Sunday, October 4, 2009

Tyranny of the Majority (part II)

Every day I, as well as one of my neighbors picks up garbage from our street. And beyond the garbage that is randomly discarded, clearly some of our neighbors are targeting us. I have found six packs, excrement, corn cobs and clothing flung onto our property. I believe that some of this stems from the dark human inclination towards envy and the desire to lower others rather raise yourself. This came to a head when I politely confronted a child who was littering only to be met by a string of vulgar invectives issued by his mother. Within her litany of abuse, she pointed out that "everyone else is doing" and seemed indifferent to my exhortation that we could rise above the standards and improve the neighborhood. Ultimately the argument ended when her "baby's daddy" leaped out of the car and threatening to "beat the f*ck out of me."

After reflecting on the instance I realized that she may be correct - littering reflects the values and behaviors of the majority (of our street) and those who behave contrary to the standards of the majority will be chastised. This wouldn't be so bad if the majority castiagated a neighbor for pathological behavior, but in this case we were being chastised for maintaining higher standards. And unfortunately the partisans of lower standards are apt and able to utilize a myriad of effective tools, such as vandalism and threats of violence, whereas those who seek to maintain higher standards are limited in their options.

At the risk of engaging in hyperbole, I believe that this is a micro-social example of Tocqueville's tyranny of the majority. As much as large segments of academia believe that majoritarian tyranny is the sole domain of the white, middle-class, they are mistaken. At least within large urban centers, white middle class neighborhoods are far more tolerant of diversity than many minority dominated neighborhoods. If you doubt this, ask yourself why a gay African-American will be harassed far more in an African-American than in a white neighborhood. And ask yourself why in Paris or Malmo (Sweden ), a Jew or Christian could not safely live in a Moslem neighborhood, but a Moslem could safely live in a Jewish or Christian neighborhood.

Perhaps this is because from grammar schools to universities, the white middle class is presented with positive messages that stress the need to respect the cultures and customs of other people. Whereas, the said institutions presents minorities a narrative in which they are victims of, rather than potential perpetrators of intolerance and majoritarian tyranny. So, it comes as no surprise that as a whole the latter groups may be less tolerant. This leads me that the "progressive" mantra of "unity through diversity" is a dream that is not grounded in reality. Rather, the demographic surge of diverse groups with divergent values and behaviors will lead to greater conflict and paradoxically to greater segregation.

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