Book Review: The Trouble With Diversity

The Trouble With Diversity: How we learned to love identity and ignore inequality, 2006 Water Ben Michaels, Metropolitan, NY

“”Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

There is an enduring truth about America that has been forever enshrouded in romantic notions of the American Dream that has sought to deny or trivialize the very truth so eloquently described above.  We, the majority of Americans, are descended from the huddled masses, the wretched poor and castoffs from other countries.  The American ideal has always been, therefore, that we could “show the world” just what these poor, ignorant masses, devoid of all nobility, could accomplish if only given the “opportunity.”  And so, we have become the “land of opportunity.”  In fact, we strive to be the land of “equal” opportunity.

Ben Michaels, in The Trouble With Diversity, is here to point out that, not only is the entire idea of equality hogwash, but that we go out of our way to dupe the huddled masses into thinking they are equal by appeals to “cultural diversity.”   What we are supposed to celebrate is out cultural differences.  By doing so, we won’t feel bad about our economic differences, which are quite real and which perpetuate themselves through no fault, in large part, of the rich or the poor.

If you are born into riches, chances are that you parents will get you into the best schools and hire the best coaches in order to help you receive the high scores needed on the SAT so that you can get into the most exclusive universities, in which you will network with the richest and best connected people, so that you can find a job that helps you maintain your social status.  Whether you are extremely gifted and motivated or not becomes somewhat irrelevant, since all means necessary will be employed to see that you don’t fail.

If you are born into poverty, on the other hand, you will not have good schools to attend.  You most likely will not even have good food to eat nor any other necessity readily available that might help you succeed in school.  Your parents likely will be too busy trying to stay alive to be of any help to you.  Even if you manage to get good marks in school, you most likely won’t be able to score high enough on the all-important SAT, without coaching and practicing, and you will not qualify for the most exclusive universities.  If you are exceptional, you may still find you way through college and get a decent middle class job, unless we’re in a recession and such jobs are not available.

The fact that millions of talented people in this country will never reach their potential, while many people of ordinary or even below-average talent, will become the next generation of monied elite, has nothing to do with ethnicity and everything to do with economic inequality.  This, according to Ben Michaels, is what the rich people don’t want to poor people to figure out.  That is why the Left, whom he decidedly aligns himself with, are guilty of keeping the race card alive in the new guise of “diversity”.   By speaking of cultural diversity, it allows them to continue to be racist, as well as elitist, without appearing to be “racist.”

Of course, as a progressive,  Ben Michaels would be quick to point out that the Right, with its lockstep obedience to “unfettered capitalism”, is really the source of the problem.   For centuries, they have been passing laws protecting the elite while weakening the rights of the masses.   So, the Right is the “conservative” party because it wishes to conserve the power and wealth of the privileged class.  Therefore, in his estimation, whereas the Right is the bearer of the ideology that keeps most Americans poor, the Left is only guilty of faulty rhetoric which distracts from the truth that they champion the poor.

Actually, it’s a little more nuanced than that.  Ben Michaels, on the one hand deploring the poverty problem, also finds himself quite at ease with being a nearly in the top one percent, because he can look at his $175k salary plus book revenues and realize that he is so very poor compared to those who can afford nannies and time off to dote on their own children whenever they  please.  So it is the the homeless man who lives for awhile under a nearby bridge is a nuisance only because, to Ben Michaels, there should be no homeless people.  He does not, however, feel obligated to share any of his wealth with the homeless man and is quite relieved when he is no longer there.  The is the responsibility of the obscenely rich.

Ben Michaels’ book is a good read, because it does debunk the entire idea of racial bias.  In fact, it debunks the entire idea of race itself.  In truth, there is only the human race, and anyone who is honest knows that this is now the general consensus.  (Not to say that there aren’t a lot of ignorant people who don’t realize this.)   The real bias is economic.  And, in an effort to obscure this from the masses, race has been replace by culture.  If you culture is rich and diversified, it’s then OK that it is also poor.  But, as the gap between richest and poorest continues to widen, we should start caring more about eating and less about “preserving our heritage.”

Ben Michaels also quite aptly debunks the entire idea that religious and cultural diversity are the same.  Most religions claim to be the truth.  But, it is not possible for all of them to be true.  And it is not possible for all religions just to celebrate their differences as if they were merely different cultures.  For instance, when Jesus said he was THE way to God, he doesn’t leave any room for “all roads lead to God.”  In this sense, religion is about belief in what is right and wrong and to believe in one religion is necessarily to belief that others are wrong and inferior.   But this is mistakenly equated with cultural or racial prejudice.  Cultural differences don’t force one to say that one is better than another, whereas religious beliefs do.

What Ben Michaels realizes is that one’s religious views can and must shape ones political beliefs.  What he points out correctly, though, is that, regardless of one’s religious belief system, political opinions can only sway others when appealing to reason, not based upon a dogma that others don’t espouse.  For example, I cannot convince an atheist that abortion is wrong because the Bible says so.  I can, however, convince him based upon appeals to human rights and medical findings of how early a fetus takes on personal human characteristics.

As I sit here contemplating where I fit into the social order, I find that I, too, often have a flawed sense of economic reality.  Much like the American Idol contestants of which Ben Michaels speaks,  I sit at my computer and blog with the somewhat unrealistic notion that I will one day be a well-respected and well-paid writer and social or economic expert.  And yet there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of other bloggers out there with the same dream.  Perhaps many of them are better connected.  I know that many of them are light years ahead of me in terms of their marketing savvy.  And I also know that many know much better than I how to appeal to a political agenda that puts one on the fast track to a knee-jerk fan base.  It’s quite clear to me, a highly educated person with a command of the English language, that I should be in the top one percent.  But reality is that I am more likely to stay among the huddled masses in terms of my economic status.  Fortunately, I can find solace in the fact that I belong to a “rich” culture, whatever that may be.

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