Spending little time in America nowadays but reading from afar, it has taken me years to understand her conservatives’ upset with diversity. It turned my American friends (at least the majority, conservatives) apoplectic, purple with rage and spluttering incomprehensibly. Anyone overhearing would have thought them idiots or stroke victims, or the hopelessly senile ranting about the neighbour boy hitting his ball into their yard. Yet I knew they were not addled. In the implications may be a lesson for America’s survival.
My old teacher Russell Kirk and I thrived in diversity; and that partly explains my first attraction to the father of modern American conservatism—his familiarity with haunted Scots castles, mad Irish poets, and the Spanish holy man (later canonised) who wrestled physically with the devil. Politics evolved later. Dr Kirk saw divine magic everywhere, and if it got a little drab he would help out God by concocting diversity where there seemed to be none—i.e., inventing a Romanoff history for the Michigan town of Charlotte, to pass the time but still reflecting the romance hidden in everything, in God’s gold buried for us to find. As with GK Chesterton, George MacDonald, Tolkien and the others, life is all at once a colourful pageant, a High Crusade, a costume party and a treasure hunt, but all leading in one direction by divine intent. Diversity is one of God’s central strategies for bringing us close to Him forever.
Throughout decades and still, practising and teaching public policy communication, empathy is essential and rooted in appreciating diversity—i.e., understanding manual workers in a South Indian, state-owned, textile mill, and thus explaining what concerned them; would they lose jobs, be given a pay-off and how much, and if they were too old to be retrained would their daughter or son be schooled for a career instead, and doing what in their neighbourhood. This must reverse the usual civil servant toadying to superiors (endemic in the Third World), abandon policy diktats and the high-flown reasoning of economists, to address the diversity of various groups with differing concerns. While left-wing opponents tried to stir resentment through ideologies, theoretical rights and promised cash, empathy and practical solutions appealed more to our audiences. And so interest in, and honest respect for, diversity is a conservative art; economically, politically, culturally and even (by abstraction somewhat) religiously. So what, I wondered, was all the fuss about.
Then, having grown up in America, opposing diversity seemed uniquely misplaced. After all, America typifies and embodies diversity in its melting pot, its cuisine, its history and vocabulary, its holidays and music—consider the diverse ingredients of Cajun culture; French, Canadian, African and Southern; unique and yet wholly American and enjoyed by many others listening to Zydeco while savouring blackened whitefish (or possibly whitened blackfish, I do not know). Would such exotica be out of place at an Independence Day picnic? Bite your tongue, heathen! It is as intrinsically American as Hamburg’s hamburgers, Frankfurt’s frankfurters, Poland’s kielbasa and Ireland’s corned beef, (New) England baked beans, Italian pizza, Chinese eggrolls and so forth.
Indeed a dynamism central to American culture is how first the diverse elements coexist happily, and then merge into various fusions. It is all as American as your basic French béchamel-and-Mexican savoury chocolate sauce over Japanese tuna with Catalan patatas bravas and Vietnamese salsa on the side (a mainstay of California cookery, I am advised). And it works—just as America works or has so far. This is because Americans revel in their insignificant differences so long as everyone respects the common cultural root, materialism (which I explain in another essay). Buy a wide-screen television on which you watch the Rose Bowl, while next door she keeps up with Mexican soap-operas and across the hall they watch Kwanzaa (whatever that entails), and none threatens the others so long as each buys a wide-screen television or aspires to.
Next I assumed that my grumpy friends were upset by a shrinking cultural space, by an infusion of immigrants on one hand and by overlapping media on the other. While most of us watched Ozzie & Harriet we had not known that, say, the black people listened to Harlem jazz or Delta Blues; but now we do too. My theory seemed possible, but maybe a bit small-hearted. Would I really begrudge Missus Im watching her romantic serials on cable’s Cambodian Channel? Does it threaten American culture in any way with which we non-Cambodians cannot cope? Yes, the cultural melting pot involves some cultural cross-contamination less than ideal—such as white teens emulating black gangsters rather than, say, Dr Bill Cosby or, better yet, Dr Walter Williams. But it hardly warrants the right-wing fulminations.
Commenting elsewhere on these pages, Mr Tom Mullally first called diversity “tedious”—but how could anything as endlessly fascinating as the breadth of human communities and their cultures be boring? He may be a student for whom it makes a steady diet. Then he termed it “a smokescreen for uniformity.” Ding! The lights went on. I understood.
I used to make that mistake on sweltering summer days in Pakistan. I would crawl into a shop advertising ice-cream and plead for one; but the proprietor would waggle his head and explain: “Oh my Gard, we are not selling-swelling ice-creams for lo, these many years, Sahib! The previous owner of these premises, he was selling ice-creams for certain, Sahib, and we inherited his sign but we sell plumbing tools now. They are werry nice. Would you like to buy a pipe-wrench? It is fully adjustable and I can give you a werry werry good price!” Stupid me, I had read the sign and believed it, as I did with diversity. Most people do the same.
