My beef with Diversity Peeps

So, in my last post, I wrote the following:

And I don’t say this because of the whole blah blah blah more voices blah blah blah diversity blah blah blah Wax Ecstatic Distribution Curve of Lefty Sunshine Love blah blah blah anything with the word “minority” is autogood blah blah blah thin, although I suppose that there’s a lot of that to consider, too. (Sorry, Ali, I just cannot stand the self-righteousness of most such things. ;->)

On a site called Plural Politics, which is further dedicated to new ways of thinking about politics, that’s a pretty provocative thing to say. I’d like to explain myself a little bit.

I think that my beef with people who are into diversity is that they think of it as being an end, and not a means, in one case, and as a cause rather than a symptom, in the other. Provocative? Read on. […]

This is a question I want answered. What is the benefit of diversity? I think that there are two main ones:

1. Diversity allows for cross-boundary communication to occur, and for peoples lives to be enriched by taking part in the lives of others who are different from them in some way. This is what economists would describe as having intangible value.

2. In a society in which opportunity is equally available to all, one can expect that ceteris paribus one will find a good distribution of the various population segments across the various professions, neighbourhoods, schools, etc. Having such an equitable distribution would be a good indicator that opportunities are equally available throughout the society.

1. Cultural knowledge/enrichment

One of the astounding things about an incredibly diverse environment is the sheer range of things available to experience. I’m not trying to reify and render into product for consumption cultural abstractions, but when you compare a cosmopolitan city like New York or Houston to a place like, say, Redneck, Oklahoma (FICTIONAL. Being from Texas, I reserve the right to clown Oklahoma whenever I want.), you’ll find that the sheer range of things for you to experience is astronomical by comparison. Growing up in the 713, which was later 281, I got to experience an amazing amount of cultural diversity. There were several different East Asian, South Asian, African, Latino, Eastern European, African American and distinctly Texan communities. As a patron of the arts, I was thrilled to be able to see so much dance, hear so much different musics and see so many crafts. The international festival in Houston is always something to see. Similarly, the port brought in so many different peoples that you could walk down the streets of Houston and see restaurants of all sorts. Microbrewery bars would be next to Vietnamese restaurants.

So aside from paying homage to my home city, why do I bring this up? Growing up in Houston pretty much forced you to be in a diverse community. Short of the sort of ZOMFG LOOK IT R A BLAKKK! O NOES! RUN HIDE AND FORM SUBURBZ! TEH BLAX HATE LAWNZ! WE R SAFEZORZ! communities, which, actually, pretty well describes the suburb in which I grew up, you were confronted with a whole lot of people who looked nothing like you, ate nothing like you, prayed nothing like you, and probably dressed rather differently than you. What happened? Through the beauty of daily exchanges, not only were the lives of every participant enriched, but new opportunities were opened up to people. My friend Ted, a black Catholic from Texas, got the opportunity to go to Hindu weddings, eat Vietnamese food and listen to Malaysian electronic music. I, the conquering lion scion of North India ;), got to experience Ashkenazic Jewish culture for the first time in my life (some other time, we’ll get into how I grew up and where), check out Indonesian gamelan music and really discover how awesome the Texas German community is. These are just examples of little things, daily things, that went into our lives. Familiarity and contact not only made it very difficult for stereotypes and bigotry born of ignorance to run wild, but they actually made our lives happier. This is something that I think that most advocates of diversity don’t really touch on. In addition to destroying stereotypes and making it hard for bigotry to run wild, cultural diversity makes the lives of everyone richer and more fulfilling. We may take these little things like having Thai food for dinner or getting a neat print fabric from Little India or, hell, being a DJ and finding cd’s from Indonesia that have some of the most intricate percussion breaks you’ll ever, for granted and as not meaning much at all, but they really do. Learning about the customs of others has a positive effect on your understanding and practice of your own.

