Equality vs. equity

March 13, 2023 • 9:45 am

Does anybody know the difference between “equality” and “equity” any more? Until recently, the difference, as used in politics and sociology, was clear: “equality” meant “equal treatment of everyone regardless of what group they belong to”, while “equity” meant “representation of groups in government, business, academia, and other organizations in proportion to their existence in the general population.”

These are not the same thing, of course. People can be treated equally now but there can still be inequities for a variety of reasons: the residuum of historical discrimination, difference in preferences due to culture, socialization, or different propensities due to biological differences. The conflation of the two terms has led to a lot of mischief and confusion, the most prominent being that the observation of inequities means the current existence of unequal treatment (“structural racism or sexism”).

The confusion was compounded in President Biden’s February “Executive Order on Further Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government,” a far-reaching plan to ensure “equity” in the federal government.

That document uses the word “equity” 63 times and “equality” only four. One would think, then, that the plan is designed to ensure proportional representation of groups in the federal government.

But if you look in section 10, you find “equity” defined this way:

  Sec. 10.  Definitions.  For purposes of this order:

(a)  The term “equity” means the consistent and systematic treatment of all individuals in a fair, just, and impartial manner, including individuals who belong to communities that often have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, Indigenous and Native American, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander persons and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; women and girls; LGBTQI+ persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; persons who live in United States Territories; persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality; and individuals who belong to multiple such communities.

If you used this as a goal in your DEI statement, you’d never get a job!

In other words, Biden’s plan defines “equity” as “equal treatment before the law”. That isn’t equity but “equality,” and one wonders not only whether Biden apprehends the difference, and, crucially, which one he’s affirming as the goal of his administration’s policy. In such cases, the definition of the term is crucial in how the government will act.

This difference is the subject of Peter Boghassian’s Substack column this week. The “gaslighting” to which Peter refers is seemingly an attempt to make us forget that “equality” means “equal treatment”, or to sow confusion in minds about whether there’s any difference between “equity” and “equality.”

Click on screenshot to read the article; it’s very short.

Peter reproduces a tweet from Cenk Uygur (whatever happened to him?) that’s badly misleading:

No, Cenk is dead wrong here: progressives want equality of outcome, not equality of opportunity, and they’re always pointing to the former, not the latter, as evidence for bigotry. The same day I found a similar tweet by Cenk:

No, it’s Cenk, the big blustering self-assured newsman, who is wrong, at least in how “equity” is currently used. It’s true that if you look at the Oxford English Dictionary, you’ll find that “equity” means this:

 1. The quality of being equal or fair; fairness, impartiality; even-handed dealing.

but also this:

2. What is fair and right; something that is fair and right.

If you parse that with a “progressive” frame of mind, you can (barely) construe that proportional representation is indeed the result of fairness and equality of treatment. But it need not be: not if groups have different preferences or cultural backgrounds.

And it’s also not necessarily true that “equal opportunity” means “equal opportunity at the present time.” If you’re born poor in an environment that doesn’t provide equal opportunity, then you’ll get inequities as a result.  But I can tell you one thing: when Ibram Kendi says “equity”, he doesn’t mean “equality of treatment”.

Bernie Sanders, when pressed by Bill Maher, does seem to appreciate the difference, and he comes down on the classical definition of equality as “equality of opportunity”.

But I think it’s clear that the extreme Left, which I and others call “progressives” (though they’re actually illiberal), clearly construe equity as meaning equality of outcome. Here’s the reason I think why.

There are ways of measuring equity, of course: determining whether there’s proportionality in outcomes: women, for example should be half of all CEOs (they’re not). But it’s easy to measure.

Equality of opportunity is harder to measure, but for some things it can be guaranteed. The most obvious case is determining who belongs in an orchestra: simply audition prospective players behind a screen so that the only thing that can be judged is their playing. Their sex, race, or ethnicity cannot be discerned.  And to me that seems eminently fair.

It’s a procedure employed by many symphony orchestras. But it didn’t produce the diversity of sex and race that people envisioned when they put this procedure in place! There was equality but no equity.

Ergo, the New York Times‘s classical music critic switched gears and wrote a piece called, “To make orchestras diverse, end blind auditions” (subtitle: “If ensembles are to reflect the community they serve, the audition process should take into account race, gender, and other factors”).

