Against diversity for diversity's sake

Against diversity for diversity's sake
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Diversity for the sake of diversity has become its own end. We want to know if student bodies, government jobs, or the composition of football teams display enough diversity, or at least the right kind of diversity.

Suppose we make diversity our first principle of worthiness and public order. We judge everything in its light. Our motto then should not be “E pluribus unum,” but simply “E pluribus plures”  —not “from many one,” but “from many, many.” Diversity without qualification, without attention to the appropriateness of this principle to political life, is a dangerous doctrine. Under the pretensions of justice, it causes unnecessary turmoil and confusion in the body politic.

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We can make certain obvious distinctions among the many people who compose our public life. One division is between “white” and “black.”  We can, so we surmise, easily count how many of each type are in a given organization, provided that this distinction is considered relevant.

If, for example, the relevant factor we want to know is how many people in the world are over seven feet tall or under four feet tall, diversities like white and black, Jew and Gentile, are irrelevant. We cannot demand more “diversity” if, say, most of those over seven feet are in fact males, or if they are from certain African tribes, or from Russia. In this example, height is the “diversity” factor considered above everything else.

But the distinctions white/black or male/female are very limited. If we add to the mix Latinos, Asians, and Hindu Indians, things become cloudier.

Is thinking about diversity in the context of white/black unjust if it leaves out Asians? We also have the problem of determining where people with mixed race background. If someone is 1/64th Cherokee Indian, is he still an Indian? How does he relate to the other possible 63 diversities in his blood? The old problem of “mulattos” and “quadroons” manifested the futility of these considerations.

At one time, our society found it easy to deal with the difference in sexes. A male and a female were obviously different. But now that a biological man can say that legally he is a female, and vice versa, what does this change do to our estimation of diversity? On the same principle, can a Latino declare himself legally a black man or an Indian?

A common distinction was once made on the basis of nationality. We had Italian Americans, Irish Americans, and Mexican Americans. Now it is less clear. All Latin and Central Americans are presently grouped as “Latinos.” The diversity is linguistic, not nationality, sex, or color. This group includes the Portuguese who could insist on their unique diversity.  

We also have diversity of talents and capacities. Does any person have a “right” to join another group, regardless of talents or abilities?

Our whole educational system, furthermore, was once based on the notion that some people were more capable than others, a meritocracy. Not to recognize talent or intelligence was an unjust discrimination. Should we decide whether our science departments are acceptable on the basis of how many females, Latinos, or Jews they have in their ranks? Does not this sort of thinking imply that any and all combinations of groups, however calculated, are equally talented so that it is not unjust to establish issues related to intelligence on the basis of an non-intellectual criterion like race, sex, nationality, or religion?

If we think our way through this furor about diversity, we will see that, as such, it is a terrible idea. Diversity for diversity’s sake separates things so that they cannot be related to each other.

If we look at any mechanical device, for instance, we see that it is composed of many diverse parts. The diversity of parts does not stand by itself. If I come across the parts of a bicycle scattered haphazardly about one place, I may not know what a pedal as a part is. It just looks like a diverse thing. Its intelligibility arises when we know where it belongs on the bicycle and what it does when properly functioning.

Universities and businesses are now saddled with diversity mandates. The only forms of diversity they are concerned with are those mandated and enforced by the law. One type of diversity is always clashing with another type of diversity. We cannot ask a man’s religion when interviewing him for a job in the public service,  but we can ask or see when it is a question of race, sex, or language.   

Diversity, in other words, is never for its own sake. Taken to its logical extreme, which its proponents often do, it is a form of relativism. The categories of diversity are presented in moral terms. It is assumed to be unjust that so few (or so many) Indian Americans are found in Silicon Valley, for instance. Diversity politics is at bottom a substitute for objective moral and personal accomplishments.

The distinctions that give us diversity politics are, almost invariably, aimed at those criteria by which we understand the only distinction that matters, that between what is right and what is wrong. Ultimately, diversity theory ignores or opposes the one really fundamental diversity, that between good and evil.

The Rev. James Schall, S.J., author of “A Line Through the Human Heart: On Sinning & Being Forgiven,” is professor emeritus at Georgetown University. His latest book is “The Satisfied Crocodile: Essays on G. K. Chesterton.”