The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.
– Mr Spock, Vulcan.
A familiar line from Star trek that seems very noble when uttered by a person who is sacrificing themselves to save their friends. This is also a major theme in Japanese Anime – self sacrifice for the larger group – often your teammates.
Where the idea falls down is when the many and few are sacrificing said individual against their will and consent. A lot less noble then, sickening really.
The problem is that this idea is rule by the mob and contrary to western democratic ideals of equality. This idea, that the majority is more important is what allows oppression and discrimination of minorities.
Every civil rights movement has been a minority group (well, women are actually 51% of the population, but were certainly a legal minority group with lesser rights than men, so at least were an oppressed segment of the population) no longer willing to accept the status-quo and demanded legal remedies.
Canada and the US have gone from a time when basically white men were the voters, landowners and owners of everyone else – well, anyone worth owning to the reckoning of the time.
The majority benefits from the status quo so positing the needs of the many against the few or one is the justification for oppression, discrimination, second or third class citizenship and unequal access to legal rights and corrective measures.
Basically it goes like this:
Abolitionists and Slavery
While slavery continues throughout the world today, the slavery that most people think of is the African slaves in America. Largely because this has been cast as the reason for the US Civil War. In a way it was, but it was not a war to free the slaves – but rather the Northern industrial part of the US to break the economic spine of the South which was raw resource production by slavery.
The North had a paid workforce while the South owned theirs.
Aside: The first slaves in America came from England and they are often referred to as “indentured servants” – petty criminals and poor people picked up by press gangs and shipped out to Australia and the Americas. The problem with these slaves were that when they escaped, they would easily blend in with the free population – so the solution was to obtain slaves that were easily identifiable.
The strategy of the North to offer the slaves freedom was not driven by human rights sensibilities or the abolitionist movement – but to reduce the manpower available to the south. Essentially, the North wanted to free slaves so they would fight against their former masters and reduce the number of and risk to Northern men in the battles.
If the North had been remotely motivated by human rights, then it wouldn’t have taken until the 1960’s for the US to even begin dealing with equal rights and shift the public sentiment away from supporting and protecting lynch mobs.
Women and Voting
Women were the property of their fathers and then their husbands. Marriage was about consolidating wealth within socio-economic groups and creating heirs.
Being property, women weren’t allowed to own property or vote; all while education opportunities and careers were very restricted.
The majority of people in society at the time saw no issue with this – after all, everyone who counted got to vote and women certainly were too busy with, well, whatever it was that women did, to understand the issues of the day and be able to vote.
What a change since those days, where qualification is citizenship alone – and in Canada, we’ve actually allowed the bars to be open before the polls closed – and to be fair, blind drunk is almost the only way it’s tolerable to vote now, given the lack of real options.
So, to have the majority opinion that women can’t vote change, first public opinion has to start changing. To this end, several approaches are needed, including a legal challenge to either have that read as already existing or to change/add a law that permits it.
The tactics used then continue to be employed now – legal challenges, protests, public awareness, protests and everything from mild to outrageous – anything to get the public talking and attitudes reassessed.
But, it doesn’t happen overnight or right away – it’s a process of years. Partly for the legal case to advance, have victories and defeats, and other means of changing opinions and raising awareness.
At some point, public support increases to the point that enough people think that women voting should be allowed that it happens. Not everyone is convinced or accepting, but over time, as women vote and more elections go by, women voting is normalized.
Same for any civil rights advancement – be it ethnic minorities, sexual or gender and lately – non-believers are group that the believer community is retreating to as the battle against the gays is being slowly lost.
It’s always people who uphold tradition who slow the advancement of rights and equality – and the traditionalists are essentially synonymous with religious believers.
Which, when you consider that religious belief is looking to the past for answers to the Big Questions as well as everyday morality and behavioral norms.
But, given that societies change through technological advances as well as changing borders and population demographics, looking to the past provides a shaky and dubious framework, especially the farther back you go.
What can stone and bronze age hunter and gathers and herd minders possibility offer to people in the digital age where the globe is the village and boundaries – nation and cosmetic between people – are increasingly meaningless?
Are we really to believe that people who thought that spirits and deities were behind natural disasters or the caliber of the crop harvest being related to sacrificing virgins?
We know that it was just a waste of virgins, so how is it that the many benefit from the sacrificed few?