Brad Kershner, the DEI Industry & Virtues for Common Humanity

social ethics

DO YOU HATE RACISM ENOUGH ?  What about sexism?  Transphobia?  These ongoing social ills are so obvious and painful that most people today at least claim to oppose them.  However, even if you personally feel non-prejudicial and live within a country that legally promises equality, the statistical outcomes in the real world are often wildly skewed. 

Inequality of outcomes is okay in some areas.  Long-legged Kenyans often make excellent runners.  People with high IQ should probably be over-represented in physics labs.  These differences should not extend to how people are treated by judges, police departments, loan officers & doctors -- but they do.  Factors like cognitive bias, economic incentives, ambiguous legislation and problematic language patterns are among many issues that accumulate into predictably unfair and exaggerated forms of inequity.  We have to do something about that. 

One of the things we have been collectively attempting is to create a social atmosphere in which workplaces, schools and other institutions feel obliged to hire official trainers and observers specializing in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI).  A good idea in principle but it does not work perfectly.  Why not? 

People who want to instruct others about the new values often ignore their own sense of in-group superiority, their personal moral-cognitive biases and the basic human tendency to believe vainly in our own idealism.  These problems are also amplified once there is a DEI industry that inevitably falls prey to the normal issues that beset any bureaucratic-capitalist enterprise.  To keep getting paid and getting status they must, in addition to doing a lot of good work, learn to favor approaches that perpetuate the very problems and anxieties that their industry promises to fix.   

Such tangles could turn out to be a serious limitation on our collective ability to work together as human beings for a higher level of shared well-being, integrity, fairness, prosperity and equality in a dangerously unstable technologized biosphere.

That's where educator, scholar and integral theorist Brad Kershner enters the picture with his recent paper on Diversity, Empathy & Integration:  Reframing and Reclaiming a Movement Toward Healing and Wholeness.  It is posted over at Integral Life -- which continues to provide sleek, benign and subtly edgy perspectives on many aspects of reality.

If you haven't got time to read his whole article, make sure to check out the links and resources in his footnotes.  Kershner has done an admirable job of assembling smart, provocative threads that might help us get to a new level of understanding on these crucial issues.  And his nuanced parsing of terms like race, ethnicity and culture is also worth the read. 

(Although the article is curiously Western in its framework.  Where is the critique of how Han/Non-Han racism is invented in imperialistic Chinese modernity?  How are whiteness and blackness situated in India? etc)

In working toward a simultaneous embrace of healthy transcultural human rights & rigorous postmodern critiques of historical inequity, Kershner joins a growing movement of people who locate civilisation's decisive hinge within the politically-informed cultural ethos of our educational institutions.  A great deal is determined by the level of sophistication of the political sensibility of our schools.  Two of Kershner's most obvious allies are Ryan Nakade (interviewed here) who has spent years pushing for the evolution of DEI practices from within and Zak Stein (whose article on Education vs. the Culture War features in Perspectiva's Dispatches from a Time Between Worlds). 

The dominant message of Kershner's essay may ultimately rest on two key features:

Firstly, it asserts the need to reset our active pursuit of anti-sexism, anti-racism and other positive socio-critical crusades within some healthy version of the universal liberal values out of which they historically emerged into global prominence. 

Secondly, our values need to cooperate with each other.  Wisdom and cultural progress seem to depend on the degree of complementarity between diverse virtues such as fairness, equality, truth & justice.  When people take a stand on one value against another (e.g. equality-over-fairness or fairness-over-equality) we tend to find a pattern of regressive outcomes regardless of people's good intentions. 

In addressing these issues, Kershner lands on a new phrasing of cooperative values.  He says, “diversity, empathy, and integration, in harmony with liberty, equality, and solidarity— these are the underlying values that we can rely on to get us where we need to go, together."

Sounds pretty good.

Unless he's just a racist...


Check out Brad Kershner on Jim Rutt or the Integral Stage discussing his previous book: Understanding Educational Complexity: Integrating Practices and Perspectives for 21st Century Leadership. 
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emerge is convening a field of metamodern praxis