[The third in a series on inclusiveness.]
As I showed in my last piece in this series, prejudice and discrimination are natural, normal, and beneficial in the same way other basic principles that order human life—like private property and government—are natural, normal, and beneficial.
Here are some examples of prejudice and discrimination:
- Expecting different things of men and women, and sometimes treating them differently.
- Believing that the differences are complementary, and adapted to enduring unions that are basic to everyday life, social order, and the continuation of the species.
- Giving specific legal recognition and other support to such unions.
- Believing that different peoples—Westerners, South Asians, Jews, Irishmen, Fukienese peasants—have different qualities and ways of doing things.
- Feeling more or less attracted to one group or another, feeling most at home with one’s own, and feeling at times that there are groups one would rather avoid.
- Taking religious, ethnic, and other communal ties into account in choosing basic affiliations like who to marry and where to live and work.
Such things are obviously not wicked simply as such. To the contrary, they’ve always—until very recently—counted as normal good sense, so much so that they hardly ever surfaced as issues. And now that they’ve come under attack, they still look basic to normal social functioning.
Nonetheless, liberal public morality treats them as moral horrors that must be extirpated wherever found by all means necessary. The result is an antidiscrimination principle that takes aim at distinctions, such as sex, religion, and inherited community, that have always ordered human life.
All social arrangements that matter must be purged of any connection to natural or traditional ties and based instead on neutral bureaucratic and market criteria. We’re not allowed to take such ties into account except in narrowly personal settings and to cancel out effects they might otherwise have.
The latter exception means that people can assert their racial, religious, or sexual identities all they want if they’re nonstandard, so the assertion destabilizes arrangements, like inherited culture and the conventions that support family life, that rely on the schemes of identity traditionally dominant.
The result is that everyone who participates in public life today—including any normally active citizen—must either claim devotion to a sacred cause that makes no sense and disrupts normal social functioning or lose credit as its covert opponent.
No one today, except a few liberals looking back on the horrors of the past and celebrating the triumph of their cause, notices the radicalism of such demands. They claim to appeal to simple reason and justice, even though they impose unprecedented demands that are often odd and sometimes more than a little crazy:
- Military experience can count, but not the experience of being raised a man rather than a woman, or even the consequences of hundreds of millions of years of sexual dimorphism.
- Employers may distinguish college graduates and dropouts, or even Yale and Harvard graduates, but not Mayflower descendants and Mexican immigrants—except to the extent immigrants need a boost to help them overcome disadvantages.
- Personality, character, and loyalties can matter, but only if they have no connection to cultural background. You can insist that new employees attend diversity training, but not consider whether they are churchgoers. The latter approach might get you better employees who work more happily together, but it’s illegal.
- Schools can exclude people from teaching who have not taken useless education courses, but it’s a crushing objection to sex discrimination in the military that some women are bigger, stronger, braver, and more stoic than some men.
- An employer can demand a bachelor’s degree for non-technical entry-level positions, but not (in general) look at IQ or criminal records in deciding who to hire. Blacks come out badly on the latter criteria, and unlike educational certifications they are not amenable to affirmative action fudges. The result is that they can’t be used unless shown to be job-related by standards that are usually impractical to satisfy.
- In more and more settings it’s illegal to treat sex as relevant to family relationships. In some places—for example Massachusetts and the United Kingdom—it must be ignored even in situations like adoption that involve utterly powerless parties with no choice in the matter.
It’s said we’re free to make whatever distinctions we want in private settings, but that freedom can’t amount to much since man is social and the private and public are intertwined. In any event, truth and morality are essentially public standards, so what is morally compulsory in public life can hardly fail to transform what is thought appropriate in human relations generally. As Chai Feldblum, a law professor recently nominated to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, points out, homosexual equality requires social intolerance of private beliefs, including religious beliefs, that may negatively affect it.
