Notes & Comments May 2023
The diversity masquerade
On the conformity behind the mask.
We have often remarked in this space on the great irony that while the word “diversity” is repeated everywhere, its opposite, a stultifying homogeneity, is the reality that is actually enforced “on the ground.”
Our educational institutions offer the classic example. Is there any self-respecting college or university that doesn’t tout its commitment to “diversity” these days? You cannot scan any standard college’s promotional literature, let alone set foot on its campus, without being inundated by assurances that diversity is its most cherished value, the cynosure to which every other pursuit is subordinated.
But when you look at what the colleges really teach and preach (and how much of their teaching is in fact only a secular preaching, that is, a species of indoctrination), it turns out that rigid conformity is the order of the day. We used to titter that there were people whose title was some variation of “dean of diversity.” “You’re kidding, right?” was the response. “What does a dean of diversity do?”
No one is laughing now. Last month, we commented on how an associate dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion comported herself at Stanford Law School, joining in with student protestors to upstage and denounce Judge Kyle Duncan. That incident, captured on video, immediately went viral on the internet, embarrassing Stanford authorities and precipitating a certain amount of handwringing from the citadels of wokeness across the country. Will that pushback yield any meaningful change? We doubt it. Despite the browbeating, the woke consensus continues its reign undaunted if not quite unopposed.
The bottom line is that on an increasingly wide range of subjects, only one opinion is granted the patent of diversity. Those deans are there not to invigilate academic excellence but to enforce social and moral conformity. As we have noted previously, this is not a novel ambition. Germans in the first half of the last century coined a term for the process: Gleichschaltung, a “harmonizing” or coordination of every aspect of life under the aegis of the reigning ideology. The commissars of the European Union have been in the forefront of a new Gleichschaltung. But American leftists have shown themselves to be quick studies and have equaled or surpassed their mentors in the task of enforcing conformity.
From an epistemic linguistic perspective, what we’re seeing is the triumph of deflationary or ironizing quotation marks. Everyone can appreciate the difference between “fresh fish” and “‘fresh’ fish.” If you’re looking for dinner, avoid the latter. Just so, if you hear an academic or an academic administrator (or, for that matter, a government bureaucrat) proclaim his commitment to diversity, you can be sure that he means his commitment to “diversity,” that is, conformity masquerading as diversity.
We all know this. It’s part of what Anthony Trollope called “the way we live now.” We have said that this fact was one of the great ironies of our age. Some might object that it’s really just one of the great hypocrisies of the age. There’s something to that. Plenty of hypocrisy is certainly abroad. But we remember François de La Rochefoucauld’s observation that l’hypocrisie est un hommage que le vice rend à la vertu. What he meant was that hypocrisy, although regrettable, at least recognized the claims of the virtue it pretended to embody.
The perfect intolerance that fuels our culture of pseudo-diversity has no room for such recognitions or extenuations. Conformity and uniformity are the goals of the Gleichschaltung, even if they must be packaged in an emollient rhetoric of diversity. By now, we believe, this phenomenon is widely recognized. Just a few years ago, when someone described some individuals or behavior as “woke,” people blinked and smiled. Was woke the same as “enlightened”? Not hardly. Like many spiritual toxins, wokeness started life as a lark. Which is to say, people couldn’t take it seriously, so they laughed at it. It was ridiculous, so they neglected the fact that it had claws.
The same thing happened with political correctness, which began life in the satire pages of a student publication at Brown University in the 1980s. We know now that the laughter was misplaced. It’s not that the whole spectrum of woke self-indulgence was not ridiculous. It was. It is just that the ridiculous often cohabits seamlessly with the malevolent, a fact we don’t see or are at least prepared to excuse because of the silliness. This often happened in response to the antics of “the Sixties.” “Oh, those kids, with their rebarbative music, outré clothes, and naive political ‘idealism’!”
