We Love Diversity, But Hate Differences

Every institution in the United States and in Canada has endorsed diversity as a fundamental value and goal, and has formally committed to sex, race, sexuality, and ethnic diversity in its personnel. This is seen at every level, from national governments to universities to primary schools, from international corporations to the media to street corner stores, and from the military to political rioters. Diversity is alleged to be valuable in and of itself, a broadening and enriching of knowledge and experience.

While sex, race, sexuality, and ethnic diversity are the objects of the highest approbation, any consideration of differences between sexes, races, sexualities, and ethnic groups is condemned and strictly forbidden. Any statement indicating differences is assumed to be invidious, praising one and demeaning the other. Even where differences do imply value judgements, such as in academic performance or crime rates, it is now forbidden to mention them. In other words, we love diversity, but hate differences.

The driver of this enthusiasm for diversity is the overriding obsession with equality, specifically equality of outcomes or results. “Social justice” is defined as equality for all categories, without consideration of differences between categories. And it is true that equality is one of the main values of modern Western civilization, and of American and Canadian culture. But, traditionally, it has been one of a number of important values, which include freedom, prosperity, justice, order, achievement, creativity, and beauty. Where there are conflicts between values, as for example between equality and freedom, compromises have been sought and established but continue to be contested in political areas.

But for “social justice” advocates, which means just about every institution, equality of outcomes overrides any other consideration, and other values are rejected as sexist, racist, “male supremacist,” and “white nationalist.” For “social justice” advocates, statistical disparities between members of sex, race, sexuality, and ethnicity census group categories are proof of bigotry and discrimination; no other possible causes of the disparities are considered or investigated. Disparities in favor of protected categories of people, such as the supermajority of females in universities or of blacks in professional football and basketball are accepted without “social justice” criticism; only where males, whites, Asians, Christians, or Jews are “overrepresented” in relation to their percentage of the general population are the claims of bigotry and discrimination invoked.

The insistence on equality of outcomes (except for males, whites, Asians, Christians, and Jews) has a parallel set of demands at the cultural level. Today, in anthropology, it is forbidden to differentiate among cultures and societies, which all must be seen as equal and equally valuable. This demand is based on an extremist formulation of “cultural relativity,” an anthropological concept that originally meant the researcher suspending his own values and judgements in order to understand the people being studied from their own perspective, in terms of their own concepts, values, beliefs, hopes, and fears. But during the second half of the twentieth century, inspired partly by “multiculturalism” in some Western societies, “cultural relativity” came to be interpreted as “all cultures are equally valid and good,” and no judgement would be allowed between cultures, on the grounds that there was no neutral grounds for judgements, and judgements meant applying the values of one culture to another, a form of cultural imperialism. This position flies in the face of the universal human reality that everyone is always judging everyone else, every group is always judging every other group, and every society and culture is always judging every other.

The maximalist redefinition of “cultural relativity” also undermined one of the central tasks of anthropology: describing and explaining differences among cultures. Throughout most of its existence, until the latter decades of the twentieth century, anthropologists gave a great deal of attention to differences between cultures and societies, often by focusing on their most distinctive institutions. For example, Ruth Benedict, in her 1934 classic Patterns of Culture contrasted the aggression of the Dobu of the Pacific with the ritualism of the Zuni of the southwest and the ritualized competition of the Kwakiutl of the northwest coast. Other researchers emphasized the witchcraft and magic of villagers, the mobility of nomads, and the ritualized hierarchy in caste society. Comparative analysis was the most important analytic tool of anthropology.

By the end of the twentieth century, discussing differences became “inappropriate”, as such discussion was deemed always to be invidious, and to be motivated by base motives. For this assassination of anthropological research, we have Edward Said to thank. Said was a professor of English at Columbia University, a specialist in Jane Austin. Said claimed Palestinian ancestry and took a political interest in the Middle East. In his very influential, but deeply flawed, book, Orientalism, he claimed that the West projected its own base fantasies on the Middle East in order to justify invading, conquering, and destroying it. (Detailed refutations can be found here and here.) When challenged to say what his description of the Middle East would be, he declined the possibility of such a description. The reason he gave was that there was much diversity in the Middle East, and therefore it was impossible to generalize.

