Problem: We want to rule
I want what I want when I want it. You are here to provide it for me.
That is the earliest feeling I can remember. Have you outgrown it better than I have? I still have selfish impulses to overcome. Do you ever wish other people would do all the work while you retain control? My stories below are the macro and micro level of just that. Please regard all accounts below as old wives’ tales regarding particulars. I am selecting specialized perspectives to illustrate, not prove, a major point.
The outstanding example in America and other parts of the world is slavery. Dominant cultures harvested human beings to become skilled work machines without allowing them to be human beings. The world still suffers from the injustice by those who commanded labor and exercised absolute control.
Perhaps more than a decade ago I read an article suggesting that in the near future there would be more Americans of Oriental descent than of European descent. The start of this population tipping process was said to be the huge Chinese labor force imported to build the American railroads. It wasn’t quite like enslavement of Africans (Chinese workers came willingly), but some Americans still resist giving these workers’ descendants and other invited Orientals a greater voice in government.
Preying on the lack of opportunity elsewhere, many Americans have welcomed Latino immigrants as cheap labor. Panic breaks out when there are so many of them that “locals” need to learn Spanish. Recently a politician proposed that these “aliens” be barred and replaced as a work force by the prison population. I grew up in an agricultural valley realizing that migrant agricultural workers (many of whom were Latino) were highly skilled, underpaid workers. Farms depended on experienced seasonal laborers who genuinely understood the operations of fruit harvests.
When I lived in Switzerland 1963-1966 that country required guest laborers (primarily Italian) to leave the country over Christmas. I was told that this was to keep them from immigrating permanently. Their labor was welcomed, but not their culture.
I have read that Russians migrated to neighboring countries that were willing to import a labor force. After enough years passed, the immigrants proposed holding an election to decide whether to belong to Russia. They were accused of executing a land grab to increase Russian territory.
American colonization by Europeans was far less justified than laborer ascendancy because the Europeans were never invited to come, much less to dominate.
The above stories concern countries and distinct cultures having diverse languages. The contrasts and changeovers are stark and dramatic. Most of my audience does not deal in demographics at that level. We may do better to study smaller examples—the micro level. Before we do that, consider the legal rule against perpetuities. American law tries to protect flexibility. It does not want one owner at one point of time to lock an asset into a single use for the rest of eternity. A fake absurd example would be a philanthropist who feels that the skunk population should not be decimated. He makes a one-acre skunk preserve on the edge of town that can never be used for any other purpose. Two generations later when that piece of ground is near the heart of a major city, or in the middle of a suburban shopping mall, the rule against perpetuities becomes obvious. The current population on the land wants to control it. It seems reasonable to be free from the wishes of dead ancestors who do not live there now.
We are ready to study a conflict that arises in one neighborhood within a small portion of one lifetime and can affect any one of us. The story, based on an online account I read several years ago, differs in detail from four bongo drum cases I found on the internet today.
The neighborhood in question started out relaxed and hippie friendly. Every evening the bongo drums would sound late into the night, maintaining the local social tradition. Gradually the neighborhood gentrified. New residents carried on different lifestyles and work hours than did the people they displaced. By and by they passed an ordinance declaring late evening outdoor bongo drumming a public nuisance. The old-timers who had lived there all their lives felt that their character and freedom had been taken away from them. They were faultless. It was the law that had let them down.
I included the colonization example above (new residents of America came as conquerors, not neighbors) to make the comparison with wealthy move-ins who conquer bongo-playing natives of an urban neighborhood and take away their ground. Somebody likely profited from the gentrification. Perhaps the invaders were not entirely uninvited. If the profit went to absentee landlords, we are back on morally questionable ground because somebody’s rights to peaceful enjoyment were abrogated.
The political theory
Thus far we have considered slave masters, foreign conquerors, exploited labor turned voter, and demographic mobility. I am invoking a wide range of emotions, hoping every reader will become excited about at least one of the stories. I expect each of you to leap forward in evaluating the human dimensions. You will apply logic, law, morality, ethics, economics, sociology, political science and other fields of knowledge. Please spend a bit of time analyzing your feelings as you move from one story to the next.
Do you remember Friday’s article about patriotism? I used the word explicitly in the cover email. The article aroused your loyalty to the values that make America beautiful, and invited you to make it even more beautiful through your personal contribution, being constructive rather than critical.
Today’s article follows the pattern of giving you the article before explicitly saying the topic. The title tells you what type of stories I will tell. They involved diverse nationalities, languages, and cultures along with the passage of time. We have reflected together on the role those factors contributed to the human mix we have now.
Following that exercise, I disclose today’s topic, the object of our patriotism: DEMOCRACY. You are now ready to review this article through the lens (question) “how does democracy play out in this story?” Is democracy the force that decides right and wrong by counting people? Is it the principle of inviting every person’s equal voice? Is it the social fabric constituted by the entire population? Is it a mechanism for the evolution of history?
I am patriotic to a democracy that is neither singular nor static. It serves a complex world.