Diversity Ethics: “The Ethicist” vs. The Diversity Bullies

Here you are, Ariel—the perfect, diverse, five-person panel!

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.”


Filed under Gender and Sex, Journalism & Media, U.S. Society

18 responses to “Diversity Ethics: “The Ethicist” vs. The Diversity Bullies

  1. bugzinthehood

    I am generally in favor of diversity, but as you say, on a small scale, it is ridiculous. However, in the name of fair diversity, I think every other year, only women should be selected to comment on ESPN about the college football draft and only men should be allowed to judge in the “Little Miss Sunshine” type beauty pageants.

    Also, how about the Supreme Court, no Protestants – well, for that matter, no Hindus, Muslims Buddhists or Zoroastrians.

  2. Eeyoure

    Mm-hm, pettiness, bordering on pathological.

    Somebody needs to start a blog dedicated to the proposition that not eating meat is unethical. Perhaps there is an “ick” factor to pondering that there are plenty of animals mixed in with all those fruits, veggies, nuts and grains that people eat. That IS meat, those little critters I mean. But they’re all just too small and helpless – and too driven by their self-interest to get out of the humans’ way – to avoid getting eaten. Really, it’s all just a matter of scale, circumstances, available resources, and opportunity. Unless Kaminer is determined to round up a “balanced mix” of ethicists that includes critics of the people who survived the Donner Party or the plane crash in the Andes, no matter the other politically correct criteria, I really don’t see the point in debating whether humans should or should not eat meat.

    Now, onward to savoring every spoonful of my daily yogurt…

  3. bugzinthehood

    Supreme Court has a lack of diversity – no Protestants.
    On the other hand, there are no Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists or Zoroastrians either.

  4. brook

    Plants have rights too. Is the life of a redwood worth less than a cornish game hen? Then again, is the life of a redwood worth more than a soybean? If someone claims it is, they are attributing more importance to a large organism over a small one. I’m headed to the supermarket right now to do what I can to undermine the industrialized, wholesale slaughter of soybeans. I’m going to ruin every container of tofu I can find.

  5. Farouche Exegete

    This post was so off track that it has engaged me to comment upon it. One, I do not see any bullying taking place, because the critical opinions against Ariel Kaminer do not rise to the level of intimidation or threat of force. Thus to identify the disagreement as stemming from “diversity bullies” is unethical itself, being far too wrong an identification, essentially smearing the criticizers as something they are not, bullies. Two, the two hypothetical questions, “How diverse can it be? Why should anyone care how diverse it is?” have more than the implied single answers, “not much”, and “no one should care”. While the first answer is a simple “5”, it is still 4 more than 1. And why should that matter? Because we are all caught up in a society that has determined that white men are the default go to when looking for authoritative answers, and further, that that particular default has some problems with some blindness or blinkered viewpoints on ethical issues. Since we as a society are now mostly aware that it does not always serve us to use the “white men” subset as an authority in most things, why should we not complain when it appears to be someone’s rather unthoughtful first pass in thinking through a topic? Hence, I don’t think there has been any bullying going on in this public disagreement, and I don’t think diversity needn’t be served just because the poster doesn’t think the topic worthy of a diversity of anything but age.

    • The phenomenon is bullying. Your attempt to interpret the word overly literally is disingenuous. Race bullies, political correctness bullies and diversity bullies threaten to smear ande coerce businesses, schools, government agencies and people like Kamener with socially unacceptable labels like “bigot”, “racist,” and “discrimination” anyone that does not subscribe to their concept of enforced equality by quota, which they believe gives them a right to meddle in decisions that have no bias in them at all.

      “Because we are all caught up in a society that has determined that white men are the default go to when looking for authoritative answers, and further, that that particular default has some problems with some blindness or blinkered viewpoints on ethical issues. Since we as a society are now mostly aware that it does not always serve us to use the “white men” subset as an authority in most things.”

      Translation: “Everything is about race, even when it has nothing to do with race; everything is bias, even when bias has nothing to do with it.” Sorry—I not only disagree, I think, as I said, that the sentiment is undemocratic and un-American.

      The gender and color of a 5 person panel on eating choices shouldn’t mean a thing.

  6. Bill

    I’m surprised they didn’t insist that they include a vegan also.

    • Peter Singer is a vegan. He’s one of the most famous animal rights ethicists around. If anything, having people attempting to convince Peter Singer that eating meat is ethical is a bit like attempting to convince the Pope that Jesus doesn’t exist. You’re not going to get a fair hearing, even though and because of the fact both examples pride themselves on dedicating their lives to the pursuit of morality/ethics. So unless the rest of the panel were a mix of ‘it’s ok to eat meat’ and ‘i don’t really know’ (ie mixing up the perspectives) the actual bias in this judging panel IS the fact that the judge holds a radically opposite view to the one the entrant is supposed to put forward. On the other hand, this could be beneficial….if you can convince someone of the opposite view than your argument might well be strong. Or it might just be charismatic, and illogical.

