One of the common propaganda techniques used by today’s cultural hucksters is known as the empty vessel — a vague “virtue word” or phrase that aims to evoke positive feelings rather than convey meaningful information. An empty vessel is often so vague that everyone is expected to agree on its appropriateness and value, though no one is really sure just what it means. Empty vessels are designed to make us approve and accept certain assertions without examining any real evidence. Consider the words change, equality, sustainability, progressive, and multiculturalism — words that are readily bandied about in our ordinary political exchanges but rarely convey anything meaningful or specific.The foregoing article, "The Cult of Diversity at Providence College," was originally published in the January-February 2017 issue of the New Oxford Review and is reproduced here by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706.
Anthony Esolen, a professor of Renaissance studies and an acclaimed Dante scholar at Providence College in Rhode Island, recently took on the politically correct usage of the word diversity. Esolen, an orthodox Catholic who’s taught at the Dominican-led school for twenty-five years (and who has appeared in our pages), is an enthusiastic proponent of both liberal-arts education and the teachings of the Church. In an article at the website of Crisis magazine (Crisis.com, Sept. 26), Esolen lamented his Catholic college’s manipulative misuse of the watchword diversity as a political slogan — for example, the phrase Celebrate Diversity is brightly emblazoned on a conspicuous campus mural, and the school’s website prominently features a four-page Diversity Program. “Is not diversity as it is now preached a solvent for any culture?” Esolen asked. “Is not that same call for diversity, when Catholics are doing the calling, a surrender of the Church to a political movement which is, for all its talk, a push for homogeneity, so that all the world will not look like the many-cultured Church, but rather like the monotone non-culture of western cities that have lost their faith in the transcendent and unifying God?”
The problem, as Esolen sees it, is this: Providence College (the initials of which are, perhaps fittingly, P.C.), in appealing to the vague and undefined empty vessel of diversity, is willingly suppressing its own Catholic culture in favor of an infection with Western sexual obsessions. What that means for professors like him who believe in the teachings of the Church is that they must risk anything from censure to public humiliation to outright firing for simply speaking with the voice of the Church, especially in the realm of sexual morality. The secular preachers of diversity brook no dissent from the politically correct acceptance of all celebrated sexual attractions and proclivities. Their vision, Esolen explained, is “a vision that pretends to be ‘multi-cultural,’ but that is actually anti-cultural, and is characterized by all the totalitarian impulses to use the massive power of government to bring to heel those who decline to go along.”
Esolen complained that several of his faithful colleagues at Providence had been harassed by fellow faculty members and university administrators for simple expressions of the Catholic faith and Church teaching. The college even has a Bias Response Team standing by to field any and all reported incidents of “bias” — such as explaining why the Church opposes same-sex marriage and does not condone acts of sodomy. According to Esolen, these bias investigators “are like a Star Chamber whose constitution and laws and executive power no one will know.” If a Catholic college threatens to bring its faithful professors before a diversity-review board, how can it possibly allow for expressions of disapproval toward any disordered inclination or sin, sexual or otherwise? Ironically, this is not diversity at all. It is conformity and homogeneity: Accept our politically correct principles or suffer the wrath of the Thought Police. Think like us or be bludgeoned in the name of an undefined and perhaps undefinable “diversity.”
As if to prove Esolen’s point, the diversity police at Providence College somehow got hold of his Crisis article and used it to publicly denounce him. In an interview with Rod Dreher (The American Conservative, Nov. 1), Esolen explained that a group of students led by a “radical professor” took heated umbrage with him. “The students accused me of racism,” he told Dreher, “despite my explicit statements in the article that I welcome people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds.” Bizarre! Nowhere in his Crisis article did Esolen even remotely intimate that he took issue with a member of any racial or ethnic group. The students — and later, it turns out, fellow professors — went into apoplectic spasms inspired solely by his criticism of the diversity obsession. “They were angered by my suggestion,” he said, “that there was something narcissistic in the common insistence that people should study themselves rather than people who lived long ago and in cultures far removed from ours by any ordinary criterion, and there was something totalitarian in the impulse of the secular left, to attempt to subject our curriculum to the demands of a current political aim.”
