In 2021, our school (business and economics at Wilfrid Laurier University) retained a consulting group, Agree Inc., to do interviews to assess our workplace culture. It presented its recommendations in early December.
The two primary recommendations were: 1) more diversity, inclusivity and equity; and 2) implement a culture of respect.
I presented this essay at our faculty meeting on March 18th, 2022. The meeting included all business departments plus the department of economics—there were 94 people in attendance. When I was finished, the dean said: “I disagree with everything you just said”.
In this essay I explain why the Agree recommendations would be very bad for the school—mainly because they are antithetical to the liberal foundation of the university.
What Is DIE?
Who could object to diversity, equity, and inclusion? Those words mean good things, right? Diversity is our strength. Equity means fairness and inclusion means being welcoming.
But that is not what those words mean.
DIE and respect are the product of critical social justice theory (“woke” for short). Woke ideas derive from Marxism (through critical theory) and post-modernism—and so we should not be surprised by some linguistic chicanery.1
Next, I’ll explain the real meaning of each of those terms.2
Enhancing diversity means to privilege the marginalized and marginalize the privileged. Diversity doesn’t mean viewpoint diversity. Diversity in hiring means to not hire white, Asian, male & cis (the oppressor) but instead to hire woke activists from the variety of intersectional identities. Diversity brings with it a number of philosophical positions, including: cultural relativism, standpoint epistemology (ways of knowing) and structural oppression.
Inclusion means censorship. An inclusive space is a safe space. To be safe, a space must not include people and ideas that are unsafe or violent. So, to be inclusive, some ideas must be censored. The Rainbow Centre’s (RC) reaction to Lindsay Shepherd reveals the true meaning of inclusion. The RC argued that the idea of free speech (advocated by Shepherd) constituted a “profound violence” and that the violence must not be allowed on campus.3
Equity means shifting resources (jobs, money and power) to oppressed minority groups. Equity means equality of outcome and not equality of opportunity. One critic defines equity as “The destruction of everything in order for a retributive redistribution of power along the inverted axis of the prior hierarchy.”4 The key idea is “retributive redistribution”, which is reparation for past injustice.
Respect reinforces the central role of group identity in woke theory. Respect means honoring, protecting and celebrating identity.5
Some universities, such as Saint Mary’s, in Halifax, have codified respect. In a culture of respect, we are enjoined not to offend and students are encouraged to identify and address inappropriate behaviour. They are encouraged to speak out for someone else—AKA call-out culture.6
Thus, “respect” is a woke code of conduct enforced through complaints and backed by the threat of discipline.
It will be used maliciously, as it was against Professor Mark Mercer of Saint Mary’s University.7
DIE Leads to Reverse Discrimination
One ugly product of a DIE culture is discrimination against whites, Asians and males. Ibram X. Kendi justifies reverse discrimination as a form of revenge: “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” 8
Discrimination against whites and Asians has come to WLU through the Inclusive Excellence program, which created 12 new faculty positions: six for black and six for indigenous applicants only. 9 This sort of discrimination violates the basic tenet of liberalism: equality of opportunity.
DIE Rejects Liberalism
Woke theory conflicts with liberalism, which is the intellectual foundation of the university. The contrast between the two is well articulated by Lindsay and Pluckrose:
“Theory and liberalism do not merely exist in tension: they are almost directly at odds with one another. Liberalism sees knowledge as something we can learn about reality, more or less objectively; Theory sees knowledge as completely created by humans—stories we tell ourselves, largely in the unwitting service of maintaining our own social standing, privilege, and power…. Liberalism values the individual and universal human values; Theory rejects both in favor of group identity…. Liberalism encourages disagreement and debate as means to getting at the truth; Theory rejects these as ways of reinforcing dominant discourses that suppress certain perspectives [and] promotes the idea that truth is a ‘language game’. Liberalism accepts criticism, even of itself, and is therefore self-correcting; Theory cannot be criticized.”10
Woke Theory is Non-Falsifiable
Being immune to criticism makes woke theory unsuitable for a university. The epistemology of a university is disputation and falsification. But woke theory cannot be falsified logically or empirically. It assumes that oppression is baked into the system and that most participants, except the woke, have false consciousness. Thus, a university can be systemically racist without there being any intentionally racist members.
When a member of the oppressor group challenges the idea of structural oppression, the woke response is that the oppressor is denying their privilege and trying to perpetuate their power. Their dissent is treated as proof of their hierarchical power. This is a Kafka trap, which is a logical fallacy, and not a good faith, rational defense.
DIE Bullies Its Opponents
Critics of woke are attacked and bullied. This happened to David Haskell and me when we challenged President MacLatchy’s claim that WLU is systemically racist. In response to our open letter, The Cord published a hit piece titled “The ‘untouchables’: can tenured professors be fired for inflammatory comments?”11 Shortly afterwards, a social media cancel mob, comprising anonymous faculty and students, formed under the name #wluchangeisdue. The mob called on the president to fire Haskell and me.
Bullying will silence dissent. But dissent is essential to the search for truth.
Critical theory is, by its own admission, anti-rational, anti-individual, anti-liberal, and anti-equality of treatment.12 As a workplace culture, it promotes discrimination against white males, is intolerant of dissent, bullies its opponents and fosters a call-out culture of snitching to provoke institutional punishment.
Critical theory is an ideological movement intent on revolution. To see what follows the revolution, remember the Lindsay Shepherd affair, or look at what happened at Evergreen State College.13
If we care for the marginalized, then we should embrace liberal values. DIE can achieve nothing good which cannot be accomplished better with liberalism.
If we want a culture of empathy and care, then we don’t need another code. We need simply abide by one rule, articulated 2,000 years ago: “do unto others as you would have done unto yourself.”
1 For an overview of critical social justice theory, see: Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity―and Why This Harms Everybody. Pitchstone Publishing, August 2020.
2 These definitions are largely drawn from James Lindsay’s “Social Justice Encyclopedia,” on his web site. https://newdiscourses.com/
3 Rainbow Centre. Facebook. Nov 21, 2017.
4 Charles Pincourt and James Lindsay. Counter Wokecraft: A Field Manual for Combatting the Woke in the University and Beyond. New Discourses. 2021.
5 For a more complete analysis of respect, see Mark Mercer, “Respect the University”, Minding the Campus, January 21, 2021.
6 Saint Mary’s University. “About Respect at Saint Mary’s”. https://www.smu.ca/about/safe-and-respectful-about.html
7 Mark Mercer. “Regrets, I’ve Had a Few.” Minding the Campus. March 26, 2021. https://www.mindingthecampus.org/2021/03/26/regrets-ive-had-a-few/
8 Ibram X. Kendi. “How to be an Antiracist”. Penguin. 2019.
9 Wilfrid Laurier University. “Laurier to hire more Indigenous and Black faculty members through Inclusive Excellence initiative.” Press Release. May 4, 2021.
10 Pluckrose and Lindsay. Ibid.
11 Alyssa Di Sabatino. “The ‘untouchables’: can tenured professors be fired for inflammatory comments?”, The Cord. July 15, 2020.
12 Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic. Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. New York University Press. 2001, p. 3.
13 The Evergreen State College story is told in a short 3-part documentary by Mike Nayna (https://youtu.be/FH2WeWgcSMk) and a long 24-part documentary by Benjamin Boyce (https://youtu.be/PQAJ-7t4QOo). Boyce was a student at Evergreen.