Diversity was once just another word. Now it's a fighting word. One of the biggest problems with diversity is that it won't let you alone. Corporations everywhere have force-marched middle managers into training sessions led by "diversity trainers." Most people already knew that the basic idea beneath diversity emerged about 2,000 years ago under two rubrics: Love thy neighbor as thyself, and Do unto others as they would do unto you. Then suddenly this got rewritten as "appreciating differentness."Diversity was a watchword when I was in college at teh University of Maryland in the mid-1990's. Even then I saw it as a sham, particularly in light of my experience in the Navy. Despite all the efforts of the school to provide a diverse community, the student body self-segregated into various groups and study sections. Women's studies, black studies, Jewish studies, etc. all backed up by various student unions all contributed to an atmosphere that while statistically diverse was socially more segmented than you might believe.
George Bernard Shaw is said to have demurred from the Golden Rule. "Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you," Shaw advised. "Their tastes may not be the same." No such voluntary opt-out is permissible in our time. The parsons of the press made diversity into a secular commandment; do a word-search of "diversity" in a broad database of newspapers and it might come up 250 million times. In the Supreme Court term just ended, the Seattle schools integration case led most of the justices into arcane discussions of diversity's legal compulsions. More recently it emerged that the University of Michigan, a virtual Mecca of diversity, announced it would install Muslim footbaths in bathrooms, causing a fight.
Now comes word that diversity as an ideology may be dead, or not worth saving. Robert Putnam, the Harvard don who in the controversial bestseller "Bowling Alone" announced the decline of communal-mindedness amid the rise of home-alone couch potatoes, has completed a mammoth study of the effects of ethnic diversity on communities. His researchers did 30,000 interviews in 41 U.S. communities. Short version: People in ethnically diverse settings don't want to have much of anything to do with each other. "Social capital" erodes. Diversity has a downside.
Prof. Putnam isn't exactly hiding these volatile conclusions, though he did introduce them in a journal called Scandinavian Political Studies. A great believer in the efficacy of what social scientists call "reciprocity," he wasn't happy with what he found but didn't mince words describing the results:
"Inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television." The diversity nightmare gets worse: They have little confidence in the "local news media." This after all we've done for them.
Colleagues and diversity advocates, disturbed at what was emerging from the study, suggested alternative explanations. Prof. Putnam and his team re-ran the data every which way from Sunday and the result was always the same: Diverse communities may be yeasty and even creative, but trust, altruism and community cooperation fall. He calls it "hunkering down."
Academically, the school tried to inculcate diversity by having a few core courses that everyone had to take and tried to provide a baseline experience in the form of a common book. But in reality the effort by Maryland was shoddy and haphazrd.
Given the proximity of the two experiences, it was very easy to compare the Navy as a social institution and a college campus. In the Navy, there was an overriding mission--that of defending the United States. In college, there could have been an overriding mission--education, but that mission was sacrified upon the alter of political correctness. Common subjects were ignored to allow for a "diverse" set of academic experiences, which of course led to separation and segregation. For example, a literature class was a required course, but there were so many alternatives for that literature class, from African literature, to Asian literature, to women's lit, etc, that in my class of 35 students I could count on one hand the number of minorities in my class, which was a survey course with texts from several different times and cultures.
The Navy had something else that provides a clue to how it is able to cope with a diverse (there is that word again) population. Boot camp.
Boot camp is the great equalizer in the Navy. At the time I joined the Navy there were three boot camp locations, San Diego (where I went), Great Lakes (near Chicago) and Orlando. While each may have had little quirks, for the most part the experience was the same no matter where you went. Seemingly endless hours of drilling, class work, cleaning and essentially learning to function as a unit. While the Navy had a mechanism, the chain of command, for enforcing action, the common experience of boot camp made each person, for the most, part an equal part of a massive organization.
Colleges no longer support that common experience. Students are not subjected to the same rigorous set of activities, but are given so many choices that it is possible that a person can spent their entire college careers with another person in the exact same major and never see that person in any class.
Diversity has been beaten into us so hard that we feel that we can no longer find the words or strength to fight back. There is no longer any shared sense of community. The assimilation process no longer operates to equalize the experiences of immigrants. Or so it seems.
Putnam did note on massive equalizing institution and it will scare the pants off liberals--evangelical megachurches. From Henninger's piece:
Christian evangelical megachurches. "In many large evangelical congregations," he writes, "the participants constituted the largest thoroughly integrated gatherings we have ever witnessed." This, too, is an inconvenient truth. They do it with low entry barriers to the church and by offering lots of little groups to join inside the larger "shared identity" of the church. A Harvard prof finds good in evangelical megachurches. Send this man a suit of body armor!Henninger thinks the middle class will serve as the great equalizer, the melting pot of American lore.
I tend to think a properly functioning, academically sound public education system will do so. But first we would have to divest ourselves of the silly notions of diversity as an enviable trait and embrace hard science, common social studies, solid reading, writing and math skills and the means for effecting assimilation. In the same way that Navy boot camp provides for a common backdrop and the basic skills of Navy life, so too will an academically sound education system provide everyone with the same common expereince necessary for building a community.