The Diversity Hoax: Law Students Report from Berkeley
David Wienir and Marc Berley, eds.
Reviewed by Joe Lockard
Thursday, June 3 1999, 2:59 PM
One of the most common accusations thrown by right-wing critics of radical academic Ivory Towers is that they encourage an atmosphere of identity victimization and social whining. The editors of this sob-n-complain anti-affirmative action book must have gotten straight As in their mandatory PC Think classes, because they picked up on the Whimper and Moan study module quite neatly.
Reader, beware, the victimization of these oppressed (mainly) white law students will make you weep. They suffer the flagellation of conscience, intellect and human dignity as they uphold the banner of individual worth; they face the Hydra of mandatory "Group Think" and endure the opprobrium of their peers in order to achieve the freedom America guarantees.
Or so they would like to believe. A pseudo-heroic voice manifests itself throughout this essay collection, one that wishes to elevate the book and its project to the level of a defense of Western civilization. Marc Berley makes this project clear when his introduction segues from damning political opposition to Proposition 209. He characterizes the intellectual atmosphere on the Berkeley campus as stifling, proposing that this represents "a decline in academic standards that is connected to a concerted effort on the part of professors and students to reject the Western tradition." Berley writes that the books essays "suggest that the pursuit of truth rooted in reason is being replaced by a rejection of reason as a mere tool of oppression."
Nothing could be more contrary. Berley's glaring logical ellipses as he slides from anti-affirmative action politics into the alleged disappearance of Shakespeare from university curricula, sounding like an academic Westbrook Pegler on greased skids, constitutes a massive rejection of reason. Voodoo priests are Thomist logicians compared to Berley.
The intellectual traditions of the West --- a dubious rubric, but accepted for present purposes --- have produced far better logicians and historians than found among these essayists engaging in patent defenses of class privilege. The same defenders of Western civilization who would prefer to defenestrate Franz Fanon and have students tuck into Saint Augustine's Confessions frequently do not realize that both writers were North Africans. Augustine has been Europeanized to achieve classical canonicity, and the repeated and thin invocations by the books essayists of Locke, Kant and Mill similarly exhibit little real familiarity with their subjects.
Something is indeed wrong here: Western civilization's most vociferous defenders don't know much about the subject. Several times in the course of this book its essayists join presumption to irrationalism making such statements as "If he were alive today, Mill [or another philosophical name]" would oppose affirmative action. On the other hand, its lovely to see so many lawyers channeling Thoreau, a man who had no use for lawyers.
A defense of rationalism and free-speech values constitute only an introductory metapoetics for The Diversity Hoax, a book whose tone is defined far more by a discovery on the part of a class of law students that many affected people are angry over the consequences of Proposition 209. Thus a law student essayist like Darcy Edmonds begins with vacillation over the issue, watches some of the protests, puzzles out that affirmative action is insufficient, and concludes --- contradictorily --- that inequality in education needs to be addressed. A sense of social outrage is absent here: like so many others, Darcy Edmonds gets along.
While the putative call of this book is for free speech (the cover graphic invokes this with a photo from a Sather Gate demonstration during the early '60s), this principle has nothing to do with the book's project or ideology. The real opposition here is to accurate speech, whether concerning society or individual activities. The vehemence that emerges in some essays goes so far as to suggest possible personality disturbances among a couple authors.
There is little difference between the disturbed tone of such moments in and that of co-editor David Wienir, who writes "During my first year of law school at Boalt, I began to understand the methods of the radical Left to be nothing short of intellectual terrorism. Unable to accomplish their goals through ordinary means in a democratic society.they have resorted to other means to enforce their will." For Wienir, an advocacy of institutional consideration of cultural diversity --- including race, gender and class --- is no less than a form of violence. Wienir's own language betrays his repeated calls for tolerance and a Janus-faced dedication of the book "to diversity." One especially shameful low in the volume occurs when Wienir uses his work on a Shoah history project as an argumentative shield for his politics.
The point at which one does sympathize with some of the essayists comes when they recount egregious harassment in the polarized post-209 atmosphere, e.g. Catherine Bailey's "Of Vandals and Cowards." In a faculty where anonymous persons tear down flyers, replacement flyers, and replacements for the replacement flyers, there is a definite problem with political civility. The verbal abuse by outside protesters of a law school dean, especially one known for her civil rights work, is appalling. But as is usual strategy for right-wing extemporizing on the catastrophic state of American universities in the clutches of "Tenured Radicals," factuality being irrelevant, such fifth-rate incidents become the argumentative centerpiece. A good radical horror story or two replaces systematic analysis and allows us to overlook public policies that dramatically restrict access to higher education.
Throughout the book, the hard facts of declining African-American, Latino and Native American admission to higher education are ignored as irrelevancies. One essay, Bryan Wyatt's "Behind the Tattered Curtain of Racial Preferences," begins with a brief examination of access to legal education in California and has the astonishing gall to end two pages later by advocating that readers look towards Christian faith as the road to racial reconciliation. Given such poor materials, The Diversity Hoax ends up looking more like a soon-to-be-forgotten contribution to the minor sub-genre of law student testimonio literature.
Wienir and Berley have provided another example of the rhetorical tactic that has become a right-wing favorite: adopt progressive vocabulary and discourse in order to reverse its meaning. In this contemporary Newspeak, "diversity" means only intellectual difference and no longer pertains to cultural, racial, gender or class differences. Even worse, the editors have deliberately co-opted the rhetoric of the Free Speech Movement in the defense of privilege.
If only I could channel an answer from Mario Savio.
New York: Foundation for Academic Standards and Tradition, 1999