Thursday, March 11, 2010

No One Way to Live

Pluralism is the foundation of democracy. A society like ours, one that is meant to run by the consent of the governed and where the governed are the meant to be the ultimate deciders, cannot afford to move forward with tunnel vision. This is going to become particularly true in Toronto in over the next twenty years, by which time the term "visible minority" will cease to have effective meaning - because there won't be a minority anymore, not in the way the term's traditionally been defined. In 2031, Toronto will be a city of pluralities.

One of the results this may have is that, depending on the degree to which new immigrant populations add to Toronto's cultural mosaic, there is the possibility for friction between established values and ones that are brought by immigrant populations. The most blatant example of this are honor killings, which are thankfully extremely rare and thus tend to whip up popular anger and get front-page coverage for days when they happen. Still, though, friction wouldn't be anything new. Even within totally homogeneous populations, there's plenty of room for people to get hung up on what they think is right and what they think is horrible.

Case in point: Rahway, New Jersey. Last week, this suburb of New York City made headlines over the nude snowwoman sculpture a family had made there. First off, there was absolutely nothing prurient about it; it was no more sexually charged than anything you'd find in the Royal Ontario Museum. Nevertheless, the builders were requested by police to cover it up - which they did, with bikini and sarong - and it's since been demolished due to rising temperatures. What really tweaks my irritation about this situation, though, is the why the police became involved in the first place.

Namely, that they had received an anonymous complaint.

My own feeling is that anonymous complaints, when used in this manner, cut to the bone against the democratic process. Because so many organizations are so absurdly sensitive and so unwilling to even inadvertently cause offense, it does not take very many "complaints" at all for the objects of the complaints to be dealt with swiftly, and harshly. Here, it only took one. The question which I haven't seen anyone asking about this, though, is simple - what right does one person have to demand the world be shaped a certain way?

I've been thinking about this for a while, on and off, and my answer has always been the same - none. To put it bluntly, "no one has the right to not be offended." As the population of Toronto shifts in character, more people and more cultures will set down roots here, and there will always be people who find something to be offended about in those new people and new cultures. But outside of circumstances where people are being put at risk or laws are being broken, we have no right to demand that they conform to us in every single measure. I'll agree that there are some common groundings that are necessary for a population to come together as a coherent whole, but there's great room for variation as well.

To insist that everyone live the same way as oneself is a long step along the authoritarian path. Too often, authoritarianism has been what immigrants have come here to escape from.

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