Imagine a world where there’s a fetching woman for every man, even if he’s Quasimodo. Where BMWs grow on trees. Where there’s a spot in the professoriate for every candidate who wants one. Under conditions of such plenty, there can be no charge of discrimination because there couldn’t have been cause to discriminate. In such a world the concept of adequacy might still be useful, but that of excellence would make no sense. In what sense does one woman or BMW or academic post excel another? If there were such a sense, then it wouldn’t be the world you’ve been asked to imagine.
But that’s not our world. In our world for any two women or cars or jobs, one excels the other. So we have to compete. On a level playing field? Never! For a very long time people who were white were given a leg up over people who were not. Was that unfair? And if unfair, any more unfair than Quasimodo not having his pick of women like everyone else?
The thing about rights and duties is that they’re correlatives. Your having a right not to be discriminated against, on grounds other than merit, imposes a duty on me not to discriminate on grounds other than merit. Black applicants were rejected as academics because they were black. Quasimodo is being rejected as a suitor because he’s, well, a hunchback. We condemn the one but allow the other. Why? Because we’ve decided that being physically deformed is relevant to romantic merit but blackness is not to academic merit.
Fair enough. But who is this ‘we’? And what gives ‘us’, but not Quasimodo, the right to decide what’s relevant and what’s not? It would seem, then, that we think there has to be a meta-right, namely a right to decide what will be relevant to merit and what will not. You don’t feel the need to defend your counting his physical deformity as a strike against Quasimodo, but you think hiring committees do need to defend their having counted blackness as a strike against a candidate. Now why do you suppose that is?
Note that I’m not doubting you could come up with reasonable answers for the one but not the other. Rather I’m wondering about there being no need to answer in the one case. Is it because you take the answer to be self-evident? If so, could you allow that the same might have been the case for the hiring committee? “What do you mean why don’t we hire blacks? Just look at them!”
But diversity hiring isn’t about merit. It’s about justice. Fair enough. Well, I’m guessing that albinos have been discriminated against at least as much as blacks, and so the reason they tend not to be included in diversity hiring is that there just aren’t enough of them to muster a lobby to worry about from this justice perspective. But what about felons? Or pedophiles? Or out-of-the-closet good ol’ boys? There’s more than ample evidence that these people too have been systemically discriminated against in academic hiring. So that they’re excluded from our quest for diversity would seem to reveal yet another meta-right we’re claiming for ourselves, namely the right to decide, merit be damned, what kind of people, be they of whatever colour, that we want to exclude from the academy.
The talking heads on Fox News accuse EDI advocates of being racist. Of course they are. So what? We all are. But John McWhorter accuses the woke of something perhaps less forgivable. They are (what he calls) the Elite. They don’t want one of these deplorables in the office down the hall. So maybe cosmetic diversity is just a blind for orthodoxy.
I’ve worried about this in earlier blog entries. But the plight of incels like Quasimodo give this worry a renewed urgency. Being myself God’s gift to women, I shouldn’t really give a shit about Quasimodo. But then being a tenured professor, and hence grandfathered into my position, neither should I give a shit about the New Orthodoxy masquerading as diversity at what once was a paradise of intellectual heterodoxy. But I do give a shit. And that I do is, probably, my greatest worry. I’m worried that I’m becoming just another social justice warrior. Damn!.