“Woke” in general seems to be on the way back; the Tulip Mania also came to an end at some point. The drive for “inclusiveness and sensitivity” has led to overzealous political correctness, insofar as political correctness itself is not already excessive. This overzealous political correctness unfortunately gained a foothold in the opera world, leading to bizarre discussions about who gets to sing what and the appointment of a diversity police. The result was a cancel culture, the boycotting of individuals or entities deemed to have violated certain social or political norms. Free speech became impossible, as did open dialogue.
An annoying side effect was the prevalence of sanctimonious non-valeurs, who could claim their 15 minutes of fame. Unfortunately, those 15 minutes did not stop there. Opera has never been talked about in a bizarrely ignorant way by so many simpletons.
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The diversity business
About two years ago, Heather Mac Donald wrote a brilliant article on quillette.com, “Almost Four Decades After Its Birth, The Diversity Industry Thrives on Its Own Failures.” In it, she describes how, following the opera-direction madness, the diversity madness is now spreading like wildfire. At Bentley University today, one can earn a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Sciences in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Do you see the remarkable difference with the French “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité?” The “Fraternité” is gone, but that can be overcome as long as the bars stay open. But the “Liberté” has also been dropped from the “woke” version, and while that may not seem particularly significant, it is.
Bentley University comes up with a pragmatic justification for this fairly new academic discipline, says Mac Donald. Remember George Floyd? The diversity business got a huge boost after the death of George Floyd. Every cultural institution and major corporation that did not already employ an internal diversity manager rushed to hire one. Companies that already had a Chief Inclusion Officer were quick to hire outside inclusion experts who evaluated the work of their own Chief Inclusion Officer, in order to acquire a double endorsement of Virtue. The demand for inclusion experts exploded.
The Chief Pigment Control
“Diversity and Inclusion positions [positions for Pigment Control Employees, ed.] have increased 71% worldwide in the past five years, with salaries ranging from $84,000 to $126,000,” says a Bentley University communications officer. Once you “graduate” in Diversity, Equality and Inclusion, there seem to be great job opportunities “in this burgeoning business branch,” according to Bentley.
Are we dealing with science here, Mac Donald wonders, or is it another step towards the trivialization and politicization of university education? This lucrative new consulting practice first made its appearance in the 1990s, and its growth has been guaranteed by a constantly mutating vernacular of political correctness. When speaking about slaves, one does not speak of slaves but of “enslaved people.” Earlier purges involved “Easter,” which was neutralized to “Spring Festival” so as not to upset the Arabs. “Christmas” was renamed “Winter Festival” for the same reason. Mark Kessler, professor at Texas Woman’s University, believes that both “Christmas Party” and “Holiday Party” are politically incorrect. “Consider naming the party, if it is scheduled for December, without using the word holiday,” says Kessler. “Holiday” connotes religious tradition and may not apply to all employees. A December gathering may instead be called an “end-of-semester” party.
The term “diversity” gained a whole new platform with the introduction of the concept of “inclusion.” Together with “equality,” the triumvirate of Equality, Diversity, Inclusion emerged. Distinguishing these terms, Mac Donald says, is the core business of lucrative diversity training programs. So now there is also an academic Diversity Science, which, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, will help graduates better understand the “nuances of and differences between equality, diversity, inclusion and equity.” The bright-eyed graduate who has mastered these nuances and differences can immediately dive into the Cyclotomic Investigation of the Fermat-Catalan Conjecture.
The new Bearer of Evil: the “performative ally”
Bentley University itself has yet to reap the benefits of its long-standing diversity efforts. The school “has been working on issues, challenges and opportunities” related to diversity for decades, according to their Office of Diversity and Inclusion. More than 900 faculties have taken two-day “diversity courses”; a variety of committees and departments have focused on improving the “diversity climate” that exists at Bentley University. Bentley has its own “diversity consulting firm,” the Center for Women and Business, which advises employees and managers on diversity pitfalls such as there are: the “performative ally” of oppressed colleagues (the antithesis of the “active ally”). A “performative ally” is an employee who does his job, and an “active ally” points out to his oppressed colleague that he should complain about something – anything! – more often. Woke!
