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Thought Paralysis

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Given the enormous struggles, efforts and money expended on the equalities enterprise, why has more progress not been made? And further, why have things actually become worse in some circumstances? It is argued this has occurred because:- The values of Equality have been bureaucratized, allowing the liberal principle of "live and let live" to be perverted and put in the service of fear and control.- The Diversity discourse has been hijacked by the libertarians and put in the service of increasing profit, under the guise of liberty and inclusivity.- The equality movements have become apolitical, sidetracked into the project of the indiscriminate celebration and preservation of cultures, in lieu of challenging the status quo within cultures as much as between them.- The versions of psychology and sociology that the equality movements have drawn on are over simple.- The attempts to do away with judgementalism and unfair discrimination have ended up vilifying the capacities for judgment and discrimination per se.The book walks the thin line between the apologists who deify "difference" and the zealots and bigots who vilify the different, to argue that to create a fairer world, we need to enhance our capacities for discrimination, not stifle them.Although the work is focussed around equality, it has bigger things to say about the human condition and organizational life in general.

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CHAPTER ONE: Introduction: thought paralysis

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Over the past few decades there have been many heroic struggles and enormous efforts put into challenging the inequalities and iniquities endemic in our society, specifically in the areas of “race”, gender, class, and disability. And, indeed, a great many positive changes have taken place. For one thing, the struggles have brought about a profound change in social conventions in Britain, so that it is no longer acceptable in polite liberal company to say dismissive or hateful things about women, Blacks, or lesbians; changes in the legislature mean that same sex relationships are granted official recognition—something that was unimaginable fifty years ago. Yet, it is also the case that despite these efforts, despite substantial changes in the legislation and so forth, the statistics tell us that racism and sexism continue to flourish; for example, in the 2010 season of the BBC Proms concerts “only 1.6% of the conductors and 4.1% of the composers [were] women” (Thorpe, 2010). But worse, in some cases the situation has actually deteriorated: two cases in point being the fact that the pay differentials between men and women have actually widened in the last year or two (Hencke, 2009), and the fact that in the five years from 2004–2009 there has been a 70% increase in the numbers of Black and Asians stopped and searched on the streets of the UK in comparison to the previous five years (Travis, 2010). At the same time, these very same institutions make proud claims in their Equal Opportunity statements that they subscribe to the values of inclusivity, fairness, non-discriminatory practice, and so on. They back their claims by pointing to the fact that they require all their employees to participate in “equality and diversity” trainings, in order that they develop more tolerant and inclusive attitudes towards others. Despite these efforts and claims, there remains quite a gap between what institutions say they are doing and what is actually happening. The contrast between the achievements of the Equality Movements and the road yet to be travelled by them is found in two articles that happened to appear on the same day in the Guardian. A glimpse of the achievements are found in an article describing the return of the “Freedom Riders” to Mississippi, to mark the fifty-year anniversary of the first struggles against segregation. One returning veteran of the early struggles remarked,

 

CHAPTER TWO: The struggle to live and let live: the liberal world view

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To begin with, what is the set of problems that we are concerned with?

1. Gratuitous violence is meted out by individuals and gangs on the same subset of people. Violence “in the wild”, as it were.

2. Some individuals employed by agencies of the state have been known to deliberately use the authority of the state to treat this same subset with violence—in particular, the police, immigration authorities, social services, the psychiatric services, and so on. And when the institutions cover up for these individuals, we can call this deliberately sanctioned violence.

3. Some kinds of people seem to fare less well than other kinds in all manner of settings, from health to housing to the job market. This comes about through depersonalized, institutionalized processes which somehow centrifuge certain “kinds” of people to the periphery: institutionalized but invisible violence.

As we proceed, it will be important to keep the distinctions between the three firmly in mind, else we will end up in a number of conceptual difficulties. Often, the solutions appropriate to one of the above are unhelpfully utilized for another of the above. In what follows, I will not only look at some of explanations being offered for this range of problems, but also what is taken for granted and unrecognized in these explanations. The sources of the taken-for-granted are to be found in the values of liberalism—to live and let live. But these values contain a tension (often unreflected) between two sets of contradictory ideals, these being between “treat everyone the same” and “treat each person/group as special”. The tension between these sets of ideals continues to bedevil the Equality discourses to give rise to a number of conceptual confusions. In order to understand the sources of these values and resulting tensions, I begin with a short history of, and an introduction to, the principles of liberalism.

