IN THE CULTURE WARS THERECAN BE NO WINNERS – ONLY LOSERS

I despise multiculturalism. I believe the cultures of specific groups of people too easily become false gods and a cause of idolatry that leads to violence of one sort or another.

It is true that we are born into the particular culture of family and situation. But after that we should be free to choose and create our own culture. Here are two personal examples of what I mean:

From the age of twelve I have been fanatical about black music, especially soul and reggae. Initially I just enjoyed the music but this led me to learn about where the music came from. I found out about the history and experiences of the people who produced it and from there, I formed an abstract relationship with those people (and “relationship” is the key to my thinking on this matter). Personally, I believe that in many ways I have a closer cultural relationship to the soul singers of 1960s Detroit than I do to a heavy metal fan living in Penzance (many ways, but not all, as I have much in common, culturally, with the heavy metal fan in other areas of my life).

Another example is a more recent cultural adaptation in my life. In the last four years I have formed a cultural link with the Episcopal faction of the Anglican Communion that is now a closer relationship than I have with the Church of England.

I admit it, I am a melting pot hippie by nature. As far as I can see there is good and bad in all cultures and I can see no reason why we shouldn’t all ditch the bad and share out the good. Worse still, from a PC point of view, I believe that we should have a pick and mix attitude towards culture. We should create our own personal culture by shopping around and choosing the bits of culture that are relevant to us. At the moment our rigid cultural settings divide us and keep us apart. Each culture has its gate keepers that are there to keep others out. If we did not hold culture as sacrosanct, if we could each choose from the smorgasbord of culture, then the number of possible links between different people, from different backgrounds, becomes almost infinite.

God did not create culture (unless you hold the Tower of Babel story to be literally true). It is a human invention. And what is more it is always evolving even within the most rigid of cultural groups. Therefore, culture can and always does change, so there is no reason why we should regard our inherited cultures as set in stone. Once we free ourselves from the bondage of our false view of culture we can start to enjoy culture. And not just the culture of our own family, religion and geography, but the culture that is our universal heritage – the culture of being human, created in the image of God and playful in our own creativeness.

Comments

IN THE CULTURE WARS THERECAN BE NO WINNERS – ONLY LOSERS — 61 Comments

  1. Bravo – outstanding post here. You have given me much to ponder today.

    Like Erika, I too must go lie down as well.

  2. MP sez
    ‘At the moment our rigid cultural settings divide us and keep us apart. Each culture has its gate keepers that are there to keep others out.’

    Frank sez
    So… How does this square with the perceived exclusivity of ‘Chin Wag’?

  3. There is only one exclusion, frank. No trolls. There is a lock on the door but it is no different to the lock on your front door that is there to keep out the burglars. What can I say? We live in a fallen world and I have a duty of care to my readers that means their protection is more important than my idealism. It’s not as if I didn’t try all other options.

    But once you get into Chin Wag you will find an unmoderated site where people post and edit their own stuff without fear of malicious attack or having their words used against them by people who seek to do them harm. I don’t have comments emailed to me and I don’t edit.

    Why not join in the fun, frank?

  4. You must be defining multiculturalism in a slightly different way than I do. Because it seems to me that you are, according to my understanding of the word, a multiculturalist. When someone picks and chooses the best of any given cultures, that to me is being multiculturalist.

    Have I got it wrong?

    Tracie the Red

  5. I for one am really thankful you got rid of that blimmin’ troll, MP. It’s a big relief not having that particular nuisance presence around.

  6. Tracy
    the usual meaning of multiculturalism is several different cultures living side by side in tolerance but each retaining its own characteristics

  7. The Lakota people have declared war on those who “pick and choose” from various cultures and spiritual ways, including their own ways, creating a hodgepodge:

    Click here to read the resolution

    I don’t blame them one bit. The culture of dominance has done serious harm to their entire world. They have put up with too much over the last several hundred years; spiritual colonialism is just one more nail in their coffin.

    Tracie the Red

  8. I think perhaps the word multiculturalism is one of those where the ocean matters. I am having exactly the same problem as Tracie. What you describe as the antidote is what I think it means. So I would find it helpful if you gave me a concise definition of what “multiculturalism” is on your side of the pond?

    Frank, if you seek and obtain access you will find a very diverse group. Whatever it is the site is not monochromatic.

    FWIW
    jimB

  9. Whatever it is the site is not monochromatic.

    And it certainly won’t be if frank washes up there. He is one of my most longstanding internet friends and, to be honest, one of the naughtiest.

