Like many of you, my workplace has been supplied with a poster bearing the slogan “Diversity is Our Strength.” This challenges the old prejudice that “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.” The old prejudice was famously illustrated in Aesop’s fable called The Bundle of Sticks, where a father of fractious brothers demonstrates the benefits of unity with an unbreakable fascis (bundle) of sticks.
And we know where that leads.
The new slogan also appears to call into question the opinion of Jesus, who told his disciples that “every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand” (Matthew 12:25).
It must be noted that diversity does not here refer to what is technically known as the division of labor, and colloquially known as cooperation or teamwork. If that were the meaning of the word, the poster in my workplace would say,
“Bureaucracy is Our Strength.”
* * * * *
You may recall that slogans played an important part in the political life of George Orwell’s Oceana. In that happy land, the Ministry of Truth had three slogans: “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” and “Ignorance is Strength.” The first two might be called paradoxes, and the last a debunking of an old prejudice, much like “Diversity is Our Strength.”
Although each of these slogans can be given a political meaning, they do not actually express Party doctrine, and are not meant to propagate public truth. Their purpose is to destroy the meaning of the words “war,” “peace,” “freedom,” “slavery,” “ignorance” and “strength,” and more especially to destroy the concepts and culture behind these words.
The slogans do this by a sophistication of meaning. To an unsophisticated thinker, war is the opposite of peace. But to a thinker sophisticated by repeated use of the slogan “War is Peace,” war appears to be a corollary of peace (e.g. “we are at peace here because we are at war there”). Freedom is likewise the opposite of slavery in the mind of an unsophisticated thinker; but to a thinker sophisticated by slogans (or a university education), freedom is a form of slavery (e.g. to necessity), and slavery is a form of freedom (e.g. from responsibility).
When sophistication has done its work, most people will be confused, demoralized, and disgusted by reason, evidence and argument. They may throw up their hands and say “everything is a lie,” or they may throw up their hands and say “I don’t understand,” but they will in either case give up on thinking. This is why Syme tells Winston Smith:
“Orthodoxy means not thinking . . . Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”
* * * * *
In the end, Winston Smith learned to love Big Brother. JMSmith is very far from loving Big Brother, but I learned to love the slogan “Diversity is Our Strength” in a flash of insight. The insight was that the word “our” does not include me, or indeed anyone in my workplace. Pronouns are tricky like that. “Diversity is Our Strength” is a slogan of our governors, and the pronoun “our” therefore refers to them.
And diversity is indeed their strength. I don’t love this fact, but I do love knowing it.
I said at the beginning that this slogan appears to contradict what Jesus said to his apostles about division in a kingdom, city, or house. But it should now be clear that it confirms what he said. When they are divided, such things will not stand, and that division is the strength of those who would destroy them. “Diversity is Our Strength” is, in other words, a simple translation of the old slogan:
“Divide and Conquer”