On honoring diversity

“Honor Diversity” is a commonly seen bumper sticker here in liberal Eugene. It implies that diversity per se is good and that the world contains two kinds of people, those who honor it and those who don’t. In practice, this means that the latter are seen as Cretans who should be shunned (no people are more intolerant than the tolerant). I think it’s an absurd position because not all thoughts, customs, and values are equally valid, and some are grievously wrong.
A reader who went away mad earlier this year informed me that she had a right to her opinion. I wrote that there is vast difference between a legal right and a rational right. Few of our values are built upon rational rights. “Honor Diversity” portrays a world that has little to do with reality, but the bromides that represent false inclusivity are so often repeated that we facilely accept them, although, in practice, we might do just the opposite.

Because of this blog, people often become angry with me because I don’t respect some opinion that they hold dear. Of course, they don
’t respect my opinion that their opinion is wrong (honoring diversity doesn’t go that far). I think that what they really want from me is that I express only such controversial values as they agree with. I say this because I have never once been criticized for anything I wrote, no matter how controversial, unless my critic held an opposing opinion. I’m absolutely, totally, completely, and unalterably, unwilling to aim for agreement; I make no apology for this; and I don’t take the fact that I’m criticized for it to suggest that I should do anything differently. In fact, the more I’m attacked for a well-considered opinion, the more I am obliged to defend it, and the firmer my belief becomes. Nobody cows me. I respect no authority. I yield to no pressure, and I can but thank my lucky stars that I don’t live in some hellhole like Saudi Arabia where I would have to choose between keeping my mouth shut and being stoned to death in a soccer stadium.

I don’t mean to portray myself as a person who, in the name of honesty, goes about blurting out the first thing that pops into his head no matter how offensive, because I try to be just the opposite, by which I mean someone who puts a great deal of thought into what he says, who tries to avoid shooting-off his mouth, and who expresses himself as tactfully as he knows how. Some might say that, if these are my goals, I certainly fail miserably at them. Very well, I fail miserably, but these are my goals.

I put nearly all of my emphasis on acting in good faith. What I mean by this is speaking the truth—as I see it—as honestly and constructively as I can. For instance, when I told the woman that there is a difference between a legal right and a rational right, I knew she would leave my blog, but I couldn’t find a better way to say it, and I thought it needed to be said because she had demanded respect for her opinion simply because it is was her opinion (that I “honor diversity,” as it were), and I considered it an irrational demand. Yet, it’s very difficult to attack someone’s opinion without making them feel that I am attacking them, although I try to draw a distinction. After all, I can look back at my life (such things only being clear in hindsight), and see that I sometimes did and believed appalling things, and this does give me more humility than might be apparent.

The question then becomes, does doing bad things make us bad people? Two thoughts. One is that even when we act within the best light we have, our light is often very dim. The second is that we don’t always act within the best light we have, that is, we knowingly do hurtful things. We steal, we leer, we scheme, we lash-out, we gossip, and so on. Because I lean toward determinism, I seriously doubt that we could behave differently. You might object that even determinists talk as if they have free choice and become angry with those whose choices displease them. This is true, but it doesn
’t negate their position that whatever is must be, including their own feeling of having choice, there sometimes being a difference between a philosophical position and a feeling.

It’s also true that most people are simply not deep thinkers. This doesn’t make them stupid or inferior, but it does mean that they’re limited in a way that I hold dear. It also means that I usually avoid talking to them in depth. I know other people who are deep thinkers, yet I still regard them as appallingly wrong about some things. My sister and I have argued religion for decades, but I persist in thinking she’s wrong, and she persists in thinking that I’m missing the point. No matter how smart, deep, open, knowledgeable, and persuasive two people are, they will nonetheless disagree about many things.

The fact that most people aren’t deep thinkers is especially obvious in regard to the subject of my last post, which concerned our treatment of other animals. I don’t mean to say that meat-eaters are shallow by definition, but rather than most people eat meat for no better reason than that they’re acculturated to regard other animals as property that exist for human benefit. This enables otherwise kindly people to behave callously and even brutally (you can hardly shoot a cow in the head with kindness), and I don’t respect that, but I do understand that a person of depth and goodwill might disagree. I will think he’s grievously wrong, and I won’t respect what he does, but then I don’t respect much of what I do, and, for all I know, he’s acting in greater congruity with his light than I am with mine.

