Monday, December 19, 2011

True Respect For Diversity

Back in my university days, a friend of mine once proposed a drinking game in which we would read the student handbook and take a shot of liquor every time it mentioned "diversity." We ultimately rejected his proposal on the grounds that after the first few pages we would succumb to alcohol poisoning. The point of this anecdote is that "respecting" or "celebrating diversity," has become a basic mantra of most progressives. If we are unable to achieve "relativistic enlightenment" and understand that all cultures and traditions as equal, we must at the very least  accept the right of individuals and communities to express their culture and celebrate their traditions.

After much thought I become convinced that the greatest individual differences are found within rather than between groups. The aggregate statistical differences between (let's say) African-Americans and European-Americans are dwarfed by the diversity within each community. And at least within the United States, once we control for class and education, the greatest cultural differences are not found between different ethnic groups, but between different regions. For example, there is a greater probability that I (as a white) would have more in common with a secular, educated, middle class Hispanic-American of my native Chicago than I would with a deeply religious, working class white of rural Alabama. This leads me to determine that Southern Christians are as a"distinct piece" of the "gorgeous cultural mosaic" that makes up the United States as Asian-Americans, Jewish-Americans or any other group. 

For these reasons it strikes me as contradictory, if not hypocritical, when progressives voice contempt for devout, southern Christians, whom they refer to as "red necks," for it would be beyond the pale for them to criticize observant Muslims, Jews, etc. This demonstrates that they neither respect the cultural diversity found within their group nor the marked cultural differences that flourish between regions of the United States. This had led to instances in which school districts encouraged Muslim and Jewish students to set up displays of Crescents and Menorahs, while barring Christian students from presenting similar displays. In a recent case, the Supreme Court had to intervene to defend the right of a Christian student group from meeting after school. In this case, I do not believe that the administrations were motivated by a concern for the separation of church and state, but rather by their inability to include Traditional Christians in their "celebration of diversity."

In the political arena this is seen when activists and politicians seek to oppose uniform policies across the land, indifferent to the sentiments and desires of diverse states and regions. During the push for health care reform, the federal government largely ignored the Tenth Amendment by seeking to impose a single plan, rather than allow each state to pursue policies that reflect the cultural and philosophical inclinations of their residents. Implicit in the strong sense of Federalism present in the constitution is a respect for the principles of self governance and an affirmation of and respect for the pronounced regional diversity that already existed.. To allow a strong central government to impose uniform policies across the land, beyond the carefully enumerated powers granted by the constitution, would be a recipe for conflict. Individuals who objected to the laws that governed their state or community could seek to alter them through the democratic process or move to other localities that better reflected their political and cultural visions. Of course this is not to say that states rights are without limits; slavery and other egregious abuses of individual rights warrant federal intervention.  But, beyond that, we should respect the rights of diverse peoples and regions to enjoy their cultural and political traditions, even when we find them distasteful. That makes for a freer, stronger and more interesting nation. 

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