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April 01, 2003

What kind of diversity?

Conservatives sometimes respond to liberal calls for racial diversity in the classroom with their own demands for political diversity. This sort of stuff is usually stupid in my opinion-you are winning tractical battles but ceding the grand strategic war, Pyrrhic victories all. But that begs the larger question, what sort of diversity is important and crucial for young people as they find their places in the world?

What sort of identity do people care about? Racial nationalists, religious fundamentalists and political radicals can give easy answers, but most people are more ambivelant, or more complex, depending on how you look at it [1]. I know many people who associate only with people of their own race, but also of their own political orientation. There are many liberals who I meet who are shocked by some of my views, and totally surprised by my "facts" (don't you know it is well known that there is more racism in America today than a generation ago? :)). Similarly, as a conservative with an interest in religion in American life, I interact sometimes with right-leaning Christians. When I tell them I am an atheist, they often shocked that I don't have two horns, not only do they never talk to atheists (especially one that's pretty well read on religious topics and scripture for a lay person), they tend not to brush shoulders with more liberal Christians influenced by modernist thinking. They listen to Christian-rap, read Christian books and go to Christian schools.

I do think diversity is good. People should go out and look for places where they can establish dialogue and exchange ideas with people they disagree with, this is very healthy for a liberal society. On the other hand, I'm a little skeptical that this is going to happen in for instance medical school, I have friends who are medical students, and I can tell you that they are too busy working their asses off to give too much thought to enriching the lives of their fellow students with extra-clinical banter [2]. To take the medical student example further, the racial diversity of their classmates almost certainly matters less than the racial diversity of their patients. If you take the argument that you need minority doctors to treat minorities since they will be better suited to this, can't you flip it around and ask if all the Asian medical students aren't giving sub-standard care to all the non-Asians they will be treating? Perhaps we should try to reduce the number of people of Asian ancestry among the doctors-to-be, and especially the obscene overrepresentation of brown kids in medical school seeing as how they form less than 1% of the patient population.

In any case, as someone with no religious affiliation, little racial pride and lukewarm political loyalties (registered Republican, libertarian when I'm an idealist, not-so-libertarian when I'm a realist, but generally satisfied with the fact that the modern West has vigorous politics)-I really can't offer much here. If you take the mainstream-Left + some-on-the-Right contention that diversity is important cross-sectionally in social institutions as an end, what should we start weighing besides race? Should we make sure evangelical Protestants and conservative Catholics are well represented at Ivy League universities (Pat Buchanan has suggested this!)? Southerners at northern universities? Republicans at Oberlin? Conservatives in the media? Liberals in the oil industry (liberals buy gas too!)?

I'm more inclined toward allowing individuals and local groups make decisions about how much diversity they want in my life. But right now, the top-down view that major social institutions have to manage and massage diversity in a command fashion is ascendent, so I'm curious how far we'll go here....

[1] We all know about racist wacks and religious nutsos, but we tend not to think about ideological fanatics as much anymore-Communists, Fascists, etc. come to mind-but on a milder note, what about people like Grover Norquist? I bring up Norquist because I agree a lot with his idea of the "Leave us Alone Coalition," but his recent clashes with other conservatives over his assocations with Muslim groups seem to hinge on the fact that for him politics overrules other identifications. Many Christian conservatives are Christians first, conservatives only later-so close ties with Muslim groups are distastefull to them. Norquist on the other hand is willing to deal with some rather peculiar people who seem to be the Muslim equivalent of the Anti-Defamation League or NAACP, they have roles, but are generally a little too high-strung for some of their more moderate supporters.

[2] Medical students probably talk mostly about medicine after all-there is little discussion of religion, politics, etc. from what I know about them. This happens in many fields of work and study-people talk about what they have in common, not what separates them. Big surprise!

Posted by razib at 11:33 PM

Ugh. Tell me about it. I took a class -- "Global Justice and Social Activism" (yeah, I should have known better, but the profs were cute) -- and by the end of the class I am certain half my classmates wished I would shut up and die. Many "class discussions" were really "Jacqueline versus the room" arguments. (It would have been Jacqueline and Paul -- the moderate Republican -- versus the room, but he skipped a lot of class. Bastard. Leaving me to fend off the liberals all on my own.)

I was raised in a very left-wing background, only knew liberals, etc. Then as I grew up I became a libertarian. Through libertarian political activism I got to know a lot of conservatives while working on common issues. It's since been my experience that *conservatives* are actually *more* tolerant than liberals (the champions of "tolerance") when it comes to someone with political beliefs differing from theirs. Liberals on the other hand have frequently called me "evil" "racist" "classist" "sexist" etc. if I don't agree with them, and gotten so angry they couldn't have a discussion any more. I've rarely encountered conservatives who get too angry to discuss things rationally, or start saying that a person is inherently "bad" because they disagree. I think thats sort of interesting.

I did have a bit of fun with this in that Global Justice class, using terms like "tolerance" and "hate speech" against the liberals when they were being mean to me. :) Its not difficult to affect "victim speech" and then they get confused because they're always supposed to be on the side of the victims, right? :)

As far as diversity at schools go, I think all kinds of diversity (racial, religous, economic background, political beliefs, etc.) is beneficial. I think the best way to solve this is to privatize all schools (perhaps going to a 100% voucher system, if there are concerns about whether people will still get educated without government funding), let them set whatever the hell policies they want, and let the market sort it out. Individuals who think they benefit from being at schools that have admission policies to increase diversity will go to those schools, people who don't care (or think its a bad thing) won't.

