Misconceptions of Diversity

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To be in favor of diversity has become a standard position in most Western societies. Otherwise apolitical companies promise to uphold a commitment to diversity, and many will mandate a sort of diversity training, ranging from simple education on how to comply with state regulation, to a lecture on systemic racism from someone like Robin DiAngelo.

To proclaim opposition to diversity (or even to critique a diversity program from a pro-diversity perspective) is seen by many on the left as proclaiming support for racism, sexism (whether systemic or otherwise), or opposition to equality. Most of the thinking in favor of diversity (as it is commonly understood) stems from a false belief in tabula rasa. Since everyone is born equal, they argue, inequalities must be due to discrimination. Thomas Sowell and others have put tremendous effort into dismantling this flawed line of thinking.

But what do people actually mean when they uphold diversity as a value? Most everyone supports diversity in some manner. The common understanding today links more with inclusiveness of race, gender, and other natural characteristics among centers of power. Well-paid and respected positions of authority must feature higher representation of women, LGBT+, and racial minorities. This must be the case in every type of organization, including government, businesses, and clubs. The diversity movement argues that the more representation of these groups, the better. Any alleged naturally occurring lack of representation among these groups within any organization must be a bad thing, and that must be corrected.

On the diversity question, it is important to consider basic assumptions about the structure of society. There is a clear double standard in modern advocacy for diversity. Diversity apparently means celebrating all-girl Boy Scout troops. Certain groups must be included in all spaces, but they must also have their own spaces.

Of course, ordinary people don’t think this way. As individuals, they form associations with other individuals. They form friendships and organizations through voluntary associations that can then be voluntarily broken as well. This is how healthy societies function. Institutions are developed through associations as people respond to the needs of others. People are free to associate with some institutions and disassociate with others. Freedom of association implies the freedom to disassociate. Individuals have the right to exclude. And with the right to exclude comes a different sort of diversity, one much better than today’s kind.

Russell Kirk, the father of post-war American conservatism, placed diversity (“variety”) as one of his ten conservative principles. From this perspective, Kirk argued that natural societies are diverse in a different manner. In an anti-egalitarian society, a variety of naturally-occurring systems develop through association. Rather than insisting that every part of society must be equally diverse, there is a diversity of organization.

A variety of different communities and cultures develop as people associate through shared traits. Christians form Christian institutions and invite others to join, but maintain that many of their organizations are meant for Christians and that there will be a clear prejudice in favor of Christianity and against other religions. Even within Christianity there are an incredible variety of denominations. Some organizations will be Catholic, others Protestant. And this is fine.

Online forums and Discord servers form communities over shared interests. Some are restricted, while others are open. But although they are open to anyone, they come with a set of rules, and those that do not fit in with the community will be ejected.

Clubs and organizations operate the same way. People choose to join them, while other people may leave. Some people may feel unwelcome within some groups, but that isn’t necessarily a bad characteristic of the group. A school chess club might welcome novices and encourage them to learn, but students without the slightest interest in chess or a desire to learn should feel unwelcome in any decent chess club.

A key feature of these various communities and organizations is that they develop on the basis of exclusion according to certain standards. A properly-run business hires people on the grounds that they will be a benefit to it and the people within it, and fires people who fail to live up to that expectation. A club invites people who share the same common interest or goal as other people in the club.

To take the approach that all organizations and communities have the obligation to welcome people on the basis of their race, gender, or sexuality, is destructive and absurd. When groups are forced (or even just highly encouraged through cultural pressure) to uniformly become more inclusive and diverse, we lose one kind of genuine diversity in search of a false kind.

Just as Groucho Marx jokingly stated that “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member,” what decent person would want to join any club that wouldn’t want them as a member?

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Nathan A. Kreider is author of the Misconceptions column for Being Libertarian, and has written for the Austrian Economics Center, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the Liberalists. He also occasionally publishes a blog and video content, including short book reviews, which can be found on his website, nkreider.com. He can be contacted by email via [email protected]