Explanation IV

by zenquaker

I don’t participate in Diversity Day at work. I had actually had the head of the Equal Employment Opportunity office at work come to my cube and discuss this with me.

The Diversity Day thing for that year was designing a door covering highlighting the diversity in each office. They wanted me to put down a bunch of stuff about how I was an Irish-American. I refused, because I’m not an Irish-American. By blood I suppose I am, given that two of my grandparents met on the boat from Ireland, and I have a third Irish grandparent on my mother’s side. Or not, considering I don’t have any Native American blood in me. But Ireland was never a big thing in my family. I wasn’t brought up to think of myself as Irish, and I know little about Irish culture. So it felt false to be proclaiming myself as Irish, and I’m not big on being false.

My lack of participation is what had the head of the EEO office come to my cube. I explained myself as above, but the explanation didn’t feel complete to me. I thought about it some more, and came up with a further explanation.

The diversity movement tells us that racism and prejudice are bad. It tells us that the problem underlying racism and prejudice is that we don’t understand and appreciate each other’s culture. The solution is to celebrate and display our cultures to each other, so that we will better understand and appreciate each other’s culture.

As a Buddhist, I have to disagree with that formulation. I certainly agree that racism and prejudice are bad. But I don’t think the underlying cause is a lack of understanding and appreciation. I would say that the underlying cause is that we believe we actually have a culture, and that we are attached to it. When we encounter another culture, it challenges our belief in our own culture, and our attachment to our culture causes suffering. That suffering generally manifests as fear, which we turn into anger toward the other culture.

But this culture we believe we have is just something we have created in our own minds. It is one of the delusions in which we lose ourselves to suffering. They did a study of race using discriminant functions.* Discriminant functions are statistical functions for classifying observations into categories. They found it was impossible to create discriminant functions that could determine a person’s race based on their genetics. Race doesn’t come from our genes, it is something we have made up, so that we can divide ourselves into us and them and hate them. I believe that if we could specify a person’s cultural genome, you would find the same inability to create a discriminant function that could determine a person’s culture.

If I’m right, then celebrating our differing cultures only exacerbates the problem, by reinforcing our belief in the reality of our culture and by reinforcing our attachment to that belief. When we can let go of the belief that we have different cultures, we can begin to see all the ways that we are the same rather than all the ways that we are different. Then we will all be us, and there will be no them to hate.

I expect that will happen sometime after Glen Beck convinces Al Gore that anthropogenic global warming is a hoax.

* Actually, they did two studies. But one only sampled in the United States, and the other sampled world wide. I’m talking about the latter one.