Here the critic, Anthony Tommasini, clearly knew the difference between equity and equality of opportunity, and favored ditching the latter to get more of the former.  (Another way he could achieve more equity in orchestras, if he thinks that disproportional representation reflects historically unequal opportunities—an orchestra “pipeline”—is to provide equal opportunities for people of all groups to both hear music and have a chance to play an instrument.)

I’m not going to judge whether orchestras should reflect merit or demographics; my point is that your goal will determine the methods you use to achieve it.  And that is why it’s critical that people understand the difference between “equity” and “equality.”

Here’s how Peter ends his post:

Almost overnight, equity has become the North Star of public and private intuitions. One would think that someone of Sander’s stature and experience would know the difference, and if Sanders has to think about it, imagine the average American trying to make sense of these terms. I have long asserted that confusion over the meanings of words is one of the primary ways people have been hoodwinked by Social Justice ideology—they do not understand the policies they are institutionalizing.

If you want a 60-second explanation of equity, go here. If you want a 60-second explanation of other words in the woke lexicon, go here.

h/t: Steve

What about affirmative action?

July 13, 2022 • 11:00 am

I often say on this site that I favor a form of affirmative action for admission to schools and colleges (not necessarily for hiring above that level), and I favor this as a form of reparations. I’ve received a lot of pushback from readers who either think we shouldn’t have any affirmative action, or, if we retain it, it should be based on class or even on “viewpoint”, not race.  I keep thinking about these counterarguments and I see their merits, but I’m not yet ready to give up on affirmative action.

I do remember, though, that when it was instituted when I was younger, it was said to be a temporary expedient, perhaps lasting 50 years or so.  It’s clear that that’s not going to happen, and the DEI bureaucracy that pervades universities will insure it won’t happen, for the employees would be out of a job if we achieved equity (equal representation of groups). But they wouldn’t be out of a job if they adhered to my notion of equality (“equal opportunity”), for equal opportunity, given cultural differences and preferences, will never produce perfect equity. DEI initiatives are thus aimed at achieving not equality, but equity. This ensures they’ll be permanent.

And even arriving at equal opportunity will take years and tons of money and social engineering and public will and commitment, and we’re nowhere near that. Ergo, we should get used to affirmative action as a fact of life—unless the new Supreme Court gets rid of it, which is not unlikely.

What do I mean when I say we need affirmative action as a form of reparations? I don’t mean that someone who’s African-American or Hispanic should get extra points simply because of their ethnicity. An upper-middle-class African-American, for instance, presumably has about the same advantages and opportunities as those of other ethnicity in their income group, and needs no thumb on the college-admissions scale. Rather, I favor those minorities who were disadvantaged by bigotry and racism in the past, and may not have achieved because of that racism. It’s indisputable that bigotry has held down generations of minorities, and if everyone had equal opportunity, we’d have substantially more equity than now—though perhaps not the degree of equity that people want.

I thus connect ethnicity with class, and there’s no doubt that that’s also true. Thus the race-based affirmative action I’d like to see is also class-based admission. “Why not, then,” you will ask, “don’t you just call for affirmative action based on class?”  Well, I do, but even the impoverished and disadvantaged admitted to schools should, at least for a time, be weighted a bit more towards minorities. There’s something about having elite colleges almost totally lacking some minorities that disgusts me.

Asking for some race-based admission will of course mean lowering standards so long as these minorities perform less well than whites or Asians, and I admit this. I simply ask that all those who are admitted be deemed qualified to succeed at a school and be able to benefit from what a school has to offer. (John McWhorter appears to oppose affirmative action completely, and argues that “not everyone has to go to college”).

We already have affirmative action for other groups: for example older students, veterans, and so on. (I oppose preferential admission for the children of alumni—legacies—or for athletes.) This too may involve lowering formal academic standards, but you also get some students whose experiences may add to the educational experience of their fellow students. So why not throw some disadvantaged minorities into these groups? Wouldn’t their own experiences enrich the learning experience of the entire student body? I’ll admit that I have no evidence that diversity of a class makes for a better learning experience or even more learning, and I seem to recall some counterevidence, but if there’s simply a lack of evidence I’ll stick with my impressions.

