Posted on February 23, 2005

Down Among the Diversitoids

John Derbyshire, National Review Online, February 23, 2005

I was to be on a panel discussion at the AAAS annual meeting in Washington DC. I mis-remembered the time, though, thinking the event was at 11 A.M., when in fact it was at noon, so I had an hour to kill. Wandering around the conference center idly, looking for something interesting, I came across a meeting hall with an easel outside saying GENDER AND ETHNIC DIVERSITY IN ACADEMIC SCIENCE. Thinking this might be right up my street, I peered inside. About 30 people were listening to a woman lecturer. The people had their backs to me and were clustered at the far end of the room, facing the speaker. I went in and sat in one of the empty rows at the back.

The woman, whose name I think was Leslie, was 40ish, with very slightly African-American coloring and appearance, and gray hair frizzed out in a large obtuse isosceles triangle like the girl in the Dilbert strip. She was speaking about some court case in Kentucky. A woman college teacher had been denied tenure and sued her employer. Apparently she had lost the case. Leslie was analyzing why. “The biggest difficulty is proving intentional discrimination . . . ” (Especially, I imagine, when it hasn’t occurred.) Leslie’s entire address was addled with diversity-speak clichés: “respecting differences” . . . ”inclusivity” . . . ”fostering a diverse environment” . . . ”truth to power” . . .

I lost interest after a minute or so and began to scrutinize the audience. Around half of them were men. These men, who were all white, divided into two subgroups. The larger subgroup consisted of older guys in jackets and ties. The smaller was younger and more obviously campus-resident: beards, ponytails, natural-fiber shirts and sweaters, sneakers or peculiar-shaped shoes, no ties of course. The women were mostly middle-aged or older. Two of them were black—much blacker than Leslie. Several (though neither black woman) had the cropped, truculent look of the modern lesbian. I don’t think any of them was wearing makeup.

Leslie finished with her analysis of the court case, which had apparently come up in the context of an audience question. She announced the end of questions and introduced the next speaker.

This was a pleasant-looking fiftyish white woman named JoAnn Moody. Ms. Moody is a big name in the world of diversity, I soon gathered. She has written a book on the subject. This book is highly thought of by diversicrats, to judge from the Amazon reviews.

Ms. Moody was obviously an old hand at the Diversity Seminar game. First she had us all (I had decided to join in here) move the chairs round into a horseshoe arrangement. Then she distributed a printed, single-sheet “scenario” and instructed us to read it.

The “scenario” was a brief, imaginary conversation between three people, all “European-American males,” comprising the search committee looking to hire “a director of finance for a large public university in Virginia.” The three committee members were a Progressive, a Reactionary, and a neutral Chairman. That was not what Ms. Moody’s scenario called them, but that was plainly what was meant to be conveyed by their words. Two candidates for the finance position are discussed. One is Tom, another “European-American male” with a Harvard MBA. The other is Mary, a single black woman with an MBA from “a second-tier school.”

Reactionary of course wants to hire the Harvard guy: “He’s got to be sound; he’s just that type of guy . . . He reminds me so much of Mervin . . . Now there was a finance director to hold up as a standard . . . ” Progressive wants to give some special consideration to Mary: “I’d like to make sure that our interview takes at least two hours . . . It’ll take us some time to really feel comfortable with her . . . ” Reactionary disagrees. He thinks all candidates should get precisely equal treatment. “I am gender-blind and color-blind. All I care about is excellence. And we’ll know it when we see it . . . ” He then wonders aloud whether Mary, who is single, would be comfortable in the “family-oriented” town.

After we’d all read this little tale—it covered two sides of a standard quarto sheet—Ms. Moody led a discussion. What was going on here? She asked. “Why, it’s the Good Ol’ Boy network,” offered one of the black women, to nods of agreement. “They just want to hire someone like them.” Similar comments followed. Ms. Moody played the neutral reflector, skillfully guiding the discussion from one diversi-cliché to the next, occasionally prompting us with the approved word or phrase from the diversi-liturgy. “So,” she murmured, after a few exchanges, “we could say that a European-American male from a prestigious school comes with extra points, as it were. Right?” They all nodded. A couple of them jotted down the words in notebooks. Extra points. As it were.

Sitting round in the horseshoe like that, I got a closer look at my fellow participants. The women were, of course, the most enthusiastic. The whole affair, in fact, was running on estrogen. The general atmosphere was that peculiar mix of insistent niceness and angry menace that women are so good at. We are frail, sweet, and sorely oppressed, and you had better be nice to us . . . OTHERWISE WE WILL SMASH YOU TO PIECES. There was much talk of “sensitivity” and “understanding”; words like “efficiency,” “measurement,” “standards,” came up only as pejoratives. The idea that excellence could be quantified was greeted with unanimous scorn and laughter. A person foolish enough to let slip the word “objectivity” was quickly hooted down by the others. There is no such thing as objectivity! I made a quiet, uncollectable bet with myself that I was the only person in the room with a degree in anything more mathematically rigorous than sociology.

