Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Listen: diversity makes for better decisions.

The liberal penchant for diversity is not an act of charity.  It is good and just, of course -- don't get me wrong.  But it's not only morally right to choose diverse representatives and listen to diverse voices: it's also practical.  Those who look through only one window have a very narrow view of the world... and a hard time steering.  The Trump administration, which has little diversity, is risking a great deal by restricting their vision so tightly.  They should reconsider -- not for charity, but for their own benefit.

I'm not sure why this idea seems to get so little mention. Even those journalists or activists who push for more inclusion in government or business often skip right past this fundamental notion.  For instance, a few months ago in the Washington Post, David Nakamura and Abby Phillip wrote about the lack of diversity in Trump's Cabinet.  It's admittedly a story about optics -- about how terrible it looks to issue executive orders about women's health in front of a group of exclusively men -- but the article presents the dangers of a Cabinet dominated by old straight white guys as though it were purely a question of appearances or politics.  The fact that it is also just dumb to have a single perspective is only dropped as an allusion to "worldview."
But if the images from the White House aim to show a man of action, they also have delivered another unspoken message in the early days of the new administration: Most of the aides Trump relies on for counsel as he moves to dramatically reshape the country are men — and nearly all of them are white.
It’s a sharp change from the past eight years of the barrier-breaking Obama administration, and one that has reinforced the feeling among Trump’s critics that a narrow, anachronistic worldview is driving an agenda they consider hostile to women and minorities.
“Where are the women?” Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) asked rhetorically on the House floor last week, holding up a photo of Trump flanked by seven male advisers in the Oval Office a day after he signed an order restricting federal funds for abortions in foreign countries.
It's possible that the authors and many readers don't need this mentioned or discussed, but that's not my experience.  For many years, I've heard folks say that staffing like this "looks bad" or "isn't fair" or "doesn't represent the country."  But that's not the real issue.

The real issue is that it is important and useful to listen to the input of people from a variety of backgrounds because they have unique experiences and views, and anyone who fails to take advantage of that fundamental American strength is making a sub-optimal decision.  Excluding people of different backgrounds imposes a kind of ideological tunnel vision: yes, you might be able to get a clear and far-sighted view, and might even get good outcomes, but you're also likely to miss a lot of opportunities and solutions that you never even saw.

Further, many of our problems in America derive from sharp discrepancies among our citizens.  Issues in poverty, healthcare, justice, trade, and other problems are all dominated by sharp group conflict (indeed, that almost sounds like a tautology).  One of the best ways to address many of these issues are to break down some of the power structures that artificially perpetuate differences in class, culture, wealth, etc.  Some decent research has shown that people from elite backgrounds do not significantly benefit from elite educations; there's little difference in outcome for them over the years.  But people from more diverse backgrounds, either in terms of class or other aspects of their life, are much more likely to attain a higher income if they go to a more selective school.  Presumably this is linked to their new connections, opportunities, and resources -- advantages their privileged peers already enjoyed.

In other words, demanding diversity in government and business isn't just good for minorities.  It's not even just good for the government and those businesses.  It's actually good for our country as a whole.

I admit that this view is not universal, of course.  There are disagreements from both sides.

For example, some on the right point out a different sort of strength lies in homogeneity.  This is also true.  One of the keys to the success of communities in Scandinavia (or Utah, for that matter) lies in the fact that they have very little diversity.  Fewer schisms along the lines of religion or ethnicity means that it's that much easier for people to focus on other problems (such as social mobility).

The National Review's Kevin Williamson argues, for instance, that Scandinavian countries were (until recently) extremely homogeneous in various ways, in addition to remarkably xenophobic:
Progressives have a longstanding love affair with the nations of northern Europe, which are, or in some cases were until the day before yesterday, ethnically homogeneous, overwhelmingly white, hostile to immigration, nationalistic, and frankly racist in much of their domestic policy.
He then implicitly traces much of the strength of the Scandinavian model (to the extent they admit of any praise for the model at all) to a sort of blunt nationalism that eagerly welcomed immigrants to work in fish factories, but attempted to deny them any political power -- and he extrapolates this temporary strength to current problems when they refer to the dangers of an "unassimilated Muslim minority" burning Stockholm.  This argument is swallowed by a larger one which suggests that the welfare-state policies of Scandinavia are inherently violent and exclusionary when they deny individual freedom.