  10. OK Fun with Google…

    Here’s some definitions of “multiculturalism” as found on the web:

    Clicky

    These definitions include:

    “The creative interchange of numerous ethnic and racial subcultures.”

    or this:

    “the doctrine that several different cultures (rather than one national culture) can coexist peacefully and equitably in a single country”

    or this:

    “The status of several different ethnic, racial, religious or cultural groups co-existing in harmony in the same society.”

    or this:

    “A policy based on the promotion of cultural diversity which encourages peoples of different cultural/ethnic origins to retain their own cultures, while participating as active and responsible citizens of the dominant culture.”

    So according to this, Jonathan, you ARE multiculturalist. I don’t think you’re ethnocentric, which (if I remember my studies in sociology from 20 years back well) is what the opposite of multiculturalism would be.

    Tracie the Red

  11. I believe I described the bit of London where I live as “multicultural” in a post the other day. What I mean by that is a hodge-podge where you get all sorts of different people from different countries and cultures mixed in together quite happily and all contributing to the community. So I’m with those people who’ve said they’re slightly confused here. I’m not confused, I just use the word differently, perhaps because that’s how it’s used in cheerfully multicultural Melbourne, where I’m from.

  12. Culture works a lot like the uncertainty principle. If you know where it is, you can’t know what it is and vice versa…and you will change its being and position simply by looking at it.
    What sociologists have done in pretending to be scientists is to assert that you can create a set of genralities to describe generic groups of people which are described as cultures or sub-cultures.
    Multiculturality however defined can only be used as a descriptive term of a given time and place. The problem is when politicians decide that it should be a pro-active, policy and attempt proscribe the society by ‘making it happen’. It’s a handy adjective but it should never be imagined to be a verb.

  13. Jonathan has said he is a “melting pot” hippie. I always found that image interesting – given that I see a melting pot into which your place your brick of self-identify and it is hot enough to be melted down and the liquid in the pot is WHITE hot.

    Jesse Jackson (I believe) declared that the U.S. is NOT a melting pot but a stew – where the different ingredients combine to a wonderful effect. It would seem that MP likes a stew where the flavors are all mixed.

    Interesting accidental irony of the pseudo-Elvis post below this, as Elvis is often decried in the African American community as one of the ones who “stole” black music to sell to the white audience.

  14. What I’m saying, MP, is that ironically it seems the word is used with a different meaning depending on where you’re from. Those from the UK are using it one way, those from the US & Oz are using it to mean roughly the opposite.

  15. Cathy, it’s an English word. I can’t stop the foreigners using it the wrong way but I absolutely refuse to dumb down to their level. You’ve been here 10 years now – that’s enough time to have developed the habit of looking down on the rest of the world. As it stands you probably wouldn’t pass the citizenship test.

  16. MP: I knew you were going to say that. I KNEW IT.

    I refuse to be drawn, except to say that English is an evolving language, that words change in meaning depending on when and where they’re used, and that these days it’s the US usage that generally rules … the Empire is no more, dear lad

  17. It’s nothing to do with empire. This is an English blog so English, rather than its bastardised forms, have to be the norm or there would be even more confusion than there already is.

  18. … leaving the issue of the meaning of the word aside for the moment, since it is proving divisive, I think the really important point here is that we all agree with your basic argument. In other words, you’re arguing with me even though I agree with you! (Or is that a specialty of yours?)

  19. Let me give an example of how the dominant culture sometimes overwhelms the minority culture.

    Some years ago I was participating in a national Anglican Church youth event. At the time I was serving in the Diocese of the Arctic amongst the Inuit, and I also had experience with Gwitchin and Cree cultures. In all of these cultures, it is considered to be extremely rude to interrupt. It shows total disrespect for the person you are interrupting; it shows that you are more interested in what you have to say than in listening to others.

    However, in the dominant culture in North America the conversation flows thick and fast (especially among articulate people), and often the only way to get your voice heard is to interrupt.

    We saw this in the small groups at the conference (which were of course mixed in every possible way). Without exception, all the First Nations people and Inuit were sitting silently in their small groups, and their voices were not being heard.

    Eventually we had a meeting (including those of us non-aboriginal folk who had experience in their cultures), and we then made a statement to the conference as a whole about the difficulty. After this, people were much more aware of the customs of the minority culture, and interruption went down dramatically.

    The problem with the melting pot idea is that so often the dominant culture overwhelms the others. That’s why I believe in multiculturalism.

  20. … well, I ain’t wrong. (And how could I be when, as I say, I agree with you?) But I appreciate your priestly male concern with my welfare.

