Ariel Kaminer, the New York Times’ author of “The Ethicist” column, is being pummeled by criticism by people other than me, for a change. Her offense? Let one of the critics, Kathleen Geier of the Washington Monthly, speak for herself:
“Ethicist columnist Ariel Kaminer has announced a contest inviting omnivores to write essays about why it is ethical to eat meat. The problem? The panel of luminaries she’s selected to judge the contest are ethicists Peter Singer and Andrew Light, food writers Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman, and novelist Jonathan Safer Foer. All, as you may notice, white dudes…for heaven’s sake, by now it should be second nature for every single person who’s in the position of hiring someone, or putting together a panel or committee, to make an effort to include women and people of color whenever possible. That’s just basic human decency.”
Then we have bioethicist Francis Keisling, who weighed in with an indignant protest to the Times ombudsman, writing in part,
“…Finally, what would we expect from the Times and its columnists and editors when a mistake is pointed out in plenty of time for it to be corrected? Does having a column in the Times mean never having to say you are sorry? Ms Kaminer knew no women of comparable stature to the men she chose. She has been clearly shown she was wrong and names provided. All she needed to do was to say woops, let me add three of four women, people of color etc. It would also seem something editors should step in and make happen.”
Welcome, Ariel, to the world of the diversity bullies!
There are two ways Kamener could be “wrong” in choosing her panel of judges for an admittedly frivolous contest: actively discriminate on the basis of gender, race, or other quality, or pick people with no qualifications at all. The argument that an ethicist’s gender has any relevance to judging submissions about “why it’s ethical to eat meat” is 1) ridiculous and 2), in the case of Geier, based on manufactured stereotypes. Elsewhere in her piece she writes, “I strongly suspect it is women who are overwhelmingly interested in this topic, and to exclude women’s voices on the panel and then blithely dismiss the concerns of those who value this kind of diversity is just plain arrogant and disrespectful.” Oh, really? It is women who are most interested in the topic of eating red meat? What, because their men-folk make them cook it?
This is a panel of five, for heaven’s sake, for a meaningless contest. How diverse can it be? Why should anyone care how diverse it is? Like so much political correctness bullying, the criticism is indignation for show. No one is seriously suggesting that Kaminer, a woman, is biased against women, or that The Ethicist is prejudiced against African-Americans. or Asians, or the transgendered. She chose five people she thought would make a good panel without regard to what interest group activists she would be offending, and my hat’s off to her. That is ethical. She isn’t withholding riches, or credentials, or a career advancement opportunity. There isn’t a stigma to not being appointed to the “I like to eat meat” panel. If Kaminer’s criteria was “choose five competent judges,” she did it. Her duty is to her readers, not the diversity police.
Did she “make a mistake,” as Keisling claims? Arguably, she made two. If she wanted to keep herself out of the gun-sights of diversity bullies who think that every committee, staff, team, board and Supreme Court should be constructed, not according to an objective assessment of who is most qualified, but with tables of quotas in hand, yes, she made a mistake: the path of least resistance would be to apply affirmative action and forget about finding the best personnel. That’s what diversity bullies count on. The other mistake, and this really was one, is that Kaminer’s panicked answer to complaints about her panel composition was that there were no similarly qualified female (or black, or gay, or “differently-abled,” or height-challenged, you name it) ethicists available. Talk about red meat to carnivores! Wrong answer, insulting answer, dumb answer, Ariel: you played into their hands. The right answer: “Yes, I could have chosen many qualified judges; I chose these. Gender and race had nothing to do with it, because they have nothing to do with the topic. I could have just as easily and appropriately chosen five women, or five Poles. or nobody at all. Thank you for your interest. Now mind your own business.”
The cultural norm that every group has to have a composition that matches the demographic pie slices of the American population or be guilty of bias and oppression gained currency in the Seventies, but it has never quite taken hold for the simple reason that it is self-evidently nuts, not to mention unfair and contrary to basic American values. That hasn’t stopped the Geiers of the world from fighting the good fight, conveniently ignoring the fact that diversity for its own sake requires discrimination rather than discourages it.
It also discourages other things, like silly judging panels. If Kaminer had chosen one women, she would have been criticized for not choosing two. If she had enough women, she would have failed because the panel was all white, and we certainly can’t have that. Of course, one African-American would be a “token,” which would be insulting, so she would have to have at least two. But where are the Hispanics? They like food! And an Asian judge…come on, with all those Chinese restaurants? There should be an age range, too, don’t you think? I mean, young people are more likely to be vegetarians and PETA members. Wait: all those judges are thin and fit…is discrimination against the obese in play here? Sure looks like it. Quick: call the EEOC!
Why bother with the contest at all, if you have to put up with this no-win assault? It’s a lot safer for Ariel to judge the damn thing herself. Or have a computer do it. Or have a monkey pick the entries out of a hat. These choices, of course, would not be unethical.
The diversity bullies, true to form, don’t really think being left off of a silly panel is any kind of hardship. They just want to make Kaminer suffer to send a warning to any other decision-makers impertinent enough to leave irrelevant group identification factors out of the process of putting together a task-oriented group. The bullies don’t care about a group’s task or agenda, all they care about are their own, which is to promote the idea that being “fair” in a free society means distributing honors, jobs, appointments and responsibilities according to divisive categories rather than merit.
That’s unethical. Not “the Ethicist.”