Saturday, October 11, 2008

What does resistance to the tyranny of the majority look like?

I lay awake last night pondering the questions the pending passage of Amendment 2 poses for me as a Floridian, tossing and turning, unable to sleep. Getting up from bed, I got my glass of club soda and retreated to my local oracle for help – Typing in the phrase “withdraw from the world” I find a series of sites with varying degrees of insight and craziness. One in particular grabbed my attention:

When people withdraw, often it is the result of either anger toward others for not relating to the individual the way the individual believes that they should, or anger over the failure of the individual to live up to his/her own image/standard set for him- or herself. Both tend to be related to self-pride. Either I "deserve" better than what I received or, I am not what I want others, or myself, to believe about me. In response to the first issue, the person might conclude that no one is good enough, smart enough, etc., to be worthy company and retreat into a fantasy world of revenge and/or acclamation. The second case might result in retreating to a fantasy world where there is no fear of others noticing the shortcomings, or the individual has no shortcomings. Solution -- avoid contact with others in the real world.

Just my luck that I’d find Foresight Counseling, a “Bible based counseling” site, (translation: RUN AWAY!!!!!) in my quest to deal with the ravages of Bible thumpers using the electoral system to impose Bible based burdens on my life and those of many others? Little wonder I found their counsel lacking.

At a basic level, the observation that people withdraw when they find themselves unable to express their anger over what they perceive to be mistreatment is fair. Depression is often the result of anger which cannot be expressed being turned inward. Having spent a good part of my younger life depressed over my inability to deal with coming to grips with my sexuality in the homophobic communities in which I lived, I’m quite familiar with that reality.

But where I take issue with this site's explanation is the apparent presumption that when people sense that they deserve better from others, that claim is by definition unmerited, the manifestation of an unhealthy self-pride – the bogeyman of most conservative Christians. Here is where that presumption is wrong. The targets of discrimination do not have unmerited claims. Claiming the right to be treated fairly in a society whose self-proclaimed foundations are “liberty and justice for all” and expressing anger when such claims are not honored is not a manifestation of pathological pride, it’s righteous indignation. The question is not whether others are good enough for the individual being discriminated against, it’s whether the attitudes and conduct of the discriminators are good enough for their own standards. People who are being wrongfully discriminated against DO deserve better than they are receiving. Indeed, the failure to have enough pride to make such rightful claims would indicate the pathology.

In the May 20, 2008 edition of Christian Century, a review of John Zizioulas’ book Communion and Otherness by Thomas Finger makes an interesting statement:

Authentic personhood, then, is constituted by communal relationships while true communities are constituted by authentic persons.

Indeed. And this then raises a number of questions given the apparent headlong plunge of Florida into constitutionally enshrined homophobia:

1. Can a community be seen as authentic, and thus worthy of the presence of authentic individuals, when it mandates second class citizenship status for some but not for all?

2. What cost to the authentic individual does continued active engagement of communities relegating them to second class status exact?

3. What cost to the community does a failure to live into its own principles exact? What is the cost of inauthenticity?

Finally, at a very basic level, that raises these questions:

4. At what point is withdrawal from unhealthy community the right choice? When do the demands of one’s own conscience and dignity – if not sanity – override the very human need for belonging? When does loyalty to one’s basic dignity mandate withdrawal of consent from communities which fail to honor that dignity? What kind of resistance is thereby mandated?

Assuming the pollsters are right, I am left this day with a number of troubling questions as I consider the coming vote on my status as a Floridian: What might withdrawal mean? What obligations must I continue to honor for my own conscience’s sake and what can I let go of? Do I continue to vote? Do I stop reading the local press? Besides paying my taxes and following the law where it is just, what more do I owe the place in which I reside (noting that when 60% of the populace says you are not welcome, it’s difficult to continue calling it “home.”)?

If I retire behind my green curtain to tend my own garden, as Voltaire suggested in Candide, what does that include? For what might I use my time and energies withdrawn from my former social contract with the state of my birth? What does resistance to the tyranny of the majority look like? And what lessons might the examples of women and people of color in this country provide me?

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.


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