Evaluating racial diversity as an inherent educational “good” was one rationale for the U.S. Supreme Court to allow preferential admission of minorities (without quotas) in the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case (1978). But four of the justices (Marshall, White, Blackmun and Brennan) also wrote “”government may take race into account when it acts not to demean or insult any racial group, but to remedy disadvantages cast on minorities by past racial prejudice”. That is reparations.

Many schools like ours also have “need-blind admissions”, in which students are admitted based on their qualifications alone, and then if there are financial problems the University helps out with scholarships, jobs, and the like. This, however, is not affirmative action, for admission is still based on meritocratic criteria. Any financial disadvantages based on class are rectified after admission.

I throw this question out to readers because it’s a tough one for me. Clearly nobody wants a college in which every student is identical. How can you learn without at least a variety of viewpoints among students? (And that, of course, brings up the question of whether we need politically-based affirmative action!). Does not affirmative action help bring about that diversity, while at the same time trying to rectify historical injustice? Or is rectifying historical injustice not what universities are supposed to be doing? (I could make an argument for that view, too.)

So, weigh in below. Should we have affirmative action for admission to elite secondary schools and to colleges? If so, on what should it be based: race, class, viewpoint, experience, age, or some other criteria?

To me this question is a most important one, for it bears directly on calls for equity that are ubiquitous in America—not just in schools, but in every field of endeavor.

The Equity/Bias Fallacy

February 3, 2021 • 9:00 am

The claim I’ll discuss here is so common, but so clearly fallacious, that it deserves a name. So far I haven’t seen it given a name, so I’ll tentatively call it the “Equity/Bias Fallacy.”  Before I define it, I’ll say that I define “equity” as “representation of groups in an organization in the same proportions that they occur in the general population.” (“Inequities“, of course, reflect differences between observed proportions in a population and their occurrence within organizations or groups.)

And I define “equality” as “equality of opportunity”. (One could also define it as “equality under the law”, but in this case opportunity is more germane.)  But the exact definitions don’t matter that much, for the issue is identifying why there is disproportional representation of groups in colleges, firms, academic departments and so on. These disproportions usually take the form of minority groups or oppressed groups (races, sexes, and so on) represented in smaller proportions within organizations than in the general population.

Here’s the fallacy:

If equity isn’t achieved in an organization, it means that bigotry from that organization was responsible.

or, to put it in a longer but less jargon-y way,

If groups within an organization  do not occur in the same proportions that they occur
the general population, one can assume that there is bigotry in the organization itself.

or to put the fallacy in a simple equation:

Inequities = Existing bigotry (immediate lack of equality)

This fallacy will hold so long as there are causes of inequities in organizations other than bigotry within those organizations.

And of course we know that this is the case. There are differences in preference that may be due to sex or culture (and yes, the “cultural preferences” could reflect bigotry of society in the past or present, but not of the organization showing inequities); or to different opportunities afforded different groups starting at an early age (for example, poor schooling available to minority groups); or to socioeconomic class differences correlated with group membership that make some career options more or less appealing. Some have imputed differences in childhood environments, due, say, to family integrity, as a cause of differential achievement. All of these factors affecting opportunity can be due to historical factors as well as current bigotry, and all can create inequalities early in life whose results persist throughout life because they “tilt the playing field.”

If one takes inequity as a datum that requires scientific explanation, then, the presence of alternative causal hypotheses means that none can automatically be assumed to be true. No explanation can be the default option, as bigotry seems to have become. In fact, it’s nearly taboo to even mention any “cause” other than current and immediate bigotry.

Why is it important to recognize this fallacy? That’s easy: if you want to remedy inequities, you have to know why they exist in the first place. If you automatically assume there’s bigotry in an organization such as the National Institutes of Health (I’ll post on this tomorrow), then you may spend a lot of time and money trying to weed out biases that may not exist. Alternatively, if bigotry does exist and is a cause of inequity, you need to establish that before fixing it.

Finally, if inequities in, say, groups of scientists are the product not of bigotry within those groups, but of unequal educational opportunities starting in grade school, it does no good to accuse those organizations of bigotry when the real cause lies way earlier down the line. Fixes in that case would involve creating and funding greater opportunities for underrepresented groups beginning at the very start of life. The hard-to-enact but necessary promotion of true equality of opportunity, essential in a democracy, can also be combined with affirmative action—a mechanism that creates greater equity in organizations that aren’t themselves rife with bigotry.

h/t: Luana

UC Davis math professor demonized for criticizing required “diversity” statements for academic jobs

November 24, 2019 • 11:00 am

Abigail Thompson is a well known professor (and department Chair) of mathematics at the University of California at Davis, specializing in topology. Six years ago she became an inaugural fellow of the American Mathematical Society (AMS), and now she’s a vice president.

