantly categorize a new person which gives them a better handle on how to interact with them and what value they may have. The problem is that once this categorization occurs people resist changing it even if they are faced with behavior or evidence that contradicts that initial interpretation. The reason for this persistence is two fold. First, it is natural that most humans resist the very notion that their opinions could be wrong invoking many psychological defenses to convince themselves that they are right regardless of the evidence or facts. Second, it takes work to change your first opinion, researching why the initial opinion is wrong and coming to a new more accurate conclusion that will replace the old incorrect conclusion.

However, hard work and the potential for being wrong do not permanently deter people, so why does it appear to be more difficult for people to overcome first impressions made in social interaction? One reason stems back to basic labeling theory where if enough people characterize a person in a certain way, weaker people begin to apply that characteristic regardless of whether or not it is true. Thus, the incorrect even idiotic assumption could become true through irrational and stubborn behavior by those who make the idiotic assumption. Unfortunately this happens more often than it should.

A second reason is that rarely do visible and calculated consequences exist for these improper assumptions. If someone mischaracterizes an individual as having a certain weakness when they do not that first individual is rarely disciplined for that error. Without consequences for incorrect assumptions or misconstrued analysis, individuals are unlikely to change their opinions or the methodology that lead to the error. Basically without genuine and significant consequences personal pride becomes the only motivating factor driving individuals to correct mistaken opinions.

Unfortunately even if there are consequences most of the time they are difficult to identify. For example suppose an individual characterizes a stockbroker candidate incorrectly due to an erroneous assumption, which leads to the belief that he/she does not have the skills to succeed at higher risk trading. In reality if given the opportunity this individual would have high levels of success and generate large amounts of money. However, these gains are difficult to identify as a detriment because they only materialize if the individual is given the opportunity to succeed. If the individual is not given the opportunity the company does not lose any money they already have, they just lose money that they would receive in the future. Without that knowledge, and why would they have it because they already characterize the individual has not having the necessary skill set to produce success, it would be difficult to realize the potential of the lost revenue and that loss as a consequence of the initial incorrect assumption.

A third reason people do not change first impressions easily was alluded to above in that most of the time the individual who is mischaracterized is never given an opportunity to prove this erroneous assumption wrong. One of the reasons no opportunity is afforded to these individuals ties back to simple arrogance. The initial evaluator is naturally going to believe their initial impression correct and any test to prove otherwise would be at best a waste of time and at worst a personal insult and waste of company money. In these situations it is up to someone of a higher rank than the initial evaluator to give the individual an opportunity to displace errors.

With all that has been said, it would be inappropriate to assume that all first impressions are incorrect. The point of this issue is to suggest that first impressions are not infallible and thus should not possess some ‘magical’ additional weight when evaluating an individual’s skill set or the prospects of a social or professional relationship with that individual. Also rectifying evaluation errors is a two way street. The evaluator has to be open to changing his/her opinion in the face of new conflicting evidence, but the individual being evaluated has to honestly assess his/her own abilities and if he/she feels that a characterization is unfair a protest must be lobbied against that characterization. The protest is the key element to initiating any correction because if the individual in question does not believe that the evaluation is in error then there is no reason to change it.

Some may argue that the first impression may be in error even if the individual does not realize it. He/she may have the skills required or a different temperament, but simply has never had to utilize those skills, etc. Unfortunately such an argument does not seem to hold much merit because if an individual does not have a skill or any experience with said skill how is it unfair of the first evaluator to come to the conclusion that the individual lacks that skill? It is not the job of the evaluator, be it for a job interview, performance review or just meeting someone for the first time, to test the individual on all relevant elements and skills to determine if the individual can perform a given skill even if they have no history of being able to do so.

In the end first impressions should just be a microcosm of general opinion and thought where individuals take personal initiative to make sure their opinions are correct. Unfortunately first impressions seem to move beyond similarities with other more empirically derived opinions. Until we can overcome the weighed ego and emotional attachments that come with retaining our first impressions, humans will never be able to maximize their abilities as individuals or a society.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A New Strategy for Immigration Reform?