    I am now going to withdraw from the discussion and stand looking serenely into the middle distance with a beatific half-smile on my face to indicate my effortless moral superiority.*

    * (Nothing at all to do with the fact that I am meant to be doing some alarmingly overdue work, as opposed to procrastinating by way of posting on this blog.)

  21. I think you are putting multiculturalism up against uniculturalism and assimilation, Tim, which I am not. I am advocating individuals choosing their own culture from what is on offer from anywhere.

  22. Of course it’s a specialty of his, Cathy. Part of his charm. Or something.

    I think a term is getting in the way of the discussion here. Even if MP in his seigneurial power chooses to use it in one way we insubordinate ex-colonists will use it in several other senses in spite of his insistence that we have it wrong. It’s what we all do.

    One of my favorite definitions is on a T-shirt of mine, and what could be more authoritative? “Multiculturalism: to see through the eyes of another culture.” Now this is using the term for a subjective, individual experience, not for a structural social reality. What I like about this is its pushing me from seeing other cultures to learning to see things from their perspective. Which I only do imperfectly, but it is an important step in transcending my inherited perceptual framework.

    The preferred terms in – brace yourselves – multicultural discussion are either stew or tossed salad as in a melting pot all individual identity is lost. A rich blend of many flavors and textures seems much more appropriate.

    What MP decries is what I see here in New Mexico in which the indigenous, Spanish, and Anglo cultures live largely parallel lives with token nods towards one another. I am much more comfortable in the cultural stew I knew in the San Francisco Bay Area. I also love choosing from the options of many cultures to define myself. I try to do so while respecting the distinctives of the cultures from which I borrow.

    OK, I’m off to lunch. Battle on, I mean, discuss, y’all.

  23. “there is good and bad in all cultures and I can see no reason why we shouldn’t all ditch the bad and share out the good.” saith MP.

    Who is to discern what the bad and good are?

  24. RE: “I can see no reason why we shouldn’t all ditch the bad and share out the good. Worse still, from a PC point of view, I believe that we should have a pick and mix attitude towards culture. We should create our own personal culture by shopping around and choosing the bits of culture that are relevant to us.”

    Please click the link below to see why playing with elements of different cultures is not advisable:

    Chief Arvol Looking Horse responds to Arizona sweat lodge deaths

    About 24 hours after he released that statement, a third person died from that botched “sweat lodge.”

    This can be dangerous, if one is messing with something that one did not grow up in and train properly for.

  25. It looks to me like the word multiculturism is best avoided – as Cathy said everyone seems to agree with the argument.

    Btw I agree with her definition, and I am born and bred this side of the water – which will no doubt classify me as ill educated

  26. For many people, a culture is their anchor to their ethnicity, history, religion and is very private. In some Jewish circles to name one many might be familiar with here, there is discussion not about how to convert people but whether doing so is allowed.

    Many tribal cultures have aspects that are so private that to betray them to outsiders is results in either banishment or physical violence. There are aspects of my Rom heritage I may not discuss. The Lakota have similar issues if different subjects ( I would guess. but never ask.)

    To the extent that some aspects of many cultures that come into the mix in places like North America or increasingly Western Europe are public and available, I am inclined to think that sharing and the process you describe which we might well call shopping is a good thing.

    The great drivers of cultural blending are not bad poems added to statues like that “give me your huddled masses” crud appended to Liberty. Rather they are sex and economics. We learn of and adopt new cultural concepts from love and trade. Or so it seems to me.

    FWIW
    jimB

  27. Well, Susie Sue, I guess honour killings and female circumcision are a bit bad and giving 10% of your wealth to charity and giving up your seat for a pregnant woman on a bus are quite good. But the choice, in the end, is up to the individual. The last thing I’m advocating is enforced culture – that’s what I’m trying to free us of.

    Of course, there will be a lot of English culture in everybody’s choices – but that just common sense.

  28. Well, d’oh, yes, Tracie. And I don’t suggest anyone not trained in the art of the matador takes up bullfighting. But I can’t be responsible for extreme stupidity. What I suggest is that you start off exploring the less suicidal aspects of other cultures. like New Orleans jazz or French cuisine.

  29. which will no doubt classify me as ill educated

    I doubt it Alan. I expect you are just being deliberately perverse (are you sure you’re not an American lesbian?)

  30. The Samaritan and the man by the side of the road were of different ethnicities and worshiped in their own ways, but that didn’t stop the Samaritan from doing an obvious good deed (and refraining from lecturing the injured man about why Samaritans are better than Jews).

