Exploring diversity preferences, part ii

Continued from Part I.

The polite, mainstream view of diversity is that it’s of course very good and valuable. A majority of people seem to either hold this view or are too intimidated to admit they disagree. Why, then, don’t very many people…

  • …racially intermarry?
  • …have a diverse mix of friends?
  • …go to work in highly diverse fields?
  • …live in very diverse neighborhoods?

Here are what I would summarize as the stated and revealed diversity preferences of most people, across five dimensions of diversity.

Diversity type: Racial
Stated preference: strong
Revealed preference: weak

If you say, in mixed company, that you don’t care that much about your neighborhood or company being predominantly white, you might hear audible gasps. Yet, your neighborhood and company are both things you thoughtfully chose. If they are predominantly white, then clearly racial diversity is not that important to you. You’re just not supposed to say it out loud.

Diversity type: Gender
Stated preference: strong
Revealed preference: weak

If you say, in mixed company, that you don’t care that much about your profession or the list of Oscar-winning directors being predominantly male, you might hear audible gasps. Yet it’s unlikely that you or anyone else in the room boycotted your industry or refused to go see movies because of this disparity.

Diversity type: Sexuality
Stated preference: strong
Revealed preference: strong*

This is one where people seem pretty consistent. Those who are vocal supporters of gay rights and the inclusion of non-straight viewpoints probably do tend to have more gay friends and coworkers. But there’s an asterisk there because there just aren’t that many gay people to begin with, so most “allies” are simply likely to wind up with not many gay people in their lives.

Diversity type: Socioeconomic
Stated preference: strong
Revealed preference: weak

It’s fashionable to say you care about the poor, about allowing poor people opportunities to live in middle-class or wealthy areas, and so on. But then when your kids are school-age, all of a sudden they’re in private schools or you’re moving to a new school district. That’s just one example illustrating this pattern, which I see as widespread. Even poor people do their best to move away from other poor people, while complaining that the new places they move to don’t have the same culture as the places they left.

Diversity type: Ideological
Stated preference: weak
Revealed preference: weak

Ideological diversity receives little attention (except from Jonathan Haidt) and as a result there are few if any serious efforts to increase it.

Pro-diversity signaling seems to be a kind of marker that Nice White People wave around to show others how conscientious and with-it they are. It’s like driving a Prius to show how much you care about the environment: it actually does nothing for the environment, and the few important ways you could be helping the environment go unnoticed.

The misalignment between stated and revealed preferences, at least where there is a stated preference FOR something when the revealed preference is NOT FOR it, is a symptom of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is frustrating. It’s even frustrating to be frustrated about hypocrisy, because it’s never a surprise.

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More on tattoos

I feel like I’m probably one of the last people willing to outright condemn tattoos and say it’s bad to get them.

As I said in my other post on tattoos, I have no grounds on which to judge the people who get tattoos. There are people I love and respect who have tattoos, and I can’t honestly say their tattoos have made me love or respect them perceptibly less. I recognize that I am a relic of the very last flickerings of a strange and brief moment in history when (some) humans abandoned tattoos and most other types of body modification.

One of the most common justifications I’ve heard for tattoos is that the body is a blank canvas. For the longest time I just didn’t see what the point of that statement was, but now I understand it to be not just an empty and confusing statement, but a wrong one.

To see the body as a blank canvas is to miss the intricate masterwork that is obviously there already. I don’t medicalize lightly, but seeing the body as a blank canvas is indicative of some kind of body-dismorphic-disorder-meets-some-kind-of-blindness…body appreciation blindness?

It’s fascinating that whatever this disorder/blindness is, it seems learnable. Is there such a thing as cultural epidemiologists? If so, they should study this.

Exploring diversity preferences, part i

Sometimes I find it frustrating when people talk about how important diversity is but then they go live very non-diverse lives: they marry people who look and think like them, they move to neighborhoods where everyone looks and thinks like them, they get jobs in industries where everyone looks and thinks like them, etc. It’s always someone else’s job to provide the diversity they go on and on about. My wife summed it up well. Clearly there is a split between what economists would call people’s stated and revealed diversity preferences.

Digging deeper into my thoughts, I realized “diversity” can be said to have many possible dimensions. Most commonly, when people say diversity they are talking about racial diversity (a mix of people of different races). In organizational, recreational, or social settings they might also be referring to gender diversity (a mix of men and women). Those who are a bit more savvy as culture warriors might include sexuality diversity (a mix of people who are straight, gay, bisexual, etc.). Occasionally you can hear calls for socioeconomic diversity (a mix of people from lower, middle, and upper classes and/or the cultures associated with those classes) and on very rare occasions, calls for intellectual diversity (a mix of people of different ideologies and belief systems)–this last one disproportionately coming from Jonathan Haidt.

(Religious diversity is sometimes called for as its own dimension, but it is often confused with racial diversity–e.g. “Muslims” used for “Arabs”–and properly fits within intellectual diversity anyway. Outside of maybe Ireland, nobody cares much about white Catholics and Protestants getting along anymore.)

Next I decided to examine my own stated and revealed diversity preferences.

Diversity type: Racial
Stated preference: weak
Revealed preference: strong

I have trouble getting worked up over complaints that countries, neighborhoods, companies, or schools are “too white.” Same would go for “too Japanese” or “too Nigerian.”

Yet I’m in an interracial marriage and several of my closest friends are black. Before I got married and since about my sophomore year of high school, I dated black girls almost exclusively. And what’s more, on a meta level this diversity is an aspect of my life I enjoy and appreciate.

