Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Diversity Delirium

"Ferguson Day 6" (Wikimedia)
Forbes began an article on the benefits of diversity in the workplace with a line from author Steven Covey: "Strength lies in differences, not in similarities." This is certainly true when differences function as compliments, like having a full array of skills on a football team rather than a whole line-up of quarterbacks. But is this true when differences exist for their own sake? Diversity is "critical" and "essential," says Ms. Walter of Forbes, because it breeds innovation. That it certainly does, but that's not all it breeds. Methinks in our exuberance we have forgotten why diversity is valuable.

1859 was a great year for diversity, being the year that John Stuart Mill published his famous essay On Liberty. His defense of free expression was, at its core, a defense of diversity. But it was full of rhetoric and metaphors about battlefields and war. His imagining of "diversity" was not a rainbow of opinions about government, wealth-distribution, and foreign policy all sitting around a campfire singing kum ba ya. Diversity meant bloody combat between ideas, often to the death. His philosophical purpose in opposing censorship within his polemic was simply to even the playing field so that the strongest argument would more consistently crush the weaker ones. This has been a wonderful innovation for humanity because before Mill's proposal to throw ideas into the meat-grinding melee of public debate, the ideas were attached to tribes of real human beings. Differences--"diversity"--meant war. Now the ideas could die instead of us, so long as we were willing to accept the winning idea. In other words, diversity is valuable in a Darwinian sense; it speeds up the process of evolution by turning up the speed of natural selection (not a pleasant process for the ill-adapted and the weak). But if ideas are tested instead of humans, and we allow our beliefs to go through the furnace of natural selection, it means that, other factors notwithstanding, we don't have to, and we get peace and better knowledge in exchange for our wisdom.

Unfortunately, our feel-good friends on the left have forgotten that diversity is a fundamentally bloody affair, and in their forgetfulness, have replaced ideas with people again in the glorious gladiatorial bloodbath that is evolution. Instead of diversity of thought, it is diversity of race, gender, sexuality, religion, and culture that they're striving for. This has happened because, in a truly acrobatic feat of logical inversion, diversity has become associated with peace.

The logic goes more or less like this: diversity is good (assumption), but more importantly, racism and cultural bigotry (like "Islamophobia") are bad, and diversity fights against bigotry by getting people used to being around other. This works because racism and bigotry, which are prevalent problems in our society (assumption), is caused by unfamiliarity and fear (assumption).

In this way, diversity becomes a path to happy and cooperative coexistence, a view that is held with religious zeal, and in the name of this view, heretics are publicly crucified. If only their assumptions were true...

Thinking that diversity itself is the goal, rather than a means to the goal, they make matters even worse and insist that people not change from their religion and culture of ethnic heritage. As I've written before, freezing people in their natural cultural state and proactively treating them differently is all that multiculturalism is. What would happen to their beloved diversity if we rejected "inferior" cultures and religions? Here begins the unraveling of Mill's vicarious conflict of ideas, and the return of conflict between actual people.

There is one way that this utopian rainbow-world can work, of course. We can refuse to take our own views seriously. You know, the ones that have been personally entwined with us through race, gender, religion, and whatever other identity-marker that can be concocted for the fetishization of diversity for diversity's sake. The conflicts between people then become mere "differences" of no significance or importance. So all cultures are equally valid; all religions are equally true, and atheism is just another religion. Morality, values, even truth are subjective. Nothing really matters, except for nothing mattering (for diversity). But even if this nihilism could be universally enforced--a prospect that I shall generously call "highly unlikely," particularly when certain religions are involved--then the value of diversity in the pursuit of higher experience and productivity becomes a moot point anyways. Why care about diversity if all values and cultures are equally valid?

What's wrong with war, for example? What's wrong with exclusion and hatred? Aren't those just a different but equal value? Or are we playing fast and loose with circular reasoning, and not thinking things through?

To be fair, there is a kind of enjoyment in the raw experience of variety. I suspect that this is what most college students are referring to when they talk about the "experience of diversity," particularly in their first few years or in their tax-funded party-trips abroad. Different food, different clothing, different languages, different customs, different architecture, different geography; all of these things are exhilarating because they are new. But in these moments of exhilaration, we aren't sitting down to haggle over how to deal with the Middle East, or tackle the root causes of poverty, or even make a business decision or finish a team project. More often than not, differences in values and culture create conflict in these circumstances, obstructing rather than assisting the creation of a better final product or decision. This is not to say that we cannot be inspired by other cultures; to the contrary, we should actively seek them out, and traveling has always been considered a vital part of the classical education for this reason. But inspiration from another culture is an acknowledgment of value that the culture contributes, not value for mere existence. This is, by definition, at the expense of some other culture, at the very least by exclusive act of discreet selection. Taking the best of all cultures and rejecting the worst is precisely the goal of Mill's combative vision, and the antithesis of universally respectful multiculturalism (you often see this laid bare in charges of "cultural appropriation" from the acrobatic abstracticians of academia). Acceptance of another culture's ideas is not so much "diversity" as a victory on the etherial battlefield of ideas. "Diversity" means there's still two or more conflicting values or beliefs, engaged with each other or staring each other down over the innumerable corpses of previous ideas that didn't quite make it.

In short, Diversity + Proximity = War. This we cannot change; what we can change is what kind of war we want it to be: one of ideas, or one of guns.

This thesis has matched my own observation at College, where the Associated Student Government was a balkanized archipelago of various identity interest-groups, often distrustful of each other, however held together in solidarity by the promise of school money and perks in return for playing nice with other children. It also matches recent research on the subject, and follows the observations not only journalists with the honesty of retirement, but of virtually every thinking statesman and intellectual prior to John Stuart Mill.

And here's the thing: war is okay, so long as the soldiers getting systematically dismembered and disassembled are the ethereal kind, rather than the corporal. It's even good; it makes us wiser, mentally agile and smarter, and does this very quickly, all with no cost to us but our emotional connection to bad ideas. But "diversity" is coming to be accepted as good for its own sake, in pursuit of a multicultural utopia of acceptance. Today's diversity-advocates tie people to what makes them different and locks them there, making conflicts between ideas necessarily into conflicts between people and arguments that were once causes for mere disagreement and debate into causes for violence. Resentment and distrust are building between religions, races, and cultures, and the priests of multiculturalism can't see it, partially because most Americans have been extraordinarily gracious in pretending not to really care about their own values in mixed company. But the predictable repetition of events like the Ferguson riots and the murders of the writers at Charlie Hebdo force ordinary citizens into an awkward position: the academia-media-government Leviathan is fanatically insisting that diversity is a great strength, while reality is saying the opposite with gunshots and fire. The double-think can only last so long.

The way I see it, we basically have four options:

1. We can reject "multiculturalism" and re-learn the functional kind of diversity under the lost guidance of JSM.
2. We can reject diversity and enforce a culture of nihilism.
3. We can reject proximity and join sides with the various racial and religious nationalists.
4. We can go to war.

I'd personally love to go with option one, but progressivism seems dead set on the path towards either nihilism or war in pursuit of a non-existent option five (universal peace, prosperity, fairness, wealth, and fulfillment to all people and otherkin). At this rate, they might manage both in our lifetimes, but you can be sure they'll be the last to know.

"Getting it Wrong" (Wikimedia)

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