Although immigration has always been an issue, it usually finds its place on the back burner of politics until a particular incident pushes it to the front burner where it explodes with vitriol and emotion. The passage of the new Arizona immigration law has accomplished exactly that. The cry of racism and unconstitutionality fill the air in Arizona not necessarily because of the language of the bill, but because of how people believe that language will be applied. Most of the cries pertain to the potential of racial profiling against those of the Latino community. Sadly the first thing people need to understand is that the new Arizona law may seem like it is targeting those of a Latino background because it needs to. A vast majority of illegal immigrants in this country are Latino. It is simple fact. A problem is that most people are missing the simple reality that most of the time authorities rely on secondary crime to enforce illegal immigration laws (once the individual successfully enters the country illegally). Being an illegal immigrant is a passive violation of the law. However, it is still a violation of the law despite a number of people, especially Latinos in a state of blind ethnic pride, seemingly omitting this simple fact from the issue of immigration.

Therefore because just being an illegal immigrant is a passive crime this can lead people to excuse it as something that is not important, especially when the popular phrase ‘they are just doing it to make a better life for them and/or their family’ is trotted out. In reality an illegal immigrant can be equated to an embezzler. Illegal immigrants are frequent users of social services, yet do not pay taxes or any other form of reimbursement for those services, thus any value they receive from these social services is stolen. Illegal immigrants are thieves and legitimate criminals regardless of the passive nature of their crimes. Anyone that rejects this premise is wrong. Not surprisingly the embezzler analogy works also in relation to social feeling. Society rarely views embezzlement as a serious crime and generally treats those convicted of it with kid gloves.

The chief problem with the enforcement of pro-active immigration laws is that as long as the illegal immigrant remains passive in his/her violation of the law (not acting illegally beyond being an illegal immigrant) it is very difficult for law enforcement to detain these individuals outside of a probable cause raid on a place of employment. Large-scale raids against employers is accomplished through fact gathering and information processing which makes acquiring the necessary probable cause doable without undue violations to the 4th, 5th or 14th Amendments. However, the ability to generate a probable cause argument against individuals that are not committing crimes or acting in a highly suspicious manner (something which has a debatable definition) is quite difficult without violating one of the aforementioned Amendments.

This issue is why the new Arizona state law regarding illegal immigration has drawn so much controversy. It is almost impossible, if not impossible, to justify the potential violation of rights of a legal resident or citizen in the name of finding potential criminals. Unfortunately as mentioned, it is equally difficult to enforce illegal immigration laws on an individual-by-individual basis without creating large flexibility in the probable cause requirement. Clearly an impasse exists when the goal is to remove illegal immigrants from the country through direct means of identification without violating the rights of those that are here legally or are citizens. Overall if the United States is to remain true to its origin, individual rights must take precedence. Thus it may be simpler to develop an alternative measure of enforcement.

One possible way around this issue may be to limit the opportunities that illegal immigrants have to commit crimes, including embezzlement, rather than try to directly identify them. It would be difficult to apply such restrictive measures to all aspects of social services and infrastructure, but the two most costly points of service can be limited, healthcare and education. Basically one method to combat illegal immigration would require individuals to show proof of citizenship for enrollment in any educational institution at any level or to receive any form of medical care. Clearly the education limitations are appropriate as an all-encompassing standard; if you are not a citizen, legal resident or have the appropriate visa you cannot officially attend any school within the United States. However, blanket restrictions on healthcare provide points of debate. Note for future reference when mention is made of citizenship it references both citizens and legal residents or those holding appropriate visas.

There are two elements of debate within the concept of citizenship-required healthcare. First, if the illegal immigrant is somehow able to purchase private health insurance and fund the premiums, co-pay/deductibles, etc. from his/her own pocket legally then the illegal immigrant is not embezzling with regards to healthcare. One could then argue that illegal immigrants with private insurance could satisfy the requirement of paying for the social service, thus they should be allowed medical care.

Second, an immediate emergency that places eminent risk of death against the individual. Clearly if an individual arrives for medical treatment of a condition that if not treated will result in his/her death within a 24 hr period there are moral obligations for a medical institution to treat that person. However, under this new policy it could also be considered fair that if the individual cannot prove citizenship then once that person is physically able he/she will be immediately deported or imprisoned. Another immediate emergency issue would be that of the public health threat. If an individual carries a bacterial or viral infection that could spread and infect others that individual should be afforded treatment regardless of citizenship. After treatment this individual would also share the above consequence if proof of citizenship cannot be provided.