More directly, the same author extends the argument in "Homogeneity Is Their Strength" to say more plainly that diversity is a weakness:
Progressives who dream of a Nordic-style welfare state will find themselves challenged by the costs of greater diversity, as will those of us who hope, perhaps naïvely, for a politics and a culture that is more humane and individualistic, and less regimented along racial lines. We’ve been told that diversity is our strength, but the unhappy truth may be something closer to the opposite.
Williamson invokes some evolutionary biology in a Just-So Story sort of way, as well as social science, to argue that altruism and cooperation are more likely to occur in homogeneous populations, making a diverse culture less effective in providing consensus on difficult questions that would underlie any working solution for various social ills.  "[W]e are less inclined to trust and share with people who are less like us," he writes.
Up until quite recently, and with the critical exception of the situation of African-Americans, we handled our diversity with the best tools there are: localism, federalism, equality under the law, integration, participation in civil society. But the aggrandizement of the public sector has diminished civil society, multiculturalism has hobbled integration, the centralization of power in Washington has undermined federalism, and the grievance industry chips away at the idea of equality under the law.
He suggests that the diminishing expectation for immigrants to assimilate will lead to "ethnic enclaves" that threaten American unity, and draws a comparison with political partisanship, saying that the increasing level of extremism and disagreement between political groups has made practical solutions increasingly less likely.

I would suggest that this take is, at best, ahistorical.  Irish, German, and Chinese immigrants -- to pick only three -- all arrived en masse in waves, retained their individual cultures without assimilating over the course of generations, and endured discrimination and hardship.  The example of African-Americans held in chattel slavery certainly stands alone as our nation's original sin, but only a few moments of research reveals that ethnic enclaves and regional cultures have been frequent in American history.  Indeed, I would even argue that this history shows the practical value of bringing in the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Folks on the left can also disagree.  Kẏra at Model View Culture, for example, suggests in one essay that promoting minority power should be an end unto itself, rather than sought for its practical benefits.  She argues that the latter goal ends with the continued control and oppression of minority groups, since it preserves the existing hierarchy and diverts energy and attention from promoting actual minority power.
So why do so many people seeking racial justice, female empowerment, and queer liberation still choose to advocate for “diversity” and “inclusion”? They appeal to liberalism. They prevent oppression from being named. They prevent us from speaking truth to power. They make progress sound friendly to those in power. Companies can tokenize women and people of color throughout their advertising. They can get way more credit than they deserve for being not 100% white men. They can profit from the increases in efficiency and productivity associated with more diversity. All of the above ignore the fact that companies needed to have diversity initiatives to make them less overwhelmingly white in the first place; that white people are the ones in the position of being able to grant access in the first place. When we work for justice and liberation, we can’t accept progress that is conditional on being economically beneficial.
But this view presents a strawman argument: that liberals are satisfied with representation and inclusion of minorities and do not further seek to put actual power in the hands of minorities, as well.  And reality bears out the current approach, as well: as minority groups have found power within organizations, they have been able to expand their own opportunities and those of their peers to acquire power as leaders or owners.  For example, the number of African-American-owned businesses has increased by 30% over the past 20 years -- more than four times faster than among the larger population.  The current total is nowhere near good enough, but it's hard to imagine it happening without an effort working towards diversity and inclusion (much less in spite of those efforts).

Despite all of these reasons, I suppose it should still be said that the color of someone's skin doesn't dictate the content of their character, and so, it might be hypothetically possible to find a group of unbelievably qualified elderly heterosexual Caucasian males who would strive to understand and advocate for the concerns and values of all of America's many diverse groups.  I can't say that's impossible.  And in that situation, we might only be talking about the moral necessity of promoting the visibility of subgroup leadership or the fairness of direct-group representation.

But we're not talking about this dream team.  We're talking about corporate leaders, military officials, alt-right ideologues, family members, and Wisconsin politicos.  These groups don't all agree on everything, sure -- sometimes the Goldman Sachs people push back against the Breitbarters -- but the lack of diversity and emphasis on loyalty means that this White House is vulnerable to groupthink.  They have a narrow focus and a limited scope on their experiences.

For example, there doesn't appear to be anyone in the West Wing who's worked a union job (including the Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, who would incidentally be the only Hispanic in the Cabinet).  There are no scientists (unless we count civil engineer Rex Tillerson or physician Tom Price, which might be fair?).  I mean, there's always a lot of lawyers, but there are just very few life experiences represented in this government.  In discussions of the value of organized labor, there's not going to be a lot of voices.  In discussions of the use of scientific grant money, no one will speak up for its utility.  That's a serious weakness, and I believe it accounts for some of the poor decisions they've made and will continue to make.

Diversity and inclusion is not just a moral imperative, it's a practical strength and a proud American tradition.

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