But in the December issue of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, she set herself up for public pillorying by publishing an essay criticizing the mandatory diversity statements that must accompany applications for academic jobs at some colleges and universities, including hers. You can read her short essay by clicking on the screenshot below:

Dr. Thompson is certainly not against increased diversity in math departments or colleges in general, nor against efforts to increase diversity. She just doesn’t think that “diversity statements” are the way to do it:
Mathematics has made progress over the past decades towards becoming a more welcoming, inclusive discipline. We should continue to do all we can to reduce barriers to participation in this most beautiful of fields. I am encouraged by the many mathematicians who are working to achieve this laudable aim. There are reasonable means to further this goal: encouraging students from all backgrounds to enter the mathematics pipeline, trying to ensure that talented mathematicians don’t leave the profession, creating family-friendly policies, and supporting junior faculty at the beginning of their careers, for example. There are also mistakes to avoid. Mandating diversity statements for job candidates is one such mistake, reminiscent of events of seventy years ago.

What are these statements? I came of age in academia without the existence of such things, but they are required essays or statements that accompany professorial job applications, outlining your history of diversity-promoting efforts and proposing how you’ll increase diversity if you’re hired. And, as Thompson reports, they’re actually scored at the University of California using a point system. If you don’t say the right stuff, or come off as sufficiently enthusiastic about promoting diversity, you’re not going to get the job.


Nearly all University of California campuses require that job applicants submit a “contributions to diversity” statement as a part of their application. The campuses evaluate such statements using rubrics, a detailed scoring system. Several UC programs have used these diversity statements to screen out candidates early in the search process. A typical rubric from UC Berkeley specifies that a statement that “describes only activities that are already the expectation of Berkeley faculty (mentoring, treating all students the same regardless of background, etc)” (italics mine) merits a score of 1–2 out of a possible 5 (1 worst and 5 best) in the second section of the rubric, the “track record for advancing diversity” category. [JAC: note that “treating everyone the same” doesn’t get you much credit.]

The diversity “score” is becoming central in the hiring process. Hiring committees are being urged to start the review process by using officially provided rubrics to score the required diversity statements and to eliminate applicants who don’t achieve a scoring cut-off.

Now clearly “diversity” here means “ethnic diversity”, but I don’t think they say that explicitly. But those applicants who propose to increase political viewpoint diversity by, say, trying to promote conservative values and accept more conservative students, are simply not going to be hired!

If, like me, you find it worthwhile to promote equality of opportunity—and, to some extent, in outcome—in academics in general, and in STEM and math in particular, why object to diversity statements? Thompson argues, and I agree, that they are ideological statements, weeding out candidates according to whether they align with certain non-academic goals. She compares them to the “I am not a communist and will not overthrow the US government” statements once required as a condition for taking a job at University of California campuses. (I had to sign one when I became a postdoc at UC Davis in 1979.) Thompson explains:

Why is it a political test? Politics are a reflection of how you believe society should be organized. Classical liberals aspire to treat every person as a unique individual, not as a representative of their gender or their ethnic group. The sample rubric dictates that in order to get a high diversity score, a candidate must have actively engaged in promoting different identity groups as part of their professional life. The candidate should demonstrate “clear knowledge of, experience with, and interest in dimensions of diversity that result from different identities” and describe “multiple activities in depth.” Requiring candidates to believe that people should be treated differently according to their identity is indeed a political test. The idea of using a political test as a screen for job applicants should send a shiver down our collective spine.

. . . ‘Mathematics must be open and welcoming to everyone, to those who have traditionally been excluded, and to those holding unpopular viewpoints. Imposing a political litmus test is not the way to achieve excellence in mathematics or in the university.

I have to agree with Thompson here. I am a believer in at least some affirmative action in university hiring, for I see diversity of all sorts as a net good. (I haven’t yet decided how one should balance diversity versus academic quality when they conflict.) But I believe even more strongly in “affirmative action in opportunity“: that is, making sure everyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, politics, or background, gets an equal opportunity from the beginning of their lives to follow their interests and to study and achieve without discrimination. We are a very long way away from that.

