Is diversity a good thing?
I often hear my university colleagues extol the virtues of a diverse student body, faculty and administration. Many progressives, and some conservatives, say that most collections of people in our public and personal lives benefit from diversity. The idea is that all human groupings—in the workplace, community, industry, schools, government, nations—function better, are more productive, interesting and fair when they include people with diverse characteristics. So, for example, a workplace or school is better when it includes people of different races, ethnic backgrounds, nationalities, religions, and so forth.
But is this true?
Progressives have been so successful in pushing the benefits of diversity, that most people unthinkingly assume that diversity is a good thing—–much like clean air and good food.
But we should tread cautiously. In the past, many things that most people believed were social benefits later turned out badly. In an earlier time in our history, many viewed white supremacy as a social benefit. To those who believed that people of color were childlike and directionless, the presence of white masters, who would direct and guide them, was a good thing. Today we realize this is a bad idea. When I was a young man, a great battle was fought in the US by civil rights groups seeking integration of black people in the educational system. But today, black students in campuses across the nation insist on their black-only organizations, black-only campus spaces, and separate graduation ceremonies. What was once good has become bad.
As happens when language is politicized, the word “diversity” is often used in ways that are unclear, or distorted from its original meaning. Some years ago I read an article in which the author called for recruiting “diverse” persons to university faculties. This makes no sense.
The adjective “diverse” describes the quality of a group of people, not an individual. There is no such thing as a diverse person. (A person with diverse interests is another matter entirely.) But this sort of mumbo-jumbo language has crept into academic discourse and is rarely challenged.
Perhaps this author meant that departments should recruit new hires from racial and ethnic groups who will enhance the mix of faculty from different groups. I suspect however, that this author meant that departments should hire more blacks and Latinos. That itself is problematic: If the department is already dominated by blacks and Latinos, hiring more of them would do nothing to increase faculty diversity. For that, the department would need to hire more whites.
The source of this confusion is the politicization of words used to talk about group membership, especially race, ethnicity and gender.
It is not uncommon for progressives to say “diversity,” when they really mean “tolerance.”
This was the case in my home town. In response to a cross burning on the lawn of a black family’s home, a number of citizens formed an education and action group. They called it a Diversity Coalition. They should have called it a Tolerance Coalition.
This lack of clarity in terms is not a trivial matter. People may have good intentions, but if they are not clear about their goals they are not likely to be effective. After all, in the absence of tolerance among groups, increasing the town’s diversity would likely increase, rather than decrease, conflict and intolerance.
Progressives who attempt to foster respect among groups should also consider this question: “What personal characteristics should be used to divide people into groups?” Each person embodies a large array of characteristics. Why are some characteristics used to define group membership and others not?
The progressive citizens who formed the Diversity Coalition would no doubt agree that people should be identified and grouped by race and ethnicity. But what about national origin, immigrant status, economic class, or political affiliation? Do progressives really want communities that are diverse in political affiliation and economic class? Wouldn’t that foster less, not more, tolerance—-as people oppose their neighbors’ political views or resent their neighbor’s greater wealth?
Is Diversity Good for Nations?
Is there any evidence that diversity is good for a society? I believe there is little evidence that it is. On the other hand, there is much evidence that, when people from diverse backgrounds are grouped together, social outcomes are negative, sometimes catastrophic.
The former nation of Yugoslavia is an example of a nation created in order to accommodate several ethno-religious groups. This attempt at diversity ended in disaster. Years of brutal civil war led to the breakup of Yugoslavia into a number of smaller states.
Many, if not most, Arab nations are roiled by ethnic and religious conflicts within their borders. But that is not the case in the peaceful and stable Emiratis of the Arabian Peninsula. Emirati leaders wisely defined their mini-nation states along tribal lines, ensuring homogenous populations, thus minimizing conflict.
Recent decades have seen this tendency of nations with diverse populations to break into separate and more homogeneous nations. This was the case in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia) and Sudan (now Sudan and South Sudan). Sometimes nations with diverse populations spawn ethno-nationalist breakaway movements, often associated with violence. This is the case, for example, in the armed conflict between the Polisario Front and Morocco around the issue of independence for Western Sahara. Before its defeat by the Sri Lanka military, the Tamil people launched a war of liberation to secure their autonomy. Ukraine has become essentially two countries—a Russian-dominated eastern portion and a western portion. The Catalan people of Spain agitate for separation from Spain and nationhood.
The enormously destructive Syrian Civil War is characterized by a complex web of numerous tribes and clans, many with armed militias and with conflicting alliances and interests for self-preservation. Some foreign analysts have suggested that long-term peace can be achieved in Syria only by breaking the country into a patchwork of smaller countries based on tribal membership. This would reverse the deadly effects of tribal diversity on an unstable Syrian state.
As the end of this conflict approaches, it is clear that Syria’s emerging stability has been achieved, in part, by ethnically cleansing the country of millions of Christians and Sunni Muslims—-that is, by decreasing the country’s diversity. In Syria, homogeneity has been better than diversity.
Is Diversity Good for Groups of People?
Progressives want to “diversify” communities, workplaces, and schools. But is this always a good idea?
Progressives believe that every community, workplace and school should reflect the population distribution of race, gender and other characteristics. Otherwise, they conclude that an injustice is at work. For example, university departments collect extensive data on the gender distribution of faculty. Diversity advocates claim that any deviance from 50% males and 50% females must be due to gender discrimination. This then becomes an injustice demanding remedy. As one fellow faculty member explained to me, “Our women faculty are upset that we have more men than women faculty. We must hire a woman this semester.”
This politically correct idea ignores a reality: men and women have different interests. These differences in interests are so pervasive and consistent across disciplines that they must be based on inherent differences between men and women. For example, as psychologist Jordan Peterson has noted, men are more likely to be interested in things and women in people. That is why engineering departments are predominantly male and social work departments predominantly female. Forcing gender parity in all departments is not realistic. It would result in job assignments that are not ideally suited to the people who fill those jobs. This is not good, neither for society nor for the individual.
What is Diversity Really About?
There is an anomaly in progressives’ diversity narrative that reveals something about their motives.
Despite progressives’ compulsive insistence on gender and racial parity, I have never heard a progressive complain about the overwhelming majority of black players on professional basketball teams (no diversity there). Has any progressive ever complained that there are too many women in departments of Gender and Culture studies? Or not enough Jews in Departments of Middle Eastern Studies? Or not enough male cosmetologists? Or that human subjects in osteoporosis research are predominantly women—-even though men develop osteoporosis as often as women?
These observations are a clue that diversity and equity demands are not just a cry for fairness. Progressives favor certain groups—-people of color and women, for example—-over others, such as whites and men. When lack of diversity benefits their favored groups, progressives stay silent. That is because their real goal is to empower their favored groups at the expense of other groups. Progressives often feel that they, and their favored groups, have been disadvantaged and for this, they harbor resentment. Calls for diversity are a way to achieve pay-back from the groups that progressives feel have oppressed them or others. These calls are a strategy to gain power for themselves and their favored groups—-all the while clothing their motives in a veneer of compassion.
Perhaps progressives, in the cause of fairness, are right to work to empower groups that previously have had little power over their lives. But in practice, they work to advance the interests of their favored groups against the interests of others. I wish they would be honest and say so.
The End Game
Progressives are stuck in a diversity hamster wheel.
They are obsessed with ferreting out deviations from parity in the workplace, schools and the public sphere. Where they find a deviation they cry “injustice.”
But in the end, the Diversity Game does not make the world a better place.