Diversity and Conformity

Tyler Cowen has a lengthy interview with social scientists Jonathan Haidt (of Heterodox Academy) worth looking at. I’m still working through the interview, but here Haidt makes a point I’ve long wanted to make — that the push for “diversity” in America’s institutions is actively making them less tolerant and more conformist.

You want to basically bury racial and other kinds of diversity in a sea of uniformity. You want to give people a sense of common mission, you have common uniforms, so you want to make people feel they’re all part of the same — that’s what you do if you need a group to function effectively together. In the academy that is not our goal. We’re not trying to turn out classes of “our graduating class will go forth, and they will all work together as a unit to accomplish greatness.” No, that’s not what it’s all about. We want clashing ideas.

We don’t want uniformity and homogeneity, we want the benefits of diversity, but the irony is we have so focused on racial and other kinds of demographic diversity, because of the political slant of the university, because of the sacred values of the campus left, we have so focused on that kind of diversity.

There’s this wonderful line from George Will, in some essay he wrote, “There’s a certain kind of liberal that wants diversity in everything except thought.” That’s where we are. We now have almost a kind of uniformity the military has, where everybody’s on the left, which gives us cohesion, but that kills the very function of the university, which is to have diversity of thought, so we can change our minds. We challenge each other in the marketplace of ideas.

What holds a people together? What holds a diverse people together? Because something has to. A community of people has to have something in common — an ideal, a purpose, a culture, a language — in order to be united, and a diverse people have to somehow be united in order to find strength in diversity.

This is why diversity is, in many ways, so stifling, conformist, and intolerant — it demands uniformity of thought and outlook. That tightly constructed and brutally demanded outlook becomes its unity. The “differences” celebrated (race, sexual orientation, gender) become almost completely irrelevant given no one within the “diverse” community is allowed draw differing conclusions about the world or human purpose. The belief in diversity itself becomes the unifying principle, the ideology, that holds a community together. It becomes a culture as well, though it is a top-down culture and ideal imposed upon people, rather than a a set of practices and an outlook that forms organically from the bottom-up. It’s a form of assimilationism, just as unforgiving and just as brutal, and nothing more.

While life is never easy for non-conformists (like me), ideologically constructed forms of belonging can be much worse than ways of belonging based on shared organic culture, language, or ethnicity. One can at least be raised in language, and there are often (though not always) acceptable ways of dissenting or non-conforming in a culture. (I think this was one of my problems with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — I could not conform to the “culture” of the ELCA because I wasn’t raised in it, and the ELCA is not really held together by its confession of faith.) But ideologically imposed ways of belonging are exceptionally hard because they demand not just assent but acceptance and rigorous adherence — there are no proper ways to dissent or non-conform when an ideology is being imposed.

Which is why diversity creates an intellectual and moral monoculture, one that will be brittle and inflexible and incapable of effectively thinking about or dealing with the very real problems of the world. And this is why it will eventually fail, and be consigned to the scrapheap of hugely unsuccessful ways of organizing the world and solving the human condition.

“You are very difficult, they say.”

Jenny Diski posts an amazing little essay over at The London Review of Books that deals a bit with what it means to be “difficult,” and to have that “look” which everyone seems to know and understand. Except you.

You were very difficult, they tell me. You are very difficult, they say. It turned out that ‘doing what I was told’ was not so much following orders, it was some innate understanding of how the world was supposed to work and conforming to it, so as not to make trouble. By the time someone had to tell me what to do, it was already too late. ‘Difficult’ was how the lay population described what the psychiatrists called ‘disturbed’.

Yep. That about describes it.

The Nature of American Conformity

Just finished reading Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt. A fun read. I’ve only read one other Lewis novel, It Can’t Happen Here, and I suppose at some point I really should read Main Street.

So, I’ve gotten through George F. Babbitt’s crisis, the end of his rebellion, and his recommitment to the Good Fellows, and his joining the Good Citizens’ League. Which prompts this lengthy quote from chapter 34: Continue reading