Forward to inclusiveness
Radical though it is, the nondiscrimination standard has been supplemented by the still more demanding ideal of inclusiveness. To a large extent the former has been incorporated into the latter, so that the inclusiveness standard is now primary.
Inclusiveness tells us that disproportionate results are intolerable simply as such. We must “celebrate diversity,” and do what we can to increase it, with proportionate representation in all settings the goal. Social friendship—the “fraternity” of the French Revolution—must extend by force of law to all equally. The alternative is exclusion, which means denial of the human worth of those excluded.
Inclusiveness does not have quite the absolute authority that nondiscrimination does, but few are willing to oppose it directly. Almost all educated people accept it as a necessary aspiration. It seems not quite right—incomplete and even somewhat antisocial—when an institution or activity is too white or too male. If NASCAR or the Tea Parties are heavily white, that’s a big problem for them, since it demonstrates a pattern of exclusion that’s evidently accepted by those involved and so is as good as intentional.
Why the change?
So why inclusiveness? People treat it as beyond discussion. They present it as modern, exciting, creative, caring, strength-giving, and what not else. That, of course, is happy talk—sentimental, conclusory, and obviously made-up. The real grounds for it must be inferred from circumstances. Here are some that seem evident:
- It provides a way to make radical principle more palatable to the majority by changing the focus from the guilt of discrimination to the excitement of diversity.
- It makes it easier to extend civil rights coverage to groups such as new immigrants, who are harder to portray as victims of longstanding injustice than American blacks.
- It increases the efficiency and effectiveness of the civil rights laws, since proof of specific discrimination becomes unnecessary. Claims of actual discrimination are still made, and provoke righteous outrage, but there is no point rebutting them. To rebut them is to say there is something excusable about exclusion, that women and disadvantaged minorities should be treated fairly, but it’s fair for them to stay in their place and they should accept that.
- It also makes it possible to accommodate obvious cultural or biological differences without raising the awkward possibility that they might cause problems. It thus helps obviate objections to claims of discrimination based on the rationality of taking distinctions into account. Proponents of civil rights don’t want to have to deal with those objections. They are offensive, since they lend support to old prejudices and seem to “blame the victim” for his plight. Worse, they are often persuasive.
The most basic reason for the move to inclusiveness, though, is its very radicalism. Progress progresses, and inclusiveness is a natural continuation of the Civil Rights Movement. The original goals of that movement, after all, included integration as well as desegregation.
It turned out that the legal abolition of overt discrimination left most things as they were. Inequality refused to go away. That situation could not be attributed to actual differences or legitimate attitudes and practices, so it had to be blamed on hidden bigotries and ever more subtle structural injustices that required stronger and stronger measures to search out and destroy.
The fundamental problem is that sexual distinctions and cultural heritage are basic to how people connect and function. To allow either to affect human relations and social functioning, however, means discrimination. It follows that eliminating discrimination requires all practices and institutions to be radically transformed from top to bottom in an unprecedented and indeed impossible way.
That’s why the war against discrimination led so quickly to extreme measures such as quotas, sensitivity training, the redefinition of merit, bowdlerization of language, and the compulsory celebration of diversity. If you are not part of the solution then simply by living your life from day to day you are cooperating with institutionalized discrimination and making yourself part of the problem.
There are always new fronts on which to prosecute a battle that can never be won against a presumed evil that’s basic to all social life. Racism and sexism are everywhere, and even where they are irrelevant complaints about them must always be taken seriously. Members of protected classes will feel rejected if they are told their complaints have no merit, so we must accept them at face value. Indeed, in the most important sense the complaints are always justified, since they show at least that the complainant feels excluded.
The development of antidiscrimination law has thus been altogether natural given the basic assumption that discrimination must be done away with. All attempts to backtrack, or return to a supposedly purer colorblind and sex-blind standard, have failed. Once antidiscrimination is accepted its demands inevitably become ever more radical and comprehensive and take on obsessive importance throughout social life. For that reason, it is usually not useful to distinguish opposition to discrimination from full-blown inclusiveness, and I will not usually do so.