      As for this blog post, the bottom line is that we’ve got several authors that have made a meal out of a snack. Author A does something that can be remotely misconstrued as controversial. Author B digs as much dirt out of it as they can. Author C makes a rebuttal. Author D claims that everyone else is wrong except A and claims to have the high ground. In the end, no one is talking about anything, and have just bumped up their hit rates on the websites for a few days, maybe a week. Could be just enough to launch the Next Big Post with new readership. It’s not ethical, even though it’s a standard media practice.

      • Except that’s not what Singer’s job is on the panel. A vegan ethicist is well-qualified to pick the best ethical argument for eating meat, just as Justice Scalia could pick out the best argument for the individual mandate, even though it would convince him.

        Your closing paragraph is just obnoxious, as well as unfair and illogical. What’s your point? That I don’t really think that diversity advocates should be massing the armies about the composition of a 5 person panel? That I don’t believe most diversity arguments are pure quota-pushing, minority spoils-advocating nonsense? That I don’t think that panels and other groups chosen based merit and expertise should be race and gender neutral? That I only post articles that I think will increase traffic? You can bite me. If I was interested in traffic, I sure wouldn’t be writing about ethics.

        If you want to challenge my essays, I welcome it; if you want to challenge my integrity, get lost. I don’t deserve that, and I don’t have to tolerate it.

  7. Farouche Exegete

    If vehement disagreement is bullying, is raping someone just having sex with them? Using overly broad interpretations of a word to emphasize one’s disagreements with an argument is a bit of poisoning the well, if you ask me. Having read the disagreeing articles, I don’t see what you see, threats of smearing, or calling the author bigoted or worse. Instead they say disrespectful, wrong, not decent. This is exactly why these complaints don’t rise to the level of bullying.

    You are right, the gender and color of a 5 person panel should not mean a thing, in a perfect world. However, this is the world we live in, where it does matter, where justice, handmaiden of ethics, is strongly discriminatory in practice, where ethics matter most. Would you say it doesn’t matter if you are black or white, the same ethics apply to all? And yet everyone who knows anything about our society knows that the color of someone’s skin is the great determiner of what justice they receive. It’s not a perfect world out there, and I’d prefer to use ethics to remedy that, rather than make the claim that pointing out remedying unconscious discrimination is bullying.

    • One definition of the verb “bully” is to “Use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.”

      That’s exactly what is going on when letter writing campaigns are organized to stop a journalist from putting any person she wants on a 5 person panel.

      “You are right, the gender and color of a 5 person panel should not mean a thing, in a perfect world. However, this is the world we live in, where it does matter, where justice, handmaiden of ethics, is strongly discriminatory in practice, where ethics matter most.”

      A total non-sequitur and execrable logic. It shouldn’t matter because it doesn’t matter. And unjustly interfering with a selection process that was not biased on an informal panel doing nothing of import is unrelated to justice, but rather the opposite of it.

      You are saying that the end justifies the means, even when the unjust means can’t possibly affect the ends desired.
      I’m sorry: that’s idiocy/

  8. Julian Hung

    In this case, it’s worth noting for starters that, for whatever reason, only a minority of PhD philosophers are women to begin with. Basically, this debate is sort of worthless unless people start bringing in adequate national-level statistical information dealing with the makeups of certain professions compared with the achievement levels of each subgroup as compared with their representation in public forums and venues (and even then, active discrimination might not be involved, unless you believe the Nobel prize committee discriminates in favor of Ashkenazim).

    Hell, even in a perfectly colorblind society, pure chance would probably dictate that at least one public panel of small size would be dominated by one particular group; without being able to prove that Kaminer was anything but colorblind in making her personal choices, energy spent in this “controversy” would be better spent on more systematic analysis and public action on any underlying causes for national level discrepancies (not to mention that heavy-handed attempts to force others to maintain “fair” representation don’t seem to be effective in changing the public’s and elite’s perceptions of underrepresented groups, which is important to keep in mind when considering that combating discrimination is ultimately a battle of public opinion).

  9. Diversity, a form of political correctness, is just another bludgeon aimed at the heads of Americans; the aim being to divide them among themselves and to topple a cornerstone of the American Republic. “E Pluribus Unum”.

  10. Pingback: The Ethicist: The Winner of Our Contest on the Ethics of Eating Meat | News of Life and Death

  11. Pingback: The Ethicist: The Winner of Our Contest on the Ethics of Eating Meat | All Health News

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