In other words, Esolen’s detractors didn’t even understand the well-reasoned argument he was making about the misuse of the term diversity. It was much easier for them to disregard his arguments and all relevant facts in favor of calling him a racist — another propaganda technique, by the way, simply referred to as, you guessed it, name-calling. But they weren’t satisfied with just calling him a racist. The group later organized a protest on campus. “About 60 students marched around,” he told Dreher, “while a female student led them around, shouting slogans through a bullhorn.” These students ended their protest march at the office of the college president, Fr. Brian Shanley, and demanded a response from him. Some even demanded that Esolen be fired right then and there.
Apparently, the vociferous protestors got to Fr. Shanley. The next day, he sent an e-mail to all Providence College students and faculty perfunctorily defending Esolen’s academic freedom but then reprimanding him for the way he used his academic freedom. “We must also remember that words have an impact on many students, faculty, and staff who hear or read them,” Shanley wrote. “I have heard from many students about the pain that this causes…. We need to be able to disagree with each other’s ideas without attaching labels to them or imputing motives that we cannot know.” Pain? Really?
One wonders whether Fr. Shanley is a useful ignoramus or simply a facile buffoon. It is difficult to understand how anyone who actually read Esolen’s Crisis article could conclude that (1) he engaged in name-calling or (2) that any of his words could possibly cause “pain” to anyone but the most trigger-sensitive LGBTQ activists who’ve decided to devote their lives to denouncing anyone who disagrees with them on sexual morality or practice. Shanley never once addresses anything substantive from Esolen’s article, such as his contention that diversity of thought and values is never emphasized in the push for so-called diversity. Shanley merely panders to the protestors, clarifying that the mission of a Catholic college — according to him — is to “embrace people from diverse backgrounds and cultures as a mirror of the universal Church.” If Shanley had read Esolen’s article, he would know very well that Esolen was not being critical of ethnic groups, races, or religions. He was criticizing those preachers of diversity (such as the Providence protestors) who seek to silence the voice of the Church. They’ve obviously already succeeded with Providence College’s president.
While chastising Esolen for not “being charitable,” Fr. Shanley singled him out and exposed him in front of the whole faculty and student body, most of whom previously knew nothing about the Crisis article or the ensuing overblown, manufactured controversy. Shanley followed up his circular e-mail by meeting with the entire faculty about the issue. Esolen reported to Dreher that, according to a few of his colleagues who were at the meeting, dozens of faculty members reviled him for a solid hour. But the issue didn’t end there. Some faculty members circulated a petition denouncing Esolen as being “unabashed” in publishing articles that are “racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, and religiously chauvinistic.” The signatories were not satisfied with simple name-calling. They also declared that Esolen is unfit to teach certain categories of students — gay, female, etc.
Anyone who has ears to hear or eyes to see can readily grasp the absurdity of the response to Esolen’s Crisis article. His detractors, including Fr. Shanley, can pretend to stand for academic freedom and diversity, but they really stand for no such things. They stand for expressions that are in accord with their way of thinking and their way only. All differing opinions and perspectives, in their view, need to be suppressed, and the holders of these opinions persecuted, pilloried, and publicly humiliated.
Political correctness is a hard master. Its followers are tunnel-vision slaves of cowardice and low intellect. Unfortunately, these people seem to be in the vocal majority, not only at Providence College but at all but a select few American colleges and universities, whether Catholic or secular. As it stands, most Catholic institutions of higher learning have little to no interest in defending the Catholic vision of the human person that challenges the tribalism and identitarianism that are eroding our culture and politics. This is what Esolen recognizes and laments. He deserves not to be bullied and harassed. He deserves to be lauded and supported.
Sunday, February 05, 2017
The Editors, "The Cult of Diversity at Providence College," New Oxford Review (January-February, 2017):