Is Sameness More Feared Than Difference?

There are a lot of cultural memes about accepting people who are different and embracing diversity of all kinds.  But I wonder if it’s actually harder to tolerate sameness than difference.

Consider people or ideas that cause the most upheaval.  They are often those that reveal the depth of sameness and lack of distinction in culture, rather than radical difference.  Tell someone an English degree is more worthless than a Math degree.  You’ll rile some people up, but it will mostly be a playful rivalry.  The distinction between these two degrees allows people to set themselves apart and sometimes argue, but both feel fairly secure in their unique place.  But say that all degrees, no matter what area of study, are essentially the same and that the believed differentiation is a farce, and you’ll have a lot of angry people on your hands.

Likewise there are always people who favor one religion and smear another.  They point to sharp contrasts between the beliefs and values of different religious texts and traditions.  Society can tolerate them and they’re not really threatening at the core.  The greatest heretics are those who claim that all religions are equally true or equally false.  The removal of differences and cherished uniqueness, and the revelation of sameness and lack of distinction threatens the very fabric of society.

People can tolerate difference.  They have categories for it.  They can tolerate hierarchy and the occasional odd one out.  They are scared to death of sameness.  They are terrified of discovering that they’re really a lot more like their neighbor next door or in a distant land than they are different.  The paradox is that most people strive for sameness.  They want their kid to be average, they want to be average.  That’s why almost everyone thinks they are middle class.  They don’t want to stick out on either tail of the bell curve.  They strive for it, but they don’t dare admit it.  The great mutual secret of society is sameness.  We believe that great distinctions exist, and huge divides between people and ways of life.  We don’t speak of the sameness.  The great times of crisis are when differences fade.  Rich and poor alike are decimated by economic collapse.  Flood and earthquakes are indiscriminate.  The break-down of perceived and real differences is perhaps more frightening and threatening to our culture than anything.

I’m still not entirely sure about this thesis, but there seems to be something here.  I’ll try to write more on it as I think more on it.  Feel free to send me examples, counter-examples, or thoughts.

Comments are closed.