To accept as mainstream a principle as intrinsically radical as inclusiveness is to make the mainstream radical.
Gerald Ford set the gold standard for mainstream middle-American moderately conservative leadership, and he supported government benefits for same-sex couples. At the time of his funeral many thought his social views worth emphasizing for that reason.
It appears that no living former president would dispute that position. All take it for granted that sex and social order are irrelevant to each other, so there is no possible reason to treat normal and homosexual relationships differently. They are all private connections for private purposes, so there is no public interest to justify differentiating them.
How could those eminent men think otherwise? There is no good way to reject the gay agenda unless you reject the feminist agenda, and no good way to do that unless you think “stereotypes and discrimination”—acceptance of the relevance of traditional components of personal and social identity to how life is carried on—are acceptable. And from any remotely mainstream point of view, they aren’t.
We have seen that the attempt to do away with discrimination leads to inclusiveness and other features of contemporary advanced liberalism. But why try to do away with discrimination?
A matter of course
The immediate answer is that discrimination is just obviously wrong. Why treat A worse than B for some irrelevant reason, especially one he can’t do anything about?
The issue, though, is why people believe that choosing B over A is treating A badly, why sex, religion, ethnicity, and the like should be irrelevant to human connections, and why the issues are so clear-cut that disagreement shows inexcusable ignorance, stupidity, malice, or psychological disorder.
A common view among the philosophically inclined is that inclusiveness is a matter of broadening recognition of common humanity, and therefore represents fundamental moral progress.
The view is an odd one. If distinguishing “us” and “them” is a denial of common humanity, the denial is universal and unavoidable. To abolish all distinctions would turn human society into an undifferentiated and unorganized mass. Inclusiveness only covers a few human distinctions, and if those are suppressed others take their place. The Supreme Court is more inclusive than it used to be, as inclusiveness is now understood: the practical result is that it is composed exclusively of Jewish and Catholic graduates of Yale and Harvard Law School.
In fact, the view demonstrates a lack of self-knowledge possible only in a thoroughly self-satisfied ruling class. If Bob likes to associate with white Christians and Joshua likes to associate with liberal professionals from prestige universities, Joshua very likely believes he has a broader recognition of common humanity than Bob even though his standards exclude many more people than Bob’s. He might argue that Bob’s distinctions, unlike his own, are based on outmoded beliefs and irrational aversions. As we saw in my last piece, such a view is simply false. And in any case, isn’t there something odd about Joshua’s belief he is superior to Bob because he is more egalitarian?
Another explanation for the antidiscrimination principle is historical guilt: whites have treated blacks badly, so whites are suspect, and whatever problems blacks have should be attributed to them. But that explanation leaves important questions unanswered: which whites, which blacks, how badly, in what respect, where is the causality, how do other situations figure in, and what about now?
Some whites certainly did treat some blacks badly. Slavery is an evil. Enforcement of a racial caste system by extralegal violence is wrong. So, in general, are legal disabilities based on race. On the other hand, desire for separation isn’t hate, and acting on it isn’t normally injury, so white self-segregation isn’t in general a wrong.
Also, there are many things that don’t fit the grand drama of white sin and black victimization. Whites have often aided blacks, either specifically or through general public service. They have cured disease, increased life expectancy, raised living standards, provided honest and efficient government, and suppressed crime and slavery among black people. There were whites who fought to free the slaves, and whites who never had any contact with blacks. Do they all participate in white guilt?
To all appearances, blacks who live in mostly white countries are better off than those who live in mostly black countries. Those who vote with their feet confirm that judgment. If that’s so, why view blacks as victims of white society?
In any event, blacks have often acted badly themselves. There have been black slave traders and slaveholders. It’s unclear why Americans should apologize to Africans whose ancestors sold the ancestors of present-day Americans into slavery. It was a case in law brought by a black slaveholder that established the legal principle in America that black slavery is perpetual. And there are a great many black criminals who prey on both blacks and whites.
