Where Pluralism and Paranoia Meet

Where Pluralism and Paranoia Meet

Nowhere is the meeting between pluralism and paranoia more apparent than on the subway. Despite all our high-minded rhetoric about the marvels of diversity, there is a wariness bordering on extreme caution when strangers are confronted with the dizzying mix of cultural difference and life circumstances. Maybe it has something to do with being underground? In many ways this subterranean world reflects the irrational in our nature. The fact that riding the subway can summon up our worst fears and long-standing grievances makes understandable the tight facial masks lost in the sounds of a Walkman or locked behind books and newspapers. Everyone stakes out his or her territory with no thought of giving ground. People plant themselves into a spot with the finality of a tombstone. Men, in particular, have a way of encamping themselves in an open-sesame leg spread, with the knobs of their knees pointing out like closed-mouthed cannons.

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Lima