Now, here’s where things start to break down for me. What’s valued in this whole situation is the knowledge, enrichment and culture, not the diversity itself. The diversity is a means by which this knowledge, enrichment and culture can come into being. Not all instances of homogeneity are bad. So, for example, if a group of Latino Catholics choose to go into the woods and form their own Spanish language monastic community, is there something wrong with that? If a group of WASP’s choose to have a Baptist theology convention, is there something wrong with that? In both cases, the answer is “not necessarily.” In the case of the former, if the Latinos are going into the woods to escape prejudice, then there’s a clear problem. In the case of the latter, if the WASP’s are holding a convention to discuss how to re-enslave black people, then there’s a huge problem. But, you know, all things being equal, homogeneous population clusters are only bad for society if they manage to perpetuate the stereotypes and ignorance that lead to bigotry and prejudice.

My take on this is that a lot of people who are advocates of diversity have confused the means with the end. Diversity in and of itself is not necessarily a good thing, nor is it necessarily a bad thing. What is an end unto itself is a society in which bigotry and prejudice are minimalised, and in which people are comfortable and fluent in the mores of different population segments. It is focusing on and fetishising a diversity for its own sake that leads to situations where you have earnest leftists saying things like OH NOES! IT R A COMPNEE THAT IS 3% OFF PERCENTAGE REPRESENTATION FO GROUP X! THEY R TEH KLAN AGAIN! and you wind up with the quantitative metrics obsessed world parodied by Vonnegut in Harrison Bergeron. To be more blunt, I don’t care as much about population curves at universities in and of themselves as much as I care about black people getting a fair shot at life. If you agree with that sentiment, then you’ll agree that diversity is a means, and not an end.

2. Cause/Effect Confusion

I find it ridiculous that this should have to be mentioned, but given the kinds of things that they talk about over at The Conservative Times, it’s probably a good idea to state this openly:

1. I don’t believe in a biologically determined, meaningful concept of race.

2. I don’t believe that the various races differ amongst each other in terms cognitive ability or capacity by virtue of their race.

3. I don’t believe that gender differences account for deficits in cognitive ability or capacity.

If you disagree with any of the above, you’re probably reading the wrong site, and you’d be better served by visiting these guys or their colleagues. Seriously. There’s a special place in Bigot Hell for you. I’m willing to believe in an afterlife just to believe that you’ll go to Bigot Hell.

Anyway, that being said, I think that if we live in a society in which oppotunity of equality is equally distributed, ceteris paribus, you’ll find a relatively equal distribution of population segments across different sections of academia, workplaces, etc. Keeping this in mind, let’s look at society. Obviously, this isn’t true. This has two possible explanations:

1. Either opportunity really is equally distributed across society, and there are non-cultural and non-social explanations, i.e. biological, for the under-representation of certain population segments or

2. Opportunity is not equally distributed across society.

There is something in between that most opponents of affirmative action programmes will say. “Yeah, but there are cultural and social factors that explain it.” This is partially true. It’s really unlikely that you’ll find Muslims and Jews working with pork products, for instance. They will then use this minor distorting cultural factor to claim that there other, broad factors like, “Hispanics and Latinos value labour, not scholarship. That’s why they don’t go to college.” or my personal favourite, “Black people are lazy and don’t want to work. They don’t have the same work ethic we do.” The step from conceding that are minor statistically significant variances in culture to condemnations of the entirety of a population segment is invalid. (This means you, Charles Murray. Yes, you.) Those variances can be controlled for by any junior level polling analyst, so for purposes of this discussion, they’re irrelevant.

Let us continue the liberal assumption that a just society is a society in which opportunity is equally distributed.

Now, odds are that a society in which opportunity is equally distributed, controlling for the culturally distorting factors described above, you’ll find an even distribution of population segments across the various sections of society, but it’s not necessary. A society with equally distributed opportunities could still randomly come out with over and under-representations, if things really are truly random, no matter how many times you iterate the whole thing. It’s also not sufficient. For instance, I can imagine a society in which there would be a statistically pleasing distribution of power across social segments, but which we wouldn’t consider just. Let us imagine the Oceania of Orwell’s 1984. There, neither race nor class nor gender nor any of the things we worry about mattered for social advancement. Although Orwell never really gets into it, I’d imagine that in that world, there’s a rich diversity of people in the Party and The Inner Party. The problem is that no one in his right mind would call that a just society.

