Defense Board on Diversity and Inclusion Flirts with Dangerous Language

Yesterday, Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett chaired the first meeting of the Defense Board on Diversity and Inclusion – a recent creation of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper explicitly in response to the death of George Floyd. In that meeting, Secretary Barrett used some direct – if somewhat unspecific – language [emphasis added]:

Diversity is more than tolerance. Genuine diversity generates acceptance. This Board’s mandate is to move forward with alacrity and positively transform the Defense Department for today’s service members and for generations to come.

Alacrity notwithstanding, her statement begs the question: What does she mean by “acceptance” that is more than tolerance?

For context, consider that members of the LGBT community have implied the distinction between the two terms is one of assent and support – and they have demanded that society move past tolerance to “acceptance”. Authors at The Federalist argued over the distinction with regard to religious liberty, noting the potential conflicts with liberty when moving beyond “tolerance.” At Psychology Today, an article explained it this way:

Acceptance goes a step beyond tolerance. If a sign of tolerance is a feeling of “I can live with X (behavior, religion, race, culture, etc.),” then acceptance moves beyond that in the direction of “X is OK.”

There seems to be little debate that tolerance, at its core, is the permissive attitude toward that which is different than our own. How far “acceptance” goes beyond that is up for debate – but there is universal agreement that it does, indeed, go beyond allowing others to be different without animus.

As recently as the repeal of DADT, “progressive” portions of society reassured their critics that they would be allowed to believe whatever they wanted – they just needed to allow others to be “who they are”. In other words, tolerance is all that was required. Skeptics of that reassurance were mocked. Now, however, Secretary Barrett appears to be leaning toward, if not espousing, the view that more is required. In other words, we must not just demonstrate tolerance, but also acceptance. No longer is it enough to let others be who they are; now, you must accept the validity their worldview in the name of “diversity.”

If you believe Ford is better than Chevrolet (and if I believe the opposite), I can be tolerant of those beliefs, even if I believe you to be wrong. I can respect you as a person, even if I believe your judgment in automobiles to be poor. However, that may no longer be enough. Now, I am not allowed to view your vehicular judgment as poor; rather, I must “accept” that your wayward beliefs “are OK”. Or, to go a step further, I must assent to the validity of your truth claim. Either of those versions of “acceptance” requires not that I allow you to be wrong, but that I change my core moral beliefs so that you no longer are wrong.

The end result of such enforced “acceptance” isn’t diversity; it is uniformity of thought.

To obtain Secretary Barrett’s goal of diversity – one that generates “acceptance” rather than tolerance – must her Airmen accept, accede, or assent to the views, attitudes, and beliefs of their fellow Airmen, even those contrary to their core beliefs?

  • Must one who is pro-life believe the views of one who is pro-abortion are “OK”?
  • Must a Jewish person find the truth claims of a Muslim to be “OK”?
  • Must a religious person “accept” the ideology of a person who is homosexual?
  • Must a homosexual accept the views of one who is morally opposed to homosexuality?

Such a construct is ridiculous on its face. It is reasonable to require that members of an institution tolerate diverse views. It is not reasonable – particularly in a country that values human liberties – to require that they accept the validity of those diverse views. Tolerance is one person’s acknowledgement of another person’s right to be wrong. Acceptance, in going beyond tolerance, ultimately removes the very idea of wrong – that is, if you hold the officially-approved ideas. After all, one cannot logically “accept” diametrically opposing views.

So, if there are two opposing ideologies, which will the government require be accepted — that of the Airman who is religiously conservative, or that of the Airman whose sexual morality is “fluid”?

It seems that question has already been answered.

Contrary to Secretary Barrett’s intimations, members of the US military successfully execute the mission every day – all the while holding a traditional view of tolerance: The idea that two people can be different, even if each views the other as wrong. When one Soldier mocks another for their support of the wrong football team – but still recognizes their inherent value as a person – they demonstrate tolerance. When a conservative Airman and a liberal Airman express opposing ideals, yet they accomplish the mission together, both are demonstrating tolerance of each other. There is no virtue or value in forcing “acceptance” on either party in that disagreement. Situations of greater moral gravity – sexuality, abortion, religion, etc. – do not undermine the argument for the need for tolerance (rather than acceptance), they strengthen it.

If you take a servicemember of strong moral character and tell him he must “accept” ideologies that are contrary to his character, there are only two possible outcomes. In one, the servicemember refuses to compromise his character, and he leaves the service – voluntarily or involuntarily. In the other, the servicemember compromises his character because his Service bids him do so.

In either case, the end result will be a US military composed only of people willing to compromise their character. And if US troops are willing to compromise their character, then the US military will not be composed of men and women of character at all.

Is that the “acceptance” envisioned by Secretary Barrett’s proposed “transformation” of the US military?