There are also black welfare and affirmative action recipients. Do benefits conferred on them count toward the debt supposedly owed by whites to blacks? Recent black visitors or immigrants and their descendants, like the President and the Attorney General, have taken advantage of those benefits. Should they apologize for taking them, or at least express gratitude to whites for providing something so unmerited?
And what does black history have to do with other groups, Mexicans for example?
In any event, the question is how to go forward. The history and present condition of blacks is supposed to impose special obligations on whites. Is it helpful though to view blacks as perpetual victims with no power over their own situation? It would seem not, if (as many say) stereotypes induce their own confirmation.
Promoters of reparations say the whole mess can be brought to a conclusion by a one-shot payment. Justice O’Connor claimed in Grutter that it will be possible to end affirmative action in 25 years. One hundred thirty-five years after the end of black slavery in America, fifty-six years after Brown v. Board, and forty-six years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, who believes it?
In any event, historical guilt can’t be the ultimate explanation, since it’s assessed so differently in different connections. As noted, blacks don’t suffer guilt for the bad conduct of blacks. Environmentalists don’t suffer it for the ravages of malaria. Nor do liberals or progressives suffer it for atrocities committed by the Jacobins, Bolsheviks, Maoists, or Khmer Rouge.
For many people the strongest motive for supporting inclusiveness is avoidance of what gives offense. To oppose it is to allow and indeed cause some people to feel excluded.
Avoiding offense and assuring people they are wanted are specifically feminine impulses, and the feminization of public discussion today no doubt explains part of the need people feel to avoid hurtfulness.
That can’t be the ultimate explanation, of course. Feminization results from other social changes, for example the growth of ready-made bureaucratic structures that suppress the masculine will to order in favor of the feminine emphasis on deference, following rules, and making people comfortable within an order others have created.
An emphasis on avoiding hurtfulness is at home in a society in which all basic decisions have already been made, in the case of today’s society through judicial, bureaucratic, and commercial institutions thought to embody neutral rationality. In such a setting politics disappears, and personal concerns like making everyone feel comfortable and wanted take on prominence.
On the whole, however, the need to avoid hurtfulness seems more a useful rhetorical ploy than a genuine reason for inclusiveness. It disables opposition, since to object is itself hurtful. For that reason it’s especially useful in academic settings: it makes debate impossible and arguments and truth irrelevant.
Making hurtfulness the issue also does away with standards of evidence and limits on what can reasonably be demanded. People who look for slights and abusive conduct will find it everywhere, and there is no limit to what may have to be done to satisfy them.
Colin Powell thought he was a victim of racial profiling at National Airport when he was not recognized immediately as national security advisor. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. felt threatened by racist violence when a white policeman came to his door and asked to speak with him. If the hurt feelings suffered by those extremely privileged men proves racism then there is no limit to what may have to be done to set things right.
Claims of insult are often enough colorable, of course, since beneficiaries of inclusiveness often suffer slights. Everyone who gets out and mixes with other people suffers slights. And compulsion is needed only where people would not otherwise feel at home, and where that’s the problem it’s more likely to exacerbate than rectify matters. Inclusiveness makes social life infinitely fraught, and “hurtfulness” as a standard turns that condition into an argument for even more inclusiveness. From a proponent’s standpoint, what’s not to like?
Men need religion, and we live in a secular age, so what we have are secular religions. One reason for inclusiveness, then, is that it provides a secularized vision of cosmic unity.
A feature of such visions is that they require an orientation to what transcends us. Christ said we’re brothers because we’re children of God. For that reason the Christian vision of human unity has practical limits, since our grip on God’s presence is shaky at best. Nor can a sense of God’s presence be forced or viewed as a political movement. As Christ said, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
An attempt to transpose the Christian vision to a secular context and make it a legal structure requires a secular and legal equivalent to transcendent divinity that trumps all distinctions among men and makes them unnecessary. As a practical matter, it requires a society in which everyone is equal and there are no individual or local responsibilities, that is, a totally administered society run by guardians who take care of us if we were small children. And that’s what we see developing all around us.
