Diversity is a complex concept. It can be used in the name of justice and equity, or to justify inequalities. It can liberate legitimate forms of self-assertion, just as it can impose or reinforce essentialist shackles of identities which then become “murderous”, to use Amin Maalouf’s term. Is diversity a demand and a social and political construction? Or does it result from attributes assigned at birth and inheritance? In other words, does diversity constitute us as persons, or do we affirm it as an expression of our individual freedom? The conceptual tension is palpable and it reveals an even more crucial political issue.
The human being is not a self-sufficient monad but a social animal. Our individuality is only bearable if and when it is part of a matrix allowing exchange, relationship, collective and belonging – a society, even a community. This has never been clearer than since last March. A virus attacks our bodies, threatens our lives. But the accompanying injunctions – social distancing and isolation – cut us off from an essential part of our humanity. In recent months, we feel like never before, in our flesh and our heart, the obvious necessity of our social being. In 1987, Margaret Thatcher categorically affirmed that “society does not exist” – a performative statement that would quickly become one of the neoliberal mantras. In March 2020, while he was ill and in quarantine, the words of Boris Johnson himself announced the second death of Margaret Thatcher: “What the coronavirus crisis reveals, he told us then, is that we are society. ” But being a society means knowing how to go beyond our differences. How, then, to reconcile diversity and society, differentiated identities and community? This is arguably one of the most pressing and serious questions of our time.