Posted by: Jacqueline at April 2, 2003 01:04 AM

I'm not white and am grateful America let my parents emigrate here. But, I am no longer convinced diversity is necessarily a good thing. I realize the irony of this statement. Be that as it may, most people discuss diversity and simply only laud its success stories.

However, who is to say that a world filled with a single race that didn't vary much in appearance would not be beneficial? Certainly, if you look at most sci fi on the screen (like the Klingons or Romulans in classic Trek) before the modern era of PCness, most depictions of alien civilizations were based on a the species looking relatively homogenous. Earthlings were the ones that were more heterogenous. My point is simply that we don't know what fewer problems there might be with true conformity.

I realize that this is simply purely theoretical and largely a moot point given the variety of human life on our world. However, as Razib has alluded in his post, many (the vast bulk?) of us seem to try to associate with those we can relate to on some level of similarity. In that sense, we are trying to replicate some ideals of conformity in a 'sea' of diversity.

Posted by: -R at April 2, 2003 01:21 AM

to be simplistic-like dissolves like while oil & water don't mix (or at least, it is energetically disfavored). in discussion for instance, it is nice to have people agree with you, tell you how smart you are, and validate your own perspective. it can be difficult when you debate/discuss with someone who has different premises & draws from another well of facts. on the other hand, while the former discussions are a bit like empty calories, the latter are good work-outs and generally much more likely to move your forward (or backward) in your perspective or viewpoint rather than just standing in place.

there is an obvious difference between race & religion-and-or-political orientation, it is far less malleable and or mutable, though the boundaries of distinction are probably less than we would think. after all, some people can switch racial affiliations due to phenotypic ambiguity while the number #1 correlated trait for religious or political orientation is probably the affiliation of one's parents.

as far as 'diversity,' total privatization isn't going to happen-but a more moderate and doable solution might be decentralization. i'm a little bummed out by stuff going to the supreme court, because they seem to talk more than allow federalism. i'm fine with many states adopting race/class/fill-in-the-blank proportionalism as long as there were some states that did not adhere to these dictums. on the other hand, because of federal grants, we are getting a sort of standardization among the elite schools where admissions are politicized because they are all responding to the same variables.

let me end in such a fashion-CUNY (City University of New York) was once the Poor-Man's-Harvard. this was back when jew-quotas were in force and many jewish families had not entered the professions. but over the past few generations CUNY has dropped requirements and introduced a whole host of remedial courses, to my knowledge in part to 'reflect the city.' all this has done is made CUNY less attractive to students that would rather not share class-space and socialize with others who are in need of a lot of remedial coursework-after all, academics in on reason kids go to school, and the quality of classmates can effect your own studies a fair amount (one reason black students do badly in math compared to asians is attributed to the fact that the latter tend to cooperate and pool their energies far better than the former). i suspect that we will see the UC system go the way of CUNY in a generation or two....

diversity is great-competance and excellence is better. just my 'pinion.

Posted by: razib at April 2, 2003 01:58 AM

Uniformity results in cultural deepening, inasmuch as many "things" are understood and agreed upon by everyone, hence there is no cultural friction in fostering mutual understanding and consent. Humor and irony are good examples of this.

However, uniformity also robs a society of new "things", which might prove beneficial for its further development.

In my opinion, a society should have a strong core of uniformity in key areas, such as religion, politics, morality, and biological makeup. It should promote this core, while not seeking to actively suppress diversity when it occurs.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 2, 2003 02:48 AM

Aw, c'mon, Razib, we all know you keep your horns filed off so they won't show. ;)

Sharp observation by Dienekes, as usual. A balance between a relatively rigid core and freely-changing periphery maximizes adaptability.

Posted by: Jay Manifold at April 3, 2003 05:48 AM

I think that you achieve “true” diversity (we conservatives talk about “true diversity too much, don’t you think?) when you allow local homogeneity to assert itself. Fred Reed writes about this quite often. I am not of an age (31) to remember the United States before strip malls, cable TV, and a MacDonald’s on every corner, but I was lucky enough to grow up in a tiny (pop. 300) town on the U.S./Mexican border. While I am grateful for the perspective it gave me, like the vast majority of those who could, I left that town as fast as possible.

However, this very phenomenon of high-IQ flight to the cities and away from small-town America, while great for business and industry and arguably good for the individual, is ultimately detrimental to civilizations.

As has been discussed on this blog and in many places linked to from here, the conventional wisdom holds that conservatives tend to be less intelligent than liberals. I am sure most here are also familiar with the “red state”/”blue state” dichotomy talked about so often during the past presidential election. Please correct my logic here if I am wrong, but it does concern me that, in the United States, we do have a small town versus city ideological schism, which is reinforced quite strongly by the fact that most of the high-IQ stock from small towns are lured away permanently by “blue state” cities. This does not seem to bode well for the average IQ of the conservative areas of the U.S.

This impacts “diversity” in a curious way. Small towns tend to be much quirkier than cities do, but are decaying to obsolescence now that none of the primogenitors of commerce are returning home. I posit that once everyone moves to the city, we will have much less diversity in our country, and we will be much the worse for it.

I mentioned “civilizations” above, since we are falling into a “Latin American” pattern of city migration.

Posted by: Brandy at April 3, 2003 11:55 AM