Andrew Sullivan’s site is still free, but will shortly go to a fee scheme whereby you can pay $50 a year for full access (I’ve already subscribed). The format is still a weekly tripartite column, but with additions like his famous “The View from My Window” contest, in which readers have to guess exactly where a reader’s photo was taken. There’s also selected feedback from readers, which Andrew answers.
This week’s column (click on screenshot below) has a section on diversity, one on the possibility of a rebuilt Republican Party, and a small “1620 project” piece, in which Sullivan extols the Pilgrims’ arrival in America and, sadly, has gone back to extolling religion as well. I’ll concentrate on the diversity bit, but here’s an excerpt from his “1620 project” piece (the name, of course, is mocking the NYT’s “1619 Project”):
The [Mayflower] Compact was a way to keep the company intact, mandating an elected leader, declaring fealty to King James I, and a set of laws applicable to everyone, Puritan or stranger, as long as everyone affirmed some kind of Christianity. It was a fusion of the religious energy and consensual government that gave the New World its spiritual and political direction. You could even call it, in some ways, the true founding of America, before the Enlightenment.
. . . if you tried hard, you could trace the uniquely religious nature of America from these humble, improvised origins, along with its strong and pioneering attachment to democratic norms. In some ways, these themes run throughout American history, defining us down to this very day. Call it the 1620 Project, if you like. Maybe at some point the New York Times Magazine could devote a whole issue to it.
This is awfully close to osculating religion, and I hope Sullivan isn’t going to revert to his liberal-Catholic, god-accepting days of yore. It’s always puzzled me how someone so intelligent and discerning can buy into a whole bundle of clearly bogus myths, even if they don’t accept all the factual statements of Christianity. (I’d like to know, for instance, if Sullivan thinks Jesus was resurrected after the crucifixion—assuming there even was a Jesus person.) In those who sell themselves as perspicacious and tied to reason, I see adherence to theistic religions as a character flaw.
But I digress, and on to diversity. There are three reasons to mandate diversity (and here I mean racial diversity, which is really what “diversity” always denotes). First, it could be to instantly make the employees of a company, or students of a school, mirror the proportion of groups in the society at large. This won’t eliminate racism immediately, but is supposed to provide role models that will encourage minorities to gain equity.
Second, it could be to promote “viewpoint” diversity, that is, by getting people from different races, you’ll also get a variety of useful viewpoints that can be debated, but can also enrich the institution. This assumes, of course, that different racial groups have, on average, different viewpoints beyond the one always touted: a knowledge of oppression.
Finally, hiring or accepting minorities could serve as a form of reparations, a way to make up for the past treatment of minorities that still holds them back in society.
I adhere mainly to the third reason, which is the reason rejected in the Bakke decision, when the Supreme Court decided (the decision was a bit confusing) that diversity was an inherent good that colleges could strive for in their admissions policy, but quotas were not permitted, nor any attempt to balance out groups by proportion. While diversity is an inherent good, I think the inherent good is instantiated in giving members of minority groups that experienced oppression a leg up when their legs used to be tied down.
Reparations (and affirmative action) were always intended to be a temporary solution, to be abandoned once equal opportunity was ensured (or, if you take a harder view, when equal representation was achieved). Further, it’s not yet clear to me that, given equal opportunity, different groups will sort themselves into positions in exact proportion to their numbers in the population. My own view is that both cultural and biological differences (the latter especially important in men vs women) will convert equal opportunity into different outcomes based on interests. We already know those professions in which women are more numerous than men (e.g., grade-school teachers, nurses), as well as those in which men are more numerous than women (car mechanics). I simply can’t believe that these “inequities” are entirely the result of sexism or the patriarchy.
Sullivan addresses the first and second reasons in his piece, which is based on the New York Times‘s recent vow that by 2025 their workforce will racially reflect, in proportion, the demographics of New York City. Sullivan calls this the “Kendi test,” based on Ibram X. Kendi’s claim that any inequalities in representation are necessarily the result of racism. Sullivan makes the point that even with free entry there might still be differences based on interests and desires, and also that racial diversity is a grossly imperfect measure of viewpoint diversity, assuming that that’s an important goal of this process.
I’ll give a few quotes:
But notice how this new goal obviously doesn’t reflect New York City’s demographics in many other ways. It draws overwhelmingly from the college educated, who account for only 37 percent of New Yorkers, leaving more than 60 percent of the city completed unreflected in the staffing. It cannot include the nearly 19 percent of New Yorkers in poverty, because a NYT salary would end that. It would also have to restrict itself to the literate, and, according to Literacy New York, 25 percent of people in Manhattan “lack basic prose literary skills” along with 37 percent in Brooklyn and 41 percent in the Bronx. And obviously, it cannot reflect the 14 percent of New Yorkers who are of retirement age, or the 21 percent who have yet to reach 18. For that matter, I have no idea what the median age of a NYT employee is — but I bet it isn’t the same as all of New York City.
