Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Diversity Bullies: the cognitive disconnect

Though an imperfect work, I ask you to consider reading Christopher Caldwell's article from this August, "Diversity is not Black and White."

Now, I want you to hear what years in isolated, sycophantic academia can do to one's writing style; you can read it here - but it is so good I want to quote in whole a letter to the editor to the Financial Times in response to Caldwell's prose. It shows what can happen when you live in a world where no one ever challenges your opinions - or you never listen - or both.
One of the fallacies governing Christopher Caldwell's attack on the principle that diversity has social value ("Diversity is not black and white", August 11/12) is the notion that diversity is necessarily antithetical to Robert Putnam's concept of "social networks and the associated norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness". This presumes that in an age of globalisation it is still possible to found national identity on a relatively homogenous culture. The US has long experienced the contradiction between a singular ideology of what it is to be an "American" and the lived experience of people in an increasingly heterogeneous society.

For the UK and western Europe such experience is relatively more recent. Before the second world war and especially during the suburban building boom of the postwar years, the kind of anxiety expressed by Mr Caldwell led the Federal Housing Authority to legally sanction restrictive or protective covenants that controlled diversity in suburban housing and, indirectly in public education. The long-term destructive social and economic effects of such policy and the infamous practice of "redlining" districts occupied by racial minorities, are still felt in the US.

Mr Caldwell also claims there is no correlation between intellectual diversity and racial diversity, and that colleges and universities that are committed to the latter are compromising the former. Again, I would suggest one cannot be an advocate of globalisation and at the same time deny that ethnic and intellectual diversity areinextricably interrelated.

Colleges and universities that do not recognise this will produce inferior knowledge based on older paradigms that will, in the long run, be detrimental to the social networks such educational institutions are supposed to serve. Educational institutions committed to ethnic or racial diversity demonstrate a clearer understanding of today's world than does Mr Caldwell. To say, as Mr Caldwell does, that "diversity is an ideology" is itself the expression of an ideology that is out of touch with the social network that is, for better or worse, today's globalised economy.

Don E. Wayne,
Department of Literature,
University of California, San Diego,
La Jolla, CA 92093, US

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