Is Intolerance Necessary? July 22, 2009Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Philosophy, Political Philosophy.
Tags: diversity and social trust, multiculturalism, racial and ethnic tension
What is the glue that holds social groups together, especially social groups around which we form identities?
Some have argued that social identities are based on conflict, antagonism, and the recognition of difference. We define ourselves in terms of what we are not—Protestants define themselves as not Catholic, Americans defined themselves early on as not British, and today perhaps as not French. Fans of Radiohead define themselves as not fans of Brittany Spears. Conflict with the other provides content and definition to the group identity, but also sustains commitment to it because one’s identity is viewed as under threat.
People seem to naturally categorize themselves into groups that gain positive value by distinguishing their in-group from the out-group and viewing the out-group in a negative light.
Simone deBeauvoir thought this about gender identities and Marx about class identities.
The implication of this view is that increasing diversity in society can make racial and ethnic tensions worse by solidifying identities that perceive themselves to be under threat.
The alternative is to form group identities around shared features or shared interests. According to this alternative, we recognize similarities first and sustain group identity by deepening our the connection to others who have something essential in common. The perception of difference plays no essential role.
There is some truth in both views. But I think much depends on whether a group sees itself in a zero-sum game or not. A zero-sum game is a situation in which a gain by one group results in a loss to another group. If women gain power only at the expense of men, or if blacks or latinos gain resources only at the expense of whites, then conflict will define group identity.
But if groups find they can advance their interests through win-win situations—non-zero sum games—conflict will be less important.
As wealth shrinks in the U.S. and around the world and the resource pie gets smaller it will be increasingly more difficult to find non-zero sum games.
The future looks anything but peaceful.
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