One of my tribes, Catholics, opposes abortion but our charities are being compelled to hand out free baby-killing drugs; so our part of American diversity does not count somehow. Neither does the whole tribe of immigrant Koreans, who have never even numbered among government’s official minorities because they do just fine on their own, thank you, and refrain from sticking out their hands as mom and dad in the corner shop send their children for doctorates in science and engineering. Even black people do not count if you include my friend and fellow London club member John, a retired US Navy officer and the son of a Republican politician in Cleveland, or his Ghanaian princess wife; or, for that matter, Drs Sowell and Williams and the latter’s neighbour in their boyhood Philly ghetto, Mr Julius Irving. Indeed no minority counts until its own internal diversity is snipped into a string of paper-dolls to fit the preconceptions of a single-minded and not at all diverse ruling elite.
The criteria for inclusion are only what elements of diverse America can be addicted to government money, enslaved by state reliance and depended upon to vote Democrat, like so many dogs begging at the master’s table. As I said, Ding! The lights go on. Modern diversity, like the ice-cream sign, has nothing to do with real diversity and everything to do with bludgeoning your foes into silence. It threatens all with having insulted fictional group caricatures, mimicking sensitivities that must be carefully cultivated or hardly exist, drawn by the intentionally blind merely as a tool for intimidation. It is crude and utterly illogical in its application, but how subtle does a pick-axe need to be?
My problem was that I entered the conversation midway, long after real diversity had been crowded offstage, after the word had been tortured into something else by the left-wing, and then objected to by a right-wing that never challenged the term. Diversity is now anything but diversity; it is part of Orwell’s Newspeak, wherein “war is peace” and “freedom is slavery.” Diversity is uniformity, relentlessly made the same everywhere. It is the bed of Procrustes, Greek mythology’s daemon hotelier, who chopped off the legs of guests too long for his bed and stretched those too short. He should be the patron “saint” of all ideologies, for whom reality never fits expectations and so bloodshed ever ensues.
No doubt this ruse succeeds because Americans rather like real diversity, for alleviating decadent boredom with the distractions of new food and music. They like it also because it shows how tolerant everyone is, while their cherished materialism conquers every culture. Even anti-materialist Buddhists can be appreciated for what they say—if sitting on their hand-sewn, organic, hypoallergenic cushions in multi-million dollar meditation centres overlooking the Malibu coast or the Catskill Mountains. That kind of anti-materialism we can appreciate.
Appreciating true diversity, and opposing a sterilising cult of sameness straight out of CS Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, may take work. But for language worry not! Good people often do sadistic things to dishonest words; just as in schoolyards gay now means nerdy and wholly unfashionable, as in “dude, your shirt is so gay!” The original word, meaning light-hearted, was hijacked by a homosexual lobby, drilled into everyone until they rebelled, and so others hijacked it back and gave it a new, negative meaning that cannot attract ire because it no longer means homosexual. No single person engineered this re-kidnapping; apparently done by a marketplace bigger than any one intention or talent, a central notion of FA Hayek’s economics.
Diversity, which once meant one thing and now another, will soon be reconquered and redefined, if it has not been already. Competing new definitions may be now struggling for supremacy under the radar—Chicago construction workers may be saying, “she left the meatloaf on the counter and, by morning, sheesh! You could’ve smelled the diversity in Akron!” New York rabbis may complain, “vey es meer! You couldn’t hear yourself think for the babies screaming diversity! May I be struck deaf!” In the LA ghetto, kids may be sneering, “Yo! Mutha! Pull that diversity on my ho again, an’ you be a dead man!” Given the left-wing’s diversity-overkill, is anyone willing to bet against me?
This linguistic tug-of-war is old. Tory meant a rural clodhopper allied to the aristocrats who defended the countryside, and both classes adopted it as a surviving term of pride. The song “Yankee Doodle” ridiculed unfashionable colonists who nabbed the word; and when the Lafayette Escadrille marched into France singing Irving Berlin’s lyrics, “The Yanks are coming… Over there!” no one mocked a Yankee.
Next, in fermentation yeast makes alcohol that eventually kills the yeast and stops fermentation, so the Left’s old strategy—of creating ever more special interest groups demanding an ever larger state—eventually generates more demand than anyone can supply. One day the monster strangles Dr Frankenstein. Their modern Gramscis, etc., must see this paradox; and realise that they have a small window of opportunity between creating so many special interests and when the dissatisfied offspring rebel and kill their benefactors. This suggests that they act fast to silence dissent and destroy the enemy fortresses of self-employment, religion, etc., while they still can.
Now what seems to be America’s final inning offers a single, slim hope. It demands the education, unification and mobilisation of Burke’s “small platoons” imperilled by trick-diversity and enforced uniformity. Conservatives will find it uncomfortable at the very least, for it includes informing, uniting and at first socialising with Koreans unseen in country clubs or redneck bars; fraternising with Americans who speak Spanish but who are not household servants; Catholics, Mormons and even those Catholic-hating Protestants who handle rattlesnakes in Church, not to forget Muslims. It requires demonstrating a real empathy for true diversity that is so appealing in principle if not in practise. It means escaping the comfortable ghettoes of right-wing websites and abandoning the fond, familiar battlefields of television exclusively for right-wing insiders. And that is perhaps too much to expect.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.