Wednesday, June 18, 2003

The Pragmaticratic Party
    What is the difference
    Between apathy and ignorance?
    I don't know
    And I don't care

      -- World Entertainment War

Years ago in a more cynical phase of my political evolution, I had an idle fantasy of starting a new party. I thought of it as the Apathetic Party (that didn't quite convey what I had in mind, but I figured I could always think of something better later on). The main thing was, our slogan would be: Who the hell cares!?

I imagined myself pounding a podium as I exhorted a vast crowd in a call-and-response chant:
    "People! Somewhere in America right now, two teenagers are having consensual sex!"
      "Who the hell cares!?"

    "And they got condoms from their school!"
      "Who the hell cares!?"

    "And somewhere else, a man is paying a woman to have sex with him!"
      "Who the hell cares!?"

    "And someone is looking at porn on the Internet!"
      "Who the hell cares!?"

    "... While smoking a joint!!"

And so on. But I dropped that fantasy when I realized that it was really no different from the smug self-satisfied dismissiveness of so many people on the right, who airily wave off the things I care about as so much "political correctness". I can easily imagine them using the same rhetorical tactic, in fact ("Little Jimmy doesn't want to pray at school!!" "Who the hell cares!?").

But today it occurs to me that perhaps a milder, more thoughtful and mature version of this principle might actually be a useful thing to foment. Call it the Pragmaticratic Party. The slogan would be the decidedly less chantable, but calmer, and more intelligent, Please tell us why this issue is important.

All of which leads me up to the subject of today's rant: the recent brouhaha in Florida about the Muslim woman who was denied a driver's license unless she took off her veil to have her picture taken.

Now really... why was that important enough to make a fuss about? The state of Florida went to considerable effort and expense to make sure this woman wouldn't be driving a car without carrying a picture of herself with a bare face. What did they get out of it?

I understand why it was important to her, of course. Religion arouses great passions. Imagine the outrage if a Christian woman were told that she couldn't get a driver's license unless she took off her crucifix pendant? Or that she had to pose topless? These aren't exact analogies, obviously, but they do convey the kinds feelings that might be aroused in a devout Muslim who was arbitrarily required to take off her niqab.

The Pragmaticratic Party would ask: What purpose is served by driver's license pictures? And to what extent is that purpose hampered by an applicant wearing a niqab? And is the inconvenience to the government greater or less than the cost of going to court and fighting about it?

What is the purpose of a driver's license picture? It helps ensure that the license really does belong to the person holding it. It's nowhere near 100% effictive, though; as a teenager, I used to sneak into bars using my older brother's driver's license (not to drink, I just wanted to hear the live music), and the picture only looked like me in the vaguest way.

Right now my driver's license picture is a pretty good resemblance. However, if I cut or colored my hair, shaved my beard, wore colored contact lenses, lost or gained a lot of weight, wore makeup, got a nose job, or started taking hormones and living as a woman, it wouldn't resemble me at all--yet it would still be eight years before the state asked me to get a new license picture taken. Why? Because the state implicitly recognizes that a current and accurate picture of me isn't really all that important.

So let's say this woman gets a driver's license with her veil on. How does that hurt anyone? How often does she have to show her license to people in the first place? Say she tries to cash a check with it, or rent a car or something--the cashier's going to see a woman in a niqab and a picture of a woman in a niqab. The eyes will match. The height will match. The signature will match. Maybe the cashier accepts it as valid ID, or maybe not; either way, it's not really the state's problem, is it?

Now suppose she gets the license picture taken without the veil, as Florida requires her to do. Okay, so now she's walking around in a niqab, but carrying an ID picture of herself with a bare face. How does that make it easier for anyone to identify her? Does she have to take the damn thing off again every time she writes a check?

Is there any crime that is easier to commit if your driver's license picture has your face covered? I'm stretching my brain, and I can't think of one. So why, why, why should we care?

I think the only honest answer is, Because people who dress like Arabs and Muslims are creepy and scary and remind us of 9/11, and that's not a good enough reason.

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