Diversity Inc. is also based on a number of other fundamental shaky assumptions. Race, gender and politics are supposed to count far more in a diverse society than other key differences. Yet in a multiracial nation in which the president of the United States and almost half the Supreme Court are not white males, class considerations that transcend race and gender often provide greater privilege.
Is the daughter of Hillary Clinton in greater need of affirmative action or diversity initiatives than the children of the Oklahoma diaspora who settled in Bakersfield? So-called "white privilege" might certainly refer to the elite networks of insider contacts who promote the scions of Al Gore, Chris Matthews or Warren Buffett. But how about the son of an unemployed Appalachian coal miner? Not so much.
If ethnic, rather than class, pedigrees provide an edge, how do we ascertain them in today's melting-pot culture? Does the one-quarter Latino student, the recent arrival from Jamaica or the fourth-generation Japanese-American deserve special consideration as "diverse"? And if so, over whom? The Punjabi-American? The Arab-American? The gay rich kid? The coal miner's daughter? Or the generic American who chooses not to broadcast his profile?
Does Diversity Inc. rely on genetic testing, family documents, general appearance, accented names, trilled pronunciation or just personal assurance to pass judgment on who should be advantaged in any measurement of diversity?
In such an illiberal, tribally obsessed and ideologically based value system, it is not hard to see why and how careerists such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren and activist Ward Churchill were able to fabricate helpful Native American ancestries.
Diversity came into vogue after affirmative action became unworkable in the 1980s. Given the multiplicity of ethnicities, huge influxes of new immigrants and a growing rate of intermarriage, it became almost impossible to adjudicate historical grievances and dole out legal remedies. So just creating "diversity" -- without much worry over how to define it -- avoided the contradictions.
But diversity is not only incoherent; it is also ironic. On a zero-sum campus short of resources, the industry of diversity and related "studies" classes that focus on gender or racial differences and grievances crowd out exactly the sort of disciplines that provide the skills -- mastery of languages, literature, science, engineering, business and math -- that best prep non-traditional graduates for a shot at well-compensated careers.
Red/blue state divides have never more acrimonious. The number of foreign-born citizens is at a record high. The global status of the United States has never been shakier. To meet all these existential challenges, American institutions -- the university especially -- would be wise to stress unity and academic rigor.
People in the Balkans, Rwanda and Iraq certainly championed their ethnic differences in lieu of embracing concord and ethnically and religiously blind meritocracy.
Tragically, these are also examples of where the logic of privileging differences, and dividing and judging people by the way they look and believe, ultimately ends up.