Benefits hoped for
It’s often argued that multiculturalism—diversity combined with inclusiveness—is good because it makes us strong, vibrant, and creative. How it does so isn’t made altogether clear, but one thought, it appears, is that strength, vibrancy, and creativity come from unity in diversity, and multiculturalism gives us maximum unity in maximum diversity.
Unity in diversity is a good thing, but it’s a complex business that can’t be imposed from above or achieved by formula. Society at large tries to maintain order, its members and divisions try to maintain particularity, and the struggle between the two brings about the complex, imperfect, and changing unity in diversity that gives social life the qualities multiculturalism claims for itself.
Multiculturalism tries to abolish the struggle and imperfections by providing a solution applicable in every setting. The rigor of the solution—and its radical opposition to normal human conduct—requires a system managed from the top down with very little local discretion. If people were allowed to work out matters on the spot power differentials would mean oppression, and local differences would mean regional inequalities.
The result is that multiculturalism demands a system far too monolithic for life and creativity. Thought, action, and social organization are forced into a single scheme. They become crude, superficial, and in the end nonfunctional.
Effects on social life
Multiculturalism combines “diversity”—emphasis on differences—with “inclusiveness”—the attempt to bring about unity by suppressing their relevance. The first creates disunity, the second suppresses the natural ways people connect and function. The result is a chaotic hodge-podge forced into an extraneous order by bureaucracy, therapy, propaganda, and money.
Multiculturalism does not say “let there be many sorts of things that go their own way” but rather “let there be many sorts of things that are not allowed to differ significantly.” Differences in value and context can’t be recognized or given effect, so their significance disappears from social life. Such a state of affairs isn’t “vibrant” but boring, bureaucratic, crass, crude, clueless, and arbitrary.
It’s certainly not creative. In part, diversity is uncreative because it can be. It offers an array of possibilities that are already worked out and so make it possible to borrow rather than create. Instead of varying or improving your cooking you order in from an ethnic restaurant. (Steve Sailer makes that point somewhere.)
More basically, though, creativity requires a setting that’s coherent as well as open-ended to provide materials and offer possibilities. Multiculturalism in contrast creates a mixture of chaos and tyranny. There is no Shakespeare of pidgin, babble, or bureaucratese, but in a diverse, inclusive, multicultural society, that’s what’s on offer.
In addition, the higher levels of creativity require a transcendent reference point that enables us to understand the world as meaningful and see our activities in a setting that makes them comprehensible and worthwhile. Such a reference point depends on a coherent religious tradition, but liberal society programmatically opposes such a thing.
Instead, it insists on reference points for social order that are this-worldly and therefore controllable—bureaucracy, certified expertise, money. The result is to exile creativity from public life. It has no public legitimacy but hides out in the minor arts whose lack of importance allows them to aspire to the good, beautiful, and true.
The multiculturalism of fear
If someone doubts the arguments for inclusiveness I’ve mentioned above, the evils threatened by discrimination are thought to decide the issue.
Public discussion now presumes that discrimination is irrational and immensely damaging. It’s bad for excluder and excluded. It destroys social efficiency and harmony. It leads to Auschwitz.
Such claims, by and large, are evidently false. Social efficiency and harmony are aided by distinct roles, accepted standards and boundaries, and settled relationships of authority. Those things help maintain stability and the social distances and connections that let people live in a way that fits their particularities and fosters both community and actual diversity. Discrimination, in general, is therefore a social good fundamental to every possible social order.
Nor do discrimination and exclusion on grounds now forbidden have any more connection to oppression, radical evil, or political disaster than discrimination on other grounds. All human institutions and societies exclude and discriminate. They could not exist otherwise. Why are the grounds now forbidden so uniquely bad?
