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The Unbearable Divisiveness of Diversity for Diversity’s Sake?


This past Sunday’s On Being had an interesting conversation about “diversity” with Krista Tippet (“On Being” host) and Jonathan Haidt (progam guest, professor and author of “Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion“).

[Out of context] excerpt from the transcript (you can also listen to the program and read Comments):

“.… Ms. Tippett: There’s some place you talked about, uh, some work you’d done with some of your students that, what’d you say that diversity was like cholesterol? That we need the good kind and the bad kind, we need all — we need difference. And it’s okay for — for all these [laughs] I want to find it. You know what — you — you say it.

Dr. Haidt: Yeah, yeah.

Ms. Tippett: Okay.

Dr. Haidt: So, you know…

Ms. Tippett: It’s interesting.

Dr. Haidt: Okay. So, you know, I grew up — I — I started at Yale in 1981, just as, uh, uh, diversity was becoming a major, major watchword of the left. And my entire academic career, it’s all been about diversity. Diversity this, diversity that. And what’s really meant by that is racial diversity. And then secondarily, gender diversity. Um, and claims are made for diversity, that it has all these benefits for thinking, it does all these great things. Um, but at the same time, what I’ve observed in my academic career, is when I started school in the ’80s, there were a few conservatives on the faculty. And now there are almost none.

So, we’ve reached the state that George Will described. He said there’s a certain kind of liberal that wants diversity in everything, except thought. And so, we do need certain kinds of diversity. But the key to remember is that, diversity by its very nature is divisive, and so, what’s the function of your group? If your group needs cohesion, you don’t want diversity. If your group needs good, clear thinking and you want people to challenge your prejudices, then you need it. So in the academic world, we need that kind of diversity, and we don’t have it. Um, that’s — that was part of my point.

Ms. Tippett: How does that help you analyze what might be done?

Dr. Haidt: Yeah, so, diversity is generally divisive. And it has to be managed. There is some interesting research showing that when you celebrate diversity and point it out, you split people. But if you drown it in a sea of commonality, then it’s not a problem. So, anything you can do to emphasize how similar we all are, uh, how much we have in common, is good. And if you celebrate — look at how different we are. Look at how diverse we are. That tends to make it harder to have…

Ms. Tippett: Except if you — except drowning things in commonality can also make it — being — making everything superficial. Right?

Dr. Haidt: Well, what do you want? Do you want authenticity, or do you want peace and harmony? ...” [For full context, link to full transcript and podcast.]

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