Not long after the Fort Hood shooting, General Casey said, "It would be a shame -- as great a tragedy as this was -- it would be a shame if our diversity became a casualty as well."
Most Americans, I suspect, reacted to that comment with a roll of the eyes. Casey's comments reflect a mindset that is common among our governing class, inside and outside the military. They have come to embrace diversity as a good in and of itself, rather than recognize that respect for a variety of points of view and ways of life is, itself, a consequence of a something larger.
I wonder if the controversy over the newly invasive screening at airports represents a beginning of the end of the religion of diversity. As Charles Krauthammer notes:
everyone knows that the entire apparatus of the security line is a national homage to political correctness. Nowhere do more people meekly acquiesce to more useless inconvenience and needless indignity for less purpose. Wizened seniors strain to untie their shoes; beltless salesmen struggle comically to hold up their pants; three-year-olds scream while being searched insanely for explosives, when everyone -- everyone -- knows that none of these people is a threat.
We pass all passengers through the same, cumbersome screening because we want to pretend that all Americans are equally likely to be security threats. In short, we do it to avoid profiling. The effort does credit to the tolerance of American soceity. On the other hand, tolerance is not the only good. There are limits.
What we are seeing now is, I suspect, a reflection of a frustration Americans have with the worship of what is called diversity run amok. By pretending that all passengers are equally likely to represent a threat, we have stretched the myth of sameness past the breaking point. The same is true in other cases. For example, a landlord cannot tell someone from India whose cooking stinks up the hallway outside his door by cooking his native cuisine that he is in violation of a general policy against stinking up the hallway. Were someone from anywhere else in the world to cook the same thing, however, the landlord could tell him to nock it off. Similarly, were that same person from India to stink up the hallway one night by cooking Italian food, the landlord could say something. That's absurd. Given how intrusive the screen is becoming, it's no less absurd not to profile.
Two further points. Liberals might say that it is unconstitutional to discriminate in the way that profiling would lead us to discriminate. But liberals also say that the constitution is a living document. Why can't it "live" in that direction?
Finally, we should recall Washington's wisdom. In his famous letter to Quakers, he noted, "
Your principles and conduct are well known to me; and it is doing the people called Quakers no more than justice to say, that (except their declining to share with others the burden of the common defense) there is no denomination among us, who are more exemplary and useful citizens."
If all religious groups claimed the same exemption that Quakers demanded, Washington recognized, the U.S. could not survive as a nation. Americans are free to believe and to profess whatever they choose, but when it comes to action, we have to negotiate between the demands of conscience and our obligations to the good of the community (a good which, of course, includes respect for the rights of conscience). Squaring that circle is no mean feat. The best we can do is come up with partial solutions. There are no completely resolved problems in politics.
Respect for diversity grew up in the wake of the civil rights movement, as part of a push to gain respect for individuals who had been deprived their rights. It might be that the idea is reaching the end of its term of usefulness, and the anger at the TSA reflects that. After all, in America the invdividual is supposed to come first. The group, other than local and state government, is not supposed to have official recognition at law.