This is the second piece in our series about modern idolatry, also known as secular religion. It discusses the elevation of equity – the principle of outcomes forced to conform to racial and ethnic demographics – to a moral imperative that has penetrated the highest levels of academia, business, and government. It hides behind high-minded platitudes but is at its core a tool for corruptly accruing and wielding economic and political power.
For a start, the main tenet of the Church of Equity is “righteous” reverse discrimination as a way to attain certain outcomes, a seeming contradiction to civil rights and equality under the law. Non-believers are subjected to denunciation as racists and may even lose their livelihoods if they work in an environment that has been intimidated into submission to the faith. Their missionaries are the legions of zealots dedicated to defending and promoting what we call IED – inclusion, equity, and diversity – on college campuses, in companies, and throughout government. Equity is not a benign religion.
Equity has gained traction less for its moral underpinnings than the lure of promised benefits to those who feel underrepresented or inadequately rewarded. People instinctively prefer to be led by others like themselves – the natural affinity for tribalism – and, unsurprisingly, are suspicious if their peers seem to be less successful than members of other tribes. Equity’s focus on demographic entitlement provides the illusion of representative leadership and economic fairness while it discounts considerations of ability, character, and achievement.
But there is good reason to question the elevation of equity. For example, in determining outcomes, why should innate characteristics of race or ethnicity displace other equally innate characteristics such as intelligence and motivation? Why should a record of hard work and achievements be subjugated to an entitlement? Polls show a large majority of people disagree with allocating outcomes by race, in part because they consider individual achievement and merit to be requisites to upward mobility.
Yet, the pushback to equity is tame, and we see the practical impact of that in many settings. Though not advertised in the window, many jobs or positions have an implicit posting of “White Males Need Not Apply.” The dogma of “diversity” variously excludes or boosts applicants for jobs or school admissions based on identity rather than other criteria. Race-based preferences or quotas seem to be popping up in myriad government programs, and some new programs are proposed solely to create them. Reparations are becoming the fad of the day, some overt and some cloaked more subtly in the form of exclusion from benefits. California is at the vanguard.
Never mind that these policies and equity itself contravene the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees equal treatment under the law – not results – and various civil rights acts that bar all discrimination based on race, color, or creed – not just “bad” discrimination.
Proponents of equity are quick to dismiss or deflect when it comes to the insurmountable flaws in the very foundation of the religion. One fundamental problem is the artificiality of the racial and ethnic allocations. Both human genetics and world geography guarantee this. Almost anybody who has submitted DNA to 23andMe or a similar service learns that he or she is a mix of geographically diverse genetic groups, which themselves are only very rough agglomerations and not necessarily reflective of any “deserving” circumstances derived from our ancestry.
Hence, determining which demographics receive special consideration and largess is an exercise in the gerrymandering of “opportunity districts.” And gerrymandering is a nakedly political process, which in this case raises many vexing questions that are swept under the rug, such as: Are “Asians” a single, homogeneous group? Is there no difference among Hmong, Korean, Chinese, Mongolian, Japanese, and so on? What percentage of some DNA or ethnic trait qualifies (or disqualifies) a person for being sorted into a particular category? Are you Native American with 1/1024 ancestral heritage? Or black with a single black great-great-great grandparent?
To complicate matters further, on top of race or genetics, equity layers on additional problematic factors. On questionnaires, often we see the choice “Hispanic or non-Hispanic” separate from a question on race. What exactly does that mean? That you speak Spanish? That your family comes from countries that speak Spanish? Does it matter whether your Hispanic roots are indigenous Latin American, Spanish, or other European dating to post-World War II? And once down this path, what other ethnic designations spanning geography should be considered? Slavic? Eskimo? Nordic?
This multi-dimensional tangle of classifications cannot possibly lead to a truly proportional allocation of outcomes, regardless of how vigorous the effort. As a result, equity is often reduced to the crass simplicity of skin color, itself only an imperfect approximation of ancestry that alone has few arguable merits to define an individual. And which shades of black, brown, yellow, white, olive, or red justify proportional representation any more validly or precisely than the mashup of genetics, heritage, or culture? Should we classify people based on a color wheel?
We submit that when it is examined analytically, the principle of allocating outcomes through racial gerrymandering is demonstrably flawed and corrupt on its face. It also holds vast swaths of the population, typically with no connection other than some skin-deep similar characteristics, responsible for the consequences of the actions of remote past generations. This is either a “sins of the father” medieval mentality or the assignment of people to castes where their heredity defines them. Certainly, neither has any place in the United States of the 21st century.
Equity is a political instrument of redistribution that neither changes the underlying issues nor has the structural integrity to offer fair and lasting redress. Moreover, it invites premature advancement or promotion, often referred to as the “Peter Principle,” which posits that employees are promoted until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent. Without adequate training and preparation, a promising medical student cannot be designed a surgeon just because of a diversity mandate.
Only rigorous non-discrimination, equal opportunity, and encouragement on an individual level offer genuine progress even if at times they are challenging to assure in practice. The Golden Calf of Equity is an idol and fraud that must be melted down, never to be resurrected.
Andrew I. Fillat spent his career in technology venture capital and information technology companies. He is also the co-inventor of relational databases. Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is the Glenn Swogger Distinguished Fellow at the American Council on Science and Health. They were undergraduates together at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.