Because I criticize someone
’s religion, values, philosophy, or behavior, he might charge that I’m a horrible person, a complete hypocrite. Okay, fine, but even if I’m as bad as Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot combined, this doesn’t of itself falsify a single one of my beliefs. We all fail. We all lack light, and we don’t always live even by the little light we have. Some atheists wear t-shirts that say “Good Without God,” and it seems an ironic statement indeed coming from people who accuse Christians of self-righteousness. The one part of the Bible with which I completely agree is that we’re all fallen, we’re all desperately wicked. Not one of us can get through a day, and maybe not an hour, without knowing that we did or thought something of which we were ashamed, something which we wouldn’t want anyone to know about. Maybe you disagree; maybe you think you’re a genuinely good person whose shit don’t stink. I think you’re either lying or clueless, but I’ve been wrong before.

The bottom-line is that “honor diversity” is bullshit when it’s expressed as an either/or proposition, and, sad to say, the greater the differences between two people, the harder it will be for them to get along. All things being equal, if you isolate five black guys and one white guy on an island, the white guy will be the odd man out. Likewise, with five Christians and an atheist, five conservatives and a liberal, and so on. Whoever is the odd man out will be blamed for creating disharmony simply by the virtue of the fact that he is the odd man out. He will be attacked as stubborn, judgmental, and arrogant. So it is in society. If you don’t fit-in, you’re seen as the problem, and the only way to avoid being seen as the problem is to keep your mouth shut, and I think it’s a ridiculous expectation.

Someone wrote after my last post that she is seen as judgmental because she’s a vegan. Well, she is judgmental inasmuch as she thinks it’s morally wrong to cause other animals unnecessary suffering. The idea that we should go through life not passing judgments on other people’s values—the “Honor Diversity” approach to morality—is a crock. As it with vegans, so it is with me as an atheist. I’m seen as arrogant simply because I am an atheist, the word alone being the equivalent of waving a red cape in front of a bull (you should see how cold many people’s eyes become at the mere mention of the word). But what is a vegan and an atheist to do? We can think as well of other people as we are able, but it’s too much to ask that we respect beliefs that we think are in such grievous error that they’re harmful to the entire world. After all, the difference in being a vegan versus a meat-eater or an atheist versus a religious person isn’t like the difference between  a Sealy and a Posturepedic; rather each comes from our best thoughts about the universe and our species’ place in it, and this makes it impossible for us to regard the thoughts of others as different but equal. Some things really are an either/or, and sometimes respect for diversity really is too much to ask. Take abortion.

People who are pro-choice often view those who are anti-abortion as the enemies of freedom, and they demand that such people respect their right to choose. I’m pro-abortion, yet even I consider it an outrageous demand given that those who oppose abortion regard it as murder. I think they’re wrong, but given their perspective, I fully accept that they’re going to regard their views as infinitely superior to mine. If they see me as a person of good faith, they will understand that I disagree with them about abortion being murder, yet I can hardly ask that they respect my opinion in the interest of some silliness about honoring diversity. This same respect is what I offer those with whom I disagree about important issues. If they really need me to respect their opinions as equal to my own, they’re not going to get it, but if they want me to respect them as people of goodwill, I might be able to oblige. It is the most that I can do, and if they possess a strong internal sense of security, they won’t feel threatened by our differences. Otherwise, I don’t see that I have much to offer them.


lotta joy said...

Oh, I've got so much to say and a brain that quickly forgets. Honor Diversity is the equivalent of being so open minded your brain falls out. Such is the atheist versus theist. Theists demand respect for their beliefs to the point it is sacrilege to even voice a differing opinion, even if it is one the atheist holds near and dear.

I've encountered too many theists who gather great personal joy and glee while stating those who do not believe as they do will burn in hell for all eternity. We have a huge sign along our highway with the words "Eternity in hell is a long time". I don't think anyone "likes" that sign, but the nearby minister said "It's good to remind people". This is GOOD?

Conversely, my husband grew more and more irritable when an atheist - with the same fervor and glee - made fun of people praying to their imaginary friend. I cringed.

I also keep my mouth shut while those around me introduce themselves by their religion and church, then ask me to attend. This is waaaaay too presumptuous, but I've learned to keep my mouth shut and change the subject matter.

It's not the diversity, it's the EGO that causes the problems. And large egos are the first to insist on inserting their beliefs into schools, governments, and neighbors, creating the "odd man out" scenario.

Elephant's Child said...

I don't agree with anyone all of the time. Including myself. By definition I don't think we can respect a different opinion as equal to our own. If we did, integrity would suggest that we needed to change our opinion.
I marvel at the differences in culture, experience, view points. Some of them I find fascinating, some intriguing, and some abhorrent. If, and it is a big if, another person's opinion doesn't endorse or allow cruelty, I will accept it much more readily. Toleration rather than honour? I am struggling for the right words here. Back later when/if my mind is better honed.

Snowbrush said...

