Readers of this fine publication have no doubt, on occasion, wondered from where this new, woke religion called ‘diversity’ emerged. And why and how it came to over-run all Australian universities, the public service and lately most big businesses. And how that happened so quickly, given that the early Christians took some three centuries before the Emperor Constantine opted to throw his lot in with them and make the Roman Empire Christian. Well, fear not readers because your insider correspondent – an inmate of an Australian G8 law school these past 16 years – can give you the inside scoop.
To start, ‘diversity’ is an American transplant. In the late 1960s and 1970s American universities had moved into the affirmative action game. Many of them had explicit quotas for black students to increase their participation rate. The motives and intentions for this were overwhelmingly good ones, given the history of slavery and the just-finishing segregation laws. But of course explicit racial quotas were not easy to defend under the US Bill of Rights. In 1978 the US Supreme Court heard the famous case of Bakke. Allan Bakke, a military veteran, had applied to a good University of California medical school but just barely missed out in the pool of white applicants. His marks and test scores, though, were considerably better than many of those of the black students who were admitted. The Supreme Court, 5-4, rejected the university’s claim that America’s long history of race discrimination justified quotas that kept Bakke out. So he won, and as a sidenote went on to be a successful anaesthetist. Explicit quotas were done and dusted. But one of the concurring justices, Lewis Powell, who was the swing vote, had played Solomon. He tried to give something to each side. Yes, Bakke had been treated unfairly and denied the equal protection of the law. But Powell also said that race could be a factor where non-explicit quotas were in play. How? Well, Powell said perhaps when ‘diversity’ was in play, as in when a university could claim – not prove you understand, but simply claim – that it was aiming for educational benefits that would flow to all students by having a racially diverse cohort of students. Something like that.
Believe me, universities jumped at this rationale, one sanctified by the whole court in the 2003 Supreme Court case of Grutter. Explicit, open, honest quotas were out; opaque, secret, more or less wholly up to the universities’ decisions on who could come based on ‘diversity’ concerns were in. This, dear readers, is how the path to hell is paved with good intentions. This pliable, plastic, bit of racial rhetoric could be used to achieve just about anything. It led to huge ‘diversity’ bureaucracies in universities – and once a bureaucracy is created, and people’s jobs are at stake, it becomes incredibly resilient, hard to dismantle and always on the hunt for anything that will keep its practitioners in high-paying employment.
Not just in the US but around the Anglosphere – though oddly not nearly so much in non-Anglosphere democracies – diversity became the new religion of the well-off, left-leaning intelligentsia. And the concept is incredibly handy because it is shape-shifting; it is never just one thing. It becomes a shorthand for all sorts of things, depending on the user’s needs. So it can convey such things as an ideal social order comprised of happy different groups; or the dividing up of social goods in exact proportion to a group’s population in society; or be a shorthand for ‘this group is under-represented’; or signal white privilege or white supremacy. It all depends on your target audience.
Once you go down this road it’s easy to see why university administrators, top bureaucrats, the corporate elite, all become pusillanimous cowards who won’t stand up for equal treatment of individuals on the basis of merit and track records. Pursuing diversity has a momentum of its own. While starting off travelling under a vague, amorphous, feel-good desire to improve the lot of groups that have not done well in the past it transmogrifies into a brow-beating weapon that indirectly implies opponents are, well, racists and sexists. And it carries with it the logic of identity politics, or ‘equity’.
You see ‘equity’ (not equality, but the very distinct ‘equity’) concerns are just another face to diversity concerns; they are the radicalised variant. So demands for equity almost explicitly work as follows: you pick a supposedly oppressed group; you see what their percentage of the population might be; then you look at the percentage of that group in some attractive job or position (say, professors, vice-chancellors, MPs, members of corporate boards – but never, ever unfavourable ones like garbage men or very dangerous jobs of which over 90 per cent are held by men); and then you scream discrimination. The logic of ‘equity’ demands that all focus on individuals, on individual choice and on the reality of different people making different choices in life because of varying sentiments, and really on the whole liberal worldview itself, goes out the window. Poof! In its place comes a barely disguised quota system based on group membership. Moreover, ‘equity and diversity’ thinking carries with it no limits to its reach. The principle can be extended indefinitely.
Now I say equity and diversity and identity politics can in principle be extended without limit. But in practice, of course, only favoured groups win and disfavoured ones (hands up all you hetero white male readers) lose. For instance, were we to apply this malign thinking uniformly we’d have to fire enough homosexuals to get their percentage down to about three per cent and woe betide all the Asian engineers in Silicon Valley. Or take a look at a photo of the vice chancellors of the eight Queensland universities. You know what you’ll notice? Six of them are women. An honest and strict application of the idiotic ‘equity’ principle would see two of them having to go. Readers can see the point by now. Diversity and equity and inclusion (same idea with a few variants) are all very malign notions that attack the very heart of the liberal worldview, the individual-focussed outlook that has driven so much of the West’s prosperity and success. In their place ‘diversity’ et al. carry a mutated Marxist outlook – for my sins when teaching in Hong Kong before the handover I had to teach a class on the Marxist view of law. Everything is about groups not individuals. Now, though, it’s not groups defined by wealth and their relation to the means of production. Instead, it’s groups defined by such things as skin pigmentation, type of reproductive organs, sexual preferences and date of arrival in the country.
It’s intellectual wankery and you know it. But it’s taken over huge swathes of Australian life. The universities? Check. The public service? Check. Half the Liberal party? Check. Making inroads into the military? Check. The big end of town, especially the woeful HR departments? Check. And throughout it all this Coalition government continues to throw money at all those who are imposing this illiberalism on us. Time to fight back.
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