Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Multicultural Malcontents

Recent polls show there's been a backlash to the London bombings, at least a backlash of opinion among the British, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. And some scholars are once again chiming in with at least anecdotal evidence (such as there terrorist acts) that cultural harmony heavily depends not just on tolerance but on conformity as well.

In the wake of the 9/11 airliner attacks, there was a backlash in America, too. As the frontier of terrorism encroaches closer to our homes and those of our "allies," some wonder about that great experiment of multiculturalism, the so-called "melting pot." From the working class to the ivory towers, many wonder if we can "all just get along." Everywhere cultures class within societies or nations, out comes a heretofor smouldering resentment, which then, for some, turns into angry resistence to racial, ethnic and religious minorities and cult groups wherever they are around the world.

The "melting pot" idea seems inevitable in the long run, even globally, but in the short term, multiculturalism causes such strife for a nation or culture. It does seem that for the "melting pot" idea to work, we need more melting, meaning more educated, more cosmopolitan, more secular assimilation. It seems we will have to be more alike and more cooperative to make multicultural nations and globalization work optimally and, above all, peacefully.

Ideally yes, we'd all get along (and even want to share the responsibilities and rewards of universal goals for the long term good of life on the planet). But it doesn't seem too difficult to trigger people's urges to not get along.

Tribalism - especially the tribalism of various religions, downright dangerous for millennia and disastrous for multiculturalism - tribalism seems so engrained that we shouldn't expect nationality to trump religion, at least not yet in the course of human events. (Of course I think ridding ourselves of religion and religious animosities and competitions is the answer - but how?)

We need the religious freedom to ween ourselves of religion - more, much more than we need religion itself. We need freedom FROM religion a LOT more than we need religious freedom. That's what religious freedom ought to stand for, ideally - the freedom from religion. (But of course, we must discover that for ourselves, through improved education, and this is an issue of global education. Secular wisdom, facts and realism/pragmatism are the greatest tools we've got to eradicate fundamentalism and tribalism, much more so than fascism or other means of force. We've got to be free to let go of the old tools that cause such bitter divisions.)

But for now, it seems we're still too primitive (and dependent on superstitions and faith) to make enough progress to get along optimally and peacefully.

The spread of education, equality and human rights all around the world seems surely much of the answer, but that seems more difficult than we imagine. And every act of resistence, especially violent, is a setback. Or is progress still on the march?

I may be speaking from an idealistic and paroachial perspective here, not having considered or studied this as much as others. I'd be curious to learn of others' perspectives.


At 8/05/2005 9:44 AM, Anonymous Michael Cerda said...

As I read this I can see the anti-religious bent. Education and religion aren't diametrics. You can look at the melting pot as a fondue or a stew. I am much more in favor of the stew. I want to be able to distinguish the ingredients. The fondue leads to one culture not many. What the stew requires is tolerence and respect of how other cultures work. That includes religion.

The way evolution works, and I think it's a good model for multiculturism, is that geographically dispersed populations with grow apart. You won't see a world culture until geography is a footnote.

Being a contrarian, I propose more religion rather than less. Religion gives us universial rules. If religion really followed the teachings we would not tolerate the actions of a few. I wouldn't blame the actions of the Islamic radicals on all of Islam. It's a Moslem problem that requires a Moslem solution.

-Michael Cerda

At 8/05/2005 12:49 PM, Anonymous bill stott said...

hi, lawrence,

i'm a libertarian when it comes to religion and matters of taste. i think everyone can believe what they want to so long as they don't use force or what i'll call "moral depredation" against those who disagree with them.

do i think all cultures and religions are of equal value? no, but i accept that maybe that's because they aren't to me.

am i in favor of multiculturalism? yes, this is one place where mao was right: let 1000 flowers bloom. the only "cultures" i'd work to change or shut down are those that harm children, commit crimes specified as such in the civil statues, or use force or moral depredation against people or cultures not guilty of harming children or committing crimes.

p.s. in his comment above, i find that michael cerda puts forward a view that, as i understand him, is similar to mine.

i'm sharing your query with others in hopes that they may want to offer their answers.
love, b


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