Monday, February 5, 2018

Diversity Where It Matters

A conversation that followed my last blog post turned in part to President Trump’s policy on immigration, which isn’t going to the be main point of this post either. But in that conversation a friend said, “If you believe our diversity makes us stronger, as I do,” then you ought to oppose Trump’s doing away with the diversity lottery.

Again, I don’t want to deal with immigration issues today. They are complex, and I have long believed they need a good overhaul. But, until we have secure borders, it’s pretty pointless to talk about the specifics.

But I asked myself, “Do I believe our diversity makes us stronger?"

It totally depends on what diversity means. Are we stronger because people among us have varying levels of melanin in our skin? In what ways? Maybe there are genetic strengths from combining DNA from around the world; I don’t know. I’m open to that possibility and would like to see the studies.

But what if skin tone is really irrelevant? What if, as Martin Luther King dreamed, the important thing is the content of our character?

As an exercise, let’s look at some segments of our society we encounter, and experiment with adding diversity (differences) for diversity’s sake.

Take the US gymnastics team. Looking at the past Olympic team, they’re already pretty diverse in the sense of skin color. But they’re really not very diverse in other ways, like body type. They’re all short, compact, little firecrackers. Some are very thin, and others are a bit sturdier, but they could probably all share uniforms; they’re not that different. What if they were required to have tall gymnasts, over 5’10”? And while we’re at it, maybe women’s volleyball could use a couple of 4’11” players? For diversity. Because diversity makes us stronger.

US Gymnastics Team 2016
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images, found here

Some years ago I noted the typical size of a defensive blocker on my college football team. They were around 6’6” and 325 pounds, and I told my mountain-sized giant son Political Sphere, “There are some things you’re just not big enough to do.” For the sake of diversity, shouldn’t the team be required to recruit some 5’10” skinny guys as defensive blockers? Wouldn’t that diversity make them stronger?

You get my point. We specialize where it makes sense to specialize, sometimes even physically. We ignore differences when they don’t matter.

If we’re not ignoring differences when they don’t matter, that’s a problem.

In 2015 I heard an interview with the great Thomas Sowell, following the publication of his book Wealth, Poverty, and Politics. I agreed with him about diversity. I wrote*:

First is his assertion about diversity—that it does no inherent good. I’ve long believed that. I remember the first time Mr. Spherical Model came home and discussed diversity training at work. They had been taught that they benefited from diversity. And I said, “You mean you learn how to get along despite diversity?” No, they were supposed to see that they got additional viewpoints from ethnic diversity.
That struck me as pointless. There are types of diversity that can help benefit the whole: variations in style, attention to detail, energy for leadership, different talents. You get a diverse team, and you all benefit from each other. But skin color and ethnic background don’t provide you with that addition. In international business you do benefit from someone on your team familiar with the culture you’re doing business with. But a basic classroom in America doesn’t benefit educationally from having students with different amounts of melanin in their skin.
Thomas Sowell
screenshot from Uncommon Knowledge interview
Thomas Sowell talked about the school he had attended. This is an interview between Dr. Sowell and Uncommon Knowledge host Peter Robinson:

PR: In Wealth, Poverty, and Politics you describe three very selective—they’re public high schools in New York, but they’re very selective. You have to test to get into them. They’re Stuyvesant High—your Stuyvesant High—Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech. Quote:
“The triumph of egalitarian principle and demographic ‘diversity’ in the rest of New York’s education system has not resulted in an increase in the number or proportion of Black or Hispanic students passing the admissions tests to get into Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech. On the contrary, the numbers and proportions of Black and Hispanic students have declined substantially over the years at all three institutions.”
So, telegram to Mayor DeBlasio: As diversity becomes championed in the city of New York over the last forty years, fifty years, diversity actually diminishes at these very selective high schools. Why?
TS: Well, diversity really doesn’t do anything for you. There are many cultural…
PR: Doesn’t do anything for you as a society?
TS: As a society, or the people in whose interest you’re promoting diversity. In other words, when Black and Hispanic kids go to schools other than those three, they get a load of diversity. It doesn’t do them any good. For example, as of about 2012 or 2014—I forget the exact one—the percentage of Blacks at Stuyvesant High School was one tenth of what it was 33 years earlier. There’d been a major retrogression. So while they’re being taught, filling their heads full of diversity, the Asian students are learning math and science. Plus, the schools are also…  Another point against diversity is that in years past, those schools were so heavily Jewish that Stuyvesant was referred to once as a free prep school for Jews. Well, they weren’t diverse, but it was very successful.
And now, Asian Americans outnumber whites by more than two-to-one in all three of those schools. It’s still not diverse. But they’re turning out people who do marvelous things. And that’s what they’re there for—to benefit society, not to present this tableau that will please a handful of people.
There are places in our society that truly lack diversity: higher education, mainstream news media, and Hollywood’s entertainment industry. 

They’re the very ones preaching diversity—of race. But what they lack is diversity of viewpoint, or diversity of belief. It’s enough to get a person blacklisted if they come out as conservative in Hollywood. And, with a few exceptions, typically in math, economics, and some of the harder sciences, percentages of university professors with conservative or religious views are often low enough to be in the single digits. In media, the so-called “liberal” viewpoint is so pervasive that they believe everyone agrees with them. They encounter so few people with differing views, that they dismiss disagreement as stupidity, or they stamp it as evil, and they’re unaware of their obvious bias.

We need free speech to preserve diversity of ideas, and freedom of thought—to allow all of us to seek for truth, and be wherever we are on that journey.

So, does diversity make us stronger? Only if it’s diversity of thought, style, personality, approach, or capability.

Diversity of “character” doesn’t even make us stronger; only a critical mass of good character makes us stronger as a whole. If everybody had an equally strong good character—that would be better overall than diversity of character. Weak character isn’t something to be celebrated, just because it’s diverse from strong character.

I think the diversity of skin color movement is a lie covering up the anti-diversity of thought movement.

I went to college in a religious school, so, even though people of other religions went there, it was pretty religiously homogeneous. But that opened us up for a lot of safe, open conversations, with a diversity of ideas. A friend shared a story about being a law student at BYU some decades ago. For some reason he needed to take one class at the University of Utah, which is not that far away, in a city still predominantly Mormon, but not a religious school. The difference to him was stark. They could discuss widely varying opinions at BYU, fully and openly. But at the U of U, everybody towed the line, and didn’t dare express opinions that weren’t the established opinions of the teacher or the mainstream.

Our society is much more polarized now than those two law schools several decades ago. It might be that I’m right: differences are either a challenge that requires some work to overcome, or differences are neutrally harmless or at best pleasant variety—such as the variety of ethnic food we get in Houston, because it’s cosmopolitan. Is our food here better than French food in France, or Thai food in Thailand, or Vietnamese food in Vietnam? No, it’s just a pleasant variety we get here that people in, say New England might not get—and yet New England clam chowder might be better than you get here.

Food variety is nice, but it isn’t necessarily better, or stronger, than places with mainly their own ethnic foods. It’s neutral, or something you might have a taste for, like an eclectic appreciation for art or music.

The “diversity makes us stronger” doctrine is just not true, unless it’s referring to diversity of thought—which can make us stronger. And MLK is still right: character is more important than skin color.
*I wrote similarly last May in a piece called "Shame Culture vs. Guilt Culture."

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