Multiculturalism, chauvinism etc.

There’s an article on the National Post by Jackson Doughart where he critiques both multiculturalism and the knee-jerk reaction against it:

The case against multiculturalism cannot be stated often or clearly enough, either from left-wing critics who see the “politics of difference” as a challenge to the universal claims of liberalism, or from right-wing ones who recognize the poisoning effects of cultural relativism upon our own sense of history, citizenship and community. I think that both of these arguments are convincing and are grounds for abandoning an ideology of self-abnegation. But there may be a danger in the pendulum swinging too far in the opposite direction, where blindly asserting the superiority of Western civilization can limit our genuine interest in the practices of others and the possibility of improving our own way of life through this inquiry. I have in mind two examples of Western cultural practices that have been criticized from an Islamic point of view, which are deserving of some attention.

He goes on to bring up Sayyid Qutb’s critique of the way in which so much of America’s productivity is chanelled towards a superficial consumer culture, as well as the Islamic critique of usury. While I don’t believe that the Islamic world offers a very appealing alternative way of life, they are at least right in denouncing our crass materialism and hedonism. Our culture is going the way of Nietzsche’s Last Man.

The upshot of this discussion is not to equalize Western and Muslim societies, or to equalize secularism and Islam, but to show that we can certainly learn things from other peoples if we keep our eyes open. Trumpeting the “West is Best” thesis, while imperative to undermining the non-judgmental status quo, may inadvertently result in an unfounded societal hubris, based on the clearly mistaken view that Western cultural practices are superior by the mere fact that they are Western. What makes the West best is not simply that is our civilization but that it has developed a social and political model best conducive to the ends of human happiness and freedom. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the West has a monopoly on the Truth, or that there is no mean between the extremes of relativism and triumphalism.

And far from favouring the “politics of difference,” the above observations suggest the need for an openness to cultural differences that the multicultural ideology cannot provide. This is because multiculturalism is predicated upon a racial and cultural determinism that can only value the superficial appearance of diversity, as opposed to a substantive openness to different ways of life. A good way to illustrate this is the way that many contemporary multiculturalists claim the legacy of Orientalist scholars, and particularly their belief that non-Western cultures are caricatured by the West for imperial purposes. But the Orientalists, and to a greater extent the early generation of cultural anthropologists, took this as a mere starting point in real scholarship about other societies, which involved actual field work, the learning of actual languages, and absorption in actual cultures. On the other hand, the advancement of multiculturalism requires only the empty, clichéd words of “equality,” “difference,” and “diversity,” instead of actual respect, which can only come from knowledge and the willingness to pass informed judgment. Instead of denying the common and civic way of life in Western liberal-democracies — which is the essential project of multiculturalism —the differences between our culture and others should prompt a climate of conversation, scholarship, and self-reflection that is well worth pining for.

The emphasis is mine, and this is key: “you’re wrong” is almost always more respectful of another person’s point of view than, “well that’s just your opinion”. The former takes the convictions of someone else seriously enough to assign it a truth value, whereas the latter deflates them to personal preference. And until you can recognize that someone’s claims are claims to the truth and hence open to judgment, you cannot begin to take their beliefs as seriously as they do.


About Josh W

Scribbler and doodler
This entry was posted in fragments of culture, Politics as Opium, Stuff other people said and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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