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Does diversity exclude?

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Recently, the New York Times printed a surprising profile of French poststructuralist philosopher Julia Kristeva, in which she disavowed the political correctness and multiculturalism she is thought to have invented and bequeathed to the U.S. academics who have revered her ever since.

"Many of our American colleagues have taken what we proposed and have simplified it, caricatured it and made it politically correct," she said. "I can no longer recognize myself." Even more surprising, Kristeva denounced identity politics as "totalitarian" and undemocratic, since it tends to promote community interests and subvert individual freedom.

Kristeva proposes something quite different. "I'd like my readers to ask 'How am I special?' 'What individual spark do I have in my life, in my sexuality, in my spirit?' "

Exactly. Cultivating individualism is the way to bring about true multiculturalism because healthy individuals cannot be broken down into their component parts. They are wholes, always greater than the sum of their parts. The barriers between "us" and "them" collapse

Ideas are inflammable. This doesn't mean, of course, that they shouldn't be expressed freely. But it does mean that, because philosophy and politics are inveterate bedfellows, an educated electorate has a duty to think through, to consider the ramifications — not simply the immediate rewards — of the trends its culture embraces and the programs its politicians espouse.

Diversity, in the true sense of the word, is good. Every fair-minded person wants America to live up to its promises. To be inclusive. The problem is that multiculturalism, in its current form — identity politics — has been having quite the opposite effect. It excludes. It estranges the very cultures it purports to integrate, by overemphasizing rather than de-emphasizing the categories that keep us from seeing each other as human beings.

Do I blame leftist academics for the world's problems? Of course not. Perhaps it is time we thought more carefully about what multiculturalism really means and how best to achieve it.


Norah Vincent is a freelance journalist who lives in New York City.