The Inclusive Pursuit of Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are important and beneficial, but should be pursued in an inclusive way.

I get a queasy feeling when I read quotes like this, on why the interviewee prefers Elizabeth Warren to Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee:

“If I have a chance of voting for an old white man or a less old white woman, I’m going to vote for a less old white woman.”

To be precise, this quote expresses a preference for female over male, for young over old, and implicitly, for minority over “white”.

Imagine your reaction to a quote that instead expressed the opposite preferences.

Both strike me as dangerous, because they express race/age/gender biases without any reason or justification.

On the other hand, in a system that has already been shaped by bias, taking a truly demographically-blind approach has the tendency to follow and reinforce the existing bias.

If you support a pure meritocracy within a biased system, you’re inherently supporting the biases of that system.

The ideal we should strive for is true representation, where important roles and bodies reflect the population. We can best understand this ideal by considering how repugnant we find the opposite, such as South Africa under apartheid.

Yet the pursuit of this ideal remains a challenge, for two main reasons.

One, inasmuch as current representation is demographically biased, correcting that bias necessarily means reducing the representation of the over-represented. And thanks to the endowment effect and loss aversion, not to mention simple self-interest, it would be bizarre to expect a warm embrace of this reduction on the part of the incumbent. Sadly, it is human nature to focus on relative status, and a reduction in status, even if done for the reason of correcting historical biases, rarely feels good.

Second, our lives abound with evidence that perfect representation is nearly impossible, and that we are willing to live with imperfect representation in many areas. For example, Asian Americans represent 5.6% of the population of the US, but account for 21% of medical school graduates (a fact not lost on anyone who has seen a doctor in California recently). Very few view this as a major problem. I could see an argument for representation of elected government representatives being uniquely important, but I would still recoil from instituting quotas on Congress.

In the end, here in the United States, we live in a pluralistic, multicultural republic, where the power of the ballot is both the ultimate source of political power, and our ultimate defense against tyranny and oppression (along with the volunteers who serve in the armed forces). Bearing this fact in mind, the best principles I can offer are these:

1) Our ideal should be for every person with the right to vote to have the chance to exercise that right. Policies designed to keep people with that right from exercising it are wrong. Note that this principle doesn’t speak to things like the voting rights of felons; that is a question of law that should be resolved by legislation.

2) Our ideal should be perfect representation in the governing bodies of our representative government, but this is an ideal to be pursued, not a hard quota system to be enforced.

3) As we enact policies that move our government bodies from less to more perfectly representative, we should do so acknowledging, rather than denying, the negative impact on the incumbent, even if that incumbency resulted from pre-existing biases. Losing something you’ve had for a long time doesn’t feel that much better even if you realize that your distant ancestor acquired it unfairly.

4) We should consider demographics as a marker for context, not some universal truth. If you want to express a preference for electing a woman to the presidency, don’t say, “Women are more responsible than men.” Instead, say, “Women make up 51% of the population of the United States, but have accounted for 0% of 45 presidents. It certainly seems like the leader of this great nation should represent the majority of its residents at least some of the time.” This is of course independent of the qualifications of the individual candidates; representation does not present a strong enough argument to overcome major differences in competence or ability.

1 thought on “The Inclusive Pursuit of Diversity and Inclusion

  1. Some additional thoughts; one of my friends enjoys our intellectual debates, but has suffered professional consequences in the past for his less-popular views, so must remain anonymous. He is a thoughtful and thought-provoking fellow, and I share his points and my responses here:

    1. Policies on voting.
    A. What policies exist which are designed to keep people from exercising it? Investigative journalists have asked for example cases from the loudest and most obnoxious shriekers of this narrative, and it seems to be a soundbite without substance. In fact it seems to be a cover for looser voting accountability, to allow for more fraudulent voting.

    CY: I view the main point of contention as being how we answer the question, “How easy should it be to vote?” The harder it is to vote, the more that voting will favor the well-off, educated, and responsible. I’m not entirely of the opinion that this is a bad thing. But what is a bad thing is that voting policy for Federal elections is set at the state level. No academic studies have found significant voter fraud, so that does not yet present a compelling argument for tightening voting rules.