But I don’t believe those goals should be achieved by these coercive “diversity statements”, which are indeed chilling. You can imagine how candidates struggle to write a successful statement, and surely there exaggeration pervades many of them. Most academics who aren’t bigots simply haven’t done that much in their pre-job lives to promote diversity. And Thompson’s right: these statements are political, aimed at turning a university’s mission toward social engineering and away from teaching students how to think and how to absorb and assess the knowledge is in their chosen field.

But you’re taking your career and your reputation in danger if, like Dr. Thompson, you dare question diversity statements—even if you’re in favor of increasing diversity. This article in Inside Higher Ed (click on screenshot), describes the reactions of academics, pro and con, of requiring such statements.

The statements have sometimes been characterized by a kind of academic doublespeak, as described in that article:

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, for instance, mentions connectedness, inclusion and diversity throughout its mission and vision statements. It also requires faculty applicants to submit diversity statements. But Autumn Reed, assistant vice provost for faculty affairs, said, “My stance is that I don’t even like to call them diversity statements. The language we use is statements on commitment to inclusive excellence in higher education.” Such wording moves the discussion away from embodied characteristics of diversity to issues of pedagogical diversity and even diversity of perspective and thought, she added.

Well, let’s see if UMBC favors hiring professors who work to promote the hiring of more conservatives, libertarians, or Ayn Randians! I’m for all sorts of diversity, but in practice, as I said, the word tends to mean ethnic diversity.

Yet if you think diversity is a net good, as I do (and as the Supreme Court decided in its Bakke ruling), then you want good people from all sorts of backgrounds. To suppose that ethnicity is a marker of viewpoints, and thus diversity of ethnicity is a good surrogate for diversity of views, is patronizing, for it assumes that members of certain ethnic groups are relatively ideologically homogeneous as well as ideologically different in a predictable way from members of other groups. In other words, to use statistical theory, this view presumes that most of the variation (diversity) in thought among Americans will be explained by variation in their ethnicity.

But never mind. As you can predict, Thompson’s non-inflammatory criticism of diversity statements angered some of the woke. There have been petitions criticizing Thompson’s equation of diversity statements with McCarthy-esque “I’m not a Commie” statements, as well as statements calling for letters to her department and demands that she step down as chair of mathematics at Davis.

A particularly nasty and vitriolic example of the latter came from Chad Topaz, a professor of mathematics at (you guessed it) Williams College. On his public Facebook page, Topaz posted the following call for public censure of Thompson:

Nothing like “good ‘ol public shame”, eh? (The apostrophe goes after the “l”, by the way.) What a nasty piece of work this Topaz fellow must be!

Topaz also wrote the article shown below on his own diversity organization’s website, QSIDE. But there appears to be a conflict of interest here. Topaz funds that organization in part by giving donors the gift of “diversity statement help” from his organization [UPDATE: link removed– see here for reason why]. To wit:

Donate any amount. For every $100 raised, we will provide one hour of consulting to a graduate student or postdoc who is on the job market for tenure track jobs right now, or who will be next year. Specifically, we will give feedback on any existing diversity statement the candidate has written, and/or we will help develop an equity/diversity/inclusion plan in concert with the candidate.

For any individual who donates $500 or more, the benefactor can, if they wish, designate two people who should receive one hour of consulting services.

. . . The use of the pro bono services will be completely confidential, meaning that we will never share any information about who we help (other than the total number of individuals).

Thus, by promoting requirements for diversity statements, Topaz is also plumping for donations to his own organization. Further, the undisclosed use of outside help in writing your diversity statement seems to me more than a bit sleazy, like relying on those organizations that charge for helping college students write admissions essays. It may not be illegal, but it doesn’t seem right, since your statements are supposed to be your own, not the thoughts of others.

At any rate, here’s Topaz’s new statement on his QSIDE website [UPDATE: Link removed– see here for reason why]:

The article lists several courses of action that Topaz recommends vis-à-vis Thompson’s statement, following those given on his Facebook post. They include 1) advising your math students not to go to UC Davis; 2) emailing the AMS criticizing its publication of Thompson’s piece (he has a boilerplate letter of complaint, including the statement “I believe you have made a grave and very damaging mistake by publishing Thompson’s essay.“); 3) punishing the AMS journal by not writing or “doing favors” for it; 4) “spreading the word about this debacle on social media and in your workplaces” (the call for social-media crucifixion); 5) contacting the UC Davis math department demanding that they dump Thompson as chair; and, most self-aggrandizingly, 6) donating to Topaz’s own organization (my emphasis).

