Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Status quo

I wrote the following two years ago. I offer it unedited mainly because I'm too lazy to replace the first paragraph with something pithy and entertaining.

This is the "condensed" version of my recent attempt to spur discussion. I believe that some of the responses so far, while being sincere and valid in their own context, seem to be skirting the main issue as I see it. Rather than create tension in that other discussion, I offer this as a new starting point. I am not looking for isolated examples, such as whether religion is an appropriate part of a work environment (I agree that it is not, nor do I imply that I'm trying to change that). I am looking for a more general discussion, because I feel that this is central to our efforts to build a community and integrate it into our society at large.

Those who are not adversely affected by the status quo can't understand why some of us want to change it.

Those who are adversely affected by the status quo (personally, I have it rubbed in my face daily) can't understand why some of us fail to see the necessity.

We are dealing with a fundamental change in the human social structures. Call it "one world order", call it what you will.

The "status quo" of boundaries and hierarchy, of pecking orders and aristrocracies, is being eroded in a serious way. I am a human being first, then I am choices from column A or B second. Most people find this frightening, and not just out of ignorance. Majorities get to be majorities at the expense of those who don't meet the membership requirements. What we are talking about is an entrenched majority, and any challenge I make, no matter how well stated, no matter how significant or trivial, is going to be perceived as a threat.

A friend of mine offers an important perspective, one that I feel is ubiquitous. He says, in part:

"The only thing that I have ever noted as a constant in all of this is the fact that I have never met a minority opinion to an accepted majority-perceived existing reality who gave anyone from the majority side the least bit of credit as to how being on the minority side must feel. Each minority opinion has its own special pain and, regardless if one exists within a different minority opinion, this special pain cannot possibly be understood by anyone outside that particular minority opinion."

There are two forms of pain here, in general... at least, that I consider relevant to the discussion.
There is the internal pain, that the group feels in attempting to adapt to a world that their grandparents, let alone someone a thousand or more years ago, could not possibly have imagined or envisioned. This pain is valid, indeed I call it necessary. Pairing this pain with my friend's statement, I agree with him completely.

Then there is the pain imposed on the group for the fundamental reason that they are not the majority. This is the pain I feel, every day.

I submit that the difference lies in the secondary effects. Being a pagan in a world of Christians does not always mean I will understand the secondary effects. There are plenty of pagans, self-styled leaders of one sort or another, who take on the mantel of paganism and claim understanding. They are worse than whiners; they give the rest of us more pain from damage control than those who cause the damage on their own.

I don't want change. I don't want to alter reality, after all I can create my own reality all too easily in several ways and happily live my life isolated from most of the rest of the world. I speak for many of my co-religionists, and q.e.d. other minorities feel/have felt the same way.
Please look at it this way, stating it as objectively as I know how.

The majority forces me to abandon my choices. It does so vigorously, violently and in direct contravention of the written laws of this nation. I sweat the details and trivia, I add my voice to seemingly superficial debates, because there is no single target for me to aim for. The target is mostly comprised of a large number of those small details and trivia, lumped together under the "status quo".

I do not see a windmill to charge with a rusty lance. I see a windmill surrounded by tulips sheltered and nurtured by the windmill, with hundreds of weeds sprouting and attempting to choke the flowers. I try to pluck as many weeds as I can, knowing that at any moment the windmill vanes could easily be tipped down by others who don't see weeds, but see their own flowers, and knock me out of the flower bed.

Short of revolution, I don't know how else to fight it.


I read your comments over at Crunchy Con's comment at Beliefnet. Interesting. I can see your reasoning and agree with your premise. No country can impose or install freedom. I don't believe for a second that the main implementers of American policy in the Middle East had a clear notion of liberal democracy to begin with; some, like Rumsfield and Cheney, have no commitment to it whatsoever and are seeking empire home and abroad.
Others, however, I believe have various degrees of scrambled thinking regarding the cultural and political histories of all the places involved and, perhaps more than anything, seek a simple explanation for a confusing world, aggrandizment and power for their own fearfulness, the satisfaction of victory and violence in the abstract, and finally, the ineffable pleasures of being morally right.
The personal is hopelessly confused with the political at the moment- this I see as a major force powering the authoritarian right in this country. And obviously it has hit the rocks in terms of foreign policy, despite its success domestically. This divergence will have huge consequences.
But about your notes here regarding majorities. I'm not particularly skilled at making analytical argument and admire that skill- please bear with me.
Generally speaking, I find that it is something concrete in the argument made- something experiential- that makes it unravel for me rather than the sequence of the argument itself.
In the case of your comments on majorities I would say that contemporary, pluralistic societies have peculiar demands on individuals and one of those demands is the ability to tolerate, modulate between, exploit, and flourish among various shifting minority and majority status. Do you follow me?
We are all minority and majority, some of course in ways far more consequential than others. Look at the current GOP, for how they speak you'd think they were a besieged minority. That self-perspective is crucial to its cohesiveness.
Some Christians in this country see themselves as besieged. Christians? Besieged? By what?
By other people's beliefs, perhaps.
Most of us find ambiguity very hard to tolerate. And an effective way of chasing off ambiguity is to create a climate of attack. Us and them. It simpliflies the world. It also reduces an individual's range dramatically and justifies that rigidity. 9/11 is the keystone to the bridge between personal fearfulness and frustration and the need for unambiguous action (taken of course by someone else!). We were attacked. Now, so it said, "they" are trying to destroy us. Pretty simple way to go through the world. And I supposed it must be less stressful than dealing with all those ideas one doesn't particularly like.

One of the mistakes progressives made years ago was thinking that personal development and opportunities for that development would be enough to alter political structures. Ironically, the right seems have stumbled down the same path.

Boy, that was long.

Sorry 'bout that.

Pete, neither too long nor anything to be sorry about... a very insightful piece, and not because you agree with me.

This is the sort of discussion we must be having in the US, right now, not around "major" issues or leading up to general elections. The entire foundation of our democracy is at stake, and the risk is as subtle as a snake in the grass and 100 times as deadly.

Your experiential disconnect is both valid and of utmost imporatance. Monolithic thinking is the true bane of any society, but moreso for a democracy, because majorities have a way of living well beyond the lifespans of those who first created them. The true danger of a majority is not that it can oppress, but that the oppressors have no single target to bring it down. Mass murder (of which violent revolution is a subset) is the only way to kill a majority.

Your observation that contemporary, pluralistic societies have peculiar demands on individuals and one of those demands is the ability to tolerate, modulate between, exploit, and flourish among various shifting minority and majority status[.] is telling, and I consider it to be the crux of the dynamic involved.

The controlling factor is the human tendency to depend on xenophobia to motivate the self. So long as the foreign element is at a remove, out of sight or very quiet, it offers no threat. The siege mentality is not reserved for minorities, as you point out.

Individuals thrive on ambiguity, or perhaps more aptly put, on adventure and risk. Every frontier of science that produces knowledge and technology, like the space program, is seasoned with risk and danger. Every road to a breakthrough in the history of humans is littered with the bodies of those who tried and failed in the bid to be first at that accomplishment. We glorify the last gasp efforts of our heroes, from Marathon to the tennis courts at Wimbledon.

But, as you indicate your awareness of it, groups are by nature afraid. A group is more interested in maintaining its territory than in exploring. And, when attacked, the adventurous individuals become the heroic protectors of the group.

One of the mistakes progressives made years ago was thinking that personal development and opportunities for that development would be enough to alter political structures. Ironically, the right seems have stumbled down the same path.

Very well put, Pete.
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