    CY: Ideally, all states should make it easy for voters to opt for permanent absentee ballots (which is how I vote), should make election day a holiday so that people do not need to take time off from work to vote, and should allow same-day registration, since our objective is to maximize voter turnout.

    CY: Any policies which reduce voter turnout should be examined closely, and should require a compelling reason to adopt them, since they go counter to the prime objective of maximizing turnout.

    B. Fraudulent voting might be a MAJOR problem, we actually do NOT measure in meaningful ways, so we do not really know. All G-20 countries except us demand voter ID to substantiate the eligibility of a person to cast a vote, and to track if they have voted more than once or in multiple jurisdictions. In most every US election we allow provisional ballots for voters without ID or proof of residence, we allow time to vote and often mail-in ballots. With a trillion in deficit spending, tens of trillions in unfunded liabilities, it is vitally important we get a handle on who is rightfully allowed to vote. Motor Voter Registration in states which allow illegals to get driver licenses is a recipe for fraud, yet we hardly cross-reference. The very few cases of voter fraud ever prosecuted are based on a small handful of enthusiastic investigators and a small quantity of luck. My analogy is a big ship with 3 leak sensors at the bow of the ship 20 ft above the water line. Occasionally ocean spray gets noted and the ship’s crew authoritatively reports very few problems, meanwhile at the waterline and below there are a million leaks and the bloated ship is sinking, and two crew members in the engine room are shouting to install more sensors to detect the leaks and stop them before the ship breaks apart and falls to the seafloor.

    CY: I am actually in favor of Voter ID laws. They are standard practice in well-governed democracies around the world, and there is no need for the United States to deviate from this basic principle.

    CY: Unfortunately, most of the advocates for these laws argue that they are necessary to combat fraud, which is a dubious argument at best, as demonstrated by repeated embarrassing losses in court:

    C. I acknowledge your ideal of every (eligible) voter having “the chance” to exercise their right, and without compelling evidence that opportunity is constrained unreasonably, find it a moot point. What I believe is more important is critical thinking skills and motivation to study issues and become educated on topics and candidates before voting. Without the responsible actor model, the outcome of everyone voting leads to ruin. “Idiocracy” is a legitimate fear – and some would argue we are closer to it now more than ever, it must be corrected.

    CY: Here, I must disagree, just as I disagree with those progressives who claim that Trump voters don’t deserve the vote. The founding principle of our democracy is that each person gets to vote one time. Sure, I would benefit if voting power were determined by wealth, education, or even SAT score. That doesn’t mean I think it’s a good idea. The need to appeal to all potential voters is the main safeguard of the rights of the relatively powerless, which is why policies that suppress their vote are so dangerous to democracy.

    2. The “ultimate defense against tyranny and oppression” is actually private ownership of guns, as noted repeatedly by our Founding Fathers, famed for their study of history and all govt’s tendency toward tryanny. They also feared standing armies, regardless of your nod to our armed forces. Germans voted in the 1930s, Venezuelans voted for Chavez, and the unarmed citizenry was victimized despite their voting power. We are an imperfect experiment in self-govt, seeking a more perfect union, yet we have enshrined the most fundamental civil rights with the enumeration of our ten “Bill of Rights” – ALL specifically intended to limit the power of the Federal Govt and later “incorporated” to limit State govts from restricting our freedoms, because of our shared belief in the radical idea that the people are sovereign, not kings nor queens nor popularly elected personalities to govern us. Voting power has failed repeatedly throughout millennia, we ought to realistically acknowledge that and celebrate the rights which are constantly under assault by those who want power over us, the people.

    CY: Voting power fails when tyrants are allowed to ignore it. Hitler never won an election. Chavez rewrote the Venezuelan constitution (something not nearly so easily accomplished in our country, thank goodness) to give himself dictatorial powers.

    CY: Yes, voting can produce bad results—Donald Trump won the presidency in a fair election (hard to say whether the Russian interference swung the result, but without definitive proof, I lean towards no). But that doesn’t mean I would want the Antifa activists to rise up in an armed insurrection against him.

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