Sunday, February 6, 2011
David Round: Multiculturalism and Diversity - part 3
When a handful of people from some utterly foreign country come to New Zealand, they simply cannot live as they used to in their native land. In the long run, for example, they simply will not manage without learning to speak English. Even the Maori language is ~ inevitably ~ dying out as English advances. Festivals that had meaning in another country have no relevance here ~ they may still be observed, but it requires a particular effort. The clothing ~ ‘costume’ as we exotically refer to it ~ of those other countries, designed for that climate, is unlikely to be appropriate here. The newcomers are in a new strange society ~ the customs and social arrangements of their home countries simply do not fit here. It is simply not accurate to speak of these foreign cultures as now being resident in New Zealand. A handful of Cambodians or Afghans or Iranians, let us say, come here. Many of them will try, understandably, to preserve and remember all sorts of things to do with their homeland. But it simply does not work here. As I say, it does not fit. They could establish their culture here only if they could bring their whole country, or at the very least a very large number of their countrymen, in order to form a real living community. Less than that, and they form not a culture but a disconnected remnant without any meaning here and with no chance of long term survival. A culture does not become resident and living in this country simply because a few people from that culture choose to come and live here. Culture is more profound than a few picturesque details. Cultures cannot be collected and boasted about as one collects stamps. The number of real cultures a country has cannot be calculated merely by reference to the number of its ethnic restaurants.
It follows from what I have said that we New Zealanders have our own culture already. We may not realise this, because ones own culture, like the air one breathes, like the water fish swim in, is so much a part of us that we do not notice it. To us, ‘culture’ is something that exotic foreigners have, whereas we are culturally bereft. New Zealanders were once accused of having a ‘cultural cringe’, feeling inferior to the mighty civilisation of Europe, and specifically of Britain. Well, national characteristics do not disappear just like that, and we have our cringe still ~ the only difference is that now, instead of feeling inferior to the highest expressions of our own civilisation, we cringe instead before all foreign and primitive cultures. There is something of an intellectual tradition here ~ the myth of the ‘noble savage’, so popular in the eighteenth century, has taken on fresh life in our own.
Wherever there is life there is culture. Our culture now is certainly less distinct than it was in the days of the pioneers; now we share largely in an international urban commercial culture, the shallow anonymous rootless culture of television programmes, casual relationships, a money economy, a loss of vital links to the earth and our ancestors and a loss of spiritual meaning. It is, I agree, not always a pretty sight, for all that it has brought many freedoms, pleasures and conveniences with it. We must be honest and admit that a part of the attraction of other cultures lies in the fact that they often display many of the good qualities ~ family and social solidarity, religious understanding, and cherishing of ancestral heritage ~ which we have lost in our own. We might add, though, not only that the loss of these things is to some extent, anyway, sadly inevitable in the kind of world we inhabit, but also that (to generalise) it tends to be the very people who, in the name of freedom and self-expression, are so keen to decry and tear down these things in our own culture, who are also the keenest to worship them elsewhere.
Everything comes at a price. The price of the great freedoms which we enjoy in our lives is inevitably a loss of social cohesion and inherited tradition. That is the inescapable mature of things. The two things are the two sides of the same coin. Tradition, history, the weight of the centuries, the expectations of family and ancestors ~ these are ‘culture’ but they are also heavy burdens. Indeed, they are burdens that many immigrants would escape if they could. This is worth bearing in mind ~ not every immigrant to a new country necessarily wants to continue to be immersed in his old culture. Few, doubtless, would like to lose every last link, but many actively desire to embrace our own culture’s immense freedom from the burdens of family, ancestors, tradition and the past. (Indeed, more than once I have heard it remarked that young Chinese immigrants to New Zealand are quite keen to maintain age limits on immigrants so that their old parents cannot come here also.)
And in the same way, as I say, many of those of us loudest in their praise of other people’s ancestral cultures are at the same time the keenest to escape from the restrictions and obligations of their own. Their praise of other cultures is in part a back-handed apology for their participation in the destruction of their own. They have usually never been very interested in their own, except as something to be rebelled against as a matter of principle.
There are, very often, some unattractive personal agendas operating among the mindless supporters of multiculturalism and large-scale immigration. It is perfectly reasonable to point this out. Any of us with doubts about immigration from other cultures are regularly labelled as racists and xenophobes ~ the Race Relations Commissioner will publicly condemn us without even having received a complaint or properly studying what exactly it was that we said ~ so it is only fair, as well as being far more accurate, to apply some of the goose’s sauce to the gander. I am generalising, of course, but many of the pro-diversity multiculturalists display not just a profound ignorance of the riches of their own ancestral culture, but an actual hatred of it, and most certainly a complete lack of any desire to learn anything about it. They know already that it has all been intellectually and morally and spiritually bankrupt from the beginning, not nearly as wonderful of some other culture about which, as it happens, they are actually just as ignorant. It is curious that an age and class which so condemns guilt as destructive and unhealthy is at the same time so consumed by it. They have a seriously self-loathing inferiority complex; and at the same time, by way of compensation, an (entirely misguided) belief in their own superiority. This latter belief arises from several sources. Knowing how bad we are, they therefore consider themselves wiser and more perceptive. They will, very often, have travelled overseas ~ just like everyone else, of course, but somehow they very easily assume that anyone who disagrees with them has never been overseas ~ have you noticed? They do enjoy dropping mentions of their travels in exotic places into the conversation. A generation ago they would be the ones boring us at slide evenings. They enjoy the opportunity to pose as people of superior virtue ~ tolerant, broadminded people ~ who are therefore entitled to despise us as they give us their high-minded lectures about how awful we are, and how really New Zealand would be so much better a place if only we were more like them. Their entirely unjustified assumption of moral superiority is one of their most irritating characteristics. But as my old grandmother used to say, self-praise is no recommendation. And lurking behind even all these things we can often detect relics of adolescent rebellion. They do not, most of the time, really love the other cultures they wish to import here. If you manage to quiz them about, oh, let’s say, female oppression, they will, after much wriggling, usually admit that no, they are not in favour of it. Then why introduce these cultures and such practices here? Ah well. They wish to import them not because they really approve of them ~ but because their parents did not. Their attitude is yet another slap in the face for poor old Mum and Dad. Rub the noses of the older generation, and all those conservative people, in the grease of diversity ~ that will teach them.
This is not a good justification for policy. Poor old Mum and Dad indeed. Good decent people ~ what did they do wrong, to have such weird, angry offspring? What a sick age, that this should be the spirit of the times.
(To be continued)
at 10:53 PM