Said’s jejune argument against generalization can perhaps be attributed to an academic grounding in unique works of fiction, as well as to his radical unfamiliarity with science and even social science. The argument that generalizations cannot be made because of diversity in the universe is logical nonsense, given that generalizations are always a summary of the range of diversity. This is obviously the case in statistical means, medians, and modes. But it is also true of our basic concepts. For example, “chair,” “automobile,” and “dog” each cover a wide range of variation, while still validly being distinguished from “table,” “truck,” and “cat.” One can say that Indian culture is hierarchical, even if some Indians take a more egalitarian view, or that Americans are job-oriented, even if some are dependent on welfare.

For the life of me, I cannot understand how anthropologists—I generalize here—bought into Said’s nonsense, other than that the political leftist and Marxist orientation of most anthropologists led them to grasp Said’s plainly anti-West and anti-American provocation. Said’s work never provided a cultural account of the Middle East, but focused on disparaging Western culture, claiming that it is based on false ideas and evil motives, an approach some critics called “Occidentalism.” But his blitzkrieg against Western scholarship of other cultures has its effect. Henceforth, discussing differences among cultures was deemed invidious and “racist.”

An example of this is found in Unni Wikan’s In Honor of Fadime, an account of the life and “honor killing” of a young woman from a Kurdish family living in Norway. Fadime had become “too Norwegian” and offended Kurdish norms of female behavior. Wikan is a distinguished Norwegian anthropologist, and in her approach to this incident takes the view typical of twenty first-century anthropologists, that the Kurdish culture should not be described in general terms, and that it should not be described as different from other cultures. She has an entire chapter debunking the concept of culture, previously the central concept of anthropology.

I deliberately avoid using words like cultures or societies – words that easily create the impression that everyone belonging to this or that culture or society will react in a particular way. … Even where honor killings are part of a local tradition, it is probably rare to kill your daughter, sister, or wife in order to cleanse the family of the shame she has brought on it. (2008:14)

Her solution to avoid identifying Kurdish, Middle Eastern, and Islamic culture with “honor killing” is to claim that all cultures have honor killing.

Honor killing is an act based on a set of ideas that occurs across the whole spectrum of religious belief, as well as among nonbelievers. Honor killings have been reported to take place among Christians as well as Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Buddhists, and Confucians, but only in specific local communities. (2008:3)

This is obfuscation pure and simple. Every society does not institutionalize the killing of female relatives to protect family “honor.” Any statistical analysis would demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that honor killings predominate in the Islamic Middle East, while examples of Christian and Jewish honor killings are primarily among Middle Eastern Christians and Jews living in dominant Muslim societies. But this is exactly what Wikan wishes to avoid: the identification of a major institutionalized custom with a particular population, lest that population be criticized. This is why Western feminists turn away—seeing nothing, hearing nothing, saying nothing—about the treatment of women in the Middle East. By 2021, criticism of another culture is immediately denounced as “racism.” Wikan prefers to stress that, really, we are all alike:

We lead comparable lives. From cradle to grave we struggle with similar existential problems, and we recognize this despite a sea of differences and discrepancies separating our core ideas, lifestyles, personalities, and material circumstances. And this is somehow comforting. (2008:19-20)

In the dominant Western narrative, differences between cultures and societies may not be identified, discussed, or evaluated; comparisons among cultures and differences among cultures may not be mentioned.

The same applies to sex and race categories. The only allowable comparison is one that shows females at a disadvantage versus males, and blacks at a disadvantage versus whites; for example, acceptable comparisons are disparities in representation in credentials, positions, and benefits in education, business, government, or any other field. Only those disparities that show disadvantages to females and blacks are acceptable; others that show other aspects are disallowed. Males and females must be considered otherwise the same, except for male oppression of females, and whites and blacks must be considered the same, except for white oppression of blacks. The reason for this is clear: the only acceptable explanationfor the described disparities is bigotry and discrimination, sexism and racism. Other explanations of those disparities are forbidden.

There are, however, many other disparities relevant to the discussion of sex and race categories. For example, we know that any serious consideration of the “gender wage gap” or female-male income disparity must take into account that, on average, men workat employment longer hours, more days, and weeks, months, and years than women. Men also do almost all of the dirty and dangerous jobs, resulting in men sufferingninety percent of industrial injuries and deaths. Women, even those in high paying jobs, valuetheir families more heavily in relation to occupation than men.

Although the advocates of the dominant narrative claim to be the “party of science” and to “follow the science,” when it comes to males and females, advocates reject science by denying biology. Males and females are biologically differentin major ways: 99.99% of all humans are genetically based on either xx or xy chromosomes. As a consequence, among the many phenotypical differences are neurological differences—the brains of males function within each hemisphere, while the brains of females function across hemispheres. Males and females are physiologically differentiated by size, weight, and speed, and are also differentially subject to diseases. Contrary to the anti-scientific dominant narrative, males and females are not the same.

Efforts to deny differences between males and females raise “identity” above biology. Transsexuals identify with a sex other than their birth sex and say that they feel like a member of the other sex, may act like a member of the other sex, and wish to be treated as a member of the other sex. But they cannot change their birth sex. Although hormone treatment and plastic surgery can produce a facsimile of changed sex,  they can never truly change sex. Biological males, whatever their identity, cannot menstruate or give birth, and biological females, whatever their identities, continue to have female genes, neurology, and physiology. The denial of biological differences between males and females is futile. It is also destructive, as in allowing biologically male trans-females to compete in girls’ sports, thus undermining the achievements of female athletes.

The futility of denying biological differences between males and females does not faze advocates of denial. No less an august personage than Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the U.S.  House of Representatives and second in line to the presidency after the Vice-President, has proposeda bill to forbid sex-specific words in the House:

Terms to be striked [sic.] from clause 8(c)(3) of rule XXIII, the House’s Code of Official Conduct, as outlined in the proposed rules (pdf), include “father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, first cousin, nephew, niece, husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepson, stepdaughter, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, half sister, grandson, [and] granddaughter.”

Such terms would be replaced with “parent, child, sibling, parent’s sibling, first cousin, sibling’s child, spouse, parent-in-law, child-in-law, sibling-in-law, stepparent, stepchild, stepsibling, half-sibling, [and] grandchild.”

The justification of this assault on American culture is this: “Changes [to] pronouns and familial relationships in the House rules to be gender neutral or removes references to gender, as appropriate, to ensure we are inclusive of all Members, Delegates, Resident Commissioners and their families—including those who are nonbinary.” As here, “inclusion” is the excuse for all manner of violations of human rights and justice for individual citizens, such as the suppression of freedom of speech, religion, and assembly, and equality before the law.

As well as among the sexes, there are major cultural disparities between blacks and whites and Asians. The great majority of black children grow up in single-parent homes, while most white and Asian children grow up in two-parent homes. Blacks are highly overrepresented in criminal activityin relation to their percentage of the population, both in perpetrating crime and being victims of crime. Probably as a consequence of these two factors, there is a major academic achievement gapbetween blacks, whites, and Asians, with Asians scoring highest, whites next, and blacks least. This disparity applies to native African Americans but not, contrary to claims of systemic racism, to black African and Caribbean immigrantsin America, who are highly competitive and successful.

The futile ideological claims that everyone is the same are guided by the radical leftist goal of equality of outcomes or results. This extreme definition of equality is borrowed from Marxist and communist regimes, where, to the extent that equality existed, it was an equality of poverty and suffering. But, of course, there was never an equality of power or privilege, all held exclusively by the communist elite. These failed communist societies are the desired model for the advocates of uniformity among all people. Just as in the communist regimes, the leftist parties in the West, including parties in the U.S. and Canada, strive to impose uniformity by force of law and coercion. The philosophy seems to be that, if absolute equality requires the denial of science, civil rights, and human rights, then it is worth it to achieve “social justice.”


Image: Erol Ahmed, Public Domain

Philip Carl Salzman

Philip Carl Salzman

Philip Carl Salzman is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at McGill University, Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and President of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

3 thoughts on “We Love Diversity, But Hate Differences

  1. The whole notion of diversity as something to be celebrated has always struck me as bizarre. Celebration is reserved for something notable and worthy of remembering such as a birthday or a promotion at work. I don’t celebrate cement or spaghetti because it’s not at all clear what they have achieved making them praiseworthy. The same applies to diversity. Diversity in the workplace is vastly overrated and in virtually all circumstances is completely irrelevant. Last time I checked there was no female perspective on designing computer software and adding a POC to the staff doesn’t automatically make a college financial aid office process applications faster.

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