Saturday, August 04, 2012

Philosopher Eric Mack on Multiculturalism as Cultural Relativism

Eric Mack
Professor of Philosophy
Tulane University

Having had a busy day of editing late into the evening, I don't have the requisite energy this morning to work up a profound post, so I'll just blog about other people's thinking, this time on what the philosopher Eric Mack says about multiculturalism as cultural relativism (to show I didn't invent the controversy):
Multiculturalism is, in effect, a dressed up and politicized version of cultural relativism -- the doctrine that every group has its own distinct but equally sound patterns of perception, thought, and choice. According to cultural relativism, no one can validly object to beliefs and