Sara (azbukivedi_engl) wrote,

The pendulum of prejudice

Varied in shape and weight, attached to different clocks, made in different parts of the world, over several centuries, pendulums are still essentially the same. The weight starts its course all the way to the left, is pulled by gravity to the center, but doesn’t stop there: inertia propels it all way to the right, until gravity again pulls it back, it swings by inertia to the left, and so on. It has long been observed that many aspects of our social life follow the same trend, swinging from one extreme to the other, unable to stop in the middle. The history of prejudice in the last century fits this pattern quite well.

Let’s start with the arm of the pendulum all the way to the left. Suppose you have a group of people that does not enjoy equal rights. They could be women, factory workers slaving off for 16 hours a day with no benefits or job security, blacks, gays, or transgendered Hispanic Jews. We speak, of course, of different decades in the last 150 years, the degree of prejudice is not the same, and the issues are quite different. The only common characteristic is that, as a group, these people do not get their fair share of what society has to offer, and this state of affairs is considered a norm. Worse even, most members of the group accept it as a norm and wouldn’t even dream of changing anything; even if they disagree, they are afraid to make their voices heard. Here and there a few heroic individuals dare to raise their voices and speak against the status quo. They are quickly silenced, sometimes brutally, sometimes by their own fellows. Over time, there are more and more outcries and acts of disobedience - the rebels are very courageous individuals, facing ridicule at best, often risking their lives, enjoying little or no support, persecuted, ostracized. Yet somehow, sooner or later, they make their voices heard. The pendulum steadily accelerates.

While society at large is still very hostile to any changes, more and more members of the group, upon hearing the call of the more far-sighted and brave fellows, start thinking of the current state of affairs and believing that there may be hope for a change. Moreover, certain liberal-minded citizens from the majority camp also ponder the issue and realize that the persecutor may lose as much as the persecuted, that prejudice poisons the psyche of everyone involved, that economically, socially, and politically it may make more sense to loosen the leash. They write about it, they talk about it, and to many in the society their ideas are contagious. There is a point when a critical mass of discontent is reached, and the members of the minority group start organizing. They draw a plan - they will be fighting for A, B, and C, and will not rest until A, B, and C are achieved, because without it there is no justice.

Let’s pause for a second now, because organization is crucial for further success; without it no progress would ever be made. No brave individuals or prophetic philosophers can bring about any real change in the society until a well-organized group makes its voice heard. However, organization also accumulates inertia in our pendulum, assuring that it would be - much later, in several decades - impossible to stop in the middle, that the pendulum would be propelled well to the right. As organization grows, so grows inertia. Yet nobody can see it at that point - our group fights for a just cause, it needs funds, it needs spokespersons, it has to recruit more and more people to ensure that its voice would not be ignored by the society at large. Sooner or later, they celebrate their first victory: A is achieved, and even some of B. Women can vote, workers have employers worrying about the safety conditions at their factories and limiting the number of hours in the work week, blacks can sit anywhere on the buses and drink from the same water fountains, et cetera. The state of affairs is far from what we would call true equality or justice, but it’s a major shift in the society, the issue is now on the forefront, the activists are no longer persecuted, and the members of our group can clearly see the benefits of organizing. If we only pull together - look, we already have A and some of B, imagine what we can do if we really organize

And so the mighty Organization is formed. A movement is born. Unions. Women’s rights. Civil rights. The rest of the B is achieved, and most of the C; the fund-raising is spectacularly successful, hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, are raised for the Fight; hundreds, if not thousands, of people are employed to take care of the daily operations. The majority of the society accepts the changes now, most shift uncomfortably when reminded that the group used to not have A and B rights, and among the group itself belonging to the Organization or at least supporting it financially becomes honorable, if not expected. Another push - and our pendulum is safely in the middle, all original goal achieved.

The snowball of inertia would not let it stop here. Would you expect the Organization to dismantle itself? To lay off hundreds and thousands of people? To give up the hard-won support in Congress and get rid of its lobbyists? To cut the umbilical cord of the million-dollar fund-raising effort? Why, A, B, and C were original goals, back when we didn’t have anything at all. To achieve true equality, to claim that the justice has been served, we also need D and E, isn’t that obvious? At this point, the pendulum is still very close to the middle, the society at large feels uneasy about its past sins, D and E seem quite reasonable, the Organization is in almost everyone’s good graces, and the new goals are achieved faster than any before them.

Oh, but the Organization was created to Fight. That’s the purpose, the first paragraph of the mission statement, the sole reason thousands of members are sending their hard-earned dollars in. In order to fight you need an enemy. Those few people that still do not support D and E make a fine enemy, of course, but they are in a minority now and do not justify the amount of the resources; justifying the resources is of primary importance to the Organization that has now swollen to more than ten times its original size and pulls in enough money to support a third-world country. How about we fight for F, or G?

The pendulum creeps further and further to the right. The emotions in the general population run the gamut from uneasy to outraged. F? G? Are you out of your F-G mind? What does that have to do with equality? This is when the Organization politely reminds us why it was created in the first place. Unions bankrupting well-run companies with their extortions? But unions gave us a 40-hour workweek! Feminists write that any sex act is a rape, create an environment when men are afraid to open the doors for their co-workers or compliment their hairstyle, or propose that abortions should be legal at any stage of pregnancy and without anyone’s consent, regardless of the mother’s age, no exceptions? Oh, but without feminists women would be stuck in the 50s, barefooted and pregnant! You don’t think affirmative action is a good idea? Think where we would be without Civil Rights! The society would still be segregated, and the past wrongs have to be righted. Are you annoyed by the Anti-Defamation League running after yet another comedian or TV cartoon for some silly joke that few people heard and fewer paid any attention to? Do you suppose they could use some sense of humor, occasionally? Goodness gracious, if they relax their vigilance for just a bit we would sure have another Holocaust! And if you do not believe that a union of three gays is a marriage, then you must be a homophobe, bent on stuffing them back in the closet.

The trick played here is very simple. If you are uncomfortable with the pendulum all or almost all the way to the right, your opponents “deduce” that you want it back all the way to the left. If you remember from physics, a pendulum reaches its maximum speed in the middle, slowing down at the top on each side. We spent quite a bit of time on the left, swung quickly through the middle, and are now slowly approaching the right, where we apparently intend to hang for another while. Various Organizations employ thousands of people, collect millions of dollars, ensure a very comfortable lifestyle for their leaders and enjoy considerable support in Congress. To expect them to abandon the Fight is silly at best.

Will we get back to the middle?
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