The Holocaust was an instance of discrimination on the basis of race. It was also an instance of discrimination on the basis of political power, bureaucratic position, ideological myth, and revolutionary ideology. The latter seem better descriptions, since they bring out the relation between the Holocaust and other recent instances of industrialized mass murder.
The Left has the habit of attributing all evil to whatever perennial feature of life they currently want to do away with: religion, the family, ethnic distinctions, private property, the profit motive. In each case the attack can be put in the form of an attack on a distinction that favors some people over others and often leads to resentment, hatred, and bad conduct: true religion and false, my family and yours, my property and the property of others.
The problem is that any principle of social order can be described in such terms: my knowledge and your ignorance, my reason and your irrationality, my public spirit and your greed and selfishness, my justice and tolerance and your oppression and bigotry. The grossest forms of tyranny have repeatedly been justified by reference to just such oppositions.
In reality, what the Left has always attacked is any autonomous principle of social functioning that stands in the way of total administrative control over all social reality and thus the absolute power of the Left itself. There is no reason to accept and every reason to reject the demand for the abolition of such principles of resistance. That demand has repeatedly led to social degradation and mass murder. Why give it presumptive moral authority?
Danger of extremes
Proponents of antidiscrimination laws emphasize the extremes to which intergroup oppression can go: slavery, genocide, and so on.
A basic problem with that line of argument is that such laws do nothing to eliminate the power of some over others. By replacing informal traditional arrangements by central control, they tend if anything to increase power’s one-sidedness. Nor do they reduce the hatred and contempt of those on one side of a basic divide for those on the other: if you doubt the point, just watch the talking heads on MSNBC. So it isn’t clear why they would reduce the risk of extreme abuse. Why would Scientific Socialists be kinder and gentler than the Master Race?
Another problem is that laws against discrimination won’t be enacted if conditions make widespread serious oppression likely, and if they exist won’t be enforced. The problem in Germany in 1933-1945 or Rwanda in 1994 was not the failure to pass antidiscrimination laws in 1930 or 1990. There were draconian laws against antisemitism in the Soviet Union, but that did not keep Stalin from planning the destruction of the Jews.
Putting genuine oppression aside and turning to voluntary private discrimination, it seems clear that in a self-governing society general antidiscrimination laws would exist only where they are not needed. If most people don’t like to deal with Iowans, laws protecting them from discrimination won’t be adopted. If there are enough people who don’t mind associating with them for the laws to pass, they won’t be in much economic danger in any event. Instead of a thousand possible employers they might have 600, who will hire them because they want them rather than on compulsion. Their wages might be somewhat depressed because they have less choice among employers, but since that would make them more attractive as employees it isn’t likely the effect would be very great.
Is the remedy a remedy?
The usual objection to such arguments is that they lack reality. They are answered with anecdotes regarding the harsh realities of racism and the like, and claims that civil rights laws brought obvious radical improvements otherwise unattainable.
A lot of what passes for reality in this area is invented or at best tendentiously interpreted. It’s normal for government to attempt to mitigate abuses arising out of basic human tendencies and institutions. The latter include distinctions based on sex, culture, ethnicity, and religion. Examples of legitimate measures might include women’s protective legislation and laws against desecration of places of worship.
Such attempts to deal with abuses are sometimes beneficial, but they should be viewed no less critically than other government measures. Discrimination as such isn’t an abuse, and stated intentions don’t substitute for actual effects. Government measures should be viewed especially critically when they attempt to change basic ways in which society functions, since such attempts are far more likely to disorder than improve human relations.
The point to consider is the extent to which antidiscrimination laws do something helpful, or cause damage, that would not otherwise come about. We have seen that they often do damage, and it’s doubtful they do much good.
