Half a millennium ago a social revolution caused a culture war setting two world views at each other’s throats. The Reformation unleashed by Lutherans was then followed, a generation later, by a more radical, second burst of Protestantism led by the French theologian Jean Calvin.
Calvinism was an energetic and revolutionary creed which found its epicentre in Geneva. Here, as elsewhere, Calvinists showed themselves devoted to education, enthusiastic charity givers and generous to refugees.
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They also proved to be violently intolerant, with Jean Calvin’s Geneva imposing extreme punishments for perceived sinners, including the death penalty for pregnancy out of wedlock. They also had a tendency to smash up statues and burn down abbeys, or anything else that was associated with the old religion. Perhaps most puzzling of all to religious conservatives, Calvinists saw the world being divided between the damned and the saved — and the doubt this caused in believers often led to extreme psychological stress, to the point of breakdown.
It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and so just over 400 years ago, a group of English men and women with Calvinistic leanings, feeling that their homeland wasn’t Godly enough, set sail to start a new country. This they did, pretty successfully, and today the new religion spreading from America displays that country’s strong Calvinist roots, and with the zealot’s indifference to local customs.
Today the faith is spread not by preachers, or even teachers, but through the institutions that wield the most power in the 21st century; corporations, and their Human Resources departments. For the practitioners of what is generally known as “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” are teaching nothing less than a modern form of political Calvinism, one that paints a pessimistic picture of humanity destined to be damned. And their strength is growing.
Our economy may be in deep trouble following the pandemic, but one area which is already enjoying a roaring 20s is the diversity industry, which has significantly increased its presence in many companies since the protests that followed the death of George Floyd. All around, in hushed tones, people in a variety of careers, from academia to medicine to finance, grumble about the increasing encroachments on their workplace by newly empowered D.E.I teams. And the grumbling is always private; no one wants to go on record.
For some it’s a mere time-wasting exercise, with occasional Zoom conferences adding to the day’s workload. For others it goes much further, with HR-led diversity teams now even deciding who can be hired for what role. But almost everywhere there has been a significant ramping-up since last June.
The usual pattern is that a well-meaning manager, bombarded with images of BLM and racial justice from every corner of social media, will suggest that the organisation needs to alleviate concern about racism. The company or department, aware that racism is seen as the number one social evil and that anti-racist courses might also act as insurance against any discrimination lawsuit, will hire a professional anti-racist activist from outside.
It is rarely initiated by human resources, but HR embrace it because it gives them a role as priests of the new faith. There is also a whole outside industry that benefits too.
A middle manager at a medical professional body told me how, following the summer protests in the US, “it was [considered] a matter of urgency that we ran a series of mandatory diversity and inclusion training sessions for our staff”. There hadn’t been any problem at the company, which was pretty diverse and had good morale.
The sessions were run by professional diversity consultants, and were “quite different from previous E&D training I had attended at past jobs. Whilst those ones tended to focus more on how to avoid breaking the law, these sessions felt a lot more like an induction into their ideology.” They said that equality meant “treating people differently and acknowledging their race” and afterwards participants were told to research “ally behaviour” and “to educate ourselves about the British Empire”.
As with many of these courses, some very questionable claims were made: “We were told that high levels of diversity were in all cases a great thing and can only lead to good outcomes,” when numerous studies point to the opposite. They were told the gender pay gap was in large part caused by people using the word “girl” instead of “woman”, a claim that fails to take into account the overwhelming influence of child-rearing on the gender pay gap.
There was a talk about unconscious bias testing, even though it’s been shown to be largely bogus, and as with so many of these sessions, almost all the examples and talking points came from the US, “and there didn’t seem to be any kind of recognition from the trainers that these are two very different countries with very different histories”.
Many diversity and equality sessions instruct employees to read Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, a runaway bestseller that has become the Little Red Book of the diversity industry. White Fragility is mainly tasked with teaching white liberals that the polite ways they talk about race to avoid offence are actually proof of their deep-seated sin. Whites, says DiAngelo, are able to “infuse their racial prejudice into the laws, policies, practices, and norms of society in a way that people of color do not”, and being unconscious of this racism is merely proof of how insidious it is.
