Tim O'Hearn's Reviews > The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and Political Intolerance on Campus

The Diversity Myth by David O. Sacks
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it was amazing

A few weeks ago, there was a salacious cover story published in Stanford Politics titled How Peter Thiel and the Stanford Review Built a Silicon Valley Empire. The piece began carefully, focusing on Thiel’s ongoing involvement with the newspaper with necessary backstory. Gradually, though, it zeroed in on the network of people connected to the Stanford Review. I wondered why this merited a cover story, but then recalled that Peter Thiel (and, by association, the newspaper he started) had conservative and libertarian leanings, which meant that these likeminded people sticking together was an act of villainy. The article included a screenshot of an email pertaining to a secret meeting of a small group of Review editors at Thiel’s house. By the end, the author took to mapping out the career outcomes of nearly every alumnus of the newspaper, included a spreadsheet, and for good measure mentioned that 88% of those who held the Editor in Chief position were white.

When I got home from work that day, I dusted off The Diversity Myth by David Sacks and Peter Thiel.

Imagine for a moment that it’s July 1996 and this book was just published. If you handed it to the average American, he would classify it as a work of fiction. While Stanford was ground zero for Multiculturalism and political correctness in the late 1980s, it took much longer for these ideas to permeate American culture. One could coherently argue that, even in the wake of the Duke lacrosse scandal, many universities didn’t feel the impact of this movement (and its derivatives) until 2015.

The Diversity Myth is the story of the founding of The Stanford Review, the school’s independent conservative student newspaper. Not literally, but more in the sense of, this book recounts the reasons that Thiel thought it so important to found, fund, and support an independent newspaper. Faced with such an outrageous, maddening campus climate, Thiel established a bastion of common sense that stood in stark opposition to campus plurality.

To borrow a quip from the authors, many of the incidents and examples contained in this book read as if they are Saturday Night Live sketches parodying hypersensitivity and wanton victimization.

The book starts by detailing the wild protests surrounding Stanford’s Western Culture curriculum. Students were protesting the curriculum’s focus on “dead white men” and western ideals. The protest turned into a riot under the guidance of Jesse Jackson, at which point he urged the protestors to please calm down. They didn’t.

The core curriculum was revamped and administrators straddled the fence fearing what this new brand of protestors was capable of. They announced “sweeping changes” to students but “minor changes” to parents and alumni. Then bent over backwards for multiculturalism for the next several years, in what was deemed Stanford’s Great Experiment.

There were truly no bounds to what the Stanford students would take issue with or how they would take justice into their own hands. The administration was stuck. Any wrong move would be attacked as intolerant and, on the other end, it turns out that the president of the university was seriously misallocating federal grant money.

For reasons not articulated, anything associated with Greek life was viewed unfavorably. There was a 1986 special council investigation resulting in the recommendation that Greek houses be eliminated completely (because it was privileged housing—no shit). The dean of students didn’t allow that to happen. Then, in the early 90s, someone tried killing members of Delta Kappa Epsilon. On two separate occasions, drinks in the house were found to have been poisoned. Grape juice was mixed with paint thinner and a pot of coffee was tainted with plant fertilizer. Then, someone turned the oven all the way up and put containers of lighter fluid inside. After that, someone set a bush on fire. This almost resulted in the fraternity getting kicked off, but not out of concern for their safety. The casualness of the newspaper reports and the fact that the investigations into arson and attempted murder didn’t seem to have been taken seriously is chilling.

In another incident, a professor insisted that Beethoven was black. Two white students took to a flier on their dorm’s bulletin board and colored a picture of Beethoven the color black. They were kicked out of university housing and a meeting followed in which their RA had something of a seizure and leagues of their disgruntled classmates went into hysterics. One of the students’ older brothers later exercised his right to free speech, yelling “Faggot” in the same dorm. He was effectively forced out of Stanford law school after students condemned him and wrote letters to every law firm in California imploring them not to offer him a job. His name is Keith Rabois and he went on to be a member of the Paypal Mafia.

