Sunday, July 30, 2006

Not having your cake, and eating it too

If you dip at any depth into the sludgy swamp of diversity literature, rather than just casting the occasional scornful, contorted grimace at the iridescent shining on its fetid surface, you'll come across the phrase "social construction."

Diversiphiles deny that race is a scientifically valid concept. That is, genetic variation within racial groups is just as great as genetic variation between racial groups, so the whole idea of a genetic basis for race is wrong.

Race has no genetic component?...which explains why white people often give birth to black infants with epicanthic eye folds, and a predisposition to Tay Sachs disease.

But I don't want to dispute the underlying science here--maybe race isn't a valid genetic concept.

Diversiphiles maintain this. There is no genetic basis for race. Therefore, any distinction based on race is a distinction based on a fiction. However, diversiphiles themselves wish to make numerous distinctions based on race--they realize they need the concept of race to enact their favored brand of identity politics.

Thus, social construction. Social construction holds that reality is socially constructed. That is, what is subjectively true among a group of people attains an objective reality for that group--or is just as good as objectivley true. Translated: if enough people believe something, then its true. That is social construction.

Now, the difficulty I come up against in criticizing this view is that I don't know how deeply diversiphiles hold it.

And I'm not just talking about the peculiar chameleon quality of diversity, quickly changing shades in response to attacks from one direction, and then changing back again to respond to attacks from anohter direction. On one level, diversity simply takes whatever premises are necessary to further its pre-assumed multiculturalist goals. So, in this way, diversiphiles are social constructionists when this helps them fend off attacks from detractors, and not social constructionists when being so constitutes a liability.

But, as I said, it is not this chamelon-quality that I'm worried about right now concerning diversity's relation to social constructionism. That's just a general worry. Rather, I wander: are they saying that the truth is socially constructed, or only that we should treat as the truth whatever is the consensus of a certain people?

But where diversity sits is a vital concern. Social constructionism, which diversity cheerfully and unreflectively assumes, is a very extreme and nihilistic epistemological position--or at least it seems so to me. If truth is socially constructed then anything believed by enough people is true. The tools of truth cease to be quality of rational argument (except insofar as this can be used in favor of a preconceived conclusion, and with an ironic disregard for capital-t "Truth") and become rhetoric, sophistry, propaganda.

It may be that social construction is a valid philosophical hypothesis--it was discussed very briefly in an epistemology class I took--but it is a controversial one, and needs to be argued, not assumed. Or, it it is assumed, reservations need to be noted and the fact of its assumption, highlighted. it shouldn't be assumed under dark of night, casually, stealthily, like its no-big-deal.

Of course, diversiphiles could just be making the commonsense observation that race is believed by a lot of people and therefore...race is believed by a lot of people. It will be treated as a truth claim in the name of neutrality so we can proceed with the business of analyzing the idea of race as such. But, if this is the case, if it is treated provisionally as true for methodological reasons, then diversiphiles have lost the ground for making positive arguments that race is not genetic. Instead, as long as enough people believe that race is genetic, then this becomes the socially constructed truth.

However, as diversiphiles argue against some social conceptions of race, while arguing for others, the nonneutrality and partisan nature of diversity is evident. Diversiphiles, since they advance a particular view of the social construction of race above others aside from what people actually believe (in a sense, telling people what people believe) they are engaged in the activity of creating "truth." Diversity, on this interpretation, is the ideological re-encoding of the concept of race. It is necessarily partisan and necessarily invested in perpetuating the concept of race, rather than dissolving it.

It shouldn't come as any surprsie that diversity is inherently ideological. And, this is not necessarily a problem. However, given its ideological nature, it should be acknowledge as such, and not passed off as the neutral, God's-honest-truth, to naive, incoming freshman, who are forced into taking some type of diversity class. Its biases need to be acknowledged.

Social constructionism. Through it, diversiphiles can deny the empirical existence of race and then re-encode the concept with whatever content they think will aid in racial "liberation"--content which, as has been observed, is contrary to libertarian assumptions of individuality and natural right assumptions of group-transcending objectively valid, universal rights.


The social constructionism of diversity is like denying that the cake exists, but then insisting that we have to eat it anyways.

Kudos on another level of incoherency, diversity--your po-mo acrobatics never cease to amaze me.


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