Sunday, January 17, 2016


What is diversity? It is attributed to a set with many members when the members have characteristics that differ among those members. The most interesting case is where the set is a human community or organization with many human members. Humans have many characteristics, such as: gender, age, size, skin color, neuropsychological pattern, language competencies, religious belief, economic status, organization role, geographical history, ancestral characteristics, etc. Members of a diverse community share at least their membership in that community, while differing in at least some of their other characteristics.

Communities usually have structure beyond a simple boundary between members and non-members. People are generally members of many communities at the same time. People in one community will belong to a variety of other communities. That is part of the diversity of a community.

Communities encourage or discourage various actions of their members. Of course the community is composed of its members; it is the members’ actions which do the encouraging or discouraging. The vector of encouragement combines with the vector of diversity to drive the evolution of the community. This dynamic interplay is what creates our world.

Diversity can be accommodated in various ways; by providing services adapted to the particular needs of community members with their individual characteristics, and also by discouraging member actions that conflict with such accommodation. Of course to discourage is to fail to accommodate, so there are difficult conflicts to resolve. Should a conservative religious organization be permitted to restrict leadership roles to members of a particular gender?

A deeper question is the extent to which diversity should be cultivated, not merely accommodated. There are types of accidental or historical diversity which are not fundamental to the purpose of the community. It is relatively easy for a community to cultivate such diversity. For example, a physics research group might welcome members from many national backgrounds, and make a special effort to cherish that diversity, e.g. by celebrating the holidays of those many nations.

More challenging is the question of the extent to which diversity should be cultivated which touches the purpose of the community. A certain amount of diversity of opinion is essential to the advancement of science, but adherence to totally discredited theories would seem to be good reason for some sort of corrective action. But it is very difficult to know exactly where to draw this line. More than one discredited theory has later triumphed. Another sort of diversity involves frameworks which are more incommensurable than contradictory. For example, an art department may face a decision whether to support both realistic and abstract artists, who may find each other’s aesthetic judgements almost unintelligible.

Communities throughout history have managed diversity in various ways. There are often roles that are rigidly assigned based on a member’s characteristics such as gender or ancestry. Beyond this sort of functional diversity, any accommodation is most often seen as a temporary stage on the way to ultimate uniformity. This general trend has led to the globalization of today. Globalization has proved a mixed blessing and by now seems self-limiting, having exhausted the planetary resources required for its own sustenance. Just as fragmentation of a population creates the opportunity for biological speciation, the collapse of global commerce will make room for the reemergence of cultural diversity.

Did the suppression of diversity by globalization participate in the failure of globalization? If we are to learn from that failure, we need to find new ways to cultivate and cherish diversity!


  1. You might find this paper interesting:

    1. Wow, thank you, that looks totally fascinating! I hadn't seen this kind of work before!