Saturday, March 12, 2011
David Round: Multiculturalism and Diversity - conclusion
But here is Neal Ascherson, writing of the communities he found around the Black Sea.
‘Peoples who live in communion with other peoples, for a hundred or a thousand years, do not always like them ~ may, in fact, have always disliked them. As individuals, ‘the others’ are not strangers but neighbours, often friends. But my sense of Black Sea life, a sad one, is that latent mistrust between different cultures is immortal.
Necessity, and sometimes fear, binds such communities together. But within that binding-strap they remain a bundle of disparate groups ~ not a helpful model for the ‘multi-ethnic society’ of our hopes and dreams. It is true that communal savagery ~ pogroms, ethnic cleansing’ in the name of some fantasy of national unity, genocide ~ has usually reached the Black Sea communities from elsewhere, an import from the interior. But when it arrives the apparent solidarity of centuries can dissolve within days or hours. The poison, upwelling from the depths, is absorbed by a single breath.’
Yet many of our cultural and leaders hope and expect to dismantle our own still-coherent, if somewhat frayed, society, and replace it with a number of squabbling and conflicting tribes. Their ‘vision’ ~ they use the word ‘vision’ to suggest that their idea is a divine or holy insight, a transcendent truth revealed to them in ecstatic revelation, rather than just the current cant unthinkingly parrotted ~ their vision is of an Aotearoa (note that the name given to our country by one of its cultures has disappeared already) of Ngati Maori, Ngati Pasifika, Ngati Pakeha, Ngati Asia, doubtless Ngati Islam as well. Have they actually thought about this? Do they actually have a brain in their heads? What would our country be like, if we were all to be classified and divided up racially, and expected, therefore, to put the interests of our own group before the common good? (It is nice to hear, at least, that in this new tribal country even white new Zealanders will, for a change, be allowed to defend and lobby for their own racial interests without being accused of racism ~ but I cannot believe that that would ever be allowed to happen.) Would this be an advance? To turn us into a land of squabbling selfish racially- or religiously-defined tribes?
Here is Wira Gardiner ~ former chief executive of Te Puni Kokiri, former Maori vice-president of the National party ~ writing in 1995 of Yugoslavia, when its bloody and sometimes genocidal disintegration was in full swing. I think I may have quoted him before, but a little repetition will do no harm. He ‘rejects the common criticism that tribalism is divisive and is holding Maori back….what we are seeing in Bosnia is a desire by Bosnians to return to ethnic roots. The Bosnians, Croats, Serbs and Muslims were forcibly placed together…The breakup of Yugoslavia shows that tribalism is not dead. Of course it is going to cause trouble. But just because it creates problems doesn’t mean that it’s wrong.’ There we are. Turning our nation into a land of warring tribes may lead to a repetition of the horrors of Yugoslavia, but that’s fine.
In any honourable principled society someone who considered the mass murder of those of different cultures, races and religions to be no more than a ‘problem’ to be accepted as part of the price of an irredentist fantasy would be shunned as we would shun a denier, or a defender, of the Holocaust. But here this man and others like him are not driven from decent society as preachers of death and engineers of destruction but are given honours and fat sinecures at our expense. The lunatics are in charge of the asylum. Gardiner has received a knighthood and has just been appointed the chairman of the board of Te Papa ~ ‘Our Place’. My place? I find it impossible to consider it to be my place when the chairman of its board is someone who thinks that genocide, including very possibly my own murder, in the pursuit of a tribal New Zealand is just a ‘problem’ that he can live with.
And how much multicultural tolerance of other cultures is he displaying?
Gardiner is also, incidentally, the husband of Hekia Parata, first time National M.P. and very recently elevated to the Cabinet by John Key.
Multiculturalism is at best a desperate attempt by a degenerate society to justify and save itself. Because of the very nature of human beings and human societies it cannot work. There is no moral reason why we should try to create a multicultural society. We are not called upon to do the impossible, and we are certainly not called upon to tear our society to pieces.