“I also keep my mouth shut while those around me introduce themselves by their religion and church”

You live in Florida (you probably still remember that much, but I thought I should mention it for the sake of others) where religion is assumed and in-your-face, and therefore the cause of constant stress and anger. It really is a whole other environment here in western Oregon, and this has enabled to let go of much of my anger regarding religion except for the time each month when “Freethought Today” arrives, and I’m reminded of it all over again. I can only say that I never consider atheists to be much—if any—more rational than theists in areas other than religion, after such factors as intelligence and education have been taken into account.

My main interest in my friends isn’t with what they believe, or even how likable or interesting they are, but whether I think they are honest, trustworthy, not too annoying, and will be there for me when I need them. That’s it. These are my primary values, and all other perks are gravy. Call me selfish; hit me, beat me, and make me write bad checks, but I’ll still remain a pragmatist when it comes to friendship. What this means to me is that I don’t give a hang whether or not someone believes in God. The rub is that most of those who do believe in God are not equally open toward me.

“It's not the diversity, it's the EGO that causes the problems.”

Or tribalism. We all want safety, and because we are a social species, that means being a part of a team, and it’s simply easier to form teams with those who are like ourselves.

“I don't agree with anyone all of the time. Including myself.”

I’m trying to picture the fights you must have. First, the two of you—yourself and yourself—raise your voices; then the cursing starts; then comes threats, the kicking, and the punching. Finally, yourself gets a gun, but when yourself see her enter the room, she says, “Wait a minute, you moron, don’t you see that there’s a serious problem with about what you’re about to do?” And she says, “Oh, yeah, I guess you’re right.”

PhilipH said...

That bumper sticker is a load of bollocks.

Love thy neighbour, eh what! Your neighbour has crap music blaring out for hours on end. Love him/her? Shoot the bastard more like.

My sis-in-law is a died in the wool Baptist ever since that Billy Bullshit Graham came to the UK to spread his born-again spiel. She always ends her phone messages with 'God Bless' and she knows my take on that, but she insists. OK, that's harmless I guess, but irks.

Last month she slipped and fell, dislocating her right wrist. She lives in Richmond on Thames and when she got to the accident and emergency department she was seen IMMEDIATELY. No three or four hour wait. When she was telling me of this she ended by saying something like "Wasn't it wonderful how God was looking after me..."

I ansered: "Yes. What a pity he wasn't there for Ellie (my lovely 13 year old granddaughter just diagnosed with IBD).

She simply said: "Oh, that's the way it is sometimes."

Daft cow!

I hardly ever argue or discuss her beliefs, but I am so aggrieved at the unfairness of life, especially now that my Ellie is having to go through some nasty internal examinations in a few days time, I just had to express my thoughts to sis-in-law about 'God's help'.

And don't get me started on football, Sepp Blatter and FIFA. No no and a zillion times no!

Charles Gramlich said...

As with many things, "Honor Diversity" seems to me to be a good guideline but hardly a mantra to live by. Probably the thing that guides my thinking on most issues is that there are shades of gray everywhere. It bothers me when people don't see those shades and speak only in absolutes.

All Consuming said...

I agree with E.C and Charles. A good enough guideline, and if we can at least tolerate one another, we might have a chance to live in relative peace. Niggles rather than fists thrown (to take it down scale a moment). And yes, shades of gray is spot on, but so many people work and think in black and white only when it comes to any and every subject. Our morals and personal ideals decree our passions, and sometimes it's hard to see those gray shades when said passions are strong. Sometimes black and white is the only option. *shrugs*.

I too look for honesty predominantly in friends. All the more-so the older I have become. If someone irritates me, they'll not have got close enough for me to consider their honesty. I have a large bargepole I carry round holding overly friendly people back these days. It's the nice ones you have to watch you know *laughs a lot*.

Sue in Italia/In the Land Of Cancer said...

Where I worked, diversity was a "core value" but what they really meant was that they wanted people of different colors thinking alike. Unfortunately this was research company in which diversity in thought was necessary to succeed. The company was successful because it bought up little companies that did well with novel ideas and then they fired those employees.

Honoring diversity sounds good and noble but when it comes down to it, impossible. I was always puzzled that the US refused to deal with South Africa because of apartheid but dealt with inherently sexist countries in which women are treated so badly.
There is a song from some musical (AvenueQ?) "Everyone is a little bit racist". I don't think anyone wants to be thought of as a racist but it is a hard ideal to have.

Sparkling Red said...

I am also a pragmatist when it comes to friends. There are certain things that I disagree about with each of my friends, but I pick my battles carefully.

I agree that being non-judgmental is not a realistic goal for humans. Being tactful, sure (and for the record I feel that you are tactful enough), but how can we not have opinions about important things? Some people who have lived sheltered lives might be able to get away with not having opinions, but the rest of us have had to determine where we stand as adults in this crazy world.

