Monday, February 28, 2011

Thomas Jefferson - the 3rd President of the USA

From his Inaugural Addresses

“All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”

Interlocutor: You say that the rights of the minority must always be protected, along with the rights of those in the majority. Surely the majority‘s rights are what matter most in a democracy, aren’t they?

TJ: They do matter, indeed, but no more so than the rights of people who happen to find themselves in a minority. You must never forget, my friend, that every single person has rights that may not be removed, made null and void, or infringed in any way.

I: So the rights of minorities are sacrosanct, are they?

TJ: Quite so. However, even in democracies such as ours, minorities are under some kind of pressure. Belonging to a minority is often not a matter of choice. People are born into them; people find they belong to them because of how they think, the things they do, and a host of other ways they choose to live their lives.

I: But surely, if a person chooses freely to live in one way rather than another, he chooses to live at variance with the majority, doesn’t he?

TJ: Can you honestly say that a person is free to choose in every instance? Is the homosexual free to choose to be one, or is his choice made for him by forces, shall we say, over which he has no control. There are some who say that one is born into a community, whatever that community happens to be, in many cases, though not all, I admit.

I: Let us take a less obvious case; a schoolboy chooses to think in certain ways, to be interested in things that his fellow pupils care naught about.

TJ: A good example, but you will have to elaborate further in order for us to decide rationally whether that boy chose freely, and if he did so, should he not be left alone to get on with his life in the way he sees fit.

I: That is right, I will have to elaborate. Let us say that this particular boy chooses to be a model pupil: he attends regularly and comes early; he pays attention, and does what his teacher asks of him diligently; and more, he becomes genuinely interested in what he is learning.

TJ: And the majority of his classmates, what of them?

I: They seem to choose to not attend, to pay no particular attention to what the teacher says, and choose not to be interested in the subject.

TJ: You say that they choose certain courses of action?

I: They seem like courses of inaction to me. They choose not to be engaged with the subject being taught.

TJ: And they may choose freely not to have their interest and their attention engaged, but I do think that since many act that way, there is something else going on here.

I: Something else, what else?

TJ: Peer group pressure, which we may sometimes call ‘bullying’ when a person is targeted and then systematically persecuted in one way or another.

I: But how can peer group pressure make the many decide not to have their interest and their attention engaged by a particular teacher’s lesson?

TJ: Peer group pressure is often a silent, ominous force that is acted out in ways that are subtle, and also in ways that are less so, being very overt.

I: Boys are ‘sent to Coventry’ as we say.

TJ: Or physically bullied, yes.

I: Or mentally bullied?

TJ: Indeed. It is this mental bullying which I would like us to think about, because I think it goes on well past the days of a boy’s schooling, into his adult life.

A young person chooses to exercise his right to live his life in the way he sees fit, to remain interested in those things that gained his attention as a boy at school. Let us say that he found his interest in watching bird life and recording what he saw. More than that; let us say that he lives his life along lines that are influenced by his love of and wonder at the life of birds in woodlands and on lakes.

His life takes shape in ways that it would not have done were he to have gone along with the ways his classmates conducted their lives. He was scholarly, they were not; he was diligent and fastidious, they were not; he remained in a minority of one, they ran with the crowd.

We must now ask whether he should be made to live his life in ways that are similar to those others, or whether he has a right to continue living his life as he alone sees fit.

I: Surely nobody could object to his choosing to live his life in the way he chooses to live it.

TJ: And people do not usually object, at least not overtly so. But nevertheless, he finds that he is ostracized by the many; that he does not ‘fit in’, as we say.

I: But he has chosen to be that way, to live his life in a different way, taking roads that are different to those trod by the many.

TJ: And was he not free to choose to go in that one direction?

I: Of course he was free.

TJ: Then he must remain free from the fetters that the majority would bind him in, wouldn’t you say?

I: Certainly.

TJ: And that, my friend is why we must remove the so called ‘tyranny of the majority’; not just because we think our young friend has the right, but also because other like-minded individuals must never be discouraged from choosing to take the road less travelled, for, as Mr. Frost says, that has made all the difference.

I: I see, so our defending the rights of majorities is, in fact, encouraging diversity in our species.

TJ: Correct, diversity of thought, word and deed, leading to a healthy, more creative society in which people can feel free to follow their dreams. Does not our Constitution defend our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

I: It does indeed.

TJ: Then that last mentioned right – the right to the pursuit of happiness – is furthered and realized in that one man’s right to lead his life in the way he freely chooses.

I: Providing, I have to say, that the way he lives his life does not interfere in any way with the way others live their lives.

TJ: Of course, that is correct, and in that way we can see that everyone’s rights are upheld, be they members of majorities or otherwise.
Robert L. Fielding

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