Social Norms and Diversity
As mentioned earlier, norms govern actions and justify judgments of proper or improper actions based on the relationship between the norms and corresponding actions. Actions that conform to the norm are acceptable social actions; actions that do not conform to the norm are unacceptable social actions.
Then, I discussed the notion of a melting pot, wherein it was argued that America is a melting pot of diversity. This concept, however, was called into question because there is a logical inability to verify such a fusion of the population’s demography, which led to a rejection of the notion as such.
If the conception of the melting pot, however faulty it may be, is to account for the diversity of the American experiences, one need not cling to the conception of the melting pot to account for such diversity. Moreover, if the nature of the discussion is one of investigating diversity within America and also accounting for the role of social norms, then one must simultaneously account for both norms and diversity.
The importance of this point should not be overlooked. This claim is not a disjunctive claim; that is, it is not sufficient to simply talk about norms and their function or diversity and its statistical representation within census data, as the American experience is one of both diversity and the social norms that govern a diverse population. Thus, the claim is a conjunctive rather than disjunctive claim.
The diversity of America’s population is, quite obviously, representative of a wider human experience. Rather than fusing these experiences into one common or shared experience, the American experience is largely one of growing tolerance.
Granted, there is no denying the fact that the United States has participated in the exploitation of those less fortunate, namely Native Americans, African slaves, women’s rights, or the internment of Japanese-Americans. These are only a few examples in a sea of exploitative and abusive practices.
The fact remains, however, that despite its troubled past, America is a country continually becoming more inclusive. It is a country with an ever-expanding tolerance for difference and a willingness to accommodate the diverse spectrum of human experiences. This willingness — to accommodate such a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds, sexual orientations, disabilities, and the myriad of possible experiences throughout Americana — is uniquely American.
It is certainly true that one should never forget the past. To do so jeopardizes repeating similar mistakes, but it is equally dangerous to become fixated on the past, especially the atrocities committed by the United States in the name of freedom and democracy. We may now find ourselves repeating mistakes that we should have long since learned from, though, it may be proven in a court of law that the United States government participated in the willing torture of prisoners, which would be entirely inexcusable. The United States will and has progressed in tolerance.
President Obama has said that he is the “eternal optimist,” a claim that is surely informed by his profound sense of history. We are currently in a state of great economic and social crises, but it is, after all, momentary.
In accounting for both diversity and the norms that govern the American experience, one must acknowledge the perpetual increase of tolerance throughout the population. This is not, however, to suggest that there aren’t pockets within American society that cling to the nostalgia of a discriminatory past. Such a claim would be clearly false.
It is undeniable, nonetheless, that America, though brutal at times it may be, is a nation of increasing tolerance. Thus, in assessing an ability to accommodate disaffected and “fringe” groups of society, we have time and again arrived at inclusion because of our collective willingness to listen to their plight.
In resolving any conflict, be they domestic or international, governmental or familial, the best tool in mitigating violence and war is the ability to listen. To acknowledge the diversity of America’s population without also trying to enforce a standard of being American, where assimilation is imposed, or in allowing marginalized groups to voice their concerns and peacefully protest and exercise their freedom of speech, one offers a platform for effective listening.
The power of American democracy is rooted not in the might of its economic prowess, but in the tolerance inherent within our freedom of speech. Despite arguments to the contrary, the norms governing the economic and social successes of Americana is derived from a progression, though reluctant it may be, by the people and our representative government to gradually acknowledge the concerns of others.
In continually seeking to accommodate the concerns of the population, boundaries must be drawn. Norms must enforce taboos and socially destructive behaviors, as it is impossible that every concern or every desire will be accommodated. For example, the desire to overthrow the government is not a desire that the government can accommodate. Though, surprisingly, the government will provide the platform wherein such objections can be voiced.
Though these objections may potentially present a very real threat to the government, it is unlikely that they will ever truly usurp governmental power because American government is founded and has a proven track record of accommodating the diversity of its people. It is a slow process however. It is a generational process. Accommodating the African-American experience took centuries and there are still accommodations to be had, but to argue or even suggest that America has made no such effort is both ridiculous and unsupported by historical fact.
To truly threaten to overthrow the government’s power is to jeopardize the only system in existence that continually seeks to accommodate as many concerns as it can. This is as good as it gets, and rather than bemoan how bad it may be at times, we ought to refine the system, as best we can, and seek to improve our own levels of tolerance. Thus, it is only through tolerance that power — both economic and social — be actualized.