Sunday, July 29, 2012

Criticism of Multiculturalism: Evidence of Racism?

Cypher
Figuring Me Out

Over at the Marmot's Hole blog, in a somewhat heated discussion on the pros and cons of multiculturalism, I posted the following as an elaboration of my point that multicultural ideology has roots in the relativism of cultural anthropology, adding a 'hypothetical' case to provoke reflection:
I acknowledge a difference between moderate and radical multiculturalism.

The former is grounded in human rights and allows for cultural critique. The latter, however, is grounded in cultural relativism (with roots in cultural anthropology), and it is not a figment of its opponents' imaginations.

I myself have met multiculturalists who would defend female circumcision as a cultural practice that we cannot criticize.

The big problem is that in our modern world, enclaves of an incompatible culture can form and grow within a society.

Imagine a culture that has its own language, its own religion, and its own laws, that subjugates women, practices female circumcision, and supports honor killings, and that considers its culture superior, insists that it be respected, and threatens violence to those who demur. I'm not saying that such a culture exists -- heaven forbid -- but if such a culture did exist, could one say that it wants the same things as other cultures?

In such a case, regardless what the larger society would want -- whether it supported radical or moderate multiculturalism -- it would have radical multiculturalism as a fact on the ground.

How would even moderate multiculturalists react in such circumstances? Would they subject such a culture to an explicit, fundamental, far-reaching critique, or would they keep quiet for fear of being called "racist," "imperialist," "xenophobic," or worse?

Fortunately, such a case is merely imaginary . . .
One of my interlocutors replied with an accusation that -- if read in its least negative construal -- misses my irony and accuses me of being dishonest, of obscuring the truth:
You are being disingenuous with this example. You know full well that the most strident opposition against multiculturalism is not about criticizing the multiculturalists' alleged complicity to FGM. No, it is about immigration and the desire to exclude darker-skinned people from entering the country.
I offered appreciation for my interlocutor's 'generous' response:
Thanks for the ad hominem, . . . which I'll accept as a gift freely given and assume that you don't expect a gift in return, for you are generous to a fault.
My interlocutor continued to attack my putative dishonesty and possible racism:
[L]et us not pretend as if THAT [opposition to FGM] is the problem that the opponents of multiculturalism are concerned about. If you are allowed to criticize multiculturalism because some crazies appropriate its good name, I can just as easily put you in the same category as the dyed-in-the-wool racists who clamor for higher walls along the border.
I saw no reason to continue the discussion with an interlocutor who refuses to engage me on a level other than name-calling, so I closed with these words, in which I reflected on my own callow views of earlier years:
I was an early supporter of multiculturalism, already speaking out in the 1980s in the States, then in Germany in the 1990s, also in Australia during the latter 1990s. Like . . . [my interlocutor], I suspected those opposed to multiculturalism of xenophobia, or even racism, but as I read more on what multiculturalists generally meant, I came to see myself as a "moderate" multiculturalist, for I didn't accept strong cultural relativism.

The difficulty that I have with . . . [my interlocutor] is not his multiculturalism, per se, but his resort to personal attacks -- accusing me of dishonesty and, implicitly, of racism -- whereas I don't think I've said anything that can reasonably be interpreted as a personal attack on [him] . . . .

Naturally, I'm disappointed, but I can't criticize [him] . . . without first being harsh on my younger self. I've learned in the past quarter-century not to make assumptions about others, to listen more carefully to what they say, and to attempt to meet their actual arguments rather than what I would prefer their arguments to be.

I suppose that's all I have to say on this subject, on this thread, anyway.
This is why I generally steer clear of such debates. They almost always degenerate into personal attacks and name-calling, regardless how courteous one tries to be, especially when one is dealing with anonymous or pseudonymous interlocutors, who need not concern themselves with preserving their own good name.

Perhaps they'll learn to listen better as they grow older . . . though we too often also grow harder of hearing with age.

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8 Comments:

At 5:54 AM, Blogger dhr said...

Imagine a culture that has its own language, its own religion, and its own laws, that subjugates women, ... and supports honor killings, and that considers its culture superior, insists that it be respected, and threatens violence to those who demur

No need to 'imagine' it: Southern Italy.

 
At 6:08 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I reckon they don't take kindly to other cultures . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:54 AM, Blogger The Sanity Inspector said...

For multiculturalists, "don't judge" is just another way of saying "don't think."

 
At 11:15 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

For multiculturalists, tolerance is the prime virtue, so it cannot be imposed on other cultures.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Thanks for the ad hominem, . . . which I'll accept as a gift freely given and assume that you don't expect a gift in return, for you are generous to a fault. "

That was a brilliantly razor-sharp retort. I hooted when I read that.

I object to the negative connotation our culture assigns the words "judge" and "judgment." Evaluation and judgment are higher order thinking skills that we use all the time to make decisions. Parents, teachers, and other adult caregivers model and teach children how to form judgments about right and wrong. Judge not lest ye be judged? Well, we are judged whether we like it or not, and we do judge. Conflicts over behavioral norms are as old as our species.

Sonagi

 
At 6:31 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Sonagi. I just wonder if my interlocutor felt the cut.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:58 PM, Blogger Eujin said...

Hi Jeffery, I'm trying to follow up your comments about multiculturalism from August 3rd of Marmot's Hole, but I can't find them. You mentioned on TMH that I should look on your blog of August 3rd but I can't find any blog entry from you for that date.

 
At 8:14 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

That's the failing of Blogger -- the program hides half of each month. But if you enter "multiculturalism" into the search function (the upper left magnifying glass), you'll find entries for the 3rd, 4th, and 5th of August (among other posts).

Jeffery Hodges

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