Multicultural is an oxymoron

by nkronos on February 11, 2011

Culture as a concept once had a certain monolithic quality to it as its antithesis was barbarism. A cultured person was educated and appreciative of life’s finer pursuits. Deriving from the Latin cultus, its roots are similar to those of cultivate: to till and prepare for growth. Similar to education, culture existed along an axis going from low to high, but a consensus existed that high culture was different and better than low culture, which was in turn better than uncultured.

Culture represented excellence. The culture of the Renaissance was unarguably superior to the culture of the Dark Ages.

In the era of post-modernist thought, however, such a concept of culture seemed too hierarchical and even Manichaean, as humanity moved beyond good and evil. Culture was used not to represent anything in particular or specific, but just a lump of characteristics in common to some group. How was that group defined in turn? It shared the same lump of arbitrary characteristics. Hence, the culture of deafness, for example.

Instead of society being made of individuals coming together for what was common to the human in them all with the individual left to the individual, an attempt was made to make society pluralistic, accommodating many views, without ever elevating one set of values or beliefs as a basis for the social fabric. If this papering over of mutually exclusive differences ever worked, it doesn’t seem to be working anymore.

Europe, its experiment with multiculturalism farther along than ours, is unanimously discovering its folly:

David Cameron, Prime Minister of the UK:

Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.  We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.  We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values. So, when a white person holds objectionable views, racist views for instance, we rightly condemn them.  But when equally unacceptable views or practices come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious frankly – frankly, even fearful – to stand up to them.

Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel:

[A]llowing people of different cultural backgrounds to live side by side without integrating had not worked in a country that is home to some four million Muslims. “This (multicultural) approach has failed, utterly failed,” Merkel told the meeting in Potsdam,

France’s President, Nicolas Sarkozy:

My answer is clearly yes, [multiculturalism] is a failure,…Of course we must all respect differences, but we do not want… a society where communities coexist side by side. If you come to France, you accept to melt into a single community, which is the national community, and if you do not want to accept that, you cannot be welcome in France….The French national community cannot accept a change in its lifestyle, equality between men and women… freedom for little girls to go to school…We have been too concerned about the identity of the person who was arriving and not enough about the identity of the country that was receiving him.

Cameron’s speech linked above is worth reading in its entirety and should serve as a clarion call for the US. Here we do not face the same kinds of threats as Europe, but our ideological blinders and that we are less further along than Europe allows us a comfy lethargy in our response. Nevertheless, Europe may not even be able to right itself; the decline in basic human ideals may have gone too far, especially to reverse itself without great pain and suffering.

In the US, as Bruce Bawer writes of the UK, the immediate threat is intimidation regarding the free expression of ideas. As long as truth has voice–as Milton wrote in Areopagitca–it can hold its own against any lie. But we must keep the playing field level, rather than repress criticism of any religion under the name of hate speech or religious bigotry.

During my own life I’ve been amazed at the decline and levelling of what once went by the name “culture” and the elevation of non-serious trappings instead. Few would argue that “anarchy” is just as good a way to govern as any other, but what is multiculturalism except a belief in an anarchy of the social principles from which government springs? A government that practices separation of church and state cannot long do so when its social foundation premises death for those who recant their religion.

Lastly, it is naive to think, “It can’t happen here.” History illustrates that forward progress is not inevitable, and barbarism is always just outside the gates. Look at Iran, which 30 years ago fell back into the 13th century and has remained there ever since. Having a more advanced culture in terms of values and ideas is no bulwark against a more aggressive culture in terms of fanaticism. Ask the Athenians and the Spartans. Or the Minoans. Or the Romans.

Just as ignorance is the opposite of education and we would not refer to someone as “multi-educated,” the same is true of culture. Barbarity is not a variant of culture to be embraced in a “pluralistic” society; rather, it is culture’s perennial and implacable foe.

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