“Being diverse” doesn’t come easy at Bentley University. A Racial Justice Task Force, according to Heather Mac Donald, deemed the problem among the “performative allies” so serious that there was nothing to do but begin “a radical moment of recovery,” giving to all “who were traumatized” time to recover. “Time to process the pain of racial injustice.” Note, we are talking here about the pain of those who were unaware that they had racial prejudice on their virtual criminal record (not public).
Louis Pasteur: not woke
The Racial Task Force noted with dismay that many students and faculty apparently preferred to study subjects other than racism, an attitude that naturally smacks of fascism. In doing so, the Task Force said, they showed a failure to understand “why the study of race is crucial to creating a full academic experience.” So, when Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) discovered the vaccine against rabies, he seriously failed by leaving out dog breeds. Were you bitten by a performative or by an active dog? That was the question he should have asked himself, instead of doing a little performative fiddling in a laboratory.
(A friend of mine had a similar experience. He was at a party full of well-earning thumb twiddlers working in Development Cooperation. Very diverse bunch. The hostess had worked in Rwanda and brought back a stray dog. At a certain point she said the dog was often upset, so she had taken it to a dog psychiatrist. Must have been a traumatized dog my friend thought to himselfself, and said aloud: is it a Hutu or a Tutsi?
He probably wouldn’t make it out of a party alive if he said that today, but as it is 75% of those around the table thought that was funny. The rest didn’t. So definitely worth it.)
So, there was quite a bit wrong with the wokeness at Bentley University. And perhaps this is because, according to Heather Mac Donald, the supposedly “scientific” field is utterly bankrupt intellectually. Its practitioners come up with empty slogans to solve a problem that is largely imaginary. Mac Donald asked Bentley’s communications department what exactly the difference between Diversity, Equality and Inclusion is. The answer was as evasive as it was blatherish: “Instead of giving students one particular view of diversity, equality, inclusion and justice, Bentley encourages students to compare, contrast and show how approaches to diversity, equality, inclusion and justice intersect from different disciplines and perspectives.”
Do y’all understand? A sentence that is almost Trumpian in its comprehensibility.
(Not) knowing what you’re talking about
Personally, we feel more comfortable with the famous mathematician John von Neumann (1903-1957) and his statement: “There’s no sense in being precise when you don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
Other questions posed by Mac Donald to Bentley University (how does this university define “an academic discipline”? what are the core texts of this new discipline? why have decades of “diversity work” not reduced alleged racism at this university?) were completely ignored.
Bentley University, according to Mac Donald, is certainly not institutionally racist, and like virtually every other American university is populated with well-meaning faculty who want their students to succeed. All sorts of corporations, law firms, Big Tech and government agencies go out of their way to hire and promote as many underrepresented minorities (i.e., blacks and Hispanics) as possible. Recruiting employees based on a pigmented selection criterion inevitably lowers the average qualification of the employees. After all, no selection is made on qualifications or quality. Positive personnel selection based on race is at odds with selection based on quality. When promotion occurs solely under the pressure of “diversity,” it creates a painful, forced situation of general dissatisfaction and labor unrest. If an employee promoted on the basis of race is faced with a glass ceiling, the ball is in his court. The diversity consultant is quick to remind managers that their expectations and standards are racist, according to Mac Donald.
The growing power of diversity bureaucrats has now reached the opera world. Many opera houses are appointing a Chief Pigment Purveyor to oversee “diversity” in the search for singers. Race and gender quotas are being established for juries and interview committees, and sometimes even for candidates. Inclusivity managers keep track of race and gender demographics and apply pressure to correct diversity deficits. At many a performance, in many a program booklet, and at many a season launch, the giant totem pole of victimization is erected again and again. Everywhere, people lurk to report micro-aggressions. Artists like Plácido Domingo and Daniele Gatti are being transported to the leper camp without evidence and without being convicted. The vague, never sharply or precisely defined notions of “equality,” “diversity” and “inclusion” seem not only to have wrongly acquired a semi-scientific basis but appear to have become a generally proliferating social and cultural phenomenon, thus also affecting the opera world.
Singers can no longer rely solely on their voices when applying for a role; indeed, what will get their foot in the door is that one ironclad trump card: proof or suspicion of current or ancestral victimization.