Thursday, November 8, 2012

On Pluralism

Daniel has an interesting if not loose observation on the lack of diversity in libertarian circles. He seems to believe that a lack of diversity might reflect a greater issue within the movement or its politics - that if we look around and see that the only people who agree with us are a lot like us, that maybe there's a problem. I don't think he's wrong in his general observation. I actually think it's an interesting point. And I'm certainly not sure I have the answers to all the "why's" that come out of that observation. But I'd like to offer an equally loose observation of my own.

I think the assessment that the greater tradition of liberal politics is pluralist politics is essentially correct. But I think that the libertarian focus on politics is narrower than it seems. Libertarianism, in part, is a metapolitical critique of political means. It's, firstly and foremost, a discussion of the boundaries of the political process. To the extent that there are prevalent libertarian policy prescriptions, they are defined by the boundaries of the political system they seek.
In that way, they actually seek an even broader and deeper sense of political pluralism...a pluralism unbounded by the shackles of politically democratic institutions.

With that clarification, what does all this have to do with the question of libertarian demographics? Well, as I pointed out, libertarians seem to be more focused on political means. They are "system-builders" (or at least theoreticians). The more mainline political movements seem to be more about deciding what political products the current system produces than rearranging the political system itself. So I'd like to make what I believe to be an analogous observation. If you look at the demographic of computer users, I believe you'd see a group that's fairly pluralistic in any given sense of the term. Sure, you have PC and Mac users, and they fight with each other about various features of operating systems and so on. But, generally speaking, it's a pretty diverse group of people.

Now, given that there seem to be an awful lot of different types of people using and interested in computers and computer products, you might expect that a typical Computer Engineering class would be a practical bastion of pluralism. But, and I can say this as Computer Engineering was my major, you'd be wrong - dead wrong. In fact, strangely enough, you'd find an awful lot of people that are, well, a lot like me - white, out of shape, nerdy, introverted guys. Why is that?

Well, more generally, that field tends to attract people who are interested in math, science, pulling things apart, and putting them back together. It attracts "architects"...system-builders...sticklers for logic and its implications. Alright, but why do people like that seem to be white, out of shape, nerdy, introverted guys? Your guess is probably as good as mine. The more important question, whose answer seems implicitly assumed by Daniel, is if a lack of pluralism (particularly in non-ideological, genetic factors) among a group is a sign that they are somehow wayward.

It's easy to say "yes" given an open-ended want or plea for diversity. And you can probably double down on the ease with which "yes" can be said if it's politically expedient to make the claim. Surely diversity is a good thing. But I'm inclined to say that it's more difficult to say that a lack of diversity indicates a bad thing. I'd love to see a more diverse group of people interested in building computers - even if their ideas seem unconventional or silly. But I don't think the homogeneity of the field is an indicator that there is something wrong with the science, or the people who work within it either. And I'd go further in venturing to say that it doesn't tell you much of a damn thing about their sense of pluralism or its importance.

No comments:

Post a Comment