Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Meaning of the Word

I recently read an excellent blog entry about a school that preaches the virtues of diversity to its students, while not being at all amenable to making accommodations for a small boy's sensory integration issues. The conclusion: They have no idea what the word "diversity" means.

Unfortunately, very few of the people who have advocated for equality and diversity, at any time in history, have understood it broadly enough to encompass the entire human species. When the wealthy slaveowner Thomas Jefferson wrote that it was self-evident that all men were created equal, he was referring to white males who owned property. Back in those days, it was dangerous radicalism just to suggest that kings were not divinely appointed to rule over the commoners.

When the early feminists sought the vote, how did they persuade men to support their cause? If you thought they just gave eloquent speeches about the value of diversity in a flourishing democracy, you'd be wrong. Rather, some of them deliberately appealed to racial prejudice, arguing that white women's votes would help to ensure Aryan supremacy.

When the schools began to accept children of all races, students were taught that they should appreciate the diversity of different cultures. Then they took the bus home to segregated neighborhoods and eagerly watched TV shows about cowboys shooting "savage" Indians.

At present in the United States, one of the two major political parties often campaigns on a strategy of getting votes from bigots by stirring up prejudice against blacks, gays, Hispanics, Muslims, and anyone else they think won't vote in large enough numbers to make a difference. (Yes, I know there are decent and moral Republicans out there, and I respect you guys, but y'all seriously need to clean up your party and throw out the racists and the gay-bashers.)

The trouble with the word "diversity" is that there is no clearly defined consensus view of what it should mean. Many folks think of diversity as including all people who are just a little bit different from themselves; but as for those they see as significantly different, well, it doesn't even occur to them that the word might apply in that context.

No matter how much our society broadens its view of diversity, there's always farther to go. In the future, even if we reach a point where the humanity of every person is respected, there will still be more questions to address. For example: As we learn to communicate more effectively with animals, should we treat them as entitled to self-determination? If technology advances far enough to allow us to build self-aware androids, what civil rights will they have? Will we need anti-discrimination laws to protect cyborgs? If we encounter sentient aliens, how should we interact with them? Some day, we may have to deal with these issues in real life, rather than just entertaining ourselves with them in science fiction.

Bigotry rarely is as self-evident as one might expect.

Labels: ,


  • I thought diversity meant an open marriage so you could have diverse sexual partners.

    By Blogger Fore Sam, at 6:24 PM  

  • John, I'd really rather not know what goes on in your marriage...

    By Blogger abfh, at 7:15 PM  

  • Well, autism is not diversity. It's a nightmare. I think calling it diversity takes away from the true horror of it. And, it makes it more difficult to find that marital diversity too.

    By Blogger Fore Sam, at 8:06 PM  

  • I thought diversity was about accepting people as they are, rather than the way you think they ought to be.

    By Blogger Joeymom, at 8:31 PM  

  • Thanks ABFH,
    I had heard of or thought of most of those contridictions you spoke of and I try to be aware that there are always more ways that I can learn to be more accepting of diversity.It is something to continually strive for but not easy like I heard you to be saying.
    You actually mentioned a couple of ideas for broadening ones view of diversity that I haven't even seen in sci-fi shows.
    At least I had not
    thought of them realisticlly in a way that really challanged my views.That's what I like about Star Trek.It challenges me in that way.

    By Blogger Ed, at 9:49 PM  

  • In terms of robots, we could do worse than starting with Asimov's rules of robotics.

    By Blogger Club 166, at 11:28 PM  

  • Answer: "It's a nightmare. I think calling it diversity takes away from the true horror of it."

    Question: "What in the name of G_d is it like to have to be married to John Best?"

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:23 AM  

  • Food for thought, thank you

    By Blogger Casdok, at 5:25 AM  

  • Even John Best's thinking should be considered part of the diversity of human thought, for example, unfortunate as that may seem.

    By Blogger Joseph, at 12:04 PM  

  • One of the classic ways of advancing one's own group is to distance one's own people from another group that is even lower on the social ladder. And even as people come to accept one kind of diversity, other kinds of diversity become less acceptable. Even as ethnic minorities have made social gains for acceptance of their diversity, the cosmetic industry has led to less social acceptance for people with physical differences and "flaws," and, of course, less accepting of neurological difference with new categories of "disorders." I wonder if people will ever tire of thinking up ways to consider themselves better than others, or of spending money to modify themselves for the sake of conformity.

    By Blogger lily_in_revolt, at 6:30 PM  

  • Great blog.
    As to the issue of Thomas Jefferson his ability to argue for all men being equal while still being a slave owner makes perfect sense if you are coming from the perspective of Aristotle and the Greek political tradition, which Jefferson and all the founding fathers were.
    According to Aristotle a democracy required a slave population in order to allow for others to engage practicing democracy.
    Think of the declaration of Independance this way: All men are created equal in that they have the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There is nothing there about having a right to be a citizen, to vote, or to not be a slave.
    As a liberal I may reject this view. I may blame the founding fahters for giving us our race problem. But I cannot accuse Mr. Jefferson of being a hypocrite.
    Violence in Early Modern Europe

    By Blogger Izgad, at 10:07 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home