Ross Douthat of The New York Times (and plenary speaker at Acton University 2014) talks about diversity and dishonesty, focusing on the recent resignation of Brendan Eich at Mozilla and the decision by Brandeis University to withdraw an honorary degree from human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Douthat’s problem isn’t so much that these things happened; it’s that those charged with publicly discussing the issues seem so bent on lying.
In both cases, Mozilla and Brandeis, there was a striking difference between the clarity of what had actually happened and the evasiveness of the official responses to the events. Eich stepped down rather than recant his past support for the view that one man and one woman makes a marriage; Hirsi Ali’s invitation was withdrawn because of her sweeping criticisms of Islamic culture. But neither the phrase “marriage” nor the word “Islam” appeared in the initial statements Mozilla and Brandeis released.
Instead, the Mozilla statement rambled in the language of inclusion: “Our organizational culture reflects diversity and inclusiveness. … Our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions. …”
The statement on Hirsi Ali was slightly more direct, saying that “her past statements … are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.” But it never specified what those statements or those values might be — and then it fell back, too, on pieties about diversity: “In the spirit of free expression that has defined Brandeis University throughout its history, Ms. Hirsi Ali is welcome to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues.”
“Fuzzy rhetoric,” Douthat says, is being used as a sleight of hand: don’t look at the deep moral defect of our organizations; instead, look here at our lovely statement regarding how diverse we are. Douthat isn’t really all that upset about the fact that such shenanigans are directed at conservatives. What’s he’s really worried about is the total absence of understanding by the cultural elite of what “diversity” really is. Instead, “diversity” is now some sort of “doublespeak” for censorship. It’s okay if a university wants to dole out awards only to liberals, but they need to be up-front about it. It’s the duplicity that is eating at Douthat:
I am (or try to be) a partisan of pluralism, which requires respecting Mozilla’s right to have a C.E.O. whose politics fit the climate of Silicon Valley, and Brandeis’s right to rescind degrees as it sees fit, and Harvard’s freedom to be essentially a two-worldview community, with a campus shared uneasily by progressives and corporate neoliberals, and a small corner reserved for token reactionary cranks.
But this respect is difficult to maintain when these institutions will not admit that this is what is going on. Instead, we have the pretense of universality — the insistence that the post-Eich Mozilla is open to all ideas, the invocations of the “spirit of free expression” from a school that’s kicking a controversial speaker off the stage.
Instead, these organizations have now created atmospheres of toxic untruths: what we say isn’t really what we mean. We are using words that mean something, but we aren’t using them that way. We will say “diversity” but mean “lock-step.” We’ll say “academic justice” but mean “only liberals need apply.” This, Douthat says, is what is bothering him: the toxic lies of what is now liberalism.