Policing and Decision Ethics

I’ve been thinking a lot about cultural policing, including the geek policing of “fake geek girls”. In a draft about privilege and geek meritocracy, I address how imputations of privilege can prompt defensiveness and “Oppression Olympics.” However, in asking if there are more productive ways to challenge privilege, I also realize I am approaching tone policing, “in which it is suggested that feminists would be more successful if only they expressed themselves in a more pleasant tone.” This, and other types of expression policing (of dress, sexuality, and emotion), prompt debates about whether someone is speaking about rights (to be angry) or pragmatics (to be persuasive).

In the distant field of decision theory, there is a useful analytic distinction made between descriptive, normative, and prescriptive statements. (Wikipedia alludes to this in its article about descriptive ethics.) Descriptive statements explain what is: what presently happens. Normative statements speak to what ought to be: how an idealized rational or ethical entity should act. And prescriptive statements are about what to do: what’s the best course of action?

Many policing controversies could be understood as interpreting statements about action in an unjust world: should we understand and make statement that are descriptive and prescriptive (i.e., this is how it is, act accordingly) or normative and prescriptive (i.e., this is how it should be, act accordingly)?

Is anyone aware of similar analytic distinctions outside of decision theory? And what other cases beyond the expression of sexuality and emotion would be relevant? That is, what controversies follow a statement like “it’s an unjust world, so for your sake you should…?”

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