    Where the rubber meets the road: Law. There should be ONE criminal and civil code per region (city, county, whatever) and ONE national court to reconcile local and national (Constitutional) law, or otherwise serve as the final appellate court.

    I don’t have problems with those Muslims who voluntarily refrain from contesting Muslim wills (which give different amounts to sons and daughters) or if some people out there have truly voluntary plural marriages, but if the plurally married start using the system to cheat on taxes, or if the original legal wife demands divorce and division of assets, there needs to be a SINGLE SECULAR legal authority applied.

  31. Just for the record…

    The Oxford English Dictionary defines multiculturalism as:

    …[t]he characteristics of a multicultural society; (also) the policy or process whereby the distinctive identities of the cultural groups within such a society are maintained or supported.

    It also adds to this definition, that culture is “the intellectual side of civilization.”

    Hah! And that, from the Holy Word, the very OED itself, the final arbiter on the most noble English language!

    😀

    I win.

    Tracie the Red

    PS: Do I admit to seeing in the Eucharist a breaking down of ethnic and racial and cultural barriers, inviting all to the table for sustenance? Or is that really cheesy?

  32. I’m old enough to remember that what many people today call “multiculturalism” used to be known as “cosmopolitanism.”

    Who was it who said, “When I hear the word ‘culture’ I reach for my gun”?

  33. I’m afraid I agree with Tim Chesterton on this one, and I have had similar experiences (though not with the Inuit).

    A real doozy of an issue right now at our college is what to do with The Hall of Fame. Our college inherited the original Hall of Fame, now ironically forgotten. It was created in 1900 and reflects the dominant ideas of the day. While great Abolitionist leaders are featured in the hall, Frederick Douglass is nowhere to be seen.
    Andrew Jackson and William Tecumseh Sherman are there, but Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, and Sitting Bull are conspicuously absent. You can only imagine how our students feel about seeing the busts of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in the Hall. You might as well raise a statue to General Custer on the Rosebud Reservation.

  34. The chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks is scathing about multiculturalism, comparing the country to being like a hotel where different people have separate rooms and never unite to build something together. For him if you live in a country together you must build it together or you risk fragmentation, prejudice and a kind of agoraphobia- keep out of my life. All opinons are seen as ring-fenced against critical appraisal – except for the underlying historical culture which is seen as colonial at best.

    Of course it may be different on the western side of the pond where whole cultures were decimated by invading hoards, including ones from this island….

    We have much to share, learn and assess from each other. Raising barriers of language and culture prevents us building something better.

    MP, as usual you are spot on mate.

  35. And as for ’empire’ – bloody Kraft taking over blessed Cadbury’s – that’s empire building.

    Grrrrr. Time for a revolution

  36. Yes, Susie Sue. In fact, I’ve just sold them OCICBW… for 4 billion dollars, a seat on the board and as much processed cheese as I can eat. See you all in Monte Carlo.

  37. Counterlight: how about a bust of Benedict Arnold at West Point?

    :exits stage left:

    Tracie the Red

  38. Processed cheese? You’re not holding out for the real stuff? MP, I’m quite surprised!

    Tracie the Red

  39. Multiculturalism is where cultures remain separate and distinct. I hate that even when they do rub along together.

    I would call that “Bad Multiculturalism” . . . and considering that the Brits invented it… ;-/

    ***

    However, in the dominant culture in North America the conversation flows thick and fast (especially among articulate people), and often the only way to get your voice heard is to interrupt.

    Interesting—I’ve got another wrinkle on it.

    In my experience, among WASPy White middle-to-upper class North Americans, interrupting is severely frowned upon [esp. in institutions such as graduate education, and especially among older authority-figures: think “The Tenured”].

    Whereas among other ethnic groups (esp. African-Americans, some Latinos, and some working-class Whites), interrupting is a perfectly acceptable means of communication (and esp. valued as a system of overturning the power of the Older, White Male Talking-Head).

    Mix these groups together and watch . . . well, I was going to say “Fireworks ensue”.

    But it’s more like “When Fire Met Ice”: kind of a continuing Cold War. The White Prof never comes out and says “SHADDUP when I, or someone else with permission is talking”. The Interrupter(s) never come out say “SCREW your ‘Permission to Talk’: I’m going to say WHAT I need to say, WHEN I need to say it. Y’all have been SHUTTING US UP for 500 years!”