In this world, greater white average wealth in any area is a priori evidence of this racism, even though over a dozen or so ethnic minority groups in the United States are wealthier than the white average. This central inequality, according to the book, “represents power and control by a racial group that is in the position to disseminate and protect its own self-image, worldview, and interests across the entire society”.
It is an incredibly bleak worldview, and as Matt Talibi said, “sees the human being as locked into one of three categories: members of oppressed groups, allies, and white oppressors”.
And this is what is being taught at workplaces across Britain, a new American religion proclaiming that, whatever we do, we are damned. It goes largely unopposed partly because the British are so unused to politics intruding in these areas of life, but also because workers are scared for their jobs; the rise of woke capital has given large corporations more power over their precarious employees.
One of the things I find so alien about the new religion is the absence of humour. So much of what is called identity politics is funny in its absurdity, because fanatics are intrinsically ridiculous — but only when they can’t get at you. But most people feel that they can, they can get them sacked or publicly humiliated, and so all the humour is told in DM groups or Slack channels. True believers certainly can’t laugh at themselves, and are determined to take the public realm’s sacred space for themselves.
There is also the difference between the totalitarian mind and the liberal mind; for the former, everything is about politics. What you do in your spare time has political implications, and so no area of life is free of political discussion. The traditional English cultural taboo about not discussing religion or politics in the pub reflected a deep-seated aversion to fanaticism; the idea that workplaces might be settings for political instruction would once have struck people here as positively demented.
A friend who works for a Russell Group university in the north of England described how, since June last year, there have been “constant invitations to regular Race Equality sessions and Diversity and Inclusion sessions”. Even in department-level meetings on completely unrelated topics there are now talks “educating us about the slave trade” with videos and slides. She describes these as “just complete non-sequiturs since the majority of the meeting is about new research grants, new students in the department, recruitment for next year”. It’s not that it’s a great intrusion, it’s just that it’s…. weird.
They are also made to undergo unconscious bias training before being allowed on interview panels for new staff and students, and are told things which are either questionable or outright false. At one of the meetings a diversity and inclusion officer told faculty that “if you only have one woman on your job shortlist there’s statistically no likelihood you’ll recruit her”, and this went unchallenged, even though this is not only untrue, it’s obviously untrue. Strangest of all, they were also told to “start every lecture with a picture of a black scientist and say that they have a voice and that it’s being heard”. She finds it embarrassingly patronising.
Universities are particularly vulnerable to this sort of activism, because by nature they are political. Many privately despair, including academics who aren’t especially right-wing; whatever your politics, conformism can become intolerable in a workplace. Talking about politics all the time is tedious. And activists can be disagreeable people.
Another academic, working at a politics department, recalled that things ramped up after the death of George Floyd when a committee was set up to look at diversity and decolonisation. It ended with activists from outside the department hiring students to “review” their reading list and blaming the inclusion of John Locke and David Hume for the BAME attainment gap. The conclusion was the demand that they separate “colonial and non-colonial” political history courses, which meant in effect separate courses for white and non-white political philosophers.
The strangest thing about all this expanded HR is that there is almost no evidence that diversity officers improve outcomes for underrepresented minorities. Indeed there is even evidence of the “pharisee effect”, that people made to recite a platitude about diversity and gender equality were less likely to hire a black or female candidate; it just made them feel like they’ve done their bit, a criticism that has been made against upper-class activism since Tom Wolfe’s day.
None of this stops it expanding. Even the royal family are on board, or as it was reported last week, “Queen to appoint diversity tsar”, one of those headlines that would truly baffle someone waking from a long coma. This will not improve the life of a single BAME person except for the actual tsar, or tsarina, who gets the job; everyone knows it, it’s just the royal family conforming to the state religion, just as their ancestor George I did.
The companies hiring diversity consultants probably aren’t improving people’s lives, and they aren’t encouraging tolerance, let alone “diversity”; quite the opposite. They’re doing what people in positions of power have done since the first states were formed, ensuring that their gods and saints are the ones being revered by the subjects they rule. As for the individuals who do not believe in the new faith, they do what people in totalitarian societies have always done – they keep quiet and retreat to an inner world where the intolerance and conformity of the powers-that-be cannot reach them.