It was easy to dismiss it all as a typical product of self-indulgence and affluence. That might have been part of the story. But the sudden change in manners and morals was also fired by something deeper, darker, and less smiling. The drug culture and sexual license were the tips of that iceberg. And behind that was the gloomy, menacing progress of the long march through the institutions, that vicious strategy conceived by the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. The institutions in question ran the gamut from the family and the churches through schools, colleges, the media, and, finally, corporate and governmental bureaucracies.
That “long march” began on the fringes of culture in the late 1950s before moving to the center in the Sixties and Seventies. It proceeded like a malign Johnny Appleseed, dropping fertile yet poisonous seeds that took years to germinate and sprout. Now, they have fully blossomed, as phrases such as “drag-queen story hour,” “transsexual bathrooms,” and “white supremacy” remind us. Who could have predicted that Bud Light, the working man’s beer par excellence, would adopt an effeminate transsexual as its mascot? The historian Paul Gottfried, writing recently in American Greatness, was correct: “Woke corporations are found not only in the United States,” Gottfried noted,
they are now the rule throughout the Western world. Like our medical and law schools and military, corporate executives indoctrinate their workers in the state ideology and maintain doctrinal conformity in the workplace. What now prevails throughout “the democratic West” is a system of mind control every bit as oppressive as that of the former Soviet empire. But unlike the old system, the updated form of control comes through sophisticated, pervasive consciousness-shaping; and it functions flawlessly without the brutality that characterized more primitive totalitarian models.
If someone succumbed to a Rip Van Winkle slumber in 1963, do you suppose he would recognize his culture upon awakening sixty years later, in 2023? We doubt it. No one has really explained how this co-option of our culture came about. Doubtless, there are many contributory causes. One of the most original efforts to explain the monolithic nature of the beast was published this past winter by the commentator Glenn Harlan Reynolds at his Substack under the title “Thoughts on our ruling-class monoculture.”
Reynolds offered a long and complex argument. Here, we shall note just two things. First, he took off from Elon Musk’s recent observation that the ideology of wokeness amounted to a kind of debilitating “mind virus.” Musk’s tweet underscored the gravity, and the communicability, of the phenomenon. The triumph of wokeness would spell the eclipse of individual liberty and public access to the past.
George Orwell warned that we will know that Big Brother and Newspeak have finally prevailed when “Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered.” We’re well on our way there, as the continuing revelations about the rewriting or bowdlerization of books, from Roald Dahl’s children’s stories to Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels—as well as the steady campaigns to remove or replace “offensive” statues and public artworks, to say nothing of the renaming of colleges or programs—remind us.
The second lesson from Reynolds’s essay revolves around his suggestion that the homogeneity of woke ideology is a by-product of the uniformity of the elites that preside over our culture. Consider the Supreme Court. There are nine Supreme Court justices. Until the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, who went to Notre Dame Law School, all were products of Harvard or Yale. That graphic expression of the monoculture of our elites can be traced throughout the administrative bureaucracy that increasingly controls our lives.
As Reynolds notes, this is a point that the late Angelo Codevilla made in a classic essay on America’s elites back in 2010. “Today’s ruling class,” Codevilla wrote, “from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits.” He continued:
These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters—speaking the “in” language—serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct.
Reynolds remarks in passing that real, physical diversity is an effective biological stratagem against dangerous viruses. His speculations about this are provocative and well worth reading. Here we shall just note the possible silver lining to his discussion.
The elite monoculture currently abets the negative ethos of woke culture. It can seem irrefragable and unappeasable. But its very monolithic nature and totalitarian ambition make it secretly vulnerable. Successfully attack one element of the monoculture and the whole domino-like structure is liable to fall. If we had a more diverse ruling class, Reynolds notes, “ideas would not spread so swiftly or be received so uncritically. People with different worldviews would respond differently to ideas as they entered the world of discourse.” “There would be criticism and there would be debate,” he says. This is a consummation devoutly to be wished for, especially as the alternative is likely to be a totalitarian nightmare.
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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 41 Number 9, on page 1
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