The Case for Merit, Character, and Capacity
The politically correct write the three-word mantra “diversity, equity and inclusion” with capital letters and refer to it in acronym form as DEI. This is a distinction never accorded to such familiar triads as “duty, honor, country,” “faith, hope and charity,” or “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” You’ve never seen any of the latter set forth as DHC, FHC, etc. Despite having elevated its linguistic status, the acolytes of this political religion haven’t been thinking deeply about their Holy Trinity’s components.
Start with “inclusion.” Realistically, exclusion is just as necessary, just as important as inclusion. This isn’t difficult to comprehend. If you’re preparing the ingredients for a chicken dinner, you’ll likely exclude whipped cream. If you want to learn Chinese (not a bad idea these days), you must exclude French from your studies. If you want to play baseball, you have to exclude those who lack the physical ability to play the game or the mental balance to engage in a collective activity in accordance with a certain set of rules. If not, you may be doing therapy, and that’s fine, but you’re not playing a competitive game of baseball, which has its own benefits.
We practice both inclusion and exclusion every day when we decide whom to hire, welcome into our circle of friends, or select as an intimate partner. Both as individuals and as a society, we strive to practice inclusion and exclusion based on merit, character, and capacity (MCC, if I may). And contrary to the howls of the hypersensitive, no one need apologize for that.
Move on to “equity.” Equity goes a step beyond inclusion. As a sociological talking point, it requires that all groups be represented relative to their percentages in the overall population. In practice, it really means allocating rewards to favored groups while withholding considerations from other people who earned them on the merits. Has a coherent argument ever been made to Asian-Americans parents why their most deserving children are deemed too over-represented to be admitted to Harvard, Stanford, or the Bronx High School of Science?
But if equity, which sounds fair and square, actually displaces fairness, it can also get in the way of achieving one of the social justice advocates’ legitimate goals, which is helping truly needy people. For example, every non-profit organization has a board of directors. If your non-profit applies to a foundation for a grant, you may be asked to provide the demographic breakdown of the board so that the review panel can determine if it duly represents the community being served.
However, the only board members that can really make a difference for your organization are the ones who can connect to wealth and get a corporate CEO or a potential major donor on the phone. Repeating the magic words “diversity, equity, and inclusion” will not secure any more revenue for the organization than “shake, rattle, and roll” or “snap, crackle, pop.”
If you’re seeking to feed the hungry, house the homeless, or care for the disabled, you would be better advised to have an unrepresentative board that can, as an old friend of mine, a professional fundraiser, put it, “do your fundraising for you.” Otherwise, you’ll find yourself perpetually applying for $5,000 here, $10,000 there, and facing an annual shortfall.
And now to “diversity,” which is reputedly “our strength.”
Every epoch seems to elevate a certain notion to the level of a universal truth cherished and accepted without close examination. One hundred years ago, the patron saint of American progressives, President Woodrow Wilson, propounded the doctrine of self-determination. The idea was that nationality, and political and geographic boundaries should match up with geometric precision. The world’s ethnicities, Wilson decreed, were entitled to be governed by a state encompassing the territory within which the nation had traditionally resided.
As usual in mortal affairs, grim reality failed to conform to utopian theory. The region to be aligned in accordance with the principle of nation-state-territory—the Baltics—was a bedlam of mutually loathing ethnicities formerly constrained to live within multinational, multicultural borders.
By May 1919, the New York Times counted sixteen limited wars flaring in the aftermath of the First World War--Poles vs Czechs, Austrians vs Yugoslavs, Germans vs Latvians, Hungarians vs Rumanians....
Lieutenant Colonel Warwick Greene, a U.S. military observer dispatched to reconnoiter the situation, was aghast at what he saw and heard. “We have poured the wine of ‘self-determination’ into these rotten old bottles,” he said. “They have all burst and the mess stinks to Heaven.”*
Diversity has not historically been associated with peace and stability. Rather, increasing diversity is tearing our country apart. Diversity can be handled safely, but only by practicing inclusion and exclusion based on merit, character, and capacity, and emphasizing equality of opportunity rather than equity.
This is just common sense. What should also be clear is that those extolling the creed of diversity, equity, and inclusion have, in this regard, set common sense aside along with the history books. Instead, they exercise emotionalism and airy intellectuality. Unless common sense eventually prevails, we can look back to Colonel Greene for a projection of our future.
Sheldon Bart is writing a work of non-fiction concerning intrigue and upheaval in Europe and Asia in the aftermath of World War I.
*Richard W. Hale (Editor), Letters of Warwick Greene 1915-1928 (Houghton Mifflin, Boston & NY, 1931).
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