 

CHAPTER THREE: Equal strokes for different folks: the legislature

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These are frightening times. As I write this (2009), the global economy is in a state of meltdown, the planet’s energy resources are running out, and to make matters even worse, the planet’s eco-system is said to be on the brink of a catastrophic change. A possible intimation of things to come occurred in 2000, when a strike by the drivers of petrol tankers brought Britain to a standstill in a shockingly short time. Without fuel, within just three days quite a lot of “normal” life had become impossible. Cars became rapidly redundant, public transport was hardly functioning, supermarket shelves emptied out, and many people could not get to work. Consequently, many institutions could provide only minimal services, or had to shut down entirely. The apparently solid and seamless workings of my day-to-day life were shown to be extremely precarious; the buffer between a functioning civil society and its collapse were revealed as being frighteningly thin. The dystopia envisaged in the Mad Max films no longer seemed too fantastical. The films imagined the world after the oil runs out as anarchic, ruled by mobs and gangs, with the strong ruthlessly overwhelming the weak—a Hobbesian nightmare.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Manufacturing kinds of people: processes of inclusion and exclusion

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The legislature, as well as the equality movements, has proceeded on the basis of a particular (problematic) world view, two elements of which are of specific concern to us. First is a simplistic understanding of the social group (whatever name it goes by, race, culture, ethnicity, etc.); second is a one-dimensional rendition of the human condition. If one buys into both of them, then the problem and its solution appear to be relatively straightforward as evidenced by the heroic pronouncements found in the equality statements of innumerable organizations, public and private. According to these, it is a simple enough matter to practise inclusivity, noninterference, tolerance, and respect towards others; it is just a matter of knowledge and will. It seems to me that to try to live one’s life according to these principles is a decent and worthy way of proceeding. Problems arise when these values are treated as though they are real achievable ends, rather than aspirations. When this happens, then the values of liberalism come to be distorted and turned into instruments of fear and control. It is for this reason that discussions on these subjects so often have a defensive quality, quickly become heated, and end in an impasse.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: The human condition: psychology

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The previous chapter has established that the cultural group is not a singular consensual entity, but an eternally conflicted and conflictual complexity. In what follows, it will become apparent that the individual is also similarly constituted.

In the beginning …

In the beginning, there was Man. He was free and lived in peaceful isolation in harmony with Nature. The trouble began with the rise in numbers, when he was forced into contact with other men. Conflicts arose between them as each tried to live according to his authentic (internally derived) desires. The only way they were able to learn to live with each other was by subjugating their natural desires. In this way, they became less free but more socialized. The cost of the accommodation was that their natures became distorted in the effort to live with others—neurosis. This is how Rousseau conceived of the human condition.

In the beginning, there was Man. Free, in his natural state, he was rapacious and greedy, taking, destroying, and devouring whatever he desired with no inhibition: the war of all against all. He cared nothing for consequences; he was all Id. This was Hobbes’ view; he thought that the only way this savage being would be able to live with similar others, was by being subject to authority of gigantic proportions and force—the Leviathan. Fear would make them behave decently, but their savage natures would always be present, erupting at the slightest opportunity.

 

CHAPTER SIX: Counting discriminations

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Every picture tells a story

While it is true to say that “every picture tells a story”, it is also accurate to say that there are many different stories to be told of the same picture, each of them simultaneously (possibly) true. Here is one picture: Jane was made redundant by Abdul, and Harish was not. Let us eavesdrop on their stories.