Underneath all the soothing talk about “inclusiveness” and “sensitivity” I began to spot some darker waters flowing. Someone raised Reactionary’s comment about being “gender-blind and color-blind.” This occasioned a great burst of laughter. “That’s what they always say!” “Of course it is!” I am perfectly certain I was the only person in the room thinking the thought: What if it’s true? But of course, to these people, it cannot ever be true. As one of the black women said: “Nobody who’s lived in the United States can be gender-blind and color-blind.” What about me, who has lived only half my life here? Best not ask. One of the fundamental axioms of the diversity ideology is the innate selfishness, cruelty, and dishonesty of white males everywhere. Useless to dispute it. Of course that’s what you would say! You’re one of them!

The men were more interesting studies than the women. The older guys with jackets and ties looked cowed and didn’t say much. The younger ones, the ones with earth shoes and collarless natural-fiber shirts, seemed almost as keen on diversity as the women. What brings a man, particularly a “European-American male,” to an affair like this? I wondered. In the case of the older, PC-whipped-looking guys, the answer was probably just the determination to find out where all the “diversity” landmines are planted, so they could make it to retirement and pension in one piece. Good luck to them. But what about these younger ones? They really seemed to believe this stuff. What was driving them? The hope of making some easy pickups from among liberated no-commitment women? I looked round again at the women. No, not that, definitely couldn’t be that.

I suppose the most charitable explanation would be misguided patriotism. This is, after all, a diverse nation, and will remain so. Those are facts. We do all have to get along somehow, and it is possible these young male diversicrats believe that by mouthing this vapid cant and submitting to these petty humiliations, they are helping to preserve and improve the nation—a sort of sacrificial masochism. Somehow I couldn’t make myself believe this. Masochism, sure, but patriotic? Just looking at those men, it was hard to see any of them flying a Stars and Stripes from his mountain bike. What, then? Just a cynical desire to hold on to a well-paid and undemanding job? No, they didn’t seem at all cynical. Very few people are as good at acting as these men would have had to be to be practicing cynicism in that room. They were sincere. They believed the diversity stuff, including all the stuff about how rotten and wicked and malicious they, we, “European-American males,” are inside. They really believed it all. They loved Big Sister. I had fallen among pod people.

There was, it seemed to me, something horribly ignoble about these young men. To yield not just meekly but enthusiastically to the stripping away of their privileges, real and imagined; to acquiesce so whole-heartedly in their dispossession, seemed so . . . unmanly. Not that they looked particularly unmanly in themselves. One of them was large and muscular—though it was the cosmetic muscularity of the gym, not anything intended for actual—ugh!—physical work. (I hasten to add that there were no obvious indications that he might belong to a behavioral minority group.) So why was he jeering along with the others at the mention of “objectivity”? Why did he hoot along with the rest at “gender-blind and color-blind”?

I began to long for Bertrans de Born to ride in on his destrier and cut a swathe through us with his broadsword, howling blood, war, and mayhem. I began to long for anyone or anything, in fact, that might bring with it some spirit, some courage, some damn-your-eyes contrariness, some masculine insolence, some testosterone. All right, we “European-American males” had it all our own way for too long. All right, we beat up on blacks and shut women out of our clubs. It was wrong, wrong. We are guilty, guilty. All right, the world of tomorrow, in fact of today, is a woman’s world. All right, all right, all right: but . . . couldn’t we at least go down fighting?

For a wild moment I had the impulse to stand up and say something outrageous in the style of Ali G . “‘Scuse me, Missus Muddy. Wot wid all dese colored folk and lezzies yous wantin’ to give all da good jobs to, isn’t you afraid dat yous white race maybe might die out?” I didn’t have the nerve, of course. In any case, I was dressed all wrong: business suit, white shirt (good honest polyester!) and tie.

Besides, part of me had been sucked into the thing. I am more than usually susceptible to Stockholm Syndrome at the best of times. A diversity seminar is the worst kind of place for a person with that weakness. The diversity ideology is, as Peter Wood pointed out in his fine book on the subject (which I reviewed here) “a closed loop of thought and experience. Once one enters this loop and accepts the main propositions of diversity, it is difficult to see out of it.”

Diversity is, in short, a cult; and I started to feel that if I hung out in that room much longer, I should be in need of some serious deprogramming. In any case, it was time for my own event. I snuck out quietly, leaving the pod people all ululating in happy unison at someone’s mention of Larry Summers.