    More Fire/Ice (respectively) than Light, regrettably…

  40. I am coming to this rather late but must agree with Cathy. I grew up in Australia in the 50’s when all new comers (and the original Aboriginal people) were expected to conform to the stodgy English monoculture and forget their own origins. The promotion of multiculturalism has been the greatest advance this country has had. Here multiculturalism does not mean keeping to one’s separate culture but learning and displaying one’s own culture while learning from all the others around.
    While I enjoy the foods of other cultures I must admit I only appreciate the music of western Europe of the 17th to 19th Centuries. Madpriest’s choice of music is just noise to me 🙂

  41. Thank you, Brian R … exactly what I was trying to say. Can I add that I hate stodgy English monoculture so much I came to live in the UK just so I could get infuriated by it in a really up-close-and-personal way.

  42. “Dictionary: mul·ti·cul·tur·al (mŭl’tē-kŭl’chər-əl, -tī-) adj.

    1. Of, relating to, or including several cultures.
    2. Of or relating to a social or educational theory that encourages interest in many cultures within a society rather than in only a mainstream culture.

    Origin: 1941

    During the deadliest war of the deadly twentieth century, the term multicultural emerged as an antidote to an -ism that had brought much suffering. The -ism was nationalism (1844), the insistence that one nation was superior to all others and should impose its culture on the rest of the world. The antidote was named in a book review in the New York Herald-Tribune for July 1941 applauding “a fervent sermon against nationalism, national prejudice and behavior in favor of a ‘multicultural’ way of life.” Multiculturalism (1965) meant “respect for the ways of all nations and peoples,” not just one’s own.

    After the war, the idea of being multicultural raised doubts not only about nationalism but also about imperialism and colonialism. After the brutal midcentury experience of those -isms, it was no longer easy to assume that any single culture was so superior that it justified the domination of others. The word multicultural advocated coexistence. To our north, for example, Canadians used multicultural to describe their attempt to accommodate both English and French culture and language in their commonwealth.

    In the United States, multicultural led a quiet life until it became a key word in the “culture wars” of the 1980s and 1990s. Liberals began voicing their dream of the United States as a multicultural country, one with diverse peoples and cultures drawn from all over the world, sharing a common belief in freedom and democracy. Instead of seeing the country as a melting pot (1907) cooking up a single American way of life, they celebrated diversity.

    They also began to expand the definition of culture beyond ethnicity, race, and religion to include gender and lifestyle, so that multicultural could mean “respect for different ages, sexes, physical or mental capabilities, and sexual orientations.” At an extreme, respect might even be demanded for the distinct “cultures” of vegetarians, animal rights activists, millenarians, and transvestites. For some conservatives, this was too much. They saw multiculturalism as undermining respect for our unique American ideals and way of life, for the Western Civilization from which these ideals sprang, and for “family values.” The debate continued inconclusively as the century drew to an end.”

  43. There’s a bit of the pot calling the kettle an aborigine, going on here, don’t you think, Aussie?

    You really are taking me far too seriously on that one, MP

  44. One sense of “multiculturalism” not yet identified here is the one (typically blamed on sociologists) that claims that “all cultures are equally valid” and thus one cannot judge aspects of another’s culture. This prohibition of judgment would force us all to allow and approve infibulation, infanticide, sati, and the like, just because these are part of someone’s “culture”.

    I suspect that this is the view that MP is condemning, and if so I join him.

  45. Paul A: absolutely.

    It does seem, though, if the above definition is correct, that historically the word was coined to mean the willingness to embrace other cultures sharing one’s space and happily interact with them (the US & Oz view) and that the UK has evolved a slightly different meaning that excludes interaction and suggests fear and suspicion. Intriguingly.

    Also, MP, can I point out the irony of the fact that while in debating this issue I have demonstrated the virtues of the Oz definition of multiculturalism, as I see it (allowing that a single term can evolve to have a multiplicity of meanings and graciously acknowledging the right of others to use the term in the way their culture means it, thus allowing for healthy, safe and illuminating interaction), you have demonstrated the sins of the UK definition of multiculturalism, as you see it (allowing but one definition, excluding others as wrong, permitting no discussion or deviation from the correct view as you see it, maintaining barriers, keeping the buggers out…)****

    withdraws slightly, stands looking serenely into the middle distance with a beatific half-smile to indicate effortless moral superiority

    **** for heaven’s sake please don’t bleedin’ take this seriously …

  46. RE: “One sense of “multiculturalism” not yet identified here is the one (typically blamed on sociologists) that claims that “all cultures are equally valid” and thus one cannot judge aspects of another’s culture.”

    Add to that: “…according to the standards of one’s own culture.”

    That’s how I learned it in SOC101.