I admire how you stick to your guns and present your arguments so lucidly. For example, I can't find anything to quarrel with in your post about being a vegetarian. It forces me to admit that sometimes I just say to myself "Eff it, I want to eat chicken," and my love for my fellow creatures flies out the window until later when I feel a bit guilty. Does that make me a bad person? Well, overall I think I do more good than harm, but is that any excuse? Is it good enough? I don't know. But it's probably a good thing that you are taking me out of my comfort zone and at least making me acknowledge the facts of my behaviour.

My best effort at explaining my attitude is that I feel that I give a lot to others on a daily basis, and that I've earned the right to occasionally make a choice that is selfish. Am I right? Am I wrong? Honestly I don't know. Go ahead, judge me! ;-) (But seriously, do. I'm interested in your response.)

G. B. Miller said...

For me, diversity is just another concept that means diddly/squat. I work for state guv'ment, and diversity is the 1,000lb sledgehammer that is used to keep 95% of the workforce in line and the other 5% promoted.

I've personally experienced diversity at work as part of an interview panel. Per affirmative action, our panel needed to be ethnically diverse, so we had an African/American male, a Hispanic female, and a WASP (me). And according to my boss, A.A. actually sets the tone for the job opening, in that they rule on whether or not we have to hire a specific candidate (regardless on how qualified he/she may be) for the position. If they say we have to hire a specific candidate and we don't, we better have tons of paperwork backing up our decision on why we're hiring that candidate over the one that they want.

rhymeswithplague said...

I think you have a very high opinion of your own opinion, and how could it be otherwise? So do I (of my own). Yet here I am, still reading you, still thinking of you as a friend in spite of our vast differences. Perhaps if we lived nearer to one another (within shouting distance) we could become enemies (that's a joke, Snow)....

rhymeswithplague said...

"Does doing bad things make us bad people?"

Of course not. Being bad people makes us do bad thongs.

I'm only half joking, being a recovering Calvinist and all. And then there's that verse in the Bible, "There is none that doeth good; no, not one."

rhymeswithplague said...

Yikes... thongs = things

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

“I don't agree with anyone all of the time. Including myself.”

I argue with myself quite often! Glad I'm not alone!

Snowbrush said...

“If someone irritates me, they'll not have got close enough for me to consider their honesty.”

I believe that I can understand someone perfectly and still be enormously irritated.

“There is a song from some musical (AvenueQ?) "Everyone is a little bit racist".

I looked it up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbud8rLejLM

“I admire how you stick to your guns and present your arguments so lucidly. For example, I can't find anything to quarrel with in your post about being a vegetarian.”

I very much appreciate your words, especially because I lost a friend over that post, and one of the main objections was that I should respect meat-eating. Well, I don’t. I tried to acknowledge that a person’s goodness takes in many issues, and that I fail miserably by my own standards, but none of that translates into a respect for eating meat. How can I make a choice based upon morality, and then say that another choice is equal to it? The irony that I because I rejected some aspects of a person’s behavior, they, in the name of tolerance, rejected my entire being and everything of good that I might have brought into their lives. I can’t imagine a greater hypocrisy.

“…sometimes I just say to myself "Eff it, I want to eat chicken," and my love for my fellow creatures flies out the window until later when I feel a bit guilty. Does that make me a bad person? Well, overall I think I do more good than harm, but is that any excuse? Is it good enough? I don't know. ”

I think It sounds a little like a carbon tax by which you can save up credits from not-polluting for those times when you want to pollute. Aside from the morality of eating chicken, here’s a Frontline episode about the health risks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbud8rLejLM . That aside, as I see it, we’re all hypocrites and rationalizers.

“A.A. actually sets the tone for the job opening, in that they rule on whether or not we have to hire a specific candidate (regardless on how qualified he/she may be) for the position.”

I’m glad you’re not hiring surgeons. I would find such an atmosphere maddening.

“Being bad people makes us do bad thongs [I guess you meant things]. I'm only half joking, being a recovering Calvinist and all. And then there's that verse in the Bible, "There is none that doeth good; no, not one.’”

I agree with that verse, which I’ve referred to at least twice of late. As for us being bad people, yes, our species is bad as a whole, but within our species there’s a heck of a lot of room for at least two extremes and a middle. Jesus related it all to thought, denying any difference between, for example, sexual lust and having sex. It’s one of the many things that he said I consider absurd, at least as I understand it. Maybe you have a different understanding.

Joe Todd said...

Great post.. Snow do you do FaceBook??

Snowbrush said...

"Snow do you do FaceBook??"

No, I don't, Joe. I can't even keep up with my posts, comments, and the blogs I follow, so to add Facebook would be too much.