Friday, January 28, 2011

David Round: Multiculturalism and Diversity - part 2

Part 1 of this series can be found on the NZCPR website here.

Let us begin by asking a couple of elementary questions.

First, what is so good about diversity? Is it something inherently good? The answer to that surely has to be that it is not. In an ideal world, after all, we would all surely enjoy perfect health, but that is the opposite of diversity. The reality, where some people are perfectly healthy, others are dying, and there is every shade of illness in between, is the diverse situation ~ but that is surely a bad thing. Students do not rejoice in diversity when some fail their exams and others receive low passing grades, while only a few get top marks. But that is diversity. In a (completely impossible) ideal world we would all be rich, handsome, intelligent and healthy ~ but that would mean there would be no diversity in wealth, good looks, intelligence or health.

When the disciples of diversity promote it as a desirable objective, then, they mean diversity in only one or two specific matters, matters fitting in with their own particular political and personal agendas. They are not arguing that some students should fail their exams, or that some people should be unhealthy. Indeed, multiculturalists may want other cultures here in New Zealand, but one seldom hears them arguing that the exotic homelands of those other cultures have a duty to change themselves and accept us or anyone else over there. Multiculturalism is something that we are to do here, but not something that they are to do over there. It is good for us, but not for them. Bear this in mind throughout our discussion ~ diversity is not a self-evident good, something good in itself ~ per se, as we lawyers say. Those who promote diversity in a number of specific matters do so not because it is a self-evident good (although they contrive to give the impression that it is) but because they are pursuing other goals.

A second question concerns the nature of culture. Diversity is of course equated with being ‘multicultural’, and there are plenty of people who announce that in fact New Zealand is already a ‘multicultural nation’. I have just been arguing that that is a contradiction in terms; but if we are a successful ‘multicultural nation’ already, then obviously that fact proves me wrong. So let us think a little about what exactly culture is, and how a nation’s culture manifests itself. Let us bear in mind, as we do this, that, as I say, the devotees of multiculturalism are not striving disinterestedly for the common good. They are pursuing their own agendas, and are merely attempting to disguise them in wonderful words which they hope to place beyond discussion or question.

Now a culture is, as Oxford says, ‘the distinctive customs, achievements, products, outlook, &c, of a society or group; the way of life of a society or group’. Our culture is how we live; it is the language we speak, the way we think, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the houses we live in, the games we play, the television programmes we watch, the books we read ~ not many people do read nowadays, it seems, but I throw that in for old times sake ~ it is the work we do and the recreations of our spare time ~ it is who we are and how we live. But it is how we actually live. It is not just the special occasions; it is not just the fancy dress we put on when we go to the opera, or the marae. Those homages to our historical inheritance are parts of our culture, of course, but only part. They are treasured as we treasure, perhaps, some precious old heirloom inherited from an ancestor, and properly so; but such honoured heirlooms are usually kept on the mantelpiece or in the china cabinet rather than used in daily life. I recall saying to Dr Peter Sharples of the Maori Party a year or two ago ~ here we are, Dr Sharples, in a television studio, sitting in front of television cameras ~ motor-cars and aeroplanes brought us here ~ we are wearing western clothes, and speaking English, and we will leave here and go home to comfortable modern houses with electricity and every modern convenience, back to our jobs, yours as a Member of Parliament, of course ~ this is our culture. Our lives, yours and mine, are very much the same. Our backgrounds, certainly are a little different, but there are always such differences, and actually if we compared our childhoods and lives we would find that we actually had a very considerable amount in common. Our politics, certainly, are slightly different ~ you are agitating for special privileges and advantages for your own race, I am concerned with the common good ~ but our culture, the way we live, is largely the same. And that remains the fact even if you hang a big bone fish-hook in front of your shirt and tie. That does not transform you into a member of another culture. Your claim to be of another culture simply is not true.

I maintain, then, that as a simple matter of fact the cultural diversity of New Zealand is vastly over-rated by those with axes to grind. Of course, if one chooses to see the slightest difference between people as the sign of a different culture then we have thousands of different cultures. But in any community there are always differences. In fact, most New Zealanders, whether of Maori or European descent, live in substantially the same way. One can find differences between the way a Tuhoe Maori lives in the Ureweras and the lifestyle of an Aucklander, say ~ but then, by the same token one can find equal differences between the lifestyle of the Aucklander and that of many South Islanders. Yet very few of our multiculturalists would like to admit that there is more than one culture among European New Zealanders. Michael King coined the phrase ‘pakeha culture’ to describe the way European New Zealanders live. That culture would be characterised by an easy going relaxed informality ~ by a tendency to take life easily, perhaps too easily ~ by ideas such as a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, and the equality of the sexes, a fondness for the outdoors and outdoor recreations and sport ~ by a spirit of egalitarianism and a distinct absence of racism. Our legal system and constitutional arrangements and principles are mostly English in origin, and much of our cultural inheritance is from the British Isles. But most of our ideas, anyway, and certainly the nature of how we actually live, would be shared by most New Zealanders of Maori descent. And most immigrants who come to New Zealand will soon begin to live largely as we do. Most Asian immigrants, in particular, seem to want to get on and fit in. The mere fact that they may continue to prefer rice to potatoes, say, does not necessarily mean that they are of a different culture from us. It all depends, of course, exactly how one defines culture; but I suggest that our actual cultural diversity ~ the differences in how we actually live ~ are routinely greatly exaggerated. Moreover, outside Auckland, even such diversity as Auckland may possess simply does not exist. People say that we have, say, 150 different cultures in this country ~ even if we accepted that they were in fact different cultures, it would still, usually, be more accurate to say that it is only Auckland that has that many. And, as Aucklanders need to be reminded from time to time, Auckland is not New Zealand. (I would be inclined to go further, indeed, and say that not only is Auckland not the totality of New Zealand, Auckland is actually a foreign country, and not part of New Zealand at all ~ but let that pass…)

(To be continued)

1 comment:

Paul King said...

Enjoying the development of your thesis - will look forward to the next episode!