Keith Locke, among others, attempts to justify multiculturalism by speaking of the importance of creating a New Zealand culture. Well, as I have explained, and as is surely obvious, cultures are the slow gradual expressions of a people’s time and place and circumstances. They arise out of the nature of things. Their growth cannot be forced, any more than they can be imported ready-made. Besides, we have the foundations, and more than the foundations, of our own New Zealand/Kiwi/Pakeha call-it-what-you-will culture already. It has grown slowly, as cultures do, but it is here, and it is found nowhere else in the world. Why should we abandon it to create in its place a mish-mash of everything? Why not have Vietnamese culture in Vietnam, Italian culture in Italy, Afghan culture in Afghanistan, and Peruvian culture in Peru, instead of one homogenised culture everywhere? Wouldn’t that make travel overseas rather more interesting?
And why on earth would we think that politicians, of all people, should be entrusted with the formation of our identity and culture? Those people? The only person I want to be in charge of forming my culture is me, not a politician, nor an appointed cultural commissar with some really exciting stupid ideas. Quite apart from Locke’s belief that culture is capable of being created, that it is an artifice not bound by time and place and circumstances ~ quite apart from his belief that he knows what is best for the rest of us and that he has, or should have, the power to form us in his own unprepossessing image ~ quite apart from that, we have our own modest culture already. When Locke speaks of creating a culture he actually means doing away with what we have and replacing it with his own blueprint ~ and we can imagine what a dreary correct thing that is.
Locke is among those who argue that we should do away with our present national flag and replace it with a new one. The claim is that we should have a flag which ‘reflects our diversity’ as a nation. Now think about this for a second. I have already argued that our actual diversity is often exaggerated, and that excessive diversity is undesirable ~ but quite apart from that, how on earth is it possible to have a national flag which ‘reflects diversity’? Diversity is difference. The more diverse we are, the more different we are. The more different we are, the less we have in common. The less we have in common, the more difficult it is to have a flag, or anything else, which sums up and expresses what we are. Unless it is to be a crazy quilt of a hundred unrelated little squares, a flag which reflects diversity is a contradiction in terms. The cultural commissars want a national identity? Well, we have one already ~ they just want another national identity. But in fact their new identity is no identity at all, for diversity is the opposite of identity.
We are beset by many ills. We worry, quite rightly, about crime and social breakdown, about the way in which more and more of us seem to lack any sense of social responsibility or the most basic social good manners. We worry that more responsible citizens are not reproducing themselves in adequate numbers. We worry about youth suicide and tendencies towards self-destructive drinking and general behaviour. We worry about the insane materialism and consumption which tears our communities apart and is destroying the very planet we depend on for life. Now I am not going simply to blame all these ills on multiculturalism. But I shall say that these ills, although manifesting innate human tendencies, nevertheless find fertile breeding grounds where people lack an understanding of the meaning of life, of their place in the universe and their own culture and the purpose of their own existence. And this meaninglessness is an inevitable consequence of multicultural philosophy, because multiculturalism, in announcing that all cultures and attitudes and beliefs are worthy of equal respect, in fact deprives all of them of significance. If other cultures are equal to mine and as good and true as mine in what they say about how life should be lived and why, then there is nothing special about mine. Mine is not ‘true’. No-one’s is. The announcement that there are ‘many truths’ is in fact an announcement that there is none. To say that every culture is equally right is to say that they are all equally wrong. There is no meaning, then. So why should we not eat and drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die, and since there is no purpose to life at all, then partying is the only rational response? Why not consume the earth in grotesque greed? Why not kill ourselves, one way or another? Who is there to say we should not? There are no longer any voices of wisdom and authority, because multiculturalism and postmodernism have deprived them of authority. Their opinions are and cannot be ‘true’, because they are no better than anyone else’s.
Multiculturalism, then, is at least part of the foundation of the great despair which is driving our world to insanity and extinction. It may, in part, have begun as a noble quest for tolerance and understanding, but taken to its logical conclusion it is deadly; subtler in its destruction than any overt doctrine of supremacy, but deadly nonetheless. Even at its best, diversity ~ multiculturalism ~ is of its very nature incapable of being the foundation of a stable, coherent, sustainable society. Foundations ~ fundamentals ~ must be agreed upon. Variety is the spice of life ~ but a spice is not a staple, it is not the bread and butter, the meat and vegetables, the basic, even boring structures of habit and custom and law and thought which hold a society together. One cannot live on nutmeg alone.
at 9:42 AM