Jane’s story is that the redundancy is the result of unfair sexual discrimination. Her boss, Abdul, tells a different story: that he chose to make Jane redundant rather than Harish because she is a bad timekeeper. Jane says that she is late sometimes (lots of times, says the boss) because of needing to get her children to school. The boss says, but Harish, too, takes his children to school, and although he is ten minutes late on occasion, she tends to be forty-five minutes late as a matter of course. She says that she is a single mum, and Harish has a partner who helps. She claims that the boss Abdul decided to keep Harish on because they were both men and also they are the same race. She also claims racial discrimination. The boss says what nonsense; I am a Muslim and he is a Hindu, if anything, the history of the two faiths would mean that I would take every opportunity to get rid of him; it is you who are racist, not even being able to distinguish between our cultures. She says, yes, but you both come from the same area in Delhi and there was some connection between your families, was there not? This is clear favouritism, if not nepotism.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: Corrupting the liberal ideal: diversity in organizational life

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Spreadsheet ethics

Increasingly, organizations are putting in place a number of diversity initiatives which aim to make organizational life more open and more accessible to people from backgrounds and groupings different from those in the mainstream. The intention is to make the workforce more diverse through employing different kinds of people. The focus of diversity initiatives is to set up processes that will allow more women, “ethnic” minorities, those with disabilities, gays, lesbians, and so on, into the structures of higher management. The wish is to make the organizational culture more inclusive. To this end, organizations employ diversity experts—consultants—to help the organization “celebrate diversity” instead of fearing and shunning it.

Rather surprisingly, it turns out that the theme of “diversity” has become almost a universal feature in the “strategic plans” of organizations large and small, public and private. Diversity has also become an integral feature of most contemporary “organizational development” initiatives. It is surprising because previously corporations had been very reluctant to engage with the prior emancipatory movements of multi-culturalism and anti-racism. So, why is it that the idea of diversity is being so readily embraced by them?

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: Perverting the liberal ideal: fear and control in the Panopticon

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Conversations about equality, diversity, and so on, do not exist in a vacuum. They are bound to draw their forms and rationales from the norms and paradigms of the milieus that they take place in, and so they reflect and reproduce them to some degree. The driving force for the equalities agenda comes from many directions. Crudely, there are three sorts of milieus (not mutually exclusive): perhaps the first impulse comes from “the street” (protestors and activists), then there is the academy (the intellectuals), and finally there are the bureaucrats. Informed by the first two, it is the last of these that produce legislation, draw up protocols and procedures, and give formal advice on how one is best to fulfil the legal requirements. The ruling paradigms of the bureaucrat are the ones that prevail in the modern organization, that of the marketplace.

The worker as castrated Kantian being

The paradigm of the marketplace has become the ruling organizing principle for most, if not all, kinds of institutions. Whatever the project, be it the education of young children, the nation’s health care, utilities, and railways, it has become the norm for every kind of institution—public, charitable, voluntary, and private—to produce a “business model” about how they intend to set about their “business”. A language of efficiencies, profit and loss, proliferates; so does the idea that all institutions should be “independent” and pay their way. Within this paradigm, the model of the human being that finds favour in mainstream organizational literature is also individualistic and mechanistic; in this view humans can be, and should be, controlled and directed by procedure and protocol. This is compounded by the belief that human beings are selfish and cannot be trusted. This situation has come about in the following way.

 

CHAPTER NINE: The difference that dare not speak its name: the lexicon police

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Training the mind

How is one to reside in the space between the extremes of annihilating the other and annihilating the self? One answer given by equality discourses is, by being very, very careful with the language one uses. And the way this is to be achieved is through training. Training is big business. Organizations spend a lot of money purchasing trainers and trainings of all kinds: health and safety, customer relations, equality, and so on. In part, organizations do this in order to fulfil the legal obligations placed on them by the legislature. To this end, it has become compulsory for employees to go through a “training” in equality and diversity. Mostly, these trainings are computer based (because it is cheaper). On completion, employees are deemed to have mastered the skills of empathy and sensitivity to others. The e-based equal opportunity trainings I have had sight of are, in my view, moronic, patronizing, and tokenistic, with their primary purpose being to demonstrate that the institution has fulfilled its legal obligations. In other words, they are in the service of being seen to do good, rather than actually doing good.

