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.