In a way it was predictable — and I won’t deny that, on some level, I probably knew the issue would be broached — but yesterday’s post in the provocateurism series wended its way, in exchanges between author and commenters / commenters and commenters, to the subject of race-based affirmative action, a dubious practice of late saved, against (in my opinion) the clear intention of certain Constitutional prohibitions, by the eight-hundred pound gorilla in the room, namely, the social push (created out of whole cloth and standing against the theoretical underpinnings of individualism that animate the classical liberalism upon which this country was structured) toward a carefully manufactured “ideal” of diversity that, not to put too fine a point on it, is to actual diversity, in the context in which it is being promoted, what today’s calls for “tolerance” are to free speech.
That Justice Kennedy sided with an idea for social engineering that is, at base, quite literally un-American (in the strictest sense of that term), is a testament to the power of the diversity movement, and to its ability to gull even those whose ostensible purpose it is to uphold Constitutional principle.
In his book Diversity: The Invention of a Concept, Peter Wood speaks at length about what he calls “diversity metaphors”:
Diversity is said to be, among other things, a rainbow, a quilt, a rich stew, a box of crayons, a Noah’s ark.
Diversiphiles turn to metaphor not just to popularize their ideas but to cover over the contradiction that would be hard to hide in plain speech: the contradiction between the diversiphiles’ insistence that the differences among cultural traditions are vast and irreconcilable, and their simultaneous assertion that diversity is a path to overcoming division and achieving national (or pan-national) unity.
The favored metaphors of rainbows, quilts, stews, crayons, and arks are easily visualized images of many-ness in unity, but they fail in one key way: All of them smuggle in the underlying commonality that the doctrine of diversity usually attacks. The parts of the rainbow are all spectra of visible light; the quilt is stitched from swatches of fabric; the stew comprises edible foodstuffs; the crayons are part of a palate of colors; and the ark has on board the fauna that will inhabit the postdiluvian earth. What’s missing is the radical separateness of each of the parts: the color that does not want to be part of the rainbow, the fabric that dangles outside the quilt. Those diversiphiles who respond to Martin Luther King’s image of the “single garment of destiny” by bringing up “loose threads” are, in their way, closer to the metaphoric mark.
To get all the way to a satisfactory image of diversity, we would have to construct some metaphor in which each component possesses its own autonomy and insists on its own importance, and the whole would be overseen by a power who simultaneously credits and ignores each part’s claim to precedence. The town dump seems to me to be the ideal form of a conglomerate unity where completely unrelated things of disparate origin end up side by side, kept in their place by the apotheosis of the modern multicultural teacher, the guy who drives the bulldozer.
[…] the town dump is full of aesthetic wonders and useful stuff. The moralist can find worthy lessons there, and the materialist a bit of plunder. It is, however, a place that speaks constantly of the past, and is more melancholy than any graveyard. The dump is where the unmemorial odds and ends of our lives end up. Dumps tell our history, but not in the way that we would like to remember it.
I must admit that the town dump will probably not catch on as the metaphor of choice among diversidacts in the schools. They would resist the metaphoric implication, even as they embrace the hard reality that diversity is a way of situating children amidst the debris of broken dreams and spent lives.
Diversidacts and diversiphiles of all sorts prefer a more upbeat imagery of unity. When the Advisory Board of President Clinton’s Initiative on Race issued its final report in September 1998, it was characteristically titled One America in the Twenty-first Century: Forging a New Future. The title is meant seriously. Although the Initiative on Race has often served only to elevate and accentuate racial and ethnic differences, Chairman John Hope Franklin and his colleagues saw nothing odd in proclaiming their work a step toward “One America.”
Appendix H of One American in the Twenty-first Century lists hundreds of organizations across the nation that the Advisory Board of the Initiative on Race considered as offering “promising practices.” The annotated list amounts to a kind of encyclopedia of multiculturalism’s institutional presence as of 1998, and diversity metaphors abound.
Voices United in Miami, Florida, “empowers young people to cultivate solutions to community problems and to promote intercultural appreciation and understanding”; We’re All on the Same Team Cultural Diversity Education Program in Phoenix, Arizona, promotes “the value of cultural diversity and [creates] opportunities for positive exchange among diverse groups of people”; Interfaith Bridge Builders Coalition in Utica, New York, “celebrates and upholds he cultural and ethnic diversity in the community and promotes racial reconciliation”; Mosaic Harmony, a choir in Washington, D.C., “believes that the rich and inspiring tones of gospel music can bridge racial and ethnic barriers” and brings “a message of unity and diversity to the community.” And the Color Me Human Program in Hixson, Tennessee, “encourages organizations to use the Color Me Human logo and products as a symbol that the organization is supportive of diversity issues.” The list is rich with common destinies, common grounds and other commonalities, and offers numerous kinds of togetherness, oneness and unity — all in the name of helping us celebrate difference.
