The Cancer of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Biologists continue to try to understand why a group of properly functioning cells can morph into the seed of a destructive, spreading cancer sufficient to overcome our innate repair mechanisms. Likewise, it is worth asking how a well-intentioned push for diversity and the long-overdue end of discrimination has morphed into a malignant movement that is eroding our society from the inside and is described by three otherwise anodyne terms: diversity, inclusion, and equity, or DIE (my preferred sequence for the acronym). 

To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we should all aspire to a society where people are judged not by the color of their skin, but by their character. Many people still embrace that ideal today and believe it should apply far more broadly to exclude judgment for gender, religious affiliation, nationality, and more—what one might call identity blindness. 

DIE has adopted the opposite aspiration, where race, and by implication ethnicity, has become paramount in judging people and can be used to displace character, not to mention ability, achievement, and other measures of individuality and merit. To make matters worse, proliferating classifications of human identity are being subsumed into the DIE ideology, creating new minorities and thus more opportunities for victimhood and special treatment. This is a fundamentally different vision for our country than most of us hold. It is tearing us apart.

DIE is flourishing despite its irreparably flawed structural foundation, namely its measurement system. The classifications against which supposed inequities, exclusions, or segregation are measured are typically without viable distinctions and hence mostly subjective. Skin color, race, and ethnicity all lie on an undifferentiated spectrum based on a jumble of genes and environment. Is Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) a true Native American with only 1/1024 such heritage? How much pigment must skin have to be considered black? How many generations back defines Hispanic heritage? Even handicaps—another basis for DIE coverage—come in many flavors. And the one category that was once clearly defined—male versus female—has now been blurred by a spectrum of gender “identities.” Add to that the arbitrary self-identifications based on . . . often nothing other than personal inclinations or perceived needs. 

The societal implications are huge. DIE, as distinct from appropriate anti-discrimination measures, has turned nearly all hiring and selection processes into a proliferation of checkboxes and a spreadsheet exercise that is increasingly onerous, often futile, conceptually flawed, and too frequently counterproductive or destructive. Those who benefit typically do so at an offsetting cost to others—sometimes many others—not to mention the ever-increasing costs of compliance with any DIE policy, including newly expanded and sometimes overly empowered human resource departments. 

DIE dogma typically is framed as “social justice” or “social responsibility,” since relatively few organizations benefit directly from diversity, except in public-facing organizational entities like police, marketing, sales, etc. Few outputs, like computer code or manufactured goods, are better because the producers are a more diverse or inclusive crew. The pitfall of the social rationale is that it tends to focus on the minorities of any given class, too often to the detriment of much larger majorities. As a prime example, the push to protect transexuals has produced a “right” for transexual women—who are biologically male with most of the physical characteristics and advantages it entails—to participate in women’s sports, to the obvious detriment of vast numbers of women who should be allowed to compete with genetic peers. Rights of different groups collide all the time but promoting resolutions that almost always favor a myriad of small special interests, a staple of DIE, is a formula for nothing but societal chaos and injustice

Destructive and Deadly Absurdities

DIE ideology can also be flagrantly destructive and even deadly, as in its focus on the rights of the criminals. While disparate treatment might explain some of the statistics showing overrepresentation of minorities in prison or awaiting bail, the more proximate contributing factors are inadequate public education, lack of role models in single-parent households, flawed cultural norms, and poverty. DIE advocates blithely ignore the impact on the public in pushing “reforms” such as cash bail elimination and criminal conduct minimization. The resulting revolving door of criminal justice creates an ever-growing roster of real victims, often within minority communities. Compassion might dictate a second chance, but a third, fourth, or more? And volumes could be written about the demonization of police based on gross exaggerations about misconduct by the DIE crusaders.

DIE considerations in education are more complex. Part of a university’s mission is to impart an understanding of the world into which students will graduate, which argues for a diverse student body. But for many of the same reasons that some minorities are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, potential applicant pools are not equally well prepared across the identity spectrum. While few would argue against having recruiting efforts to diversify the qualified applicant pool, the DIE movement is so focused on identity statistics that it is willing to punish and stunt academic success. 

Rather than attempt to build on the achievements and model of charter schools to improve educational qualifications and results across the identity spectrum, DIE’s dogma deals with statistically disproportionate gaps in achievement by dumbing down educational programs, diluting or eliminating qualification tests, and eliminating any form of tracking by ability, all to achieve illusory equality through more evenly distributed disadvantages. It’s an “if I can’t have it, you can’t” mentality reminiscent of Marxism. 

DIE in higher education also imposes a steep indirect cost on vast numbers of others. A disproportionate share of spending growth at colleges has been for increased administration, which in part has consisted of implementing the entire DIE machinery, much of which serves needs that go far beyond the traditional educational mission of a university. This has contributed to ballooning tuition costs which has created the massive student debt burden, while DIE is simultaneously devaluating the degrees—due to pressure to teach students what to think instead of how to think—that are needed to service that debt. 

Bottom line, the DIE movement has now succeeded in infusing myriad “professionals” and advocates in nearly every corner of society, including government and the military. Their purview typically goes beyond expanding applicant pools into personnel selection and management. They administer ambiguous frameworks—with a heavy tinge of color—for the treatment of ill-defined and selective classes of minorities. Their approach can project overtones of awarding “bonus points” that can be redeemed for preferred treatment or forgiveness of qualification deficits. The ambiguity and seeming chaos—operational and ethical—of their system makes criticism of it very difficult, which is a source of power and intimidation because it can be twisted and turned against anybody. 

In contrast to principles of DIE, the United States was founded on the ideals of equal opportunity and the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as individuals. Those ideals have fostered a country that dominates the world in most positive respects. Without question, our history shows many failures to live up to our ideals, most clearly illustrated by the practice of slavery and indentured servitude. But we fought a deadly Civil War in the 19th century and lived through a transformative civil rights movement in the 20th century to redress these imperfections. The DIE movement seeks to reverse many of those civil rights gains by promoting blatant new discriminatory practices—in a kind of indiscriminate reparation for the past. 

Maintaining this regressive philosophy requires DIE to control the handles of power, hoping the rest of us will cower from intimidation and chaos. Now is the time to resist. There are better ways to redress the disadvantages of minorities; a reimagined educational system at all levels from childhood to adulthood—perhaps based on charter schooling—seems the most promising opportunity. The general process of selection needs to return to being done with CARE (Character, Aptitude, Resourcefulness, and Experience), namely the many manifestations of merit, not the flawed and unfair mechanisms of DIE and “identity.”

About Andrew I. Fillat

Andrew I. Fillat spent his career in technology venture capital and information technology companies. He is also the co-inventor of relational databases as a graduate student at M.I.T.

Photo: iStock/Getty

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