And of course Topaz tweeted, because all manner of social media must be used when shaming the Ideologically Impure:

But Topaz was hoist with his own petard. In a heartening display, people called him out for being authoritarian and McCarthy-esque himself (you can see the thread here). This was the result:

Further, there’s a new essay in Psychology Today by a social psychologist (!) and Chair of Psychology at Rutgers that gives more examples of those enraged by Thompson’s essay while at the same time defending her criticism of mandatory diversity statements (click on screenshot):

Jussim’s ending is a model for the way that we, as liberals, should deal with diversity on one hand and mandatory diversity statements on the other:

I have a sincere Diversity Statement that I chose to put online at Rutgers, which you can find here. I am pretty sure I was the first Rutgers Psych Professor to have such a statement. This was by my choice; no one urged or pressured me to do it. Rutgers has a very demographically diverse student body, and it is genuinely important to me that students know that, regardless of their racial, ethnic, political, religious, or other identity backgrounds, they are welcome here and in my lab.

However, I also respect faculty who would rather not provide a diversity statement. People who strive for excellence in their field of expertise, say, teaching and research for many academics, should not be excluded from positions because they are not sufficiently fluent in the lingo of social justice.

I also have one here, in which I point out the politicized nature of such required statements. Here are some excerpts:

I am not afraid of social justice.

I am afraid of those who will punish others for not subscribing to a toxic and oppressive view of social justice. I am afraid, not of actual social justice, but of what some people are willing to do, and are in fact now doing, in the name of social justice.

This reads almost like a prediction for what is happening to Thompson.

Amen, comrades! The second link, here, goes to another piece by Jussim, published in Quillette, that underscores the maladaptive effects of “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” statements. It’s worth a read.

Google celebrates International Women’s Day

March 8, 2016 • 7:00 am

It’s International Women’s Day (Mother’s Day in eastern Europe and Russia), and Google has celebrated with a video describing the aspirations of women and girls throughout the world. Click on the screenshot below to see it.


Screen shot 2016-03-08 at 4.21.41 AM

The video notes:

Over the years, Doodles have marked the achievements of women in science, civil rights, journalism, sports, arts, technology and beyond. But for our 2016 International Women’s Day Doodle, we wanted to celebrate the next generation of Doodle-worthy women—the engineers, educators, leaders, movers and shakers of tomorrow.

So we visited 13 cities around the world and asked 337 girls and women to complete the sentence “One Day I Will…” Then, we made this video.

From San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Lagos, Moscow, Cairo, Berlin, London, Paris, Jakarta, Bangkok, New Delhi and Tokyo, the women we met make up a diverse mosaic of personalities, ages and backgrounds. And their aspirations are just as varied—ranging from the global to the very personal, from discovering more digits of pi to becoming a mother to giving a voice to those who can’t speak.

We also asked some more familiar figures to participate, including anthropologist Jane Goodall—who wants to discuss the environment with the Pope—and Nobel Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai and activist Muzoon Almellehan, who are working fearlessly toward a future where every girl can go to school. Despite already impressive accomplishments under their belts, these women continue to dream big.

Creators: Lydia Nichols, Helene Leroux & Liat Ben-Rafael.
Original music: Merrill Garbus (tUnE-yArDs).

The Doodle Page has a bunch of “behind the scenes” videos (one below), and shows that, unlike most Doodles, this one reaches every country in the world (except, presumably, North Korea). This video was filmed in New Delhi, where I’ll be in exactly ten days. The tower is the Qutb Minar, a minaret that dates back to 1220 AD.


Hello (and goodbye again), Andrew

June 27, 2015 • 12:26 pm

by Greg Mayer

Most WEIT readers will know of Andrew Sullivan, the prolific conservative, gay, Catholic writer who practically invented political and cultural blogging as an ongoing form of writing. Given this capsule description, there were, as you might expect, a number of times when he and Jerry publicly clashed, but there were also a number of points of agreement: despite what you might expect of a conservative Catholic, Sullivan is a staunch secularist, who opposes the baleful influence on public policy of religionists of all stripes (the Christians among whom he decried as “Christianists”, in analogy with “Islamists”).

