The Flat Worlders Might Be Winning

The term “flatten” has been gaining currency in the last few years and it has been rattling around in my head for a number of reasons, several of which relate to my recent piece in The Forward.

The obvious application here is how the Israel/Hamas conflict has for too many people flattened an understanding of Israel as a diverse and multicultural and multi-ethnic society. It is instead framed as a country founded and inhabited by white former-Europeans, thus flattening the fact that 50% of Israel’s Jewish population has roots in the Middle East and Africa and, transported to a different context, would not be considered white.

This also flattens the fact that 20% of Israel’s population are Arab Israeli. And it likewise flattens an understanding of Palestinians, especially Gazans, the majority of whom identify with a conservative Sunni branch of Islam, but do not necessarily support Hamas. To consider most Gazans either Hamas supporters on the one hand, or in alignment with the values of the American progressives who have adopted them as a cause on the other hand, is to take away Gazan’s their own identity.

But there is another, equally important set of “flattening” actions taking place.

The first flattening seems to be built around the concept that “the personal is the political.” From the idea that one’s personal experiences can be seen as connected to larger political issues, this concept has been flattened such that now, for too many people, everything about one’s workplace has to align with one’s personal and political goals and values. Never mind that for most entities there are multiple employees. This flattening creates unnecessary conflict with colleagues where there isn’t political alignment, and introduces contemporary politics into workplaces that in all likelihood should be focused on other issues.

This feeds directly into the flattening and eventual loss of “neutrality.” Recognizing that political and intellectual diversity are valid forms of diversity is part and parcel of my original argument against organizations like colleges and museums making statements about the Israel/Gaza conflict. “Neutrality” is not a cop-out but is in fact its own, very valid position–one predicated on recognizing that diverse views can and do (and should) exist, and that diversity of viewpoints is an essential part of the larger set of diversity goals that everyone espouses as important for the workplace.

Monocultures are unhealthy—whether in agriculture or higher education or museums—and leadership should resist them.

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