Wednesday, February 16, 2005

A plea for clarity

Today the Collegian came out against Affirmative Action, citing "reverse-discrimination:"


Affirmative action was once needed to ensure everyone in America was getting a fair break.

But as society has progressed, the policy has become a form of reverse discrimination with jobs potentially going to less qualified applicants because of their minority status.

I don't focus on the "reverse-discrimination" angle when I argue against affirmative action because it seems the least persuasive argument against affirmative action to me. It conjures up images of angry white males and many liberals immediately tune out when it is mentioned.

Plus, it assumes that the phrase "discrimination" is inherently bad. But discrimination just means "The ability to see or make fine distinctions" or "to judge wisely," which would actually seem to be a good trait. Rather, for discrimination to be bad it must of a certain type, such as "racial discrimination," which is what the Collegian means in the excerpt above. Is this just semantic nit-picking, though, to insist on the distinguishment between "discrimination" and "racial discrimination?" I mean, people know what is being referred to when "reverse-discrimination" is used, right? So what's it matter?

Clarity in wording is vitally necessary in the "diversity" debate. Take the word "diversity"--anymore, it has no meaning, except that it is undeniably a social good. Whenever I talk with someone about diversity, I refuse to let them use that word, unless they further clarify it as "racial diversity" or talk about the specific program in question, not just allude vaguely to "diversity" in general. If allowed to just speak about "diversity" a person can shift through any number of different definitions of the word--and, as a side note, its always assumed that tolerance is an inherent part of diversity. We need to insist on the same clarity of thought when using "discrimination"--a word that, in itself, is morally neutral.

And, as I said, I don't focus on the "reverse-discrimination" angle. The most compelling case against affirmative action is that it actually harms those it purports to benefit. Richard Sander, a Liberal law professor at UCLA, published an article in the Stanford Law Review about a study of law school data that showed affirmative action actually leads to less black lawyers, because it sends black people to schools that they aren't qualified for. These blacks then have a high dropout rate. Without affirmative action, these black people would have went to a less difficult school and been more likely to get their law degree.

Also, affirmative action calls into question the achievement of all blacks and demeans them as people. Justice Clarence Thomas regularly has his intelligence and qualifications called into question by liberals, just because he is thought to have benefited from affirmative action.

"Reverse-discrimination" is also not the best argument because affirmative action has always been a form of "reverse-discrimination." Affirmative action operates more or less the same way it used to, so it's not like it all of the sudden became "reverse-discrimination." The argument should be not whether reverse-discrimination is bad, because insofar as it is "racial discrimination" itis always bad. Rather, the argument should be about whether racial discrimination is justified based on its end result of a more racially representative hiring outcome. This is where one must begin arguing that some incoherent notion of "diversity" is not a valid goal.

The Collegian delves into the "diversity" morass with a confusing paragraph:

There’s no argument that a more diverse company or university will generate more perspectives and ideas – enriching the experience and quality of life for everyone involved. But diversity can be achieved without such a policy.
I totally agree with the statement that there's "no argument that a more diverse company or university will generate more perspectives and ideas"--there is no argument, it was just asserted by Justice Powell in Regents of California v. Bakke, and solidifed by Justice O'Connor's reiteration of it in Grutter v. Bollinger. No one has actually argued for it--it's just a central tenet of "diversity" that it's beneficial, studies to the contrary be damned.

But I think the Collegian meant to say that there's no argument that diversity doesn't lead to more perspectives and ideas (although even then they should have more precisely said that there's no good argument.)

But again, for this statement to even begin making any sense, "diversity" has to be defined. Otherwise, I'll just assume that "diversity" means "difference" in which case the above sentence is tautological: "difference causes difference of perspective"? Well, duh! But "diversity" doesn't mean "difference" when it is used on campus to refer to the specific multiculuralist agenda, so it's impossible to say what the Collegian is getting at when they say "diversity" here.

Still, the Collegian asserts that "diversity" (whatever that may be) "can be achieved without such a policy." They continue on later with an utterly laughable and internally contradicted mess of a paragraph:
Employers should attempt to recruit applicants of all races, genders and perspectives, but then make a decision based on skills and job experience
The first part of that sentence cannot coexist with the latter. Either employers should attempt to hire minorities, or they should make a decision based on skills and job experience. It's impossible to do both. Did the Collegian mean to say that the "attempt" to hire minorities should be no more than a perfunctory acknowledgment of "diversity" and that qualifications should reign supreme? Or did they mean the inverse of that, that qualifications are subordinate to the need to "attempt" to hire "diverse" people? The Collegian boxed itself in by acknowledging at the outset that "diversity" was an uncontested and uncontestable social good.

But if you thought that previous paragraph was contradictory, take a look at this beauty:
We still have a long way to go and there’s no denying that the past is hard to overcome. But, it’s time to move away from discrimination policies and toward diversity goals that are fair to all people. [emphasis mine]
That last sentece contains two massive contradictions. First, what is the difference between "discrimination policies" and "diversity goals?" It's impossible to tell because "diversity" was never defined. But I fail to see how "diversity goals" could mean anything if they don't ential something like affirmative action. Are they just a pointless goal with no hope of being fulfilled? And anyways, "it's time to move...toward diversity goals"? What do they think we've been doing this whole time? Did the Collegian think that affirmative action just needed a new euphemism?

If "diversity goals" have any meaning or force then they would require some sort of affirmative action--that's how you meet goals, by trying, not be swearing off affirmative action and then just hoping it happens. No; if diversity is a goal, then it has to be fostered by some type of discriminatory action. This leads to another contradiction in that last sentence, that "diversity goals are fair to all people." By the Collegians own metric (affirmative action is reverse-discrimination and reverse-discrimination is unfair), "diversity goals" would be, and are, unfair because they would entail reverse-discrimination.

This whole skein of contradictions and assertions leads me back to my original point: what the "diversity" debate needs the most is clarity of thought. Words like "diversity" only confuse the debate leading to the tortured reasoning exhibited in the Collegian editorial above. No one really gives a second thought about the desirability of "diversity" because it's indoctrinated into college students from the moment they get into college. Professors who should be teaching students to think critically and analytically mindlessly parrot the dumb mantra of diversity.

Students don't queston "diversity" not only because they've had it drilled into them, but because they don't know how to do it without sounding small-minded or racist. It took me a long time to get to the point where I was willing to say that I disliked "diversity." I read and reread Peter Woods "Diversity: Invention of a Concept," Dinesh D'Souzas "Illiberal Education," Richard Bernsteins "A Dictatorship of Virtue" and myriad other books, so I could properly frame the debate. Its a hard subject to grapple with, and not made any easier by the obfuscatory rhetoric used by diversophiles.

Sometime later, I hope to post a pithy guide to debating diversity--a few hints and suggestions on how to frame the debate and cut through the fog of diversityspeak. But I've got to write a brief for Van Orden v. Perry before next Wednesday for Constitutional Law 2, and I'll have to prepare for oral arguments for next Friday), so it'll probably be light to nonexistent posting until then. I'm defending the presence of a ten commandments monument in a public area near some gov't buildings which should be a cinch, but it still takes a lot of busy work to get all the relevant precedents and research done.

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