Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Diversity and Tolerance Overrated

Diversity and Tolerance Overrated

By Andrew Owiti

I have been ridiculed on account of the letter to the editor I wrote (The Hoya Sept. 30) challenging our notions of diversity and tolerance. The piece was called “a joke” to my face and, I am sure, worse things behind my back. Nevertheless, the outrage that the column inspired, quite honestly, vindicates me because it reveals how entrenched these erroneous notions of diversity and tolerance have become. In challenging our notions of diversity and tolerance, I was making a philosophical observation as well as, admittedly, a partisan social statement.

Philosophically, I pointed out that diversity and tolerance are neutral categories, neither inherently good nor inherently bad. It’s the application of these notions that makes them good or bad. A useful way of understanding my point is by posing the question “Is a diverse and tolerant society necessarily a just and good society?” In my mind the answer is very clearly no, the presence of diversity and tolerance do not guarantee justice and goodness. In other words, diversity and tolerance are descriptive categories, not necessarily prescriptive categories.

The reason diversity and tolerance resonate so powerfully in the U.S. is due to this country’s immigrants, both voluntary and involuntary, and its peculiar history of inclusion and exclusion. I honestly don’t know anyone who will deny that this country is diverse. This is a fact that is neither necessarily good nor bad. Also, we are obliged by law to tolerate differences between peoples. There are those – for lack of a better term – progressives – who believe very strongly that the problem with this society is that it is not diverse and tolerant enough, and that if we only had more diversity and more tolerance, justice, happiness and prosperity would follow in short order. This, then, is the origin of their elevation of diversity and tolerance to being ends in themselves, to the point where diversity and tolerance have eclipsed the higher end of justice and truth.

Honestly! We really don’t need our consciousness about diversity and tolerance raised anymore. It is raised already from the popular culture and other experiences like walking down M Street, for instance. Overly self-conscious attempts to raise it further only insult our intelligence and this explains the apathy of the majority of Georgetown students towards activism. Put differently, people tire very quickly of being reminded of the blatantly obvious. Basically, in the late `90s we have a clear situation of diversity and tolerance overkill to the point that they have outlived their usefulness in effecting social change. Like the word “equality,” they have been rapidly internalized into popular consciousness, and as such, have become assumptions that don’t need stating. Using them over and over again only trivializes the moving power of these concepts till they only sound tired and cliché. Social engineers of the left need a new battle cry, a new buzzword, a new sound bite for the new millennium, and I don’t doubt that a new one will be forthcoming sooner or later.

Related to all the diversity and tolerance brouhaha is the debate on Georgetown’s “Modernistic Catholicism” ” or lack thereof. Despite Colin Relihan’s assertions to the contrary, tolerance does not mean that Catholics are obliged to accept every idea, attitude or behavior that modernity has to offer. The choice for Catholics in a modern world is simple, really. Do I adjust my faith to suit modernity, or do I make modernity the variable and my faith the constant of the equation? This is the outline of many personal decisions each Catholic has to make and it is not my place or intention to shoot, maim or damn anybody to the fires of hell for the choices they make. Having said that though, I reserve the right, indeed it is my obligation to criticize, vigorously even, what I think is wrong, and to call things as I see them.

Relihan also expressed a certain amount of fear of persecution; a fear of having Roman Catholicism rammed down his throat. He asked, “What happens if you don’t want to correspond to what to what the `true’ Catholics want?” Why, you will be flogged for days, your eyes and tongue will be gouged out, your battered body will then be burned at the stake and the ashes fed to buzzards and vultures! As irrational as his fear appears to me, it is indicative of a certain double standard applied to who has the right to speak. Indeed, Reliman chastised those “self-proclaimed Defenders of the Faith”. But is there something wrong with defending the faith? In everyday terms it’s called standing up for what you believe in. And this is where the double standard is betrayed. My perception is that, when GUPride, feminists groups and other elements of the political left are allowed to stand up very vocally for what they believe in – and this is their constitutionally guaranteed right and indeed is a welcome ingredient to Georgetown’s intellectual conversation. But when Catholics or other social conservatives stand up for what they believe, there is a definite non-vocal pressure to keep their efforts under wraps. More often, they are accused of ignorance, bigotry, discrimination, and here is a new one, medievalism. And at worst, they are deemed responsible for indirectly encouraging hate crimes.

There is no doubt in my mind that vocal conservatives are perceived as the bogeymen of the 1990s while vocal progressives are at liberty to be as aggressive as they choose. In all fairness, this imbalance is unfair, and contributes to the alienating rhetoric. So, to social conservatives, speak your minds and your hearts! It is your right. Indeed shout the good news from the mountaintops. To social progressives, two things: don’t stop shouting. Your voices are valuable. But by the same token, don’t get overly sensitive when criticized. Progressives must accept the frightening possibility that there are plenty of well informed, compassionate and truth-seeking social conservatives who don’t agree with their vision of society. They are not ignorant, bigoted or intolerant, they’re only reserving the right to criticize. And also, it’s time to let go of diversity and tolerance because they are getting very old and they are not yet golden. I propose some genuinely golden oldies? Justice and goodness and we could even go Medieval – Holiness. I haven’t heard those in a long time. Yes, how about justice and holiness?

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