Liberal pieties, because they lack a limiting principle, inevitably grow large enough that they crash into other liberal pieties. Just this month, the burgeoning pieties have collided in two liberal habitats: Google and academia.
An overheated and misleading New York Times story (sadly a norm in the Trump era) claimed the administration "wants to investigate colleges for discriminating against white applicants," as the paper's Twitter feed put it.
This overblown report raised questions about why and how the administration would investigate colleges for discriminating against whites? The answer was that the Department of Justice, under federal law, may launch investigations into bias or discrimination and sue institutions to end violations.
Affirmative action in college admissions, which is both marginally legal and marginally unconstitutional, is a perfect example of a good liberal intention growing unchecked until it becomes a monster.
Diversity is worthwhile for various reasons. In an academic setting, a student's background informs his or her arguments and understanding of a subject. Colleges may find it valuable to search extra hard for applicants from underrepresented populations or to unearth qualified students from communities that may not be oriented toward applying to college.
But the Left took this good little idea and made it absolute, wanting colleges and other institutions to impose racial quotas. Every panel discussion must be 50 percent female. Blacks and Hispanics must have proportional representation in the boardroom and the C-Suite of every corporation.
This daunting and in any case undesirable task is, ironically, made impossible even to approach because another ungoverned good idea, nondiscrimination, has grown up to fight it. Racial discrimination has torn the United States since its birth. Women have always been the victims of sex discrimination. Mitigating these wrongs was right. Passing layers and layers of state and federal anti-discrimination laws and multiplying the protected classes at every opportunity was, however, a foolish but highly predictable overreach by the Left.
So now you have two incompatible pieties at odds with each other. Discrimination on race or sex must be punished and prevented by law, yet it is demanded that institutions do whatever it takes to achieve gender and racial parity, and proportionality.
The same story of a sort of internecine ideological cannibalism is taking place at Google.
Tolerance and sensitivity toward other people are both obviously good things. But when both of them grow without limit they cannot coexist. Google tried to prove its tolerance through an internal message board, which solicited ideas and debate. In this forum, a software engineer penned a "memo" expressing minority views on sex differences and diversity.
But sensitivity to the politically correct orthodoxy, which had metastasized into an absolute intolerance toward minority views, led Google to fire the programmer.
The substance of the memo and the blowback show the same phenomenon.
Feminists have for decades insisted that gender is a social construct shaped by culture rather than by biology. Encourage girls to play with toy trucks, it was said, and they'd grow up with the same tastes and other characteristics of boys. But that idea, which voluminous data shows to be false, is also damaging, for it undermines the argument of those who say women should receive different treatment from men in certain circumstances.
The sacked engineer, James Damore, suggested that Google make software engineering more "people-oriented" by pairing programming with greater collaboration in order to interest more women in the field. He also suggested the company find ways to reduce workplace stress and facilitate greater work-life balances.
Objectively, each of these efforts could actually make it easier for women to succeed at Google. But the notion that the sexes are naturally different in significant ways undermines the premise that equality must not be questioned.
The irony is that when feminists insist on interpreting biological differences as insults and perceive the offer of help as an insulting lowering of the bar rather than as leveling the playing field, they undermine policies that could go a long way toward achieving the parity they desire.
Google is one of the biggest companies in the world, but it wasn't big enough for both these ideas. Tolerance, diversity, nondiscrimination, equality, and accommodation cannot all make absolute demands at the same time.
Left-wing ideas have reached an odd stage at which they are turning on each other and devouring their own.