It appears that most of their claimed benefits, at least the ones that are truly beneficial, would have occurred anyway. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted after a long period of black progress, and during the early stages of a vast movement of social transformation that soon led to large-scale rejection of traditional social arrangements of all kinds. It’s obvious that movement would have had a profound effect on racial attitudes and practices even if its principles had not been made legally compulsory. And in any case, black economic and social progress slowed down to the point of stagnation after 1970. With that in mind, what are the grounds for praising the effects of the Civil Rights Act?
Multiformity of evil
Opponents of antidiscrimination laws need not claim that without inclusiveness all would be well. There are many other problems in the world. Further, it’s quite true that emphasis on human differences and particular connections sometimes lead to catastrophe.
The same can be said about emphasis on sex, money, power, justice, peace, virtue, and rationality. An unbalanced concern with any of those things can be destructive. That does not mean that they are all evil and should wiped out. It means that they need to be seen as part of the overall system of human life so their function and implications can be limited, regularized, and seen in perspective.
The answer to the genuine risk of disaster isn’t a utopian scheme in which nothing can go wrong. It’s the attempt to foresee and fend off whatever disaster seems currently most threatening. Life has risks, and we do better to accept it as it is.
One enduring feature of life is that there are no perfect solutions. Another is discrimination. All social institutions differentiate persons and cases, so all social institutions discriminate. Sex and ethnic culture are basic to social functioning, so all societies engage in sex and ethnic discrimination.
For that reason, “racism,” “sexism,” and “homophobia” don’t explain atrocity. The existence of discrimination did not cause Auschwitz any more than the existence of government did. While the Nazis were racist, sexist, and homophobic, so were those who defeated them. The opponents of the Nazis who were most progressive, humanitarian, and universalist in their stated ideals were as murderous as the Nazis themselves.
Outbursts of mass murder are exceptional events and need to be explained by reference to something unusual. Since atrocities are committed in the name of equality as well as inequality, they are no more caused by discrimination than by its rejection.
On the whole, it seems most sensible to explain them by reference to fanaticism—by violent rejection of some basic feature of life and the determination to extirpate it—rather than by the direction the fanaticism happens to take.
Both universality and particularity are necessary dimensions of human life. The catastrophes of the 20th century resulted not from accepting both but from absolute rejection of one or the other. Rejecting the universality of human nature led to Auschwitz, but rejecting the particularity of private property led to the Gulags and the suppression of the kulaks.
Evil isn’t an essence that can be identified, cornered, and wiped out. It’s a disorder, and a structure as complex as human life can be disordered in many ways. The attempt to identify evil with some one principle, so that it can be extirpated, leads to an uncomprehending extremism that disorders whatever it touches and becomes itself a principle of evil.
That’s especially true when the principle identified as the source of all evil is intrinsic to human life, like private property, like the existence of groups who don’t fit a general social scheme, and like discrimination based on sex and cultural heritage. The intolerant utopianism of the civil rights movement and its progeny has a great deal in common with the tendencies that led to the political catastrophes of the last century. To view it as an expression of praiseworthy idealism is a error.
Social and technological causes
Stories about harm caused by discrimination and benefits flowing from inclusiveness are told for a purpose, and respectable people don’t examine them critically. Even when they turn out to be false they are thought to portray the essential truth that diversity is good and traditional order, which discriminates on grounds of sex, ethnic affiliation, and so on, is pathological. Even when their literal falsity is exposed their symbolic truth remains.
Why such determined support, if the antidiscrimination principle has so little to be said for it? Why does it seem that myths of racial and sexual oppression must be true, and should be treated as true even if false?
Functions of multiculturalism
I have suggested that inclusiveness favors some social classes and institutions over others, so the self-interest of the powerful certainly accounts for much of its support.
The destruction of settled informal standards in the name of inclusiveness makes it much more difficult for traditional institutions, informal arrangements, and ordinary people to function or even comprehend what is expected of them, and so helps make expertise, bureaucracy, and money the only possible principles of order. That’s good for experts, bureaucrats, and people with money.
