Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is the new catchphrase of today’s elite businesses and universities. Those institutions assume D&I is both a means—to excellence—and an end in itself, making them more closely resemble the larger world of which they are a part. So understood, companies from Facebook to Apple to Goldman Sachs, and academic establishments from UC Berkeley to Harvard to Yale, have found their new holy grail. Their commitment to D&I is all too often treated as a self-evident truth that none should be allowed to question in public discourse. But this new consensus for D&I, if left unchallenged, has an unintended consequence: unthinking intellectual rigidity, a malaise that all successful institutions must guard against.
The first difficulty with D&I is that it says very little about whom to admit and whom to exclude. Scarcity of places is a major constraint, so any institution committed to D&I has to decide whom to exclude from its community. Ironically, these institutions depend for their success on the institution of private property, which gives them the breathing room on which their cooperative activities rest. Defenders of D&I constantly bewail the bogeyman of exclusion, but no one is suggesting that these D&I stalwarts should select their new students and employees at random, in order to spare every poor soul from the heavy burden of being turned down on the merits. Institutions pursuing D&I necessarily have to adopt policies that privilege some people at the expense of others.
Having chosen its members, D&I champions next embrace a message of “fairness and protection to all regardless of gender, race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.” But rarely do they face up to the conceptual ambiguities and practical tradeoffs that this grandiose statement conceals. Does any organization welcome the individual who is bold enough to reject D&I? More concretely, does D&I make accommodations for employees or students who on bona fide religious grounds are opposed to same-sex marriage? More generally, does D&I embrace, or even tolerate, true intellectual and political diversity? If so, why are there, from top to bottom, so few Republicans or libertarians within their diverse and inclusive ranks? Or does D&I unwisely overvalue skin-deep diversity at the expense of the necessary technical skills needed for particular jobs, like computer programming? D&I supporters pretend that these inescapable trade-offs do not exist: indeed, they all too often take pride in demonizing and excluding those who disagree with them.