Our Incoherent and Dangerous 'Diversity' Talk
At the expense of true diversity of opinion, thought and critical examination.
Ever since Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell midwifed “diversity” in the 1979 Bakke decision, this dubious notion has become ever more duplicitous and dangerous. By enshrining a superficial reduction of real-world diversity into the law, Bakke has given illiberal ideologies a tool for suppressing true diversity of minds and character to further their tyrannical power––which we’ve witnessed for decades, and is now culminating in today’s “cancel culture” and censorship by online oligarchs.
George Orwell’s dystopian future of Newspeak and “memory holes” is dangerously closer to becoming our tyrannical reality.
Like all tyrannies, today’s censorship and silencing of dissenting voices began with words being distorted to take on spurious meanings that serve factional political ideologies and interests. In 1978, Powell needed something to justify discrimination on the basis of race, proscribed by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, in order to salvage the affirmative action programs that had relied on illegal quotas to mitigate ethnic and racial disparities in hiring, contracting, and university admissions.
But the “diversity” that followed was the most superficial sort––physical appearance, the “yellow, red, and black and white” of the old Sunday School hymn “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” As such it echoed the same specious arguments made for legal segregation, which was justified by the “scientific racism” that was becoming popular among cognitive elites in the late 19th century. It too was legitimized by a Supreme Court decision, Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896), which legalized unconstitutional segregation’s fig-leaf of “separate but equal.”
Over the following years, it became obvious there was no evidence to support the alleged benefits that could make “diversity” a “state interest” compelling enough to justify the obvious discrimination practiced by programs based on racial, ethnic, sex, or sexual preference identities. The same weakness vitiates the later, equally vague, truly Orwellian concepts such as “inclusion” or “tolerance.” These empty verbal vessels have been filled with a political ideology that seeks exclusion and intolerance of those whose politics are different from leftist progressivism’s.
When it comes to education, these instruments of tyranny have been particularly dangerous. The purpose of education, especially higher education, is to train minds to think critically, which is necessary for protecting political freedom and ordered liberty––that is, liberal education. As Alan Bloom––whose 1987 Closing of the American Mind identified this baleful transformation of the university’s purpose–– defines it, “By liberal education I mean education for freedom, particularly freedom of the mind, which consists primarily in the awareness of the most important human alternatives.” That is, true diversity is not about spurious notions of “race” or ethnicity, but of all the diversities of cultures, mores, folkways, religions, mentalities, and ultimately individual human beings who should not be restricted to the fake diversity of the superficial.
Bloom elaborates on this notion of critically examining genuinely diverse cultural products in order to ponder the central question of human identity:
A liberal education means precisely helping students to pose this question [What is a human being?] to themselves, to become aware that the answer is neither obvious or simply unavailable, and that there is no serious life in which this question is not a continuous concern . . . Liberal education provides alternatives [i.e. answers], many of which go against the grain of our nations or our times. The liberally educated person is one who is able to resist the easy and preferred answers, not because he is obstinate but because he knows others worthy of consideration.
In this definition Bloom is echoing Matthew Arnold, who famously defined culture, and perforce liberal education, as a “means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world, and, through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits, which we now follow staunchly but mechanically.”
Universities today, however, are light-years apart from this recognition of true diversity of opinion, thought, and cultures, and a critical examination of the diverse responses to questions of human diversity. Instead, today “diversity” predicated on racialist superficialities, and serving to advance the leftist progressivism of the redistributionist Leviathan state, dominates the curriculum with identity politics melodramas. As such, it banishes all other forms of diversity, and privileges one narrative that relies on demonizing and silencing the “alternatives” to essential questions of human identity and its goods and purposes.
In other words, today’s “diversity” curriculum is the antithesis of liberal education’s critical sensibility of questioning and resisting orthodoxy, and turning “a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits,” or “easy and preferred answers,” which today the “woke” tyrants want us to “follow staunchly but mechanically.”
This baleful development, of course, has corrupted our politics as well. By attacking the First Amendment, the “woke” progressives and their corporate tech and Wall Street overlords are attacking political freedom, which cannot survive without free speech. In addition, critics of equal political participation have replaced liberal education with illiberal identity politics in order to create citizens who do not think for themselves, but are guided by the wiser, credentialed technocrats who will run and manipulate their lives.
In our times this disdain for the less well educated and credentialed voter––evident in progressive phrases like “bitter clingers to guns and religion,” “basket of deplorables,” “smelly Wal-Mart shoppers,” and now “white supremacists,” “insurgents,” and “racists” enjoying “white privilege”–– have exposed the progressive distrust, even hatred of hoi polloi who are vulnerable to crypto-fascist populists like Donald Trump and his Goebbels, Fox News. The current spate of tech censorship and “cancel culture” excesses, such as calls for “deprogramming” and “reeducating” Trump supporters, are the signs of this hatred of those who dare challenge the sacred narrative of the “woke” r political cult.
But politics in a democratic republic like ours is not a question of technical expertise, but of practical wisdom and common sense gleaned from multiple generations of human experience. And though many citizens might not individually have some particular skills or knowledge, as Aristotle responded to Plato’s antidemocratic criticisms of free political speech, the masses can still contribute to political deliberation:
For the many [the demos], of whom each individually is not a good man [i.e. elite], when they meet together may be better than the good, if regarded not individually but collectively . . . For each individual among the many has a share of excellence and practical wisdom, and when they meet together, just as they become in a manner one man . . . so too with regard to their character and thought.
Indeed, for all the progressives’ pretensions to be “brights” who “follow science,” they have pursued policies and ideas that an illiterate farmer at the time of the American Revolution would have recognized as dangerously stupid. How else can one understand the Green New Deal’s war on the cheap energy that has created the modern world, at a cost that would bankrupt our country? Or the current administration’s plan to increase spending for political clients, even as our federal fisc is already on the glide-path to bankruptcy?
These bad ideas about education and free speech have been developing for half a century. The surprising election of Donald Trump, and the Chinese Virus have created the crises that progressives and their “woke” shock-troops have exploited to accelerate the dismantling of the Constitution’s unalienable rights, bringing us closer to a technocratic tyranny.
Unless, as Churchill said to Parliament after the Munich debacle, “by a supreme recovery of moral health” we “rise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.”