Three Forms of Diversity

Diversity is a surprisingly tricky word in modern discourse. It seems to refer to at least three distinct things, and I suggest discussions about "diversity" will benefit from making a distinction between them.[0]

1) Observed Diversity

This might also be called "empirical diversity"; it refers to the fact that the communities and countries we live in are already, and are becoming increasingly, ethnically, socially, religiously and in many other ways diverse. That is, there are more different ethnicities, more different religions, more different social views present than there have been historically. It is an observable and measurable phenomenon, and so its greater or lesser degree can be analysed in any particular instance or community.

When using "diversity" in this sense, someone might say "The UK has a high level of diversity."

2) Cherished Diversity

Cherished diversity adds to observed diversity the element of approval. It is the view which holds that variety and diversity are a positive good for societies or groups, and the denial or the reduction of such diversity is bad. Those who cherish diversity may spend their time working to increase the diversity of communities of which they are part, perhaps by reaching out to include more people from groups they feel are under-represented, or of which they are members.

When using "diversity" in this sense, someone might say "It's important to improve the diversity of our project", or "diversity is one of our values".

3) Ideological Diversity

Ideological diversity adds to cherished diversity an additional significant political, philosophical or ideological stance. That stance is that any notion that a particular ideological or religious or moral claim is superior to another must be necessarily wrong. In other words, no political stance or religion has the right to pronounce itself right or true and others false, or even relatively inferior. Ideological diversity is not just the observed fact that people have different views, nor is it approval of the fact that people have different views, but it makes a strong claim about the relative merits, or otherwise, of the views themselves in comparison to one another. To put it another way: it's not about facts (as observed diversity is), or an opinion about facts (as cherished diversity is), but it is an opinion about opinions.

Those who support ideological diversity also tend to hold not just that such truth claims are invalid, but even expressing them is exclusionary and threatening, and will take steps to suppress such expression.

When using "diversity" in this sense, someone might say "You can't say <X> because of our diversity policy."

Ideological diversity might also be thought of an an ideological egalitarianism. This view used to be known as "pluralism", but nowadays more often uses the language of diversity or of tolerance.

["Tolerance" is another word which has undergone a semantic shift in recent years. Being tolerant used to mean "I disagree with what you say or do but will permit you to say or do it", but today it more often means "I accept your view as being equally as valid as mine", and those who do not do so are labelled "intolerant". Today, therefore, describing someone as "tolerant" means the same thing as describing them as a "pluralist".]


Once we have made these distinctions, there are several things which can usefully be observed.

Firstly, these three are quite distinct. It is possible to be accepting of the first without being in favour of the second or third; or accepting of the first two without being in favour of the third.

Secondly, cherished diversity, in particular, is not monolithic. People's attitudes to it can and do depend on the form of diversity being considered. For example, someone might be very happy when the gender diversity of a group increases, not care too much one way or the other when the racial diversity of a group increases, and be saddened when the religious diversity of a group increases. And for a given person this may also vary per group - a Christian may be happy that the religious diversity of his book club has increased (because he can discuss his faith with the new arrivals), and saddened that the religious diversity of his church has increased (because he feels the members should be of one mind on religious matters).

These two points together suggest that talking about someone's view of or attitude to "diversity" is not helpful; distinctions must be made, both in terms of the form of diversity, and the identity of the community under consideration.

Thirdly, if enforced as a belief, as its proponents have a tendency to do, ideological diversity undermines and reduces observed diversity, because it has the effect of excluding from a community those who do not believe in it - that is, those who do not believe that all ideological viewpoints are equally valid. This exclusion is (or, one might say, should be) of concern to those who cherish diversity - not just because of the reduction of the diversity of ideas and thought, but because it can be that people who are in a minority in this way are also in a minority in other ways. The exclusion of a particular group from the community can undermine its diversity on several axes.

So even though it uses the language of diversity, the concept of ideological diversity (a.k.a. "pluralism") undermines observed diversity and therefore cherished diversity. It makes communities less diverse. How much people care about this, when it is pointed out, can be indicative of whether they really care that communities are diverse in practice, or whether they are merely using ideological diversity as a stepping stone to a new orthodoxy which is different from the current orthodoxy. To switch a society from "A is true" to "not-A is true", you often have to go via "A or not-A could be true, it doesn't matter; stop rocking the boat".


The language of diversity is much used within Mozilla - that is, in fact, what got me started thinking about this subject. I hope that when Mozillians disagree about diversity issues, this kind of analysis can be used to understand more clearly exactly what the disagreement is about.

Using the analysis given above, my own position on the three forms of diversity within Mozilla is as follows:

Observed Diversity

  • I acknowledge Mozilla's observed diversity.
  • As I see it, the level of observed diversity varies depending on what form of diversity you are thinking about and which subgroup you are considering. The employees of Mozilla are not very politically diverse; the volunteers, much more so. The employees are reasonably racially diverse, but the volunteers even more so. Neither group is very gender diverse.

Cherished Diversity

  • I welcome all into the Mozilla community, so in that sense I cherish diversity. I am happy when anyone's barriers to entry into our community are lowered.
  • However, I do not believe that affirmative action (a.k.a. 'positive' discrimination) is a good idea, so would not personally support any and all efforts to increase diversity, regardless of means.
  • I support the right of any Mozillian to work to better include any particular group within Mozilla that they choose. If Mozilla officially supports such efforts, it should do so with an even hand.
  • Some people seem to cherish some forms of diversity much more than other forms - e.g. gender diversity is often seen as much more important than political diversity. There's nothing wrong with that, but perhaps they need to be more precise in their language and be clear about which forms of diversity they support and which they don't.
  • Religious diversity in Mozilla saddens me, as I look forward to the future day when every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. But that does not make me unwelcoming to people of other faiths.
  • Diversity of opinion on the rightness of a wide variety of morally-significant actions saddens me for the same reason, but again, does not make me unwelcoming.
  • I am happy to be tolerant (in its original sense) of both of the above within Mozilla.

Ideological Diversity

  • I am deeply opposed to the philosophy of ideological diversity, and to the idea that it should be any sort of requirement or preference for joining or being part of or welcomed into the Mozilla community.
  • Part of this opposition relates to the fact that it undermines observed diversity and works against the aims of cherished diversity.
  • But also, of course, because it's wrong, as well as being self-referentially incoherent. ("Oh, it's definitely right, you say? So there are no universal truth claims... apart from that one?")
  • I think that if Mozilla is politically and religiously diverse, this gives us credibility in political discussions, advocacy and public policy, as it can be seen that we are not clearly allied with, or merely a front for, one political side.

[0] Much of this piece is shamelessly derived from the first chapter of Don Carson's "The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism".

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