Please mind (and understand) the gap

tolerance

“In a perfect world, this could never happen” sang the Canadian rock band Simple Plan some years ago. There are actually plenty of things that should be out of an almost perfect Planet Earth; one of them is surely being disrespectful of minorities. It is painful to remember how long people have been discriminated against because of their skin color, sexual orientation, religious belief, political view, nationality, lifestyle and so on. These days it is common to have concerns about the “tyranny of the majority”, referring to the degeneration of direct democracy argued by John Stuart Mill. However, democracy may also degenerate into a “tyranny of the minority”. What if we are not talking about a “physical” tyranny, but a sort of “emotional” tyranny that compels people to be tolerant at all costs? Does this tolerance reduce other people’s freedom? What if behind a curtain of symbolic efforts to be inclusive and tolerant towards minority groups we actually found hatred and even racism and intolerance?

We need to go back to the XVII century to try to give an answer to these complex and perhaps politically incorrect questions; back to John Locke, eminent father of English empiricism and liberalism. Alongside his theory of rights, Locke thought that at birth the human mind is like a “blank slate” (“tabula rasa” in Latin) and data are added solely by one’s sensory experience. Sigmund Freud, two hundred years later, stated that a person’s mind is mostly determined by their upbringing. Hence, there are some ideas which are strongly correlated with birth conditions. Thus, it may be hard to try to change these ideas. Furthermore, it is not necessary to directly teach a child something. Children can learn new things also by doing and watching. In other words, two thinkers belonging to two different fields of science teach us that human personality has nothing to do with innate ideas and it is shaped during the earliest stages of development.

This is the oversimplified reason why some backward-looking ideas are hard to fight. The effort to go beyond this bigotry is not something that can be done overnight, but it takes years of slow, reasoned and shared change that must be upheld by the very profound will to succeed in dealing with illiberal intolerance as well as to make inclusion win. The key is to make it clear that different people are not so different after all. Creating an open society should be constrained by awareness and true shared will. Trying to force this tendency to go faster or farther than what is really needed may lead to a fatal suspicion: do “we, the People” really want this openness and change? Or is this just the volition of an élite only? Sometimes the answer is yes and this discontent drives, along with other factors, to populism through the idea that the minority group one is trying to protect is actually a threat to other people’s freedom.

So, racism and xenophobia must be fought at their very deep origin, because otherwise, if the openness is perceived as a law imposing quotas rather than a common feeling, people could choose to go back to the good old days of the “glorious traditions”. Also the right not to tolerate the intolerant, as it was described by Karl Popper, must be something conquered rather than declared by law, otherwise it would become another form of intolerance, even more dangerous and pervasive than the one we know. The risk is that tolerance at all costs would be banned as “objective enemy” in the name of people’s common sense and will, using Hannah Arendt’s words. Talking about news and recent facts, in 2017 the Italian Parliament approved a new electoral law that aims at securing equal representation of women and men, guaranteeing 40% of every party list to the less represented gender. Although this is a very fair percentage, declaring such a thing by law does not allow women to be more considered, because it does not change anything of the patriarchal view of politics. As a matter of fact, the new Government of Italy is made up of only 5 women out of 18 ministers and only two of these female ministers hold key roles (Defence and Public Health departments). Although the 2017 electoral law helped increasing the female presence in the Italian Senate and Chamber of Deputies from 30% to 35%, there is still reluctance to appoint them to crucial positions.

Talking about news and recent facts, in 2017 the Italian Parliament approved a new electoral law that aims at securing equal representation of women and men, guaranteeing 40% of every party list to the less represented gender. Although this is a very fair percentage, declaring such a thing by law does not allow women to be more considered, because it does not change anything of the patriarchal view of politics. As a matter of fact, the new Government of Italy is made up of only 5 women out of 18 ministers and only two of these female ministers hold key roles (Defence and Public Health departments). Although the 2017 electoral law helped increasing the female presence in the Italian Senate and Chamber of Deputies from 30% to 35%, there is still reluctance to appoint them to crucial positions.

Furthermore, the former Chamber of Deputies Speaker, Laura Boldrini, has been the focus of sexist insults and online threats for years. She had to deal with being sent photos of her face replacing the one of a woman being raped. Deputies of the League – the party whose leader is the incumbent Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini – persisted in calling her with the male honorific “Signor Presidente” instead of the female “Signora”. Beppe Grillo, leader of the Five Star Movement, posted a video with the title “What would you do alone in a car with Laura Boldrini?”. These are the reasons why there is so much to do about this specific meaning of inclusion, the one of females, and it has nothing to do with laws and regulations.

We should not spend our time counting up how many LGBT people seat in boards, but making sure that they are treated just like anyone else, punishing discrimination based on personal matters. Statistics must be taken into account later. The risk, as it is mentioned above, is to spread the perception that minorities are able to climb the job ladder easily since they have a kind of privilege, even if it is clear they have none.

In 2014, a research published by Forbes magazine showed that while using gender quotas might be the right way to move toward a diversified workforce, it actually drives people away, both women and men, by appearing to value diversity over merit. McKinsey solved this problem organising networking events specifically designed for women, giving them the option whether to join the initiatives or not.

Making sure that my liberties are not infringing yours does not have a single answer because it implies a subjective judgment. Since it has nothing to do with objective statements, respecting people’s positions and views must be kept in mind in order to avoid sudden closeness and opposition to the creation of an open society that would, in theory, advantage everyone. Brexit is a clear example of what I have just stated. The 2016 Brexit referendum made even clearer that focus should be kept on open-closed opposition rather than left-right division. People who stand for liberalism, in the sense of believing in the classical liberal values, should move in this direction; building an open society must pass through knowing the different and being able to knowingly respect and love them, without no one teaching and forcing anybody to do so.

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