Stanford Review - Archive - Volume XXVII - Issue 3 - Opinion
True Diversity is Based on Individualism
by Alex Robbins
I suppose some conservatives might disagree with me on this, but ethnic diversity really is a goal our school ought to pursue. It means all that stuff you've heard it means: bringing together people of different backgrounds, allowing students to interact with a cross-section of American (and global) society, creating a more cosmopolitan atmosphere, and fostering understanding and respect.
Perhaps these last two are the most critical: I have already argued with a number of my friends about the extent to which we have a moral obligation to the Afghani people as we conduct our war against the Taliban, and especially after we win it. Dismissing the death of a five-year old Afghani girl's entire family becomes much harder when you start to realize that she really is real--that one day she might easily be here, an American like the rest of us, our son's girlfriend or our daughter's roommate, like so many others from so many war-torn places before her. Dismissing another group--whether ethnic, cultural, or any other group--becomes considerably more difficult when you can start to think of them as corporeal human beings and not statistics that live in other countries or in ghettos.
So you're not going to get an argument from me attacking the importance of diversity. What I do want to address is a few instances of how the concept is abused around here.
Has it ever occurred to anybody that affirmative action, as currently defined and implemented, is also racist against those who directly benefit from it--how it strips them of their individual identities and replaces them with boxes on the personal information pages of their college applications?
Now, admittedly, if the only thing admissions officers had in front of them were responses to the "race/ethnicity" box, and if their single goal were a vaguely defined "diversity," then it would make sense to try to discriminate on the basis of race. After all, it's a good bet that being a minority in this country gives one a certain outlook, a certain understanding of the world, that we probably won't find in a white person from Omaha. There is a correlation--a strong one--between being a different color than those around you and looking at the world somewhat differently. For example, those in the majority are much less likely to understand what it feels like to be routinely stared at when they enter a restaurant. Although this example applies as much to a white kid in Harlem as it does a Sikh in Nebraska, we can still reasonably speculate that it applies more often to groups of people that are minorities throughout the country as a whole. On this level racial discrimination in admissions certainly seems logical enough.
What if, however, our single admissions criterion were high SAT scores? By the same logic, though admittedly with a weaker correlation, we could still base our decisions on race; but how many of you would like it if the admissions department discriminated decidedly in favor of Asians, allowed some white people in, and maybe took in one or two representatives of everyone else. Now, I'm not well versed enough in statistics to get the optimal ratios from on SAT score data and racial correlations, but I guarantee you this is not an admissions policy I would support. It's abhorrent.
It's wrong for the same reason that affirmative action is wrong: it's wrong because instead of bothering to get information about people, we've decided to just make assumptions about them based on the literally most superficial of factors: the color of their skin, or at least the name of the ethnic group of humans in the world to whom they are most closely related. No one is going to seriously argue that the Irish in this country aren't more likely to be supporters of a murdering, terrorist organization known as the IRA than are citizens of English descent.
The reason we ought not racially discriminate isn't that race can never be a predictive factor. We ought not do it because it wrongs those people whom we evaluate, whom we judge without even bothering to learn anything about them as individuals. It is wrong because it strips a person of individuality and replaces it with some sort of vaguely defined, higher, macro-identification. This follows a philosophical thread of collectivism whose existence has plagued this last century and which continues to haunt the human race across the globe, from Macedonia to Afghanistan to the United States.
Thanks to California Proposition 209, our rival across the bay has finally dumped this collectivist approach. They still consider the applicant's experiences, backgrounds, viewpoints and personality as revealed in the essay section; they just no longer hobble themselves to that little piece of soft-bigotry (to steal a phrase from Condoleeza Rice) found in the race/ethnicity box.
The United States is a great--the great--country not because of any intrinsic superiority of our people, but rather because of our principles. We are different because the vast majority of our society accepts that we must push beyond collectivism as a lazy and pernicious formula for identity. I am not a white male who can be more narrowly defined as "Alex." I am an individual with certain characteristics, true, but existence does not precede essence.
Whatever the merits of the above argument, we've all already heard the argument that affirmative action is racist, and many of you have probably made up your mind on it. There are other ways in which the idea of diversity is being betrayed around us, however, some of which are far more frightening and insidious.
In particular we need to take a personal stand against not only the anti-Muslim sentiment that has arisen in the wake of September 11, but also the anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism from the some of the more extreme radicals. Both the left and the right need to excommunicate those who preach hatred: Falwell's brand of anti-Americanism (blaming Sept.11 on the ACLU, abortionists, and paganists) isn't any more justified than the argument that everyone up there in the World Trade Center was tainted by the capitalist empire and had theirs coming. Our silence implicitly condones this lunacy and hate, and we must stop it, no matter which side of the political spectrum the bigotry comes from.
Now, by no means does this mean we should censor anyone. For example, we must not betray our commitment to diversity by supporting some sort of watered-down speech code, some "intolerance protocol" that seems about as insidiously non-coercive as forcing religious groups to register lists of their members. Not only is invoking University "protocols" to curb any speech inimical to the ideal of diversity, but in the most recent case involving the objectivist advertisement, the University accepted the racist argument that advocating war against the state of Iran somehow equates to advocating genocide against people of Iranian ethnicity (see http://peikoff.com/essays/end.htm for the article). We've seen too many political organizations last century that decided to arrogate themselves the power to speak for (and thus rule) an entire ethnicity--we need not help them along in their claim to legitimacy.
In the midst of war, of all times, we ought to remember that an appreciation for diversity--a belief in pluralism, individuality, and liberty--is precisely why this society is worth fighting for. We are great to the extent that we continue to strive to an ideal, for a land in which people who are different from each other can live out their lives and pursue their happiness free from being arrested or shot by those who don't like them. We are a great people not by any accident of birth or color, but because we can live together and interact with each other as free and self-defined individuals. On the whole we do a superlative job at fulfilling this vision. This does not mean we shouldn't do better, however, and as George Kennan wrote over fifty years ago, the best way to win a global war of ideas is to be true to our own at home.
Alex Robbins is a sophomore who has studied Eastern Europe too much to be an ethnic collectivist.
Page last modified on Thursday, 02-Mar-2006 00:12:50 MST.