To secure its place on the national agenda, diversity relies to an extraordinary degree on images and metaphors. But We’re-All-on-the-Same-Team/Bridge Builders/Mosaic Harmony/Color-Me-Human diversity; diversity with its rainbows, patchwork quilts, rich gumbos and Noah’s arks; the diversity of One America in the Twenty-first Century — all these diversities are, in the end, species of illusion. They pump life and energy into the assertion of the radical separateness of all the parts, and then childishly prate about the unity that is sure to follow.
Wood’s point, which is of a kind keeping with argument I’ve made here on numerous occasions, is that it is, from a strategic standpoint — with the unspoken goal being an end to racial animus — patently ridiculous to believe that the way to get beyond racial divisions is to encourage and promote them, even if you manage to do so by packaging such a multiculturalist worldview in the feel-good packaging of a Benetton ad.
All of which I bring up for a particular reason. In the comments to yesterday’s post, thor spends a good deal of time defending race-based affirmative action, and in doing so he uses the reasoning that many defenders of the practice use. To wit:
I stand by affirmative action as a flawed but useful remedy of compromise. Rebalancing your logic, I think you too will get over your pain, someday, even if itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the day flowers are placed on your grave; it will pass.
— the idea being that, if some people have to suffer now in order to balance the scales of a history that they had no part in, so be it. Then, later, to drive home the point:
[…] ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no simple explanation for tragedy, and thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no necessity to befit all darkened consequences, and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all endless compromise for sake of itself, either that or weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re a Nation struggling onward.
I have a real bumÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s eye for grace, compromised solutions, and fashion, and didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t I ask that you fashion something better?
As I noted in my response to thor, I spent my academic career, and much of my Ã¢â‚¬Å“publicÃ¢â‚¬Â career here on the web, agitating for something that I do believe to be better, namely, a cultural and intellectual push to declare race a false and flawed scientific category (which it is), at least as it is currently understood.
Ironically, in my experience in the university culture, it was the students who were most accepting of such a solution Ã¢â‚¬â€ to many of them, race has never been much of a consideration, until they received the requisite leftwing “consciousness raising” Ã¢â‚¬â€ while it was the university that spent much of its time tut-tutting student willingness to Ã¢â‚¬Å“forgetÃ¢â‚¬Â about racial differences, as well as “correct” their innate refusal to Balkanize.
And I suspect that such a curricula has to do with the sad fact that, after years of catering to race and “diversity” issues, too many careers are on the line to let intellectual rigor, which involves at least the willingness to consider a change in strategy, get in the way of a professional status quo, and a lifelong defense of what it turns out was a remarkably simplistic and dangerous multiculturalist worldview.
When I debated Steve Sailer on this, he, too, (to be fair) dismissed my points Ã¢â‚¬â€ opting instead for his own kind of polemic, an in-your-face racialism aimed at the pomo theorists of race that, as I tried to explain to him, he was completely mislabeling in order to retake certain political ground. From a scientific perspective, however, his idea of “race,” as he himself admits, is a different animal altogether than the idea of “race” that has caused (and continues to cause) so much social ill and division.
The solution thor asks for, it seems to me, is simple in theory — though of course difficult in practice: marginalize the very concept of “race,” because as it has been used in this country and elsewhere, it is and always will be bad science. Holding onto it out of some sort of habit is a brand of Ã¢â‚¬Å“conservatismÃ¢â‚¬Â being practiced by guilty whites, Marxists, race hustlers, a permanent victim class, and opportunistic politicos looking to take advantage of coalition politics. “Race” is mythology. But it is, as we’ve learned in other contexts, a useful fiction — and one that has been milked by a variety of people with a variety of agendas for far too long.
“Diversity” — inasmuch as it remains committed to the superficial — is simply an extension of bad racial politics, and sadly, it is a clownish idea that has now gotten its big floppy shoe into the doorway of US jurisprudence at the highest level.
The end result can only be a gradual diminution of classical liberalism and the kind of foregrounding of individualism upon which this country was born.