 

CHAPTER TEN: The vicissitudes of discrimination

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The predicament

The intention of the entire equalities enterprise has been to try to create a fairer world. But the task is made difficult because of the predicament that is endemic to the human condition, the condition spelt out in Chapters Four and Five.

First, human beings are social beings. By this I mean that as we grow up, we imbibe the social conventions we are born into with our mother’s milk; these conventions become internalized and constitute the Self. But we take in not one set of conventions, but several, some of which are in conflict with each other. Somehow, out of this mix, we cobble together what becomes our habituated ways of being—of seeing, experiencing, and interacting with the world. This happens, not uniformly or universally, but sufficiently broadly for us to be able to speak of “ways of life”. In a manner of speaking, we more or less “mindlessly” follow one sort of world view and not another—mind-less in the sense that it is the unreflected norm we inhabit and that inhabits us. This taken for granted habituation has variously been called ideology, discourse, and the social unconscious. In this sense, we are cultural sheep.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN: Islam: the new black

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The fear of Islam is burgeoning all over the world. Islam is become the new Black. Is there really something about Islam to be feared, or is the fear born of a kind of racist paranoia, a fantasy? The short answer is that both are true, but in complicated ways.

The first thing to notice is that there is a problem with the question itself. As we have already seen, we cannot speak of Islam as though it were a unity.

Polarizations such as “Islam vs. the West” allow us to position Islam outside “the West” and as its opposite. The structure of the polarization is in itself curious, not merely because it suggests two unified ways of thinking, but because of the mix of categories; on one side is a religion and on the other side something more amorphous, but having connotations with modernity. Further, it suggests that there are no disputes within Islam, and all opposition to its ways come from outside it. But this is not the case.

Take the fatwa declared by the National Fatwa Council in Malaysia in 2008, who took it upon themselves to ban the country’s Muslim population from practising Yoga, because they feared that yoga practice was the beginnings of the slippery slope to Hinduism. The suggestion was readily lampooned in “the West”, but less well publicized was the outrage expressed by Muslims in Malaysia and elsewhere. One voice among a great many was Farish Noor, writing in the Daily Times of Lahore:

 

CHAPTER TWELVE: Tolerating discrimination: discriminatory tolerance

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Chapter Ten attended to the processes unfair discrimination and marginalization that have been institutionalized and so are invisible as well as unconscious. I now want to turn to the more conscious realm in order to think about the notion of tolerance. I will do this through the problem that is called “cultural difference”, which is said to occur when one is faced with a way of life or a belief system that is at odds with one’s own. The diversity promulgator’s solution to this problem is celebration; they reframe the difference from problem to asset. In their view, there is no necessity to give an account or explanation for the differences, they just “are”: this is our way and that is their way and both are valid. Neither is there any necessity for the celebrator to engage their mental faculties, because if they just celebrate and party hard enough then they will somehow find themselves in equality heaven. As we have seen, there is no place for politics in the diversity movement, and so they are easily led to the presumption that “they” (the exotic others) think with one mind. To the diversity way of thinking, they really are “all the same” and not the problematic, politicized, and conflicted complex multiplicity that they actually are.

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: The road to nowhere: conceptual cul-de-sacs

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In this final chapter, I reprise, deepen, and further contextualize some of the key contradictions within the discourse of the diversity celebrators. I begin with the error in which respect comes to be promoted as the antidote to racism, as it is this that has led us towards the sterile philosophy of culture preservation.

Celebrating diversity: apartheid by another route

There are two interlinked issues, one of which is used to undermine the other.

•  The first has to do with the processes of marginalization (which include racism, sexism, etc.) that benefit the “established”.

•  The second issue has to do with rights and recognition—the demands of the groups that are marginalized, the “outsiders”.

Racism is a dehumanizing process through which others are made other and turned into commodities, in order to be used and abused at will. To counter this, the dehumanized demand to be recognized as human and valued for the kind of human they are. They want to be respected for who they are, and so they emphasize what they are. The “progressives” support this stand by the marginalized because it is a stand against the powers of oppression.

 

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