“A person could be anything she wanted… so long as what she wanted to be came off the menu of choices approved by the planet’s social – and economic – consensus, and everyone was so damned smug about how superior their ‘open-mindedness’ was to all those other, backward planets.”
– from Echoes of Honor
Honor Harrington Series, by David Weber
Allison Chou is the mother of the series main protagonist, Honor Harrington. She grew up on a world which was famous – or, rather, infamous – for how supposedly liberal and non-judgmental it was. This most obviously involves sexual mores, but the overall idea was that everyone free to do whatever they want, and be whatever they want. That sensational, scandalous reputation, however, was really very relative. In essence, they had options available which other peoples, from other worlds with other cultures, would never dream of, but they still had their own cultural norms, and their own definitions of what one ought to do and be, and their own rigid outlooks.
That was not the same thing as simply giving everyone actual carte blanche with their own character.
And, of course, all things being relative, the “liberated” people of this world looked down their noses at all those other peoples. Yet there wasn’t really any difference between them, outside exactly what they were being closed-minded about.
Now, I rush to add that these weren’t “bad” people. They were just… not so different from others as they thought they were. They subscribed to a different template, perhaps, and had different options on their societal menu, but they were just like everyone else. Including how they would react to those who failed to conform to their way of doing things.
It doesn’t matter what the culture is, people react similarly to whatever is, to their mind, a deviation from it.
Friction, anger, pity, disappointment, sneering, hostility, rejection, fear, confusion… and, occasionally, patience, tolerance, acceptance, and even support.
There is no such thing as a society which is either open-minded or closed-minded. There is only a varying, often shifting, percentage of how many individuals – whether they be “liberal” or “conservative” or anything in between – are choosing to be either at any given moment.
That comes home particularly true to me now, as I see a society divided over so many issues, with everyone convinced that they are the open-minded one and everyone who disagrees is closed-minded.
I suppose that makes everyone closed-minded, in a way, and demanding of conformity. I’ve certainly done it, even if I haven’t realized it at the time, and I have often regretted that. Alas, all I can do about the past is try to do better in the future. But I digress, slightly.
My point, and my hope, is that we need to become aware of when our calls for liberation become a call for conformity. We need to watch ourselves, and humble ourselves with the knowledge that we, too, can become the everyday tyrants of our respective cultures and values.
Let’s try to refrain from insisting that our menu of lifestyles is the only one which can be allowed.