Means, Ends, And (Of Course) “Diversity”

Alex Tabarrok has an interesting post on Marginal Revolution discussing a recent paper that investigated whether the academic performance of low ability students was improved by grouping them in peer groups with high performance students. The short answer? No.

In fact, the authors found

a negative and signi ficant treatment eff ect for the students we intended to help. We provide evidence that within our “optimally” designed peer groups, students avoided the peers with whom we intended them to interact and instead formed more homogeneous sub-groups. These results illustrate how policies that manipulate peer groups for a desired social outcome can be confounded by changes in the endogenous patterns of social interactions within the group.

Tabarrok writes that often one “hears arguments for busing or against private schools that say we need to prevent the best kids from leaving in order to benefit their less advantaged peers” and that he finds such arguments distasteful. “People should not be treated as means.”

Indeed they should not. That’s why it’s both odd and unfortunate that one of the most powerful arguments against “diversity”-justified racial preference is so seldom heard: that it treats the ostensibly preferred as means for the benefit of others. I’ve been making this argument — with the total lack of success you can see all around you — for well over a decade. For example, in January 2003 I wrote that “one criticism I have not seen” is that diversity-justified discrimination

violates a fundamental precept of liberal moral philosophy — that equal respect requires that individuals be treated as ends, never as a means to the benefit of others.

“Diversity,” however, justifies “taking race into account,” i.e., admitting minority students who wouldn’t otherwise have been admitted, because their presence is said to improve the education of others.

And from April 2003:

I have argued here too many times to count (but here’s a start: herehereherehere, and here) that even the rhetoric of the defenders of “diversity” reveals that its primary intended beneficiaries are whites, not minorities.

A substantial number of white and Asian students (a number equal to the number of minorities whose admission depended upon the racial preference they received) are denied admission to selective universities so that the whites and Asians who are admitted may have the benefit of being exposed to the “difference” exuded by the preferentially admitted minorities.

Once again, in short, blacks are being used for the benefit of whites.

I of course did not stop making this argument in 2003. In “Diversity” As Exploitation in June 2006, to pick just one of a whole slew of examples, I noted, again, that “since ‘diversity’ is justified by the benefits it allegedly provides to those non-minoritiy students who are exposed to the ‘diverse’ minorities who are preferentially admitted (those minorities, after all, would receive whatever benefits ‘diversity’ has to offer even if they attended less competitive schools), there is an ugly, unstated element of exploitation associated with it.” And in 2012 Roger Clegg and I made this argument (among others) in our article, “Against ‘Diversity,’” in the National Association of Scholars journal, Academic Questions.

In the old days, as I’ve mentioned, liberals used to believe that all individuals deserve equal respect, which requires treating them as ends, not means. Of course liberals also used to believe that equal respect requires treating individuals without regard to race, creed, or color. But things, as we historians are fond of saying, change.



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