Earlier this year, Andrew stopped blogging, and Jerry took note, remarking on their disagreements, but also his respect for Andrew’s boldness in defying some of his Church’s strictures, and his dedication to writing and developing a community of online readers. In his remarks, Jerry noted that I was a regular reader of Andrew’s, and privately suggested to me that I post something here at WEIT, which I thought a good idea, but which, for varied reasons, I never did.

The Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision gives me a chance to offer just a few words, for Andrew– probably only for this instant– has returned to blogging, offering his thoughts on the decision, one for which he worked tirelessly. I won’t say here all I might have in a longer piece, but I will note that I greatly enjoyed Andrew’s writing and analyses, even when I disagreed, and that an important part of this was because he is open to relentless self criticism, and is open to, and has, changed his mind in the face of contrary evidence and argument, even on issues on which he had staked his reputation (e.g. the Iraq War). Part of this self criticism is how he handled comments from his readers, not via an open or moderated comment section (as here at WEIT), but by what was essentially a letters to the editor section. Andrew posted a judicious selection of the comments sent to him, but did not hesitate to post the voices most contrary and dissenting to his own. From personal experience, I can attest that the submitted comments were read and considered.

Andrew was one of the first to promote marriage equality, at a time when even gay rights organizations and their supporters thought it a kooky idea. When I first heard of the idea years ago, gay marriage seemed to me like a contradiction in terms– it was Andrew who convinced me otherwise. He worked very hard, against opposition from all sides of the political spectrum, to promote the idea, and did so just by the power of reasoned argument– he led no army of followers, no political party, no phalanx of lobbyists. His reflections on the accomplishment of marriage equality (and do reflect on the religious allusion of the title of his piece) that he and many others worked for are well worth reading.

Andrew, it’s good to have you back for a day, and goodbye again.

The Irish came home to vote

May 25, 2015 • 2:15 pm

As Grania reported on Saturday from Ireland, nearly 50,000 Irish came home to vote for the gay marriage referendum (no absentee ballots can be used in such a case, for the number of expatriate Irish is huge). And of course it passed by a huge margin—some good news at a time when everything else seems dire.

To prolong the joy, go to theslicedpan and have a look at the tw**ts (on #HomeToVote) from the many expatriate Irish who came home, often from huge distances, just to cast a vote.  It’ll put a spring in your step.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 12.28.41 PM

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 12.30.53 PM

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 12.31.50 PM

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 12.35.26 PM


Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 12.37.40 PM

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 12.34.03 PM


Irish parents with a gay son urged a “yes” vote on the gay marriage referendum

May 24, 2015 • 10:30 am

Although some folks who favor gay marriage are still grousing about yesterday’s great victory in Ireland, calling out the Irish for not legalizing abortion at the same time, those are curmudgeons who can’t appreciate that big step forward, or realize that legalization of abortion will follow in time. What happened this weekend was a slap in the face of retrograde Catholicism, and so let us celebrate that for at least a short while.

Meanwhile, reader Gunnar sent me a link to an article in Friday’s New York Times about a video made by two Irish parents in their late 70s, Brighid and Paddy White (you can’t get names more Irish than that!), whose son came out to them as gay 13 years ago. The son, Padraic, is a professor of English at Trinity College Dublin. To support him, and the cause, Brighid and Paddy made a short video in March supporting the referendum, which they put on YouTube. Here it is:

Doesn’t that bring tears to your eyes? Sure, they’re reading their lines, but so what? The sentiment is genuine, and shows that no matter how old you are, you can still change your mind and do the right thing.

As the Times reports, the Whites are Catholics:

The couple continue to practice Catholicism, and they said they made the video not in spite of their religion but because of it.

“We are Catholics, and we are taught to believe in compassion and love and fairness and inclusion,” the elder Mr. Whyte said. “Equality, that’s all we’re voting for.”

Ms. Whyte added that her gay son and religious beliefs weren’t her only reasons for making the video.

“I must tell you,” she said. “I have 11 beautiful grandchildren. So that’s another reason, I want to make a better place for them.”

It’s a pity that, unlike the Whites, the Vatican wants the world to remain a mean-spirited place of inequality.