The pluralism of the 20th century created a level of tolerance in society that is far beyond that of any other society in history. This pluralism is freer of the exclusions and dogmatism that characterized historical eras that adopted rigid ideologies because it relies on scientific findings. The major benefit man derives from this pluralism is that less energy spent in defending exclusions and dogmatism allows for greater opportunity for improvement in the overall quality of life for all men. In short, it takes a great deal of energy to be prejudiced.
The most dramatic example of this move toward pluralism and freedom from rigid ideology is the German Holocaust and its aftermath. This includes the growing freedom of the United States society from the belief that persons of other races are somehow biologically inferior. It is even possible to utilize Adler’s hierarchy of goods of the mind to analyze the path of freedom from the clutches of this way of thinking.
Adler’s good of the mind with the lowest value is information. When people of minority religions and races appear within a society, their behavior, speech, and appearance are different. This is simply a bit of information. There is no connotation here that those people are inferior. They are simply different. What a society chooses to do with that information can lead to either improvement in the society as a whole, or to tragedy.
When a minority group within a society does not behave, speak, or appear to be like the majority of the members of the society, then they will probably have difficulty in becoming workers of the quality expected by the major segments of society. Their clothes will be different. Their food will be different. Their habits will be different. All of this contributes to a body of knowledge about that minority group. At this point, this information is still only a collection of facts and the society has not chosen a path for how it will either accept or reject the minority group.
Adler’s third hierarchical component of the goods of the mind is understanding. In order for a society to rightly determine what to do with a body of knowledge, especially a body of knowledge about a group of individuals who are different from the norm, the members of the society must actually understand not only the historical context within which to view the minority group, but their own historical context as well.
One example of this misunderstanding of a body of knowledge is the racial divide in the United States. Even today, if people from rural America, are told that the first known major university was in the nation of Chad in Africa or that the aborigines of Australia are Caucasian, they would have major difficulties in believing those facts. Their behavior is an outgrowth of the misunderstanding of early whites when they made the decision that people who speak, look, and act differently than they speak, look, and behave are somehow inferior. The same misunderstanding was present in early America when settlers first encountered the Cherokee Nation. They did not rightly understand that these were a people who not only developed a written language, but also had a school system that included what we would now call schools at the post-secondary level. They were different and early Americans actually went so far as to wrongly decide that different actually equated to biologically inferior. Hundreds of years of lost opportunity for a richness in the fabric of American life and millions of lost lives was the result of this misunderstanding of a body of knowledge.
Adler’s fourth hierarchical component of goods for the mind is wisdom. Pluralism supported by scientific findings is bringing man all around the world to a new level of wisdom with respect to pluralism and the value of approaching other cultures with an open mind. As archeologists show, modern Western society has taken an exceptionally long time to understand the universe and man’s place in it. However, with that understanding growing, it is now difficult to continue the dogmatic and exclusionary attitudes that the descendants of different and seemingly exotic cultures are inferior.
Wisdom is a growth process that is based on how either an individual or a society understands a body of knowledge that it has compiled from information it has collected. It is not at all certain that it is possible to attain the state of wisdom. This is a concept that is much like that of infinity. If the set of all whole numbers is infinite, and there are an infinite number of fractional parts between any two whole numbers, then the question becomes one of how big is infinity. The same is true of the concept of wisdom, and certainly with respect to letting go of dogma and exclusion for the purpose of realizing just how rich a society can become if it embraces the differences between its members, rather than decrying them. In addition, now that the world has become a global community, pluralism must expand its borders and be able to convince people of different ethnicities, nationalities, and religions that none is scientifically inferior to the other and that, if these long held beliefs can be given up, the society of man will be the better for it and not the worse.
A proper view of pluralism and its value is an absolute necessity in an era in which man has the means for mass destruction at his fingertips. The actions of one individual can have global consequences. This is not a time for society to be lacking for wisdom with respect to how it values, or doesn’t value, the differences among its members. Science has proven that all men are equal. It is time to celebrate their differences and to share their successes. To do otherwise would be to have the lives of all those who died at the hands of ignorance be rendered valueless and that is completely unacceptable.