The Dartmouth Observer

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Tuesday, April 01, 2003
Business as Usual

I'll be posting much more over the next six months, now that I'm home, jetlagged, lonely, and isolated by the SARS virus. The usual themes and topics will apply, with perhaps more politics than usual thrown in. I also hope to use this blog as a sounding board for my thoughts on the reading I'll be doing. Hope you won't mind indulging me a little here. Now, without further ado, to the issues at hand:

1) Vijay, thanks for the compliments, and let me also reciprocate them. The affirmative action debate seems to have reached the stage where its proponents claim, as Vijay notes, that affirmative action is necessary to realize diversity, which is itself a worthy educational goal. There are at least two different questions here. First, is affirmative action really necessary to achieve diversity? Jeb Bush doesn't think so, and he has evidence in his favor. As he explains in an article on National Review Online, Florida has been pursuing, since 1999, policies that both respect the need for diversity AND are color-blind. Perhaps a closer examination of the "One Florida" approach is in order.

Second, and this is the point Vijay raises, is (racial) diversity a worthwhile goal? Does it help students grow intellectually? I wouldn't reject it immediately. There might very well be a connection between me being a Chinese Singaporean and the way I think. For example, as a local Dartmouth alum suggested once over lunch, one of the reasons why I am skeptical of leftist minority protesting (awkward term, I realize) is because I am in a racial majority in my own country (over 70% of Singaporeans are ethnically Chinese), and have little stake in American politics. Ergo, the intellectual position I assume on campus politics has to do with my own ethnicity. Now this is an attractive proposition, but there is really no way of proving it. I certainly don't believe it.

A problem emerges when you start talking about racial as opposed to cultural diversity. Supporters of affirmative action tend to conflate the two by emphasizing the relationship between race and culture. Again, this link is hard to prove conclusively. Again, I don't believe in it - personally. Yet if you extend the definition of culture beyond that of race, then things get a little more interesting. For example, "Singaporean culture" has unquestionably influenced my intellectual concerns. I support personal and political freedoms because my own government doesn't in many ways. I value the arts and literature because very few of my countrymen do. By Singaporean standards, I'm really quite liberal (!)

So racial and cultural diversity may indeed be part of that larger entity we call intellectual diversity. But for the most part, intellectual diversity has to do with individuals being interested in a wide variety of intellectual pursuits, from mathematics to literature to politics to music. Intellectual diversity also requires, paradoxically, a certain intellectual homogeneity as well. You need to demonstrate intellectual curiosity; you need to have above-average test scores; you need to have a basic level of writing and mathematical ability. Colleges should value these dimensions of intellectual diversity - or intelligence, as I sometimes call it - more than race and culture, for several reasons: first, emphasizing race and culture undermines merit, which should be the foundation of any competitive system, and second, the benefits of increased racial and cultural diversity cannot really be quantified, whereas the benefits of having students with better writing and mathematical ability are indisputable.

2) Well, there's a war going on, and I have to say, I'm not paying as much attention to it as I thought I would. When you have CNN and the BBC at your disposal 24/7, you begin to tire of hearing about the latest bullet being fired, or the latest curse employed by the Iraqi spokesman.

Fareed Zakaria has an excellent piece in Newsweek on The Arrogant Empire. It's worth a read, because it raises once again the question of anti-Americanism. And I pose the question: what can be done about anti-American sentiment in the world? Should Americans be concerned that a lot of people hate them? What is anti-Americanism anyway, and how do we distinguish it from criticism or dissent (an important distinction, I'd say, given the tendency of many right-wing critics to conflate the two)?