Tolerance, acceptance, deference, dominance

Warning: Amateur sociological/political analysis ahead

I’ve been thinking about the various versions of and critiques of identity politics that are around at the moment. In its most general form, identity politics involves (i) a claim that a particular group is not being treated fairly and (ii) a claim that members of that group should place political priority on the demand for fairer treatment. But “fairer” can mean lots of different things. I’m trying to think about this using contrasts between the set of terms in the post title. A lot of this is unoriginal, but I’m hoping I can say something new.

Starting from the left (in more senses than one), tolerance involves the removal of legal barriers to being recognised as a participating member of the community, with legal freedom from persecution, voting rights, property rights and so on. Women, gays, religious minorities and people of colour have all had to struggle to obtain this recognition. But, as has been pointed out many times, mere legal tolerance is demeaning and discriminatory. Identity politics involves a demand not merely for tolerance but for acceptance.

Jumping to the right, the idea of tolerance implies the existence of a dominant group that does the tolerating, either as a result of moral suasion or as a response to political pressure. Moving from tolerance to acceptance implies an erosion of that dominance. It becomes unacceptable for members of the formerly dominant group to express or act on the view that the other group is inferior: such views, once expressed openly without fear of adverse consequences, are now criticised as racist, misogynistic, homophobic.

The most difficult term in the series is deference. In sociology/anthropology, it’s typically used in counterpoint with “dominance”, as the attitude displayed by one submitting to dominance. But in the context of identity politics, I think there’s something more subtle going on.

Members of the formerly dominant group may be willing to extend acceptance to others, but they still expect a kind of deference in return. Most obviously, they expect to be treated as the default identity for the community as a whole, as “typical”, “real”, “true”, Americans, Australians, Finns or whatever.

When that expectation of deference is not fulfilled, the choices are to accept the new situation, or to support what might be called default identity politics. More or less inevitably, that implies an alliance with those who want to reassert or restore the group’s dominant position: racists, theocrats, and so on, depending on which aspect of the dominant identity is being challenged.

That makes default identity politics a “double or nothing” bet. If it’s political successful, it’s dragged further and further towards entrenched minority rule by members of the dominant racial or religous group, and typically towards some form of personal dictatorship. If it’s unsuccessful, the divisions it creates risks a reversal of the previous order. Instead of being accepted as one element of a diverse community, the formerly dominant group becomes the object of hostility and derision. The signs of that are certainly evident, particularly in relation to the culture wars around religion.

19 thoughts on “Tolerance, acceptance, deference, dominance

  1. In moral philosophy fairness implies a claim to moral adequacy of a higher stage of moral judgement. This is covered best by the work of Richard Croswell, Lewis Kirnhauser and Jeremy Waldon. There is a suggestion that the blind pursuit of fairness can impact adversely on welfare. This is why moral philosophers balance the pursuit of fairness with the goal of achieving an equitable outcome.

  2. I’m on a racist jag at the moment, but please don’t respond to me, except to comment “Bird Alert” whenever a new sockpuppet goes up. JQ will try to deal

  3. Yes, I think ‘anti European racism’ is an absurd construction, or maybe a construction by the absurd.

    Time to take the dog for a walk, Monty.

  4. Anti European racism is relatively common in Asian countries, it works just the same as European racism in many ways, with occasional cultural twists. Being non-Han in China, for example, is not always fun although it’s non-European Asians who really cop it (“all Muslims are terrorists until they prove otherwise” comes just as readily from Pooh as Dutton, for example). You might also ask about the Rape of Nanking or the Koreans enslaved by the Japanese.

    But since a core requirement of racism is a position of power you don’t see that power dynamic in European-dominated countries.

  5. I understand the post from the current “culture wars” perspective however this leads me to question as to whether societies have always been like this and whether societies eventually adapt to some form of accommodation.
    As an example if I read history of the 19th century the culture wars were about trade unionism, universal suffrage, the role of the monarch and the role of the church. The war against trade unions continues unabated but a lot of things of what they were advocates is now part of the legal system (although I expect that to be reversed). In this instance acceptance and accommodation was achieved over a very long period of time.
    Which brings me to the next point as to what size population and what length of time does it take for the acceptance and accommodation to take place.

  6. I see identity politics more in transactional terms. Left identity politics have won but the bargain is that the ruling classes have kept (and in fact increased) their financial power. As well, the bargain operates an intergenerational context.

