The fatal flaw with our society’s obsession with “multiculturalism” is that it is really nothing of the sort–there’s no anthropological searching for the best of various cultures so we can integrate them into each other’s, there’s no melding of multiple heritages to create a new and stronger fusion, and there’s certainly no understanding that these activities exist with awareness of some cultural values being more productive than others, more in line with the greater, general traditions of civilization than others.
Allan Bloom, in his spiel against relativism in The Closing of the American Mind, makes this point when he notes that only Western European civilization has ever shown any interest in exploring and investigating other cultures. What politically correct history calls colonialism, we might better call sharing and learning. Remember the scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian when the zealots indignantly ask, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” only to find themselves rattling off an ever-growing list of benefits of their unequal cultural interaction. Bloom also laments that we no longer learn foreign history or languages as well as we used to–for all the bewailed closed-mindedness of previous generations, no one can deny that they took the rest of the world far more seriously than we do now. Now, as Bloom further and incisively recognizes, all that is required is to feel good about other cultures.
This is the thorn in the side of any rational multiculturalism: this refusal to admit that not every facet of every culture is equal and deserves to be celebrated. Modern multiculturalism is no more than an extension of relativism, a mushy, muddled attempt not to celebrate the best of everything, but to placate bullies who want to enforce the celebration of their own agenda (what columnist Mark Steyn has often called “one-way multiculturalism”).
That’s the practical problem with how multiculturalism manifests itself, and why I have so little respect for it: it amounts to little more than fractured tribes banging the drum for their own culture (or, even worse, their own perception of their own culture). We end up merely with a bunch of islands of bullies, demanding respect, in the words of an old song, “singing songs and carrying signs, mostly saying ‘Hooray for our side.'”
Now this isn’t natural or permanent. There is a good kind of multiculturalism, but the first thing we would have to do to transition from where we are to where we should be would be to agree, broadly, that we will no longer listen to anyone whose “multicultural” agenda is to cow us into listening to them crow about how great they are. From now on, all aspects of multiculturalism must come from people with no physical attachment to that heritage. I’ll gladly watch a concert of African folk song and dance, but only if it’s put on by a joint band of Irish and Italian actors. Regional or ethnic music or food of any stripe will be all fine and good, as long as it comes from any other unrelated group. I can’t wait to try Cajun cooking when it comes from a Korean kitchen, or to hear a sitar played by a Native American.
There are actually many examples of such things in our world, and they should be encouraged. If we can’t grow this kind of mindset into wider application, then our worst prejudices about the limits of cultural values–ours and theirs–would be confirmed. But I don’t think that will be the case. I think we’re ready to abandon the old, limited open-mindedness–the preachy non-judgmentalism that demands we agree with it–and do the strenuous, rewarding work of sifting out the best all around us, sharing it, improving it, and enjoying it together.
With that in mind, it may be that Mexican-Irish bars really have built better bridges to understanding than all the peace committees in history. Maybe we should open some Arab-Israeli bars.