Division and Diversity

Division and Diversity

Professional pundits often say that the trouble with contemporary political culture is that we are too “divided”. The remedy is to “bring people together” by recognizing that “we have more in common than we think”. This is completely wrong: the problem isn’t division; it’s error. If people have contradictory opinions, one side has to be mistaken; these conflicting opinions can’t be “brought together”. That’s just logic. The errors are of three kinds: factual, practical, and moral. People can be wrong about what the facts are, about how best to rectify an undesirable situation, and about what is morally right and wrong. These errors arise largely from prejudice and propaganda (combined with credulity). The only solution to error is correction, but that can be hard to achieve, especially where stupidity reigns. At present we are facing an epidemic of error among a large section of the population. There is a lot of factual falsehood, impractical ideas, and moral blindness. For example, concerning crime: about who commits it, about the best way to handle it, and about what is the morally correct way to treat criminals. There is no particular problem with division as such: people can be divided about many things, sometime passionately, but it doesn’t lead to turmoil, violence, and misguided policies. They can be divided over the team they support, the music they like, the philosophical opinions they espouse: but this doesn’t have to spill over into hatred, violence, hostility, blacklisting, ostracizing, etc. The problem today is that political differences have become magnified and tribalized. People need to be less hysterical, more civilized, more tolerant of political differences (politics isn’t easy). The problem isn’t division as such but attitudes towards division, especially susceptibility to error through ignorance and dogmatism. People have to stop being hooligans and idiots. Division will then take care of itself.

It is also frequently maintained that the problem with universities and many other organizations is that they are not “diverse” enough. This too is wrong. There is nothing wrong with uniformity as such—sameness along certain dimensions. It all depends on what this uniformity stems from and produces. It is good if it produces progress, creativity, truth, goodness, and beauty; it is bad if it produces dullness, lack of progress, lack of creativity, falsehood, badness, and ugliness. Notice that all these terms are evaluative: diversity must be judged by evaluative criteria; we can’t determine our values according to diversity or its absence. There is no value-neutral way to assess an organization like a university. Diversity per se is not a value; it all depends on what it leads to. If it leads to what is good, then let’s by all means do it; but if it doesn’t, commit it to the flames. There is absolutely no value in difference as such: mere difference never adds up to quality. Variety may be the spice of life, but it isn’t a guarantee of merit. Intelligence, knowledge, diligence, hard work, creativity—these are the signs of a good university not its degree of diversity (whatever exactly this is supposed to mean). To be concrete, if it turns out that women make the best mathematicians, by all means let them run the mathematics departments; if men make the best athletic coaches, let them coach women’s basketball.

The problem with both the approaches I have criticized is that they try to substitute non-values (“facts”) for values. The fact of division is held to be inherently undesirable; the fact of diversity is held to be inherently desirable. These facts, however, are only evaluatively relevant if they conduce to other things deemed valuable in themselves, such as truth or moral rectitude; and they are at best only loosely correlated with such values. Agreement is only good if it is agreement in what is true and right; diversity is only good if it leads to creativity and progress. Fascists can easily agree with each other and be completely wrong; a diverse group of people can be a dull and incompetent lot. We should not be in the business of reducing difference of outlook or promoting diversity considered as ends in themselves.[1]

[1] Apologies for the obviousness of these remarks (it was tedious to write them down), but sometimes the obvious needs stating. Memes like “diversity” have to be subjected to critical scrutiny.

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