15 February 2011

In doubt about multiculturalism

The post In praise of multiculturalism by Peter Ryley aka Fat Man on a Keyboard caused me more headache than many international, national and even family affairs that unfolded since I've read it first.

Was it because Peter is a superb thinker (and blogger, which is not a sufficient distinction, of course, but still, where it counts...) and I, who has recently gleefully noted the demise of multiculturalism in Europe, don't feel equipped to argue with him. Language, education, professional background and, let's face it, insufficient number of brain cells - there are enough reasons to avoid an argument in this case.

Or was it simply because I couldn't put my finger on the bug (have I mentioned the professional background already) in Peter's post? After all, how can one fault the clear and unambiguous statement like this:

Multiculturalism succeeds because it is not about separation, it is about acceptance; inclusion rather than exclusion; seeing 'them' as 'us'.
Nope, I am afraid that I can't argue with this. But still, the post as a whole leaves me with a feeling of something wrong, something that tries to persuade me to accept a phenomenon when my senses teach me differently.

Was it because I have already said something that I still believe in:
Multiculturalism, in many feverish progressive minds, was supposed to become an unending festival of mutual enrichment, poetic meeting of different cultures under the benevolent watch of the government sponsor, where foodstuffs, music, language, dance, love (don't ever forget love) and other ethnic delights flow every each way unimpeded. In the grim reality of thousands so called European "projects" it turned out to be just lots of newly erected ghettos bringing alienation, lack of common language and, indeed, common culture. Well, lack of common culture was built into the idea of multikulti to start with, you would say, and you will be right. Of course, this is precisely the point. This is what ghetto tends to do to its inhabitants - a majority of them just don't see any need to make an effort and integrate into the host society. And the host society hardly cares - as long as the streets remain clean, the cars are produced on schedule, the garbage removed etc.
Or was it because I feel uneasy with Peter's classification of objectors to multiculturalism?
Multiculturalism has become one of the targets for parts of the anti-totalitarian left, as well as some long-standing enemies on the right.
Opposition to multiculturalism can sometimes be soft racism.
I am not sure I am ready to be classified at my tender age.

So what remains to me is to do some (limited by my drawbacks) combing throuh Peter's post. As I said, I can no more object to "seeing 'them' as 'us'" than I can object to "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!". With one reservation: while I can't object to these two, I don't have to believe in the possibility of making them work and indeed, I don't believe in it (the possibility). If we apply to multiculturalism the same scientific criteria that we (should) apply to communism, e.g. when we observe a repeated failure of the theory with no successful implementation, we should conclude that the theory is either wrong or unworkable in any known to us set of conditions.

It's not enough to state that the MC theory is unworkable, one has to explain why. Again, in theory MC could work - provided that enough resources, attention and time are spent by the host society that should do its best in two respects at once:  insure both integration of the newcomers (yes, understand and accept me exactly as I understand and accept you) and freedom for the newcomers to keep and nurture their own culture.

Peter rightly states that Britain was a multicultural society long ago: "How else could Disraeli have written of Britain being two nations in the 19th Century?" Being of the same tribe as Disraeli, I feel that my inalienable right is to answer this question by a question or two. Would you remember Disraeli if he has written what he has written in Yiddish or Portuguese or Ladino? Could Disraeli get where he got without English? Or without being baptized to Anglicanism at age 12? Hint: Disraeli's mom and dad have done their utmost - and some more - to integrate and to succeed in the host society.
However, what produced distinct ethnic areas was not government policy. It was both the internal pressures of choice and cohesion and, much more importantly, the external ones of exclusion, poverty and racism.
I think that Peter soft-pedals in the first sentence of the quote. Of course, it was not the government policy that produced ghettos. It was lack of government policy, lack of interest, investment, vision etc. And, since the lack of all that and more is consistently presented in all countries that eagerly accepted gastarbeiters only to 'fess up later "We kidded ourselves for a while that they wouldn't stay, but that's not the reality", shouldn't we conclude and confess that so far the implementation (but not the idea) of multiculturalism was a consistent failure?
Multiculturalism, in contrast, offers diversity. Yet that diversity does not mean the toleration of injustice, it demands a respect for human rights.
Yes, but when implementation of multiculturalism is reduced to "they are settled somehow, now let them be" lazy way of ignoring the problems, one shouldn't expect anything good coming out of this implementation.

And finally (ain't you glad?):
We do not face a choice between multiculturalism and integration, the two are complementary, one facilitating the other.
But if we ignore one of the two, we do it at our own peril. I know that Peter will agree to this, even if he rejects the rest of my post.


Dick Stanley said...

Multiculturalism is multi only from the outside looking in. Where it reigns it is about whatever minority has the biggest grievance. In Texas that's Hispanics and blacks. It's really about separation, not amalgamation.

Pisa said...

I'd like to ask Peter Ryley one question. It is well known that, when the conquistadores first arrived in Central America, they found a thriving civilization. One that offered human sacrifices to their gods. Does mr Ryley think that this particular kind of civilization should enjoy the european brand of multiculturalism he so warmly defends?