Diversity type: Gender
Stated preference: weak
Revealed preference: weak

While I might be a feminist in some sense, I just don’t care that much about how many women work in tech, how many women are CEOs, how many female broadcasters get their own shows on CNN, and so on.

Nor do I have many female friends. Discounting family, the only women I’d say I’m close to are a couple former coworkers and my best friend’s wife. Compare that to dozens of male friends, at least half of whom I’m equally close to. And I’m fine with that.

Diversity type: Sexuality
Stated preference: weak
Revealed preference: weak

I have no problem working and socializing with gay people, but I don’t long for them if they’re not there. And, unfortunately I suppose, they have not endeared me to their political causes–quite the opposite. (“Unfortunately” because I really do think their causes such as gay marriage etc. are generally well-intentioned.)

I had a number of very close friends in high school and college who were gay, but my only remaining of those friends has become more of a friend of a friend. I have not acquired any new gay friends since then. I’m not sure why; one theory could be that when you’re married and have kids you just wind up in different circles from most gay people even if you otherwise share similar interests. Apparently I don’t care enough to change that.

Diversity type: Socioeconomic
Stated preference: weak
Revealed preference: strong

This one is interesting since in theory, when I think about where I’d want to live or work, I’d say I prefer to be surrounded by people who are approximately in the same or slightly higher socioeconomic class as me. (That is, people who read nonfiction, actively listen to classical music, don’t pay much attention to sports, have 401Ks, eat raw vegetables, etc.)

But I find myself with friends who smoke, earn way less money than me, have southern accents, and/or never finished college. I value those friendships and the perspectives and groundedness they provide for me as well. Knowing I was moving closer to several such friends recently was very comforting to me.

Diversity type: Ideological
Stated preference: strong
Revealed preference: strong

This is the one type of diversity I care about enough to evangelize. And sure enough my own world is full of this kind of diversity, as I can think of names of close friends from several religions and a quite full range of political orientations.

In a follow-up post, I’ll give my impressions on the stated and revealed preferences of the polite/”mainstream” culture around me. I’ll look for patterns in those preferences and compare them to my own, and then try and figure out what makes this topic so frustrating for me.

On tattoos

Tattoos (and piercings and other similar body modifications, alluded to in this post collectively under the term “tattoos”) are by now far too popular for me to say that people who get them are bad or indecent in any way, even in terms of those people’s general ability to make choices about their bodies. There are simply too many people who are smarter, healthier, more moral, more attractive, etc. than me–and covered in tattoos–to make such a claim.

So it definitely is without judgment of people who have tattoos when I say I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking of tattoos as OK for themselves. Yes, this makes me a stodgy hold-out from an earlier time, opposed to and out of touch with the direction of my generation. What else is new?

The skin my kids–and really, all kids–were born with is as good and as beautiful as it can possibly be. Markings on the skin can be expressive and fun, but that’s what temporary tattoos or skin paint is for. Tattoos are a permanent alteration and they can only leave the skin in a worse condition aesthetically and potentially otherwise.

No sane, loving parents have ever held their newborn child, inspected its body, and found a place where they longed to put a tattoo. There’s also no reason why this sense of rightness about our children’s skin should fade after children grow up. There must be a part of every parent that grieves when their child goes out and gets a tattoo. I feel sorry for the parents of every tattooed person I see.

Similarly I never could imagine looking down at a fresh tattoo on my own skin and thinking “Good, that part of my skin looks better now than it did before.” That’s the main reason I don’t have any tattoos. (There are other reasons too, ranging from the logical to the spiritual, but they are less fundamental and less important; they are nothing I could stand on when urging my kids to avoid tattoos.)

Studies report varying rates of (obviously hard to measure) tattoo-regret, but how could anyone feel they are improved by a tattoo unless they suffer from some body dysmorphic disorder? Given the popularity of tattoos, it might be interesting to find out whether BDD is more widespread than we think.

As much as I may try to urge my kids to avoid tattoos, it is like many other aspects of their rearing: an uphill battle against the surrounding culture. Not impossible, and in fact I have confidence they will eventually display the same characteristics that kept me from getting tattoos–but the trick is trying to keep them from getting tattooed until then.

I don’t remember my own parents ever talking about tattoos one way or another, though of course they hardly needed to since tattoos didn’t really start to become popular until I was almost through high school. So I don’t know how, from experience at least, to apply the model of “don’t push the kids too hard toward X or they’ll push back toward -X vs. don’t not push them toward X because if you don’t nobody else will and it’s all -X out there.”

Guilt by descent

1. You have a time machine that can take you 200 years into the future.

2a. You steal or otherwise con decent people out of a bunch of money. You use the ill-gotten money to open up a trust fund for your not-yet-born grandchildren, then you step into the time machine.

2b. You work hard, save scrupulously, and employ your wits and innovative skills, resulting in some extra money you put aside to open a trust fund for your not-yet-born grandchildren. Then you step into the time machine.

3. You get out of the time machine. Your grandchildren are long gone, but they used their trust funds to build a kind of empire. Their descendants are now an elite class: influential, productive, innovative, generally of superior health and intellect than the rest of the world, the driving force at the leading edge of much human endeavor, the model of civility, cooperation, high functioning, etc. But you hear these people talk, and they are ashamed of their endowment. They are wracked with guilt at the possibility of having had an innate advantage over anyone else. Many of them see their heritage as a curse, and basically always refer to their ancestors in negative language. You have some emotional response X to this.

Question: Does X drastically change depending on whether you took course 2a or 2b?