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February 21, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments

A common subject of debate recently has been the value of diversity. This has become popular due to the apparent rejection of it by the more radical conservative elements in various governments around the world, an increase in interest in furthering indigenous rights, and the apparent lack of progress for women in various parts of society.

I have chosen to criticise the efforts of various people on the left when they have pushed these ideals, not because I disagree with the underlying philosophy, but more because the arguments being made are often hopelessly flawed and/or based on opinions rather than facts.

So people on the left have reacted with significant hostility when I dared to question the points made by those who would normally be my allies. In fact, I have found it quite ironic that those who purport to be fighting against hate, ignorance, and single mindedness demonstrate so much of it themselves.

So enough of criticising others. What is my perspective on diversity? Well, first, I think the world would be a very boring place if everyone believed the same thing. Even people who are wrong at least provide an alternative view which at the very least encourages those who are right to sharpen their debating skills, and at best might even cause them to examine their beliefs and maybe improve on them.

So, while I think that religion is ridiculous and that religious fundamentalists, like creationists, are totally wrong, I still welcome the fact that they exist for various reasons…

First, they give me an opportunity to debate a subject which really needs no debate (because evolution is a fact) but which I enjoy the process of debating anyway. As one of my heroes, the late, great Christopher Hitchens said: “Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence.”

Second, it means I understand evolution a lot better because I have had to defend it. Without that necessity, I might not have learned about the amazing work which has been done to show that it really is true.

And third, When I use the word “true” it cannot be taken as 100% precise because there is always room for doubt, so debating evolution provides a chance to search for any small chance that the “truth” isn’t true at all!

There are some extremely “diverse” ideas which the world might be better off without, though, and the problem is to figure out how extreme or harmful an idea has to be before I would say we would be better off without it.

So let’s have a look at a range of views with varying degrees of usefulness and different balances between their positive and negative aspects…

First is one which I think is almost entirely positive. I welcome a diversity of nationalities, cultures, and backgrounds. I work in a university which has people from almost every area of the world and I enjoy working with them all. This might seem contrary to some of the comments I have made in various previous posts but it isn’t. I have never indicated any negativity towards actual cultures, just to the politically motivated attempts to force some aspects of those cultures on to the rest of us.

So I enjoy working with Maori people but I haven’t got the time to learn the Maori language. I enjoy working with people from various religious backgrounds but I still think their beliefs are nonsense. And I enjoy working with Scottish people but that doesn’t mean I want to partake in their national drink… well, maybe in that case I would make an exception!

Next, one which could be either good or bad, with roughly equal likelihood. Neoliberalism is a political ideology which I believe has caused a lot of harm around the world. It has caused significant environmental destruction, lead to massive inequality, and has stifled true fundamental progress.

But I agree that a case could be made to suggest the exact opposite, and there is no real way to prove which of the two attitudes to it is true. So it’s good to have libertarians and other people who support neoliberalism debate with liberals and socialists who are against it. Probably neither are entirely right, so both worldviews are useful.

Then we have a view with little merit but minimal negativity. Creationists do some harm, because they stifle scientific progress and that leads to reduced development of useful technologies which could potentially have a lot of benefit to society, including preventing and curing diseases. But that is an obscure and relatively weak sequence of influences so I don’t resent the existence of creationism too much.

But then there are more harmful beliefs, which add variety to the world but also have severe negative effects. The most obvious one at this point of history is Islamic fundamentalism. The belief system adds an interesting new perspective on the world (although it is one which is essentially untrue according to any reasonable estimation) but it also has severe negative consequences: violence, conservatism, and inflexibility being the most obvious.

You could make a case to say that fundamentalist Islam is one source of diversity we could do without. But they, in turn, would probably say that western, rational, liberalism is a view they could do without, so we should be careful about outright condemnation of anything.

Maybe it gets back to how a group seeks to advance their worldview. If it gains support because it gives great benefits to society, like all those interesting, dedicated and intelligent people I work with at the university, that is good. If it seeks to advance through mostly rational and reasonable debate, like libertarianism, that is OK. If it uses crazy arguments and a few dirty tricks to progress, like creationism, we can at least tolerate that. But if it seeks to achieve dominance through violence and unthinking rejection of alternative ideas, like fundamentalist Islam, then that is a step too far.

Diversity is OK, it really is. I fully embrace it because without it who would I have to debate with? But there is a limit, and I think the majority of people know where that limit is. It should also be OK to criticise alternative views without being accused of being a racist, misogynist, or fascist… or having a fatwa declared against you.

I say, bring on the diversity, but also bring on rational and peaceful debate between those diverse views.

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