Tuesday 10 October 2023

Further reflections on the EDI Agenda

In a previous post I commented on the ill thought through guidance on Trans inclusion, published by the CIPD. My point was that their naive approach didn't work, as it wasn't - indeed couldn't be - reciprocal across all the different groups with protected characteristics under the Equality Act (these are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation).

I have been reflecting further on this, and think that the EDI challenge is profound, if not intractable.

It has been brought into sharp, and tragic, relief by the events of the weekend. How do we (and indeed should we) create an organisational culture that includes the most radical supporter of Hamas and the most radical Zionist?

Will the CIPD be publishing inclusivity guides?  Based on their recent track record, they should say:  authenticity – empowering Hamas militants to express their authentic self in the workplace, and showing outward acceptance when they do. and likewise, of course: authenticity – empowering Zionists to express their authentic self in the workplace, and showing outward acceptance when they do.

One problem I have with the EDI agenda is that I don't think anyone really believes it: not all the way through. Would anyone argue for equality and inclusion for the sake of diversity extending to those we believe to be advocating evil, or supporting genocide?

And it is an intellectual cop-out, I think, to say that it doesn't extend to those who express themselves outside what is legally permissible. We cannot outsource our consciences to the law; nor can we assume that the law is always just, as even the most cursory look in a history book - or indeed survey of current legal systems around the world - will confirm.

Or do we really mean, EDI (for those whose opinions I value)?

Because I am interested, too, in whom we seek to shame. It's a useful barometer of the moral atmosphere. People often talk as if shame is some evil that enlightened people have left behind. It is deemed quite wrong to fat-shame or to slut-shame, for example. But in fact, what has happened is that the targets of shame have changed. All the vogue words that end in -phobe (for example) seem to me designed to shame those who hold views that we now deem shameful (and possibly rightly so). Shame is, in fact, a useful and important moderator of undesirable behaviour. It would be a good thing if politicians were ashamed to lie, or celebrities ashamed to indulge in sexual exploitation. But we seem incapable of being honest about this; or even talking about it openly and clearly.

So where am I on all this?

My current thinking, and it is somewhat provisional, is that Equality, Diversity and Inclusion are not absolute goods (though we are invited to reverence them as though they are) but rather that they are, in reality, useful indicators. Where one or other of them is lacking, it should cause us to stop and take notice. And what we should take notice of, I think, are justice and truth and compassion.

That is, we shouldn't unjustly (or dishonestly, or cruelly) exclude someone; or unjustly (etc) demand that they conform, or unjustly treat them as less than equal.  But there may be occasions when it is indeed just to do so. Men are justly excluded from women-only spaces; students are justly required to conform to intellectual rules (such as not plagiarising) and children are justly placed under the authority of responsible adults for their own protection. 

Justice and truth, then, I see as absolutes to which we can - and should - commit; and compassion a default operating system. They are not, of course always easy (or even possible) to attain, but we should commit to striving for them. And I find it interesting that the pursuit of truth is so out of fashion in some intellectual circles; and further, I wonder if it is the search for a value-base to replace the gap left by its absence that has led EDI to be promoted to the first rank, when it should, by my reckoning, be in the second.

And it is with wry amusement that I notice that it is often those who refute the notion of truth who make strident truth-claims for their own particular dogmas; and occasionally do so with a pronounced lack of compassion. 

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