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COMMENTARY: Diversity may be more divisive than unifying

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It is often said that if one hears a lie long enough, they begin to believe it. This dictum clearly applies to the concept of diversity. In an almost Orwellian fashion, phrases like “diversity is our strength” are constantly repeated by educators, politicians and the media (namely, of course, CNN). Individuals who dare question ethnic and cultural diversity are cast out as racists and bigots (terms that have taken on an almost transcendent and evil connotation, much like the words heretic and blasphemer). The unfortunate reality is that there is no evidence that ethnic or cultural diversity is a force for good. In fact, diversity seems to be a net negative on society. 

Harvard Professor Robert Putnam (a self-admitted progressive) set out to conduct a study that would reaffirm the notion that diversity is an endless good. What he found, though, was the complete opposite. Putnam’s 2007 paper revealed that in a study of 30,000 Americans, among 41 communities — an undoubtedly nationally representative sample — the most diverse communities are, in fact, the most divided communities. Individuals in more heterogeneous areas are less trustful of their neighbors, less likely to vote, less likely to donate to charity, less likely to get involved in community projects and more likely to watch television than those who live in homogeneous communities. Even after controlling for other factors -- such as crime and wealth disparities -- the results remained the same. As Putnam wrote, "Diversity, at least in the short run, seems to bring out the turtle in all of us." Given this information, it comes as no surprise that self-segregation is still pervasive in the United States.

These aforementioned findings are a microcosm of diversity on the global level. For example, while many have been led to believe (again, through repeated, unchecked claims)  that the most diverse countries are the most successful, it has been found that the least linguistically diverse countries are the most prosperous. Leftists often point to Scandinavian countries as economic models. Ironically (and one might say hypocritically), they fail to acknowledge that these countries are actually incredibly ethnically homogeneous and that this homogeneity may very well be contributing to their success. The idea that homogenous countries have stronger social cohesion is intuitive. After all, humans have in-group preferences. Their tribal nature, established  by millions of years of evolution, has not simply disappeared with the establishment of offices for Diversity and Inclusion. Groups and group preferences are a part of life, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. At the end of the day, the most homogeneous countries are the happiest and experience the least tension and conflict

All right, maybe diversity is not all bad. Some studies have shown that there seems to be a positive correlation between diversity and innovation. As writer Sebastian Bailey notes, “Mixed gender executive boards have outperformed all-male ones by 26 percent ... while global studies have shown that organizations with diverse and inclusive cultures are 45 percent more likely to have improved their market share …” But, Bailey goes on to refer to studies that have shown that diversity is unto itself linked to “lower revenue, performance, employee morale and wellbeing” that is, diversity cannot succeed unless individuals can be properly integrated into the workplace setting. Furthermore, after conducting  a five-year study of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, MIT Professor Thomas A. Kochan concluded that the workplace “diversity industry is built on sand.” By that, he means that billion dollar “Diversity Inclusion Programs” are essentially useless scams.  

This same concept holds true for education: While differing viewpoints can be instructive and beneficial, and cross-cultural communication should definitely be encouraged, negative “diversity experiences” within specific institutions “have negative consequences for the development of critical thinking skills.” Even if one was to find a clear link between diversity and a company or school’s success, it may very well be the case that the relationship between diversity and success is actually reversed. In other words, when a company or institution of higher learning becomes successful, it has an incentive to hire more women and people of color to improve its public image. Further, when individuals speak to the benefits of “diversity” in business and education, why speak of it along ethnic lines? It is logical to conclude that if racial diversity is a positive, then diversity of skill regardless of race — is even more positive since there is more skill variation between individuals than between groups. Only a true racist would deny that. 

Contrary to public opinion, diversity may not be a very good thing after all. This does not mean that we should return to the unforgivable past (thoughts of Jim Crow and state-run segregation come to mind). Nor does it mean that individuals should ever be judged or coerced based solely on the color of their skin. If anything, this is a message of optimism: If we leave individuals to their own devices and allow them the right of association, and stop advocating for integration within specific regions and institutions for its own sake, the world will be a better place to live in and everyone will be able to flourish. 

Jacob Miller is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in political science.