Now one could argue that the threat of deportation would prevent individuals from coming into the emergency room to receive treatment. The strength of this argument is largely dependent on the general line of thought regarding the ability of self-recognition of emergency conditions. Can an individual tell when they are really sick versus if they just have a head cold? If they can then the above policy is legitimate because only a crazy person would prefer death to deportation. However it is rational to conclude that this is not the case. Most people do not have the requisite intelligence or experience to effectively differentiate between benign annoyances and serious detrimental afflictions. The inability of the average person to differentiate between the different distinctions of illness could create a problem with the above policy.

Originally the mindset of the above policy anticipated the behavior of the typical illegal immigrant to accept deportation over death for serious conditions including viral or bacterial infections, but to avoid licensed medical care for less serious conditions. However, such a mindset fails if the individual cannot accurately differentiate between the two with a significant level of precision. Therefore, one of two possibilities will arise: the individual seeking treatment for any condition with a sufficient level of seriousness or the individual not seeking treatment for any condition favoring the rationality that the odds favor a less serious condition every time. Initially without any empirical evidence it is difficult to conclude which possibility would be selected more often. Without firm predictability regarding this issue it may be too dangerous to conduct such a policy with the threat of illegal immigrants foregoing critical medical treatments for conditions that may result in a public health threat.

One possibility to correct the above problem is to allow physicians to conduct initial diagnostic evaluations to determine what may be afflicting the individual and its seriousness. If the condition is not serious enough to fall into one of the two above exceptions, then the individual would be required to prove citizenship before treatment could commence. If the individual declines to provide such proof then the individual could leave without treatment, but without consequence of deportation. Some may argue that restriction of medical attention/care in such a way is immoral. On the contrary a country has no moral or social obligation to provide non-emergency medical treatment to a non-citizen.

Another concern that may arise from this policy is the development of black market medical treatment for illegal immigrants. It is typical when something, a service or item, is illegal but money can be made from it for some to attempt to provide that service or item. One could fear that the development of black market medical services may further endanger public health due to shoddy treatments and improper diagnosis. However, the ability of these black market institutions to function successfully is questionable. Running a profitable medical practice without deep private coffers, a privately insured clientele or the support of the government is rather difficult because of the high cost of medical supplies and testing equipment. Most illegal immigrants do not make large amounts of money and thus could not afford to pay the prices that these black market medical institutions would require to make a profit. Without reasonable expectation of profit few individuals will attempt to set up any type of business whether it is legal or not. Some may still attempt to establish black market medical practices, but they will generally be isolated, not part of an underground network, which will further increase supply prices making profit prospects even less attractive.

An additional issue that must be addressed with respect to immigration reform, regardless of whether or not the idea presented above is applied, is improved throughput of legalization procedures. One of the reasons that so many attempt to enter the country illegally vs. legally is the long and sometimes capricious methodology behind gaining legal residency or a visa. Note that improvement of legalization methods cannot standalone in the field of immigration reform. Although in the end the idea presented above may not be viewed as suitable, greater penalties must be placed against illegal immigrants to reduce the attractiveness of entering and remaining in the country illegally. The reason these penalties must exist is demonstrated by the general failure of work visa programs for unskilled labor. Their lack of success comes from the less regimented lifestyle afforded to the illegal immigrant over the work visa individual. Basically the illegal immigrant has more freedom and even opportunities than the work visa individual. This opportunity and freedom must be further restricted or similar work visa programs, which some believe to be a critical component to immigration reform, will face similar failure.

The issue of what to do with the illegal immigrants that are already here is rather easy. Either they leave and apply for legal entry through the proper channels or live with whatever new restrictions are applied. The ethnic national cry of ‘look at all illegal immigrant A has built here, it would be wrong to force him/her to leave and come back just to become a legal resident, thus they need a path to citizenship that does not required leaving…’ promotes an illogical and immoral message. Such a policy can be regarded as amnesty and any form of amnesty would be akin to giving individuals a reward for their willing, conscious and continual violation of the law. Anything illegal immigrant A ‘built’ was on false pretenses and there exists no moral obligation to allow him/her to keep it. In fact the moral obligation lies with not granting amnesty due to a matter of fairness. What about those individuals that had the opportunity to come to the United States illegally, yet refrained from doing so because it was illegal? These are the individuals that deserve a place at the front of the ‘proverbial’ citizenship line not those that took little to no consideration of the law for their own personal gain. Overall it is rather sad that there is a large contingency of individuals that oppose any level of immigration reform, which does not placate to illegal immigrants. Maybe the wheels of immigration reform would accelerate if these individuals tried to come up with solutions that did not begin with the letter A.