Diversity Lost

How I do marvel at the credulity of academic man! Especially those professors who publish voluminously but cannot write, who take their Marx with white wine and brie while thousands of adjuncts support their families on French fries and English composition, who preach a tolerance as touchy as the princess whose sleep was disturbed by a pea under ten mattresses, who religiously decry religion and who pride themselves in smashing every icon but their own. “Is it malice, or stupidity?” I ask. Their writing and their apparent contradictions suggest the latter. Would that it were so.    

Providence College, where I have taught since 1990, has long boasted a two-year, twenty-credit course in the Development of Western Civilization, spanning the centuries from ancient Mesopotamia to the current unpleasantness, and covering history, literature, philosophy, theology, and as much of the fine arts as our teams of professors could sneak into the syllabi. The first year alone of that course would typically feature poetry or drama originally written in Babylonian, Hebrew, ancient Greek, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, French, Italian, and English, and often Spanish (El Cid, Don Quixote) to boot. The cultures covered originated in central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, southern Europe, and the wild northlands.  They were semi-nomadic herders (the Hebrews), city building artisans and traders (the Greeks), agrarian republicans (the Romans), bronze age marauders (the Vikings); they worshiped Marduk or Zeus or Odin or Jesus Christ; they prized the God-given Law, or the self-governing polis, or the eternal City, or the war-hero of the clan’s past; they traded olive oil and pottery for grain, or finished cloth for spices; they sailed across the great ocean for conquest; they walked barefoot across the Pyrenees to Compostela; they sang the Veni Creator Spiritus; they built the Parthenon, they built Chartres, they built the very university system which we have inherited.

They did all these things and far more. Such a dizzying variety of beliefs, economies, activities, and cultures—such abundance, such diversity! Yet according to the “Faculty Mind,” that formless yet rigid collective mass that determines all things curricular at Providence, a student will not fulfill his “diversity core” by studying, for instance, the works of the Caedmon school of Anglo-Saxon poetry, when said poets were attempting to see just what Christ might have to do with Ingeld. But that same core can be fulfilled by reading the novels of Toni Morrison, whose perspectives were formed by reading our newspapers, watching our television, listening to our canned music, following our celebrity politicians, voting in our national elections, rooting for our favorite ballclubs, and a hundred other things that everyone in our country does, regardless of epidermal variety. 

If “diversity” means “notably diverging from the student’s way of life, or habits of reading, or patterns of thought,” then surely there will be a hundred more difficulties and surprises awaiting the attentive reader of Beowulf than the reader of Beloved. I can think of no play more drearily predictable than Tony Kushner’s dainty foray into political porno-twaddle, Angels in America; but that will count as “diverse,” whereas Aeschylus’ The Eumenides, a foundational play for Western civilization, seems to arrive to us from another world, a strange planet of blood vengeance and subterranean deities. You can read Aeschylus twenty times and grow less and less “familiar” with the work, as you see more and more with each new reading.    

So then, unless my colleagues cannot reason, “diversity” must mean something other than diversity. I think here that the guardians of a diversity based on epidermis, genitalia, and sexual practices give us a valuable clue. I have never heard a secular professor say, “How wonderful it is for me to teach at this school that is not secular, so that I am confronted with beliefs that challenge my ownI have never heard a Latino professor say, “How fine a thing it is indeed, for me to rub shoulders with the Irish of New England!  I am in very diversity heaven!” Nay, they say instead, diversity is one thing for me, and another thing for thee. 

Or rather, it is the same thing. For me, if I am one of academia’s chosen, diversity means, “There should be more people like me here, and that would be a good thing for thee,” thou cad, thou ignoramus, thou smug’st oppressor. For thee, diversity means the very same – more people like me, fewer like thee. Diversity in this sense is the enjoyment of making somebody else uncomfortable, and always the same somebody else – those who have been esteemed to be in a privileged position through undeserving means. Nor do numbers determine who holds that unworthy position. My secular colleagues derive no frissons diverses from the vicinity of a few dozen committedly Christian professors; if they could, they would make our school exactly like every other institution of higher lemmings in the nation, and cheer themselves for bringing on that great apocalyptic dawn when every school shall be diverse in exactly the same ways, world without end, amen.    

What are those ways? Here I’d like to glance at the great destroyer, John Dewey, who had these words to say about lessons that American schools could learn from the Soviet system:

The school cannot count upon the larger education to create in any single and wholehearted way the required collective and cooperative mentality. The traditional customs and institutions of the peasant … the influence of home and Church, all work automatically to create in him an individualistic ideology. In spite of the greater inclination of the city worker towards collectivism, even his social environment works adversely in many respects. Hence the great task of the school is to counteract and transform those domestic and neighborhood tendencies, that are still so strong, even in a normally collectivist regime.

(cited by Ralph de Toledano, Cry Havoc! The Great American Bring-down and How it Happened)

It is hard to tell with Dewey whether wickedness or unreason prevails.  He establishes himself and his fellow archons in the august position of those who will determine what the masses will believe – and that, for him, is not individualistic; but when the rough-handed carpenter kneels in worship beside his neighbor at Mass and for a moment or two forgets how much he hates the man’s noisy chickens and his noisier wife, and recalls for a moment that they are fellow travelers to the same day of judgment, that act of kneeling, for the carpenter formed in a family and a neighborhood and a communion of believers is individualistic.  Here one must conclude either that words have ceased to mean anything at all, or that Dewey is simply lying to hide his truer self: Individualism for me, collectivism for thee.

There we have it. “Diversity” is the crowbar for loosening the young person’s allegiance to home, neighborhood, culture, and church; that is all. It is not the crowbar that is valuable, but the use to which the crowbar is put. Studying Beowulf, true enough, will give the student a broader understanding of the human condition, but that may easily instill even greater loyalty to the home he knows. That broader understanding, then, is of no consequence. There can hardly be a text more mysterious than the Book of Job, but again, that is no crowbar; the facile believer who reads the thundering words of God from the whirlwind, when all the sons of morning are singing for joy, might well grow to be a formidable believer instead.  

So it is that “diversity” means exposing perfectly healthy although usually chuckleheaded and ill-educated freshmen into the glories of sodomy, which, alas, they have known about for many years; but it is not diverse to send students addicted to porn to a monastery, so that they might learn something about self-denial and self-control; and this is so, even though porn shops to monasteries are as a hundred to one.  So it is that “diversity” allows the professor to ridicule the student’s church, though it boasts a theology two thousand years old, but it is not diverse to encourage the student to ridicule the professor’s pet Johnny-come-lately economic theories that have proven disastrous wherever they have been tried,

When words mean their opposites, and the ties that bind us together as unique communities and bind us to our past and to our future generations are forever severed and condemned, there is only arbitrary power to determine the good and the just. Real diversity is no more; there are only tyrants and tyrannized.