BOOK REVIEW: News Weekly
DIVERSITY: The Invention of a Concept, by Peter Wood
, February 20, 2010
Orwellian abuse of the word "diversity"
The Invention of a Concept
by Peter Wood
(New York: Encounter Books)
Paperback: 336 pages
Rec. price: AUD$35.95
Reviewed by Bill James
The diversity dealt with by Peter Wood originated in 1978.
The American Supreme Court decided that the goal of attaining a diverse student body justified the use of racial preferences in deciding admissions to a medical school.
The decision contravened the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law.
In other words, it represented a ploy to bypass the constitutional criteria of liberty and equality which are incompatible with a policy of racial quotas (euphemistically known as "affirmative action").
Not only was this ruling a blow against morality and justice, but it also produced deleterious practical consequences.
It meant that many students admitted to courses on racial rather than intellectual grounds could not cope, and therefore academic standards fell.
It also meant that black students who won their way through college and into the professions, on the basis of genuine merit and effort, were suspected of having achieved their goals through racial favouritism.
The concept of diversity rapidly broadened beyond its educational origins, and both engendered, and was engendered by, other movements such as political correctness, multiculturalism, identity politics, and the victim mentality of disadvantage and entitlement.
Not just universities, but everything from businesses to fire departments and even sports teams, have been required to pursue diversity.
Churches have in some cases abandoned not just their denominations' historic theological distinctives, but Christianity itself, in their enthusiasm to embrace the vapid relativism which diversity demands.
Even artists are placed under pressure to replace works of genuine aesthetic worth, with clunky agitprop which protests against the alleged persecution of their race, class, gender or sexual preference.
A three-fold view of Western society underlies diversity ideology.
First, the comparatively few and trivial matters over which people differ in a Western liberal democracy, are required to vastly outweigh the overwhelming majority of the areas of life about which they agree.
Second, people must not be permitted to operate, or perceive themselves, as individuals, but only as stereotyped members of groups, nearly all of them the targets of victimisation.
Third, the experience and outlook of all the members of each group must be regarded as homogeneous, so that, for example, a black who identifies as a conservative must at best be patronised as eccentric or at worst labelled as aberrant, deviant and pathological.
As Wood points out, the results of trying to extract undifferentiated and unchanging essences such as "Asianness" have been both meaningless and ludicrous.
These groups are quite arbitrarily designated, including for example blacks, Native Americans, Latinos, women and gays, but not Roman Catholics, motorcyclists, Anabaptists, dyslexics, Polish-Americans, blondes, Jews, smokers, Vietnam veterans, epileptics, or the descendants of indentured labourers, all of whom have also suffered, or are suffering, discrimination or hardship.
They demand not just pluralist toleration and equality before the law, but compensation for past injustices for which the rest of society is somehow responsible, and the fulsome celebration (not mere toleration) of their "cultures".
Paradoxically, this tribal fragmentation, with its mixture of cultural relativism, legally coerced acceptance, and an unscrupulous emotional blackmail which accuses sceptics of lacking generosity and compassion, is supposed to hold the promise of social healing and cohesion.
While Wood writes about the United States, much of what he describes has echoes in Australia.
There have been at least two interesting developments in the years since this book was published. The first has been an expansion of the debate about Islam.
Diversity enthusiasts have managed to cobble together a victim status for Muslims in the United States, despite America's abjectly and sometimes irrationally bending over backwards to make sure that these Muslims are not scapegoated for crimes committed by their co-religionists elsewhere.
Not only have security staff at airports been required to target and frisk great-grandmothers from the Mid-West with exactly the same rigour that they apply to young men from the Middle East, but criticism even of Islamo-fascists who have committed the grossest atrocities, has been condemned by diversophiles as racist and bigoted.
Second, a black person has been elected President of the United States.
It would be difficult to imagine a more powerful refutation of diversity paranoia.
This is a depressing but necessary book, and Wood, a professor of anthropology, has not only covered his material thoroughly, incisively and readably, but has made his case irrefutably.