Inclusiveness also helps suppress inconvenient issues. In order for an inclusive and diverse society to present itself as free, equal, and democratic in the face of radically opposed and equally legitimate tendencies of thought, habit, and feeling, those tendencies have to be neutered and kept safely irrelevant to any real issue.
“Celebrating diversity” does so in the most soothing way possible by insisting on the equal validity of each tendency. The practical result, of course, is that they all become equally irrelevant to how social life is carried on. Even the confusions of multiculturalism help in that respect by making coherent discussion impossible even in principle.
However, bare self-interest is not enough to support something as fundamental as the current trend toward inclusiveness. It must also be rooted in fundamental ways of understanding society and the world.
To some extent the appeal of inclusiveness results from the rise of technological society. That development makes discrimination and exclusion seem irrational and threatening, their legal eradication practical and reasonable.
Mass media, mass markets, mass education, the welfare state, and other large impersonal arrangements simplify the principles that govern social relations. They make the social order seem a straightforward universal structure, like an organizational chart, to be judged and reconfigured by reference to universal standards.
Electronic entertainment, fast food, and the automobile replace family life. Easy travel, mass tourism, and global markets dissolve stable local patterns in favor of individual choice within a universal abstract order that treats everything as interchangeable with everything else.
Television and the Internet and abolish privacy, particularity, and settled connections. Mass electronic communications fragment experience, put every fragment on a par, make every point on earth equally present to every other point, and let everyone reassemble it however he wants. The ability to do so becomes the background of public discussion.
And pop culture and advertising inculcate self-indulgence and consumerism as all-sufficient ideals of life.
Under such circumstances, every social connection and status comes to seem arbitrary. TV helped bring on the civil rights revolution by putting blacks and whites in the same living room and making social issues seem a matter of adjusting domestic grievances. The internet, which makes everything in the world equally present to everything else, goes farther, eliminating privacy and separation and so dissolving distinctions of sex and nationality.
The changed understanding of social order has led to the discrediting of old norms. Traditional sexual standards are an obvious example. What were once understood as standards that supported stable local patterns that facilitated individual and local self-government are now considered irrational violations of a universal abstract structure that favor some and burden others for no good reason.
The current conception of tolerance illustrates the resulting view of social life. Tolerance originally meant putting up with people who transgress traditional norms. It was a practical virtue, required because the world isn’t perfect and attempts to force perfection are destructive. Now it means celebrating transgressors, because they champion freedom from norms now viewed as illegitimate. Failure to celebrate them would even be oppressive, since it would put transgressors at a disadvantage because of traditional norms’ residual effects. No well-intentioned person, it is thought, could accept such a result.
The form of society resulting from technology weakens human connections and so isolates people and puts them at the mercy of large impersonal structures. Under such circumstances it’s natural for them to want security against abuse, and to look to government to provide it. The guarantee of equal treatment seems to do the job. Any other standard seems unreliable, because it would be at odds with the nature of a society that denies all substantive principles of social cohesion.
The connection between political outlook and personal connectedness indicates the strength of such influences. The political divisions in American society are mostly a matter of differences in outlook between the married and unmarried, churchgoers and the secular, professionals and non-professionals, and big-city (“Blue State”) people and their somewhat more contrified cousins. In each case, those connected to particular individuals, small-scale structures, and transcendent loyalties are conservative, those connected to universal this-worldly structures are liberal.
Although inclusiveness assuages particular worries brought on by tendencies in present-day life, it makes the underlying problem worse. It increases the impersonality of institutions, the pervasiveness and inhumanity of bureaucracy, and the isolation of individuals and their total dependence on state and market. The stability of inclusiveness, like that of modern social organization in general, is that it feeds the problems that bring it forth. It’s a black hole we have fallen into and can’t escape. Unlike astronomical black holes, though, from which information can’t escape, it’s one thought can’t enter.