Multicultural Milkshakes Give Way to the Solace of Sustainability

Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, argues in the October 3 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education that “sustainability” is surpassing “diversity” as a leading cause célèbre of activism in the academy. The trend can be seen both at the administrative level and in the student body. As evidence of the former, he says that the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education has about 150 colleges and universities in its ranks, whereas the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education has about 800 member institutions in the United States.

I found the article full of interesting passages. Here’s one:

Diversity is a story of a once-fresh ideology that swept through higher education in a spirit of triumph but that quickly seems to be losing its status as the sexiest ideology on campus. Diversiphiles would like to keep the adrenaline flowing, but it is hard. Freshmen now arrive on campus already having sucked on multicultural milkshakes from kindergarten to senior prom. Diversity for them is just the same ol’ same ol’.

Also, Wood makes intriguing claims about how “diversity” and “sustainability” differ from the movements that birthed them, such as in this nugget:

Diversity is second-wave affirmative action; sustainability is second-wave environmentalism. Like all second-wave movements, each embodies a complicated awareness of its predecessor, by turns appropriating and repudiating the earlier movement.

Wood argues that despite possessing several things in common, “diversity” and “sustainability” are fundamentally at odds with each other:

Diversity calls for a fractionated America but leaves intact a vision of personal success and amenity. Sustainability is, not far beneath the surface, a doctrine of privation, offering only the psychological comforts of asceticism.

“Sustainability” is certainly one of the battle cries heard in the “new holy wars” (as Robert Nelson calls them in his book of the same name). Several years ago, Wilfred Beckerman offered a withering critique of that fuzzy concept in A Poverty of Reason: Sustainable Development and Economic Growth. And before that, Peter Thiel and David Sacks, before founding PayPal, exposed the excesses and contradictions carried out in the name of “multiculturalism” at Stanford in The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and the Politics of Intolerance on Campus. However, I’m not sure that anyone before Peter Wood had noted the quiet battle between those two competing causes.

Agree with him or not, Wood offers food for thought that is at least as tempting as those “multicultural milkshakes” he claims the young ‘uns have been overfed.

Carl P. Close is a Research Fellow and former Executive Editor for Acquisitions and Content at the Independent Institute and former Assistant Editor of The Independent Review.
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