The Outstater

September 30, 2018

“I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm-in-arm with Balzac and Dumas; I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come graciously with no scorn nor condescension.” — W.E. B. DuBois

IF YOU SEE NO DIFFERENCE between equality of results and equality of opportunity, this essay will make no sense. It’s about the idiocy of diversity for diversity’s sake.

In 1977, some of us in journalism were impressed with a widely circulated editorial commending the genius of American diversity. Coming at the tail end of the civil-rights movement, it was the first any of us had read expressing the concept in entirely economic terms.

The issue came up after a Japanese diplomat outrageously commented that the best place to build automobiles in the U.S. was in a place with a low percentage of blacks. The editorial’s counter argument seems obvious today: That the U.S. economy leads the world exactly because of the value we place on individual merit, regardless of ancestry or superficial attributes.

It quoted Dr. Thomas Sowell’s “Race and Economics,” published the year before. The young and relatively unknown economist argued that prejudices carry their own penalty in the form of a constricted work force, higher labor costs and narrow skill sets. No government commands were needed; a free market punishes irrelevant bias.

American diversity was to be desired, the editorial continued, because it contributed to our pool of talent and productivity, and that was understood to be more important than any cultural, culinary and artistic contribution.

Readers at the time also understood what the editorial was not saying, that is, diversity should be pursued out of some idealized sense of social justice, that the workplace should be balanced precisely and numerically regardless of merit and by whatever category that political fashion dictated.

The writer of the editorial would have thought that absurd. And so it is today 40 years later, utterly absurd but now very fashionable.

Last week, the black opinion editor at the Indianapolis Star wrote a column lauding the black director of diversity at the Indianapolis Police Department. The two of them, understandably, want persons like themselves recruited and promoted at a faster pace. “Everyone Agrees Diversity Is Important; So Why Hasn’t It Happened Yet?” the headline read.

The implication, of course, is that prejudice is to blame. Whether or not that is true, notice that equality of results is now the goal — a virtue in itself, considered a simple matter with which “everyone” can agree. Easy-peasy.

We will want to pause here and assess the costs of such a profound shift in the zeitgeist.

That has been done for us by Heather Mac Donald, author of the just-released “Diversity Delusion.” She reminds us that whether we like it or not such a goal unavoidably dilutes or even excludes merit and accountability. In campus group think, Individual excellence becomes secondary to skin pigment and gender identification.

Mac Donald warns that our radicalized universities have been pumping out social warriors for two or three generations in numbers large enough to portend historic political division (she suggests the possibility of civil war). These are full-fledged adults now, some of which (the Indy Star and her friend at the police department) are in positions of great influence.

“The characteristic academic traits of our time are: narcissism, an obsession with victimhood and a relentless determination to reduce the stunning complexity of the past to the shallow categories of identity and class politics,” Mac Donald writes. “Sitting atop an entire civilization of aesthetic wonders, the contemporary academic wants only to study oppression, preferably his own, defined reductively according to gonads and melanin.”

Here in Indiana the fashion-setter is the Indiana University School of Law, one of the most liberal plats of academic real estate in the nation. Its graduates fill the seats on our legislative and judicial bodies, if that tells you anything about what’s wrong with local government.

Nor are the hard sciences exempt, the funding for which has become subject to diversity requirements. Let us hope that Mitch Daniels is keeping Purdue safe, but a grant from the National Science Foundation to the Texas A&M Aerospace Engineering Department states its purpose is studying how to “remediate microaggressions and implicit bias” in engineering classes. Think about that the next time you drive over a bridge.

At Berkeley, the home court for this sort of thing, an introductory chemistry course sums it up. The course features “culturally sensitive pedagogy,” the idea for which is to “disrupt the racialized and gendered construct of scientific brilliance.” The instructors reject the idea that science means getting “all the right answers.” All students, it is said, are “scientifically brilliant.” Coursework is done in teams and the scientific language of chemistry is avoided.

Such bad thinking is addictive. That’s because it makes us feel good; it makes difficult subjects look easy and unavoidable absolutes seem avoidable.

Yet, we are addicted to a thought process that assumes the world owes everyone opportunities and results. Some of them, the ones who check the right boxes on various forms and applications, are infantilized as well. They are taught to focus on their supposed victimhood and little else. They are graduate complainers, expert only at identifying anything that makes them feel bad.

A few years before Thomas Sowell first challenged this addiction, the famed Leo Burnett advertising agency of Chicago launched one of its most brilliant campaigns. It was for the first cigarette brand marketed specifically to women. The slogan, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby,” was wrapped in a women’s liberation theme.

The ads featured an old-time black-and-white photograph of repressed women smokers and contrasted it with a colorful portrait of a vibrant and fashionable New Woman, one magically free of oppression, one who could proudly and equally smoke herself to death.

Well, we’ve all come a long way now — and similarly, in the wrong direction.

— Craig Ladwig


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