The issue that is important for those who choose to be complacent as student bodies are continually brought to their knees is where do we draw the line. Thiel and Sacks note repeatedly that the line is wherever the group arbitrarily decides. For example, historically discriminated against groups in America such as Irish and Slavics have been afforded no special treatment. Taking this to the realm of Halloween costumes, Irishmen and Eastern Europeans (both of which I identify as) continue to be depicted as drunk leprechauns and mobsters in Adidas tracksuits. But wearing a headdress like Pocahontas or a sombrero and thick mustache is grounds for getting kicked out of school. It’s arbitrary. Of further interest of “victims” showing their own racial biases, when Asian students at Stanford demanded an “Asian Studies” major following Chicano students successfully protesting for a “Chicano Studies” major, they were ignored by everyone including the soldiers of the minority coalition.

Some parts of the book are weak. There is one example of a freshman girl who was weeks away from her 18th birthday. She had what on paper appeared to be consensual sex with a senior in his dorm room, but later reported it as rape. Some of the details in favor of his innocence included that she had twice voluntarily left his room to use the restroom downstairs and was somewhat of the aggressor in the sexual tryst. The authors mention that the girl admitted to taking eight shots of liquor that evening. This bothered me because there is something predatory and creepy about a senior feeding a freshman girl that much liquor.

Regardless of which side of this issue you’re on, it’s hard to deny that this brand of activism wastes the time of those who so desperately want to learn at a time where learning is most accessible. It’s a distraction and disruption and is something that is allowed free reign at far too many schools. The authors deserve credit for their bravery in writing with such intensity. Surely, they had to know that things would get worse and that these opinions would perhaps always be viewed as extreme and insensitive.

There is also the issue of campus hookup culture (before the term was coined). The party scene which was centered around fraternity houses was greatly criticized for many of the issues on campus. There was lecturing regarding proper sexual conduct amongst heterosexuals, but, in the greatest factoid supplied—glory holes were allowed to exist and flourish in well-known meeting spots for homosexual activity. And, yes, Peter Thiel is gay. In Move Fast and Break Things, he is actually criticized for being gay and writing what he did and defending his friend’s use of homophobic slurs. To me, it made his arguments more genuine.

Toward the end, Thiel exposes his thoughts on the downfall of the modern educational institution. Basically, he thinks that professional training (Doctors, Lawyers, etc) and technical training (Engineering, Math, Science) are of the most value, and that liberal arts is mostly worthless (though this is not phrased explicitly). All these years later, he’s stuck to that by offering students The Thiel Fellowship to forego college. All this time, I never realized that one of the driving factors behind Thiel’s disdain for college was that he wanted to provide bright minds with a way to avoid having to deal with all the nonsensical bullshit that is so commonplace today.

This book will always be vilified and its proponents will always be labeled ignorant and intolerant. Plainly, it’s one of the most useful ways that you can begin to understand the new way of thinking that was incubated on college campuses and has now pervaded most aspects of daily life in America. I think that it is important to talk openly about issues like these, and hope that this review can attract more readers to engage with and share opinions of the issues recounted in this book.
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Reading Progress

November 27, 2017 – Shelved
November 27, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
December 4, 2017 – Started Reading
December 15, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Diane (new)

Diane Tim -- very interesting review. I have been distancing myself from non-fiction such as this book (with the exception of Hillbilly Elegy, which I read last August). There is so much ugliness in the discord these days, that I find fiction provides me with an escape from the nastiness. I though your review of The Diversity Myth was very well written and thought out without ugliness. Thank you for that.

message 2: by Robert (new) - added it

Robert Cruthirds Thanks for a great review - I've got this book on my to-read list now!
It reminds me somewhat of a book that came out about 10 years earlier, The Closing of the American Mind by Alan Bloom.

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