Saturday, October 26, 2002

Philosoblog is in the middle of a three-part series: Be a Cultural Elitist (below), The Melting Pot I, and The Melting Pot II.

The Melting Pot I

Extreme Multiculturalism is the position that a society should support a diversity of cultures within itself and should not be partial to any of them, including the predominant one. But this idea should be rejected.

If the predominant culture in a society is a decent one, then its adherents have a right to preserve it. A society is a group of people in a cooperative endeavor, be it a single endeavor, as in the case of a ski club, or the most complete of endeavors: that of living good lives. Cooperation requires shared values, standards, and norms. Therefore, a society should have only one set of moral values. It follows that it is best for a society to have only one culture. This is why extreme multiculturalism should be rejected, which means that the members of a predominant culture in a society have no duty to give support to other cultures.

You’ll notice a superficial irony in this conservative rejection of extreme multiculturalism. The rejection maintains that a people has a right to maintain its traditional culture. Why, then, shouldn’t the conservative support the maintenance of all traditional cultures? But this objection overlooks the fact that a society simply cannot function with a plurality of cultures, since its members cannot cooperate without shared values. It is precisely because a people has a right to preserve its culture that extreme multiculturalism is to be rejected. For extreme multiculturalism, by diverting resources and retraining hearts, militates against the native majority’s effort to maintain its culture. And rejecting extreme multiculturalism is consistent with allowing minority cultures to be preserved. They may be preserved in their home countries, and immigrants may return there if they so desire. If their home country prohibits this, then the loss of their culture is not the fault of their new homeland. The minority has no claim on the majority to alter its way of life to accommodate the minority’s preference. As long as the minority’s fundamental needs are looked after - liberty, food, shelter - majority rule applies.

There are two caveats to the rejection of extreme multiculturalism. First, superficial cultural pluralism is consistent with rejecting extreme multiculturalism. There is nothing wrong with falafel stands, Chinese New Year parades, or reggae bands. (In fact, one suspects that this is the degree of the depth of interest that upper-middle class, white extreme multiculturalists take in the “ethnic diversity” of their communities. They don’t condone the cutting out of little girls’ clitorises, do they?) Certain superficial cultural practices bring happiness to the immigrants who prefer them. These practices don’t militate against traditional American values. So, they should be tolerated. But there is no duty of the predominant culture to support these practices. All of its support may go to preserving its own culture, as difficult and important as that task is. Majority rule applies here. A coherent and monocultural set of superficial cultural practices makes for a healthier moral life by providing harmonious representation of the predominant moral values. A multicultural set of such practices is an aesthetico-moral cacophony signifying no values in particular. Allowing the minority the liberty to diverge from these ways is good for them and not particularly damaging to the predominant culture. But actively orchestrating an array of equally represented practices does do damage. The child of such a multicultural set of images feels nothing in particular about any set of values. He has no deeply felt allegiance to any one way of life. He has a cacophony of soul. (One suspects that this aesthetic joy ride is what the extreme multiculturalists judge to be desirable in the New Man they are designing: a person whose life is like permanent, wild college party, a “long, strange trip,” as the Grateful Dead said. There is no genuine moral argument here.)

The second caveat to the rejection of extreme multiculturalism is that the predominant culture should be open to new ideas from other cultures and to criticisms of its own. Immigrants’ cultures should be examined, and their criticisms should be considered. But this can be done full well without actively embracing those cultures as part of the host society’s cultural makeup.

With these two caveats, the rejection of extreme multiculturalism appears to be well grounded. Of course, rejecting extreme multiculturalism will undoubtedly get you called a “racist”. But rejecting extreme multiculturalism is consistent with inviting immigrants of all races to partake in the predominant culture in America. The topic has nothing to do with biological categories.

Melting Pot II will be up very soon.