Equity and 'Equity-speak'

Why, I wonder, do my colleagues speak "equity-speak."

It’s a distinct idiom. It has its own words and phrases, along with its own meanings and expectations. Top envoys in corporate settings are titled “chief equity officers.” Their consciousness-raising endeavors are called “building organizational understanding.” Employees undergoing this training become “agents of change.” They then disseminate the new knowledge to achieve “programmatic growth.” The resulting mutual surveillance of words and behaviors is called “monitoring mechanisms.” And the never-ending nature of this cultural reconditioning “ensures institutional sustainability.”

Where did my colleagues learn this equity language? How did it seep into their consciousness? Do they fully understand its import?

Our collaborative review of grant applications yielded the conclusion that the word “minoritized” was O.K. -- because “it is increasingly accepted and used.”

Is this just unthinking docility? Or do my colleagues intend to project standpoint epistemology and structural essentialism into existence, with the attendant nonsense of race adjacency, political race identities, and "race treason"? Have they thought through these implications? Do they ask any questions about this language they barely spoke not so long ago?

The generations-long habit of sneering at history laid important groundwork for the adoption of "equity-speak." For a half-century or more, we’ve fostered a disposition of moral distance from the past. We’ve encouraged modes of expression that insinuate our present elevation, not just in technology, wealth, or social improvement, but in moral understanding and being. 

This felt moral status informs our reactions to events far and wide.

Consider how we now express shock when one country invades another. Not just disgust but disbelief. It’s as if we assess earlier eras of history as the product of younger moral souls, junior to ourselves in this new epoch when rulers surely no longer do what they used to periodically do. History should no longer consist, as Edmund Burke said it did, “of the miseries brought upon the world by pride, ambition, avarice, revenge, lust, sedition, hypocrisy, ungoverned zeal, and all the train of disorderly appetites.”

The measure we take of ourselves suggests that things should be different now in the 21st century. We understand much more about how societies structure power and privilege, and how to redress and unstructure those inherited hierarchies.

The equity systems we build will be different, not just in kind but in moral caliber. They will not be as nearly tarnished by those causes “of the miseries” of old, that “train of disorderly appetites.” This time we’ll forgo ideology, unfeeling bureaucracy, etc., etc.

We may not consciously think that our condition is that of a progressive moral being. We may not say that our consciousness evolves toward higher levels of insight through the historical process. We may not utter these thoughts to ourselves or others. But that the moral refinement of our being is more clearly tuned than that of our forebears is an assumption embedded in vast swaths of our discourse.

This silent self-understanding leads to the easy adoption of equity-speak. Equity language is fitting. It affirms our progressive self-image, reflecting the allure of our pretensions back at us as we articulate its diction and idioms. It insinuates our own elevation -- confirming our capacity to reimagine ourselves and society, and to unstructure the past in the light of an advancing moral economy.

In this, equity-speak contains untold implications for assessing our own capabilities and social ambitions. It purports to promise the liberation of our minds but does so by prompting us to fancy the eradication of the unwanted -- from disparities, inequities, and hierarchies to individualism, nuclear families, stable identities, childhood innocence, fetuses, and legal equality. The allure of this unbounded profundity creates huge blind spots in our conduct of social policy and law, and in how we treat each other in all our institutions.

Do my colleagues think about this? Do they know what they are speaking? Does it matter? Will the effect be the same either way?

We are bombarded with equity language and images. They come from everywhere. Their coordination across media seeps into our minds, permeates our consciousness, and arranges the conception of thought and its subsequent constitution in reality. 

This coordination is creating a new reality. That’s why social media platforms stopped functioning as platforms in favor of exercising editorial control. They had to. The new equity reality can’t be created if allowance is afforded competing messages, competing languages, competing ways of describing reality. Bringing the new reality into existence requires that everyone does the same work, think the same thoughts, speak the same language, and thus speak the same interpretation of reality into existence. Coordination is essential to achieving this end. Plurality is its kryptonite. That’s Herbert Marcuse’s point in his essay “Repressive Tolerance.” The new reality can’t be created while indulging competing messaging. Competition is thus precluded by caricaturing and suppressing all rival messages as fascist. Fact-check, censor, and pre-censor -- it’s virtual reality’s Berlin Wall, a kind of Mauer im Kopf in us all, an Antifascist Protection Rampart in our own heads.

The permeation of our minds with equity speak -- in media, education, entertainment, and religion -- creates pernicious incentive structures throughout society. It incentivizes people to speak the equity language, and with it to speak a new reality into existence, wittingly or not. People adapt themselves to these incentive structures for myriad reasons, for self-protection, for personal status, for professional advancement and prestige. Either way, “it is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it,” in Vaclav Havel’s words. “For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system.”

These incentive structures encircle the individual, creating concentric spheres of recommended acquiescence. Conformity then takes on a life of its own, assessing each of us by our functionality in the system. That’s undoubtedly a “tell” -- a dangerous warning sign when the pathogen of conformity required by equity-speak spreads its infection to other organs of the body politic. All of a sudden, untold thousands of highly trained doctors have no idea how to provide early treatment for inflammation caused by a respiratory virus. Harvard Medical Center has no early outpatient treatment either, and seemingly no desire to create one.

If you’re concerned about the deterioration of Western Civilization, consider all of the resources we’ve poured into our elite medical centers and schools. They all came up with nothing in response to the novel strain. And they’ve given no indication they perceive that as a problem.

If only equity-speak took its own intellectual roots seriously.

Herbert Marcuse said about “corporate capitalism” that “its mass media have adjusted the rational and emotional faculties to its market.” Substitute Pfizer for corporate capitalism and that’s pretty insightful. But that requires thinking, and thinking is not on offer, conformity is. Our higher-level moral refinement requires it. Equity-speak and global corporations engulf us in what Vivek Ramaswamy calls “Woke, Inc.”

Many of us are seeking ways out of Woke, Inc., before facing the canceling verdict of equity’s show trials, and before enough verdicts collectively form a kind of Iron Curtain.

Its ambition, the trajectory of its path, could not be clearer. From behind the Iron Curtain, Vaclav Havel described a way out, in 1978, as the building of “parallel structures” -- “from a parallel information network to parallel forms of education (private universities), parallel trade unions, parallel foreign contacts, to a kind of hypothesis on a parallel economy.”

Thankfully, there are signs of parallel structures emerging -- from payment and media platforms to organizations for educational and medical freedom. They are, however, in their early stages and their staying power is as yet unproven. It is hoped that they will continue to grow and stand firm, and provide a base from which to attempt the revival of at least some of our institutions. We can certainly use religious leaders as emerged in the year of Havel’s reflections.

Otherwise, we may all end up thinking and speaking nonsense as the price to pay for our imagined state of becoming.

I keep thinking of how Feodor Dostoevsky concluded Crime and Punishment, with Raskolnikov emerging from his own ruinous nonsense: “Instead of dialectics, there was life, and something completely different had to work itself out in his consciousness. Under his pillow lay the Gospels . . . . ”

Daniel Fletcher is the pseudonym of a U.S. academic who has published several books on social science.

Image: Pixabay / Pixabay License

If you experience technical problems, please write to helpdesk@americanthinker.com