So what’s been demonstrated above is that diversity is not necessary for a just society and that it is not sufficient for a just society. It is therefore not necessary and sufficient for a just society. Given the way that things play out, I’d say that it’s frequently correlated with a just society, and so much so that lack of diversity is probably a good reason to dig a bit further into the nature of the society.

3. The wrap up

The reason that I get so annoyed with people who talk about diversity in such hushed and awed tones is that I figure that they’re confusing an end for a means and that they’re confusing a frequently occurring symptom for the condition itself. I also think that it’s basic cowardice to avoid talking about social justice in the robust language that it needs. Basically, every time I hear someone say “diversity,” I react the same way that I do when I hear someone refer to himself as “progressive” instead of liberal, or saying, “Well, if liking more than one kind of ice cream is liberal, then I guess I’m a liberal!” when called on it.

This is an incomplete post, and I’m looking forward to hearing what you say. Flame away.

Dheeraj

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8 Comments

  1. Posted August 20, 2007 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    I thought that was pretty brilliant, actually.

  2. idiot_boy
    Posted August 20, 2007 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    I’m with Natalia. Brilliant. Though I suspect I differ on AA. In much the same way, multi-culturalism in the UK is mistaken for an end while de-facto ghettoisation goes on unhindered.

  3. Roger T
    Posted August 21, 2007 at 3:38 am | Permalink

    a macaca = straight-haired curry nigger from India or Pakistan.

    In the collected letters of EM Forster, he writes how British gentlemen would ride trains across India and shoot macacas for target practice out of the windows. Of course, in today’s politically correct world, the PC police would never allow such a thing. But it was a good story, and funny too. He writes about how they would scream like apes and jump up and down.

  4. Roger T
    Posted August 21, 2007 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    Of course, I am not advocating any sort of violence in today’s world. I wouldn’t do that. I was only relating an amusing anecdote from a Forster epistle.

    Macacas, however, do seem to be advocating violence. Three of the five terrorists in the recent attempt to blow up the rail line in the UK were macaca MDs from India.

  5. Posted August 21, 2007 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    Roger T’s comments will be responded to in a different post.

    This stuff is priceless.

    Dheeraj

  6. Blue
    Posted August 21, 2007 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    I totally agree.

    Sometimes promoting diversity directly can be a means to the ends you describe. For example, in college admissions it is worth offering scholarships to students from various communities in order to provide a diverse cultural experience to college students. The university I went to would have been as white as wonder bread if we didn’t have an ESL program that recruited internationally and some scholarship programs that recruited aggressively in Chicago and Milwaukee.

    So, while diversity of population isn’t an end, sometimes it is an intermediate step worth pursuing.

  7. Posted August 21, 2007 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    I actually think that diverse populations contribute to the educational process in college, to tell you the truth. Part of college education is the exposure to the world and the transition from adolescence and youth to maturity, or, at least, the beginning thereof, and so a rich tapestry of experiences is good for that.

    Going to a lily-white college would probably only really prepare one for being a staffer on a GOP campaign in Iowa or New Hampshire. ;)
    Dheeraj

  8. Posted August 22, 2007 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Living in a white bread town
    Going to a white bread school

    I vote for the GOP
    I’m nobody’s fool

    Marrying a white bread girl
    Raising a white bread kid

    America all the way
    Diversity? Heaven forbid!

    I love my white bread life
    I love my white bread wife

    And I’ll take a little graft
    To keep out the riff and the raff

    Ain’t nobody squawkin’
    Ain’t nobody talkin’

    If I had a hammer
    I’d build a gated community

    The Supreme Court is on our side
    We can do it with impunity

    Commie pinko hippies stay off our land
    While we bury our heads in the sand

    - The White Bread Ostrich song

One Trackback

  1. By Eteraz.Org » Wow, this really proves my point. on August 21, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    […] So on my last post, I had some good comments from people talking about diversity and social justice, and then I had this. […]

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