The bromide that brings out the most sanctimonious chest pounding in American life is the demand for greater diversity in the most diverse country in the world. Liberals are especially adept celebrating their own virtue, while obscenely flashing, and thereby shaming, the barbarians they deem less sophisticated, cultured, or progressive. Using the garret of political correctness to silence critics, and employing the bludgeon of institutional authority to beat subordinates into submission, liberals have created a culture that takes a good concept and mutates it into a monster of social repression, censorship, and political shrinkage.
The machinery of liberalism mechanizes the media and academia to undermine diversity, all in the name of upholding it. Tyrannical limitations on acceptable speech, otherwise known as political correctness, make people less likely to interact with those of different races, not more, for the same reasons a pedestrian out for a stroll is likely to avoid a minefield. The liberal conception of diversity is also so narrow that it becomes silly and, in the process, loses all meaning. Universities that hire diversity czars and do everything to ensure a more diverse student population, short of lowering tuition, rarely advocate intellectual diversity, because that might cause students to question the presuppositions of liberal dogma. No one will ever catch the campus bureaucrat bolstering behavioral diversity, because that would require a critical examination of the gender codes (masculinity is bad), green codes (eating meat is bad), speech codes (jokes are bad), activism codes (anything conservative is bad), consumer codes (too much shopping is bad) and other codes that dictate exactly how an educated person is supposed to behave.
Intellectual diversity opens minds and behavioral diversity presents alternative options for lifestyle comfort and happiness. Liberals neglect, and often attack, those forms of diversity in an effort to reduce the concept of diversity to ethnic and racial bean counting. Diversity, according to the liberal vision, becomes as exciting as an average day of a census worker, and relegates potentially positive human interaction into the force feeding of medicine. The enforcement of quotas, both written and unwritten, expose the authoritarian streak in contemporary liberalism, and nothing demonstrates the we-know-what-is-good-for-you soft tyranny of liberals more than their suspicion, and often hatred, of the one force that creates and maintains maximum diversity in American life: the free market.
As Black History Month closes, it is timely to acknowledge that jazz music is one of the world’s greatest art forms. Created primarily and largely by black Americans in New York City, New Orleans, Chicago, and Kansas City, it was an attempt, in the poetic words of literary master Ralph Ellison, to “live with music” rather than “dying with noise.”
Close minded moralists speaking from the podiums of the State and the pulpits of the church condemned jazz for its sexuality and daring engagement with the romance of the urban night and city loner. If authoritarians won their battle against jazz music, the entire world would have lost the beauty and humanizing influence of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and John Coltrane. Jazz was able to establish dominance over the American airwaves, and establish itself as an art form, only because the free market provided an opportunity for jazz clubs, jazz radio stations, and jazz record companies to make large amounts of money by serving the consumer demand for jazz music. One of the greatest achievements of black Americans – the greatest achievements of American civilization – exists not because a college dean in a sweater vest listening to NPR suggested it, or because a political hack had his intern help him roll up his sleeves and then demanded it, it exists because of the laws of supply and demand, the excellence of the free market, and the incentive of profit.
My favorite intersection in the world is that of Lawrence and Broadway in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. Standing at that intersection a Chicagoan looking for adventure can walk into the Green Mill – one of the oldest jazz clubs in the country and a favorite hangout of the late Frank Sinatra. He can eat dinner at Demera, an Ethiopian restaurant owned by Ethiopian immigrants, or he can sit down for a meal at Caravan, a Middle Eastern restaurant. If he wants to eat quickly, he can grab a slice of pizza from Broadway Pizza – an Italian carry out and diner. Within a few steps there is also an all American sports bar, a concert theater, a sushi restaurant, a Mexican cantina, a bookstore, and because no city block can exist without one, a Starbucks.
A tourist or Uptown resident has the ability to choose where she will spend her money, and what cultural experience she will acquire. For a person to truly benefit and learn from diversity, any encounter with a diverse populace should happen voluntarily. The free market empowers genuinely interested people to discover new cultural practices, rituals, and traditions. Diversity mandates or multicultural pressure possess the thrill of a homework assignment, and often succeed only in alienating and polarizing people.
The true wonder of diversity is on full display in Chicago, and other major cities, and it has very little to do with feel good cultural clichés or adherence to the ideological demands of dorm room idealism. It comes from the power of the dirty word that many liberals want to eliminate from discussion of human nature: money. The Ethiopian restaurateur, like the jazz club owner, probably loves what he does, but he also wants to get rich, and needs to support himself and his family. The moment that he is unable to do that, whether he likes it or not, he will close the doors of his business, and as the key turns for the last time, Chicago will become less diverse.
Chicago is a particularly salient example of the connection between a robust free market and diversity, and an open wound for liberals who sell the mirage of paradise borne into existence by high taxes and heavy regulation.
Illinois has the second highest property taxes in the country, and the highest corporate income tax. The regulatory state functions as an ever tightening n Illinois has the second highest property taxes in the country, and the highest corporate income tax. The regulatory state functions as an ever tightening noose around the entrepreneur’s neck. Countless regulations suffocate Chicago’s economy, including the requirement that anyone who breaks an egg in a restaurant receive certification and any trash can that has garbage over the rim during business hours leads to penalization of the owner by fine. The predictable result of the Illinois government acting as Jack the Ripper – stalking the streets looking for businesses to slay – is that thousands of businesses are moving to the nearby, business friendly states of Wisconsin and Indiana. The entrepreneurial exodus takes opportunities for diversification with it, and leaves Illinois a little more plain, bland, and conventional.
Adam Smith still provides the most succinct and sufficient explanation of the free market’s success in broadening prosperity and raising quality of life: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”
Any manifesto for the modern city, and any creed for Americans who genuinely cherish diversity, is useless without the following realization: It is not from the multiculturalism of the entrepreneur, the artist, or the artisan, that we expect our diversity, but from their regard to their own interest.
After all, with the exception of black Americans, what brought every ethnic and racial group to America in the first place?
David Masciotra (http://www.davidmasciotra.com) is a columnist with the Indianapolis Star. He has also written for the Daily Beast, the Atlantic, and Splice Today. He is the author of All That We Learned About Living: The Art and Legacy of John Mellencamp (forthcoming, University Press of Kentucky).