    So, the dominant classes have accepted certain identity based ‘rights’ but have not anything which reduces their own power or privilege. An example is male political/corporate leaders supporting quotas or ‘diversity and inclusion’, which of course do not impact on them because they are already at the top.

    But, the next generation (or those with less financial privilege) are much more on the receiving end of the rights given away and they are pushing back.

  7. Warning: Amateur sociological/political analysis ahead – “the idea of tolerance implies the existence of a dominant group that does the tolerating,”

    The phrase most concerning below is; “mainly done through public media”. 

    If so, we need to enable some sort of self representation against say, 70% dominent public media – read news corpse, not let representation of the abstract group by the dominent media. This would allow the abstract group to position themselves against dominant / deferance paradigm. And ameliorate effects in (4) below; 
    – superiority, 
    – difference, 
    – privilege, and 
    – fear.

    We have been and seen this for a long time:

    “Race prejudice as a sense of group position (1958)

    “1 Race prejudice as a sense of group position

    “(3) Current literature is dominated with the idea of race prejudice fundamentally existing as feelings of the individual…

    “(3/4) Race prejudice, however, is fundamentally in the relationship between racial groups (racial identification, racial comparison). Forming these images are done by the group as fundamentally a collective process. This is mainly done through public media, characterizing another racial group by actually defining your own (social position to one another is being established)

    (4) Four basic types of feeling in race prejudice in the dominant group, depending on a positional arrangement of the racial groups: >123411234< These people can pretty much decide the position that's best for themselves."

    Original: Race Prejudice as a Sense of Group Position
    Herbert Blumer
    The Pacific Sociological Review
    Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring, 1958), pp. 3-7

    "Tolerance becomes a crime when applied to evil."
    Thomas Mann
    Ch. 6, section, A Good Soldier as translated by Woods (1996), p. 506

  8. Imho, if we don’t manage “Tolerance, acceptance, deference, dominance” Umberto will be seen as precient.

    …”dark mirrors confirming our virtues.”

    “Umberto Eco and the rise of a new fascism

    “The great Italian writer foresaw the risk of “TV populism”—a far Right in plainclothes, possessed by conspiracy theories in the internet age

    …”In Inventing the Enemy, his 2008 collection of essays, the academic best known for his global best-seller, The Name of the Rose, reflected that nations and people rely on enemies for self-definition. They will go so far as to invent them, to haunt our minds as ugly moral degenerates, dark mirrors confirming our virtues. Interested parties can manipulate this psychological need; truly understanding the enemy is “the prerogative of poets, saints, or traitors”.

  9. If too many by me jq just dump, don’t approve.

    Shout out to Eva Cox… how do we increase social capital please? We can spend it on tolerance. 

    As mentioned above having societal dominance / deference framed by the dominant public media is – bad. Remedy? Publish Califirnia Psych Inventories / MMPI folk concept scores.???

    “But unlike the MMPI, which focuses on maladjustment or clinical diagnosis, the CPI was created to assess the everyday “folk-concepts” that ordinary people use to describe the behavior of the people around them.[1]

    CPI was not designed to predict unidimensional traits. Instead, the focus was on predicting interpersonal behaviors. Some Folk Concepts scales are substantially correlated with one another as they may be associated to the same underlying traits.[9]Gough argued that if the Folk Concepts are correlated in the minds of the general population, the CPI scales should be similarly correlated.[9]

  10. @KT2 the size would matter for time to reach tipping point. Smaller populations can reach a tipping point faster than a larger one. Also some small isolated populations (eg rural) may never catch on or alternatively they get to a size where it is possible to catch on. Decades ago travelling through rural Australia I was quite surprised to see some towns very open and the next town very insular. I have many friends from such small towns and they can talk for hours as to how open/insular towns were.

  11. ElPoppin there is a basic model and paper linked to “Also some small isolated populations (eg rural) may never catch on or alternatively they get to a size where it is possible to catch on. ”

    Perhaps you already are in to this… See down page 2nd last sim; “Cities and network density”

    “In the simulation below, we color Susceptible nodes based on their degree. Nodes out in the “countryside” have degree 4 (and are colored in light gray), whereas nodes in the “cities” have higher degrees (and are colored corresponingly darker), starting at degree 5 on the outskirts and culminating at 8 in the city center.”

    The next and last simulation on the page places experts as nodes with weighting.

    I hope “experts” place themselves and their “weights / influence” into such a model to see where and how best to or not influence community ahead of politics and fake news. Yet our media barons effect transmission greatly.

