So is diversity maybe not such a hot idea after all? Always depending on what we mean by ‘diversity’ of course, and it can be very difficult to figure out exactly what people do mean by it. As is so often the case with fuzzy woolly words and ideas – which is exactly why they’re called fuzzy-woolly, obviously. But then are they called fuzzy-wooly enough? I’m not sure. I’m not sure it does get pointed out enough that people tend not to specify what they mean when they use the words, but rather, just use them to project an air of righonitude, of conspicuous virtue, of ostentatious morality. That’s understandable. Shock-jocks and Limbaugh-O’Reilly types like to sneer and mock, but ostentatious morality is not entirely a bad thing, not entirely a matter of self-flattery – even though it can often seem that way. It’s not as if ostentatious self-servingness, conspicuous ruthlessness is such a great idea. But still. Having said all that, it does too often seem that fuzzy-woolly ideas are the very kind needed to stimulate those feelings of self-love; that wool is inseparable from moral narcissism and vice versa; that one can’t get that happy glow if the ideas and words in question are too precise and clear and specific, because then one will be too aware of the ambiguities and difficulties and possible dangers of what one is talking about.
In other words, diversity sounds good (or at least it used to): it sounds like tolerance and inclusion and kindness and decency (or at least it used to). But then there we are again. Tolerance of what? Curry? Super. Brown skin? Couldn’t be better. People from all different parts of the world? Wonderful and enriching. Right. And – FGM? Child marriage? Polygamy? Honour killings? Errr, ummm…
And that complication seems to be getting some attention at last. The fact that diversity is not invariably a good thing is finally being noticed. That sometimes we want just one thing, not a variety of them. One law, for instance, not different ones for each ‘community’ so that Muslim fathers and brothers are allowed to murder their daughters and sisters if that’s their ‘culture,’ or indignant Hindus are allowed to threaten scholars who say something they don’t like, or (one can hope) Christian fundamentalists are allowed to veto science education in public schools. We could have ‘diversity’ in science education, and other branches of education too; we could have Mathematics 1, 2 and 3, with different answers for each, but we’ve mostly decided that’s not such a hot idea. So all-purpose diversity may well be a notion whose time has come and gone. Andrew Anthony thinks so.
One of the shibboleths of multiculturalism was that different communities needed to be treated differently. Ultimately, though, the aim must be to be treated the same. In this respect, it’s important to see that the difference between the posture of fashion and politics of fascism is the same in all communities, regardless of what they wear. One will pass, the other needs to be sent on its way.
And Rwanda wants to outlaw the very idea of ethnic identity – which seems like a very sane plan.
This country, where ethnic tensions were whipped up into a frenzy of killing, is now trying to make ethnicity a thing of the past. There are no Hutu in the new Rwanda. There are no Tutsi either. The government, dominated by the minority Tutsi, has wiped out the distinctions by decree…That new thinking has its critics — those who say that denying that ethnicity exists merely suppresses the painful ethnic dialogue that Rwanda requires. But the government insists that if awareness of ethnic differences can be learned, so can the idea that ethnicity does not exist.
Differences are all very well, but it’s a tad over-optimistic to assume that they’re always just a source of joyous enrichment and mutual exchange. Often they’re a pretext or motivation for slaughter, instead. Maybe it is time to start minimizing them instead of obsessing about them. Martha Nussbaum discusses some possible ways to do that in an essay on liberal education.