There may be no better way to celebrate the centenary of George Orwell’s birth than to explode one of those “smelly little orthodoxies which are contending for our souls,” to use his phrase.
In his own, tumultuous times, George Orwell, born Eric Arthur Blair, contended against both fascism and communism — not just in words but in the field. As a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, he wound up having the fascists shooting at him and the communists trying to arrest him; he fled Spain one step ahead of the thought police.
I’d like to think George Orwell would also have seen through a current American orthodoxy: Diversity. By capital-D Diversity, of course, I don’t mean a diversity of ideas, talents, aptitudes or experiences, but only a cosmetic, quota-derived Diversity. The kind that has succeeded Marxism on American campuses as the ideology du jour, de facto and now, thanks to Sandra Day O’Connor, de jure.
The capital-D variety is a caricature of any real diversity, for its only diversity is one of appearance. Its object is to fashion an American elite that looks different but thinks alike. All these offensive (and officious) quotas, preferences and affirmative actions are designed to produce a United States that may look like the rainbow but thinks like National Public Radio.
What began as an innocent, and overdue, effort to include all has become a way to favor some of us and penalize others — solely on the basis of our race, or ethnicity, or sex. Diversity has become a power game, a way not to break down arbitrary divisions but create new ones and, inevitably, a new set of group entitlements and therefore group resentments.
It began with an innocent-seeming loophole. When Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell handed down his solitary yet governing opinion in Bakke a quarter of a century ago, he wrote that race might be considered as only one factor in granting admission to a state’s medical school.
Even then, Justice Powell tried to make it clear he did not mean people should be judged on race as such. He pointed out that there would be a difference between “the child of a successful black physician in an academic community” and a black child with semi-literate parents “who grew up in an inner-city ghetto [but] had demonstrated energy and leadership.” And that a university admissions committee might in good conscience pass over both of those applicants in favor of “a white student with extraordinary artistic talent.”
All Justice Powell asked was that the university take into account “individual qualities or experiences not dependent on race but sometimes associated with it.”
How sensible. But that was all the opening the Diversity hustlers needed. Over the years, they have expanded that loophole into a standing injustice. Here’s what Justice Powell (and many of the rest of us) may not have realized at the time: There’s a kind of Gresham’s Law that operates in all matters pertaining to race. Introduce race as just one factor in a decision, and it drives all the others out, it’s such a pernicious concept.
It’s how the Old South was able to maintain its racial caste system for so long. Race canceled out every other consideration when it came to advancement in the larger society, which remained lily white. Now, once again, race has overpowered reason in Gutter vs. Bollinger.
Writing for the majority in that case, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor delivered herself of an opinion that is everything George Orwell’s prose is not — verbose, vague, convoluted and ideologically determined.
The upshot of her ruling? The 14th Amendment may still guarantee the equal protection of the laws but, to use an Orwellian phrase, some of us are more equal than others.
At bottom, the impetus for all these verbal contortions, and for the whole rigged game called Diversity, is a loss of faith — a loss of faith in the basic decency of the American system to treat all equally, and a loss of faith in the basic ability of those “favored” by affirmative action to compete equally. That’s sad. And it’s corrupting, as a loss of faith always is. And what it corrupts first and last is language, the currency of thought.
Orwell had a term for this kind of verbal shell game: doublethink — the ability to ignore the plain meaning of words and even use them to mean their opposite. That’s the process diversity has undergone to become Diversity.
The ultimate accomplishment of doublethink, and its ultimate corruption of the language, is not that people speak and write in it, but that they think in it. Newspeak, as Orwell pointed out, is not just a way to obscure thought, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. Justice O’Connor, if I may compliment her in undiluted Newspeak, is a doubleplusgood doublethinker.
Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.