    The melting ashfelt page references – see “The Evolution of Trust”. We seem to have lost trust somewhere along the way.

  12. «In its most general form, identity politics involves (i) a claim that a particular group is not being treated fairly and (ii) a claim that members of that group should place political priority on the demand for fairer treatment.»

    I would write it as: “The current social/economic order [the markets, …] delivers just deserts unless someone is discriminated because of some aspect of their identity, and conversely others have privileges because of some aspect of their identity”.

    I think that “identity politics” is based on all three aspects: deserts are just except for discrimination in some cases and privilege in others.

    The essential political result is that poor people who are not discriminated because of some aspect of their identity are considered just useless losers, even worse those who fail despite their privileges [white male working class].

  13. «the idea of tolerance implies the existence of a dominant group that does the tolerating»

    That to me seems rather biased/incomplete, as intolerance comes as often or perhaps more often from small far-from-dominant group. Some far-from-dominant minorities tolerate outsiders, some don’t, and that results in isolationism, a kind of self-discrimination.

  14. Cut through Deference, & Dominance by;
    “Sacrificing voluntarily, and being humble about it, allows room for people to go through their own journeys of acceptance.”.

    “I’m a climate change hypocrite — but I’m making a New Years resolution to do things differently

    “We have to believe we can make a difference. We have to believe we must make a difference.

    “As climate protests grew louder in 2019, I found myself yearning for a mass movement not of defiance but of sacrifice.

    “Whereas Extinction Rebellion sought to shame governments into enforcing a top-down solution, sacrifice would aim to inspire large-scale change from the ground up.

    “It’s hard for opponents to argue in the face of sacrifice. Sacrifice is also not contingent on convincing the rest of society first. Sacrificing voluntarily, and being humble about it, allows room for people to go through their own journeys of acceptance.”

    Happy New Year – the Year of Hindsight – 2020

  15. JQ said; “That makes default identity politics a “double or nothing” bet.”

    “harder to play than the Basic Game. This is due to the fact that one must, while playing them, also pretend not to be playing them”

    The Basic Game,
    Importance Game,
    Leveling Game
    Self Effacing Rule and
    Persuade or Be Persuaded

    “Who Wants to Play the Status Game?
    by Agnes Callard

    “A player of the Importance Game tries to ascend high enough to reach for something that will set her above her interlocutor, a player of the Leveling Game reaches down low enough to hit common ground. The former needs to signal enough power to establish a hierarchy; the latter enough powerlessness to establish equality.

    “The advanced games really are advanced, in the sense of being harder to play than the Basic Game. This is due to the fact that one must, while playing them, also pretend not to be playing them

    …”It is much easier to mock others for engaging in the Importance Game and the Leveling Game than to acknowledge one is doing it. Jockeying for position and fishing for empathy offer up such twisted, ugly versions of the philosophical ideas of virtue and equality that we could not stand to engage in them for long, were we not shielding our eyes from what we are doing. And that, I think, is what ultimately explains the Self-Effacing Rule.”

    “Persuade or Be Persuaded
    by Agnes Callard in Politics

    “This is the fifth in a series of columns on public philosophy by Agnes Callard; read more here.

    …”Because “Socratic civility” takes refutation as its modus operandi, it makes people angry. People felt hurt and disrespected by what Socrates did to them, and eventually they killed him for it. One might argue, against Socrates, that it is more truly civil to live and let live.

    “The problem comes when you can’t: Abortion. Universal health care. Immigration. Taxation. Facebook privacy. Sexism. Racism. Transphobia. Prisons. Poverty. Education. Unions. When one of our perspectival differences becomes a load-bearing political question, the idea of agreeing to disagree doesn’t work anymore. If each of us accepts that at the end of the day we cannot change one another’s minds, and each of us also thinks that in this casethings must go my way, we are in quite a bind.

    “That is the bind I’m in. I’ve been called upon by the union to cancel class to accommodate the strike. But, as I see it, that would amount to using educational harms to undergraduates as an instrument to achieve graduate students’ ends. Such an action seems immoral to me, for reasons articulated by Immanuel Kant: you are not allowed to use people merely as a means. But what if I am wrong? What if my perspective is incorrect? Emails from many students convince me that they are torn, as well. I thought: let us approach this philosophically, by gathering in a classroom, some evening this week, and debating the ethics of striking.”…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s