I have two more arguments against Ryley's theory:
1. Society, as a whole, throughout human history, has the obnoxious habit to incessantly transform and develop. Multiculturalism artificially slows this process, by teaching people it's ok to live in a backward primitive society as long as there's a more advanced community nearby feeding them.
2. European multiculturalism is the sworn enemy of social justice and free speech. You can't raise your voice to criticize other cultures, you'll be instanly labeled a racist. You cán't criticize your own culture, yóu'll be labeled a traitor. You're stuck with "what is", choke on it!

SnoopyTheGoon said...

What you are describing is really another failure of MC.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I would say that the Central America example is rather an attempt to disprove something by bringing it ad absurdum, and it doesn't necessarily work in all cases.

Re 1: I am not sure that MC is about keeping the backward elements of every culture. But in practice, where the host nation leaves the minority alone, to stew in its own juices, it could happen.

Re 2: yep, this is what more or less happens, but again this is a failed implementation of MC.

Peter Ryley said...

To Pisa and Dick Stanley I would like to point out that you are mistaking my advocacy of a multiculturalism that abhors the infringement of human rights with separatism and relativism, both of which tolerate the intolerable. The whole post was really about the dangers of conflating these three entirely different concepts.

In part this post was about language and I think this is where Snoopy and I seem to be saying something different though we are really in broad agreement. Language has a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning. So because David Cameron made a decent speech about Islamic extremism and, rightly, attacked state multicultural practice, all the bottom feeders of the far right came crawling up out of the sewers to praise him. The left equally misread it and hammered him for being racist. It was very depressing. This is because opposing multiculturalism has now become a permissible way of being racist. So I was arguing that the term needs to be recovered as one that is anti-racist, in favour of tolerance and diversity, but also one that, as a left liberal idea, is utterly intolerant of cruelty and oppression wherever it occurs.

Pisa said...

Re Central America: it's not as absurd as it might seem.  In fact, Islamists are offering human sacrifices to their god. We're so brainwashed with "poor opressed brown people's struggle for justice" that we don't recognize the birth (or rebirth) of a religious ritual right under our white noses. I'm talking about terror attacks on civilians, of course. An ancient ritual in disguise, used for political as well as religious goals.

Re Re 1&2: I specifically wrote "european multiculturalism" because I believe that some kind of multiculturalism (thank god for copy and paste!) is possible under certain circumstances. You point at the core of this issue when you talk about "implementation". Look at Israel, for instance, where the multiculturalism is naturally born due to realities on the ground, as opposed to its nurtured, artificially implemented european brethren. This implemention was neither needed, nor wanted (by the society as a whole), and certainly not necessary. That's why it failed.

IMO, multiculturalism is just a stage on the way to a fully functional society. As long as you have multiculturalism, you have internal conflicts. Who needs them?

Peter Ryley said...

Response continued as Blogger won't let me post the whole thing!

This is where separatism - they can do their own thing in their own area as long as they don't pollute us with their presence and demand the same rights as us - and relativism - they are quite welcome to take blunt knives to their children's genitalia and brutalise their women because they are colourful chappies with their own culture - are at worst inherently racist and patronising at best.

Snoopy is absolutely spot on with much of his critique of state action (and inaction - good point!) on multiculturalism and he is making the same distinction that Cameron makes. State action has been crap, but both left and right failed to pick his distinction and saw his speech as covert criticism of foreigners. So Snoopy is absolutely right about the practical implementation of multiculturalism, it is just that I think that we can do better and in many instances, such as the article I linked to, people make it work despite all the drawbacks he sees. I would simply like us to recover the idea of multiculturalism but give the relativists and separatists a damn good kicking.

In our eagerness to attack the awfulness of much of the contemporary left from a left position it becomes far too easy to enjoy it too much and lose sight of a distinct left position and the sheer pleasures of diversity, thereby slipping into an equally illiberal conservatism. Language matters and it behoves us to use it precisely.

Peter Ryley said...

And finally, when Snoopy praises me extravagantly, he is of course entirely correct 8-)

Dick Stanley said...

Too late to recover a bastardized term, I think. If societies mean tolerance and diversity, why not just say so? Use those words. No need for a new -ism, especially one that does not mean what it seems to.

Peter Ryley said...

In that case we have to abandon liberty, democracy, equality, justice etc, etc. Each has a multiplicity of meanings, many of them contradictory. I fully agree with you about tolerance and diversity, but then what do we tolerate? You see what I mean. We can't escape the trickiness of language and once the word is there, rather than try and pin a perjorative label on it, we can embrace the positive and elaborate precisely what we mean by it. This is especially the case where the perjorative label has been established by the right.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Thanks for taking the trouble, Peter. And I wasn't praising you too much, rather doing a job of comparison. If it was extravagant, I could always backpedal ;)

jams o donnell said...

I found a lot to support in Peter'spost and your analysis too mon ami. I will have to visit Peter's blog more often

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I think Peter answered the Central America question in that other comment. 

Israel - I mentioned Israel in another post that I linked to from this one. Yes, we have made some good moves, also some failed ones. And I agree, besides saying so, that in Europe MC wasn't implemented - let's say not in a massive form.

As for the long term: surely the society as a melting pot should do its job slowly but surely. At least we should hope so.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Thanks for the kind word, and yes, Peter's blog is worth visiting.

Dick Stanley said...

Ah, yes, the right. Always the right. Couldn't be that the left perverted it to begin with? No, I guess not.