Conflicting Visions Diversity and Equity

Words do not define themselves. As vocalized sounds or written letters, apart from a context, they say nothing good or bad. For they have no precise meaning. Consider the word group, diversity, equity, and inclusion. If American culture were not so deeply divided over Critical Race Theory, Social Justice Theory, cancel culture, and the negative reactions to them, hearing the words diversity, equity, and inclusion would not trigger the emotional response that it does.

Two Meanings of Diversity

Apart from that conflict, the idea of gathering a workforce with a diversity of perspectives and a variety of experiences would be considered an important strategy for achieving the goals of academic or business endeavors: discovery, innovation, and efficiency. Everyone knows that “two heads are better than one.” But it is not just a matter of numbers. Different voices challenge and balance each other to produce a better product…as long as diversity serves as a means to fulfilling the mission of the institution. The mission is the principle of unity, the end toward which all the activity aims. Harmony is dynamic, cooperative movement produced by a creative combination of unity and diversity.

However when diversity becomes an end in itself, the original mission is eclipsed or even aborted. Chaos reigns. Social conflict arises when against all common sense diversity is proclaimed to be an absolute value. Since diversity cannot possibly fulfill this role—it would produce total chaos—people begin to wonder what the real agenda is. Diversity must be contained and regulated. If the type and amount of diversity is not regulated by faithful execution of the mission of the institution, who will regulate it and to what end? We begin to suspect that it will be regulated arbitrarily in service of the private interests of now pervasive diversity officers.

Two Meanings of Equity

Apart from our situation of conflict, the word equity would strike a chord in most people similar to that evoked by the words “fairness” or “justice.” Equity pictures a state of affairs in which society’s rewards and punishments are allotted according to what one deserves because of one’s inherent dignity, character, achievements, and abilities—not on the basis of factors that have nothing to do with merit. Perhaps equity would also connote a subtle sense that fairness and justice have to be achieved by resisting the universal human tendency toward selfishness, unfairness, and injustice.*

However, apart from our polarized situation I do not think most people would think that the ideal of equity should be applied to identity groups as collectives because the measures of what one deserves, of what is fair and just—that is, dignity, character, achievements, and abilities—apply only to individual persons and their unique situations. While in the Western world all members of identity groups are believed to possess inherent dignity, individuals within groups differ greatly with respect to character, achievements, and abilities. Ironically, pursuing equity among identity groups creates inequities at the individual level. Social goods are no longer distributed fairly and justly, that is, according to an individual’s deserts as determined by dignity, character, achievements, and abilities.

Rewards and punishments would be distributed proportionately according to group identity. Implicit in this change in how rewards and punishments are distributed is also a shift in the location of the decision making process and enforcement authority. Decisions can no longer be made within the institution on the basis of individual merit and solely in service the mission of the institution, which make sense according to common sense intuitions of fairness and institutional logic. The institutional mission and common sense notions of fairness have been suborned to the external logic of identity group equity backed by government authority.

In the name of equity, fairness and justice—understood as receiving what one is due as measured by dignity, character, achievements, and ability—would be cast aside. Rewards and punishments would be distributed according to an alien principle having nothing to do with individual deserts. The same word “equity” used in different contexts means completely opposite things. One person’s good is another’s evil. What for one person is just is for another unjust. Fairness in one context is unfairness in another. No wonder there is controversy and confusion!

*Note: I am describing something similar but identical to the concept of equity found in common law, which appeals to the ordinary person’s sense of fairness in situations where the legal system seems to be unfair.

To be continued….

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