Around 10 percent of staffers would have to be Republicans (and if the paper of record nationally were to reflect the country as a whole, and not just NYC, around 40 percent would have to be). Some 6 percent of the newsroom would also have to be Haredi or Orthodox Jews — a community you rarely hear about in diversity debates, but one horribly hit by a hate crime surge. 48 percent of NYT employees would have to agree that religion is “very important” in their lives; and 33 percent would be Catholic. And the logic of these demographic quotas is that if a group begins to exceed its quota — say Jews, 13 percent — a Jewish journalist would have to retire for any new one to be hired. Taking this proposal seriously, then, really does require explicit use of race in hiring, which is illegal, which is why the News Guild tweet and memo might end up causing some trouble if the policy is enforced.
Indeed, race-based hiring is illegal, as is race-based college admissions to achieve a given quota.
One more quote, this time about equity for other groups:
And that’s true of other institutions too: are we to police Broadway to make sure that gays constitute only 4 percent of the employees? Or, say, nursing, to ensure that the sex balance is 50-50? Or a construction company for gender parity? Or a bike messenger company’s staff to be reflective of the age demographics of the city? Just take publishing — an industry not far off what the New York Times does. 74 percent of its employees are women. Should there be a hiring freeze until the men catch up?
The more you think about it, the more absurdly utopian the Kendi project turns out to be. That’s because its core assumption is that any demographic discrepancies between a profession or institution and its locale are entirely a function of oppression. That’s how Kendi explains racial inequality in America, and specifically denies any alternative explanation. So how is it that a white supremacist country has whites earning considerably less on average than Asian-Americans? How does Kendi explain the fact that the most successful minority group in America are Indian-Americans — with a median income nearly twice that of the national median? Here’s a partial list of the national origins of US citizens whose median earnings are higher than that of white people in America: Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Pakistani, Iranian, Lebanese, Sri Lankan, Armenian, Hmong, Vietnamese. One group earning less: British-American.
You can argue that these groups are immigrants and self-selecting for those with higher IQs, education, motivation, and drive. It’s true. But notice that this argument cannot be deployed under the Kendi test: any inequality is a result of racism, remember? Cultural differences between groups, class, education, IQ, family structure: all these are irrelevant. So how is it that immigrant Nigerian-Americans have a slightly higher median household income than British-Americans in the US? The crudeness of the model proposed for hiring and firing at the New York Times can make no sense of this at all.
And I’ll let you read the rest for yourselves. The point is that there is an argument here worth having, and there’s no need to accept Kendi’s claim nor to insist that “equality” means “representation is always in the same proportions as groups in the population.” That’s an expectation of equal outcomes, while I think the fairest position is to ensure equal opportunity. That, of course, is harder to achieve, since ensuring equal opportunity has to begin right at birth, and that means eliminating economic and social inequalities between groups (and funding their schools) as fast as possible. But I think it’s folly to think that equal outcomes will ensure equal opportunities. Rather, equal opportunities will eventually ensure fairer outcomes.
As for Sullivan’s musings on the reconstructed GOP (should Trump lose), there’s not much there. Who, if Trump goes, can lead a kinder and fairer Republican Party, characterized by what Sullivan calls a “right-of-center pragmatism”? Sullivan is accurate in describing the changes that the GOP should make to recover from the mess that Trumpism has made of it, but as for who can head the party, his “suggestions” rankle me:
There is also, I suspect, a suppressed but real desire for the normality and calmness that Trump has eviscerated. David Brooks sees a few candidates: Josh Hawley, Ben Sasse, Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio.
To be fair, these are Brooks’s candidates, but I suspect that Sullivan agrees with him. And then Andrew lists the GOP heroes of the past:
I know that looking around the rightwing media these days is not likely to give anyone optimism that this could happen, and I’m not pinning my hopes on anyone in particular. But history does, from time to time, throw up new figures who manage to take a political party from the wilderness to something far saner. Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton, Blair, Cameron, and Boris come to mind.
You can argue about the merits of these people, but I wouldn’t hold out Reagan or Johnson as shining beacons of conservative enlightenment. Or perhaps the problem I have with leadership in the Republican Party is that it’s not the Democratic Party.