Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"there's no place for us"

posted by k

I've been reading a Canadian blog by a friend who writes on all sorts of subjects, including epee and manga. I'd like to recommend one of her recent posts, although its focus is on events and attitudes on the other side of the Atlantic.

Screw Bronze!: Equal Humanity for Gays/Lesbians? Part I

The important points she makes about discrimination and the need for the legal protection of minorities led me back to John Stuart Mill's important essay On Liberty. Mill points out that democracies must be something other than a means by which a majority oppresses a minority with which it doesn't agree.

So how do we ensure the protection of minority groups? (Sometimes we have to protect majority groups too.)

There are two different ways we respond to the state - as individuals and through our membership of particular groups.

Some governments - like Thatcher's - try to ignore group identity and treat everyone as individuals, diffusing a source of power and ngelecting the various societies in which we live. Famously, she said "There is no such thing as society." Her government chose groups - from trades unions to gay campaigners - for public demonisation. (For anti-union propganda, look at her election broadcasts, while Section 28, which targeted gay campaigners, still has a malign effect on schools.) The individual was apparently cherished, but chiefly as consumer.

Other governments - like Blair's - prefer to privilege groups and channel their power into the support of government. Disparate groups are given roles on committees and even employed to exercise state functions. Voluntary organisations start to become servants of the state, until their anti-state campaigning is elided with their new state role and consequently muted. Meanwhile church education is hugely expanded - secularists and multi-faith groups lack the power of big church groups and their interests can be disregarded. The individual who doesn't belong to favoured groups has less power as a result and, as group dissidence is absorbed, individual opposition is further marginalised.

Most people see themselves both as individuals and as members of a range of groups - the latter through a mixture of chance and choice (gender, race, sexuality etc are given while religion and social attitudes are more open to choice). We need to be able to debate questions of government both as individuals and as members of groups. Individuals and groups need to play a part in government or oppose it.

But how is this relationship - and all the competing interests and ideas it exposes - to be seen in an ideal state? And how are individuals and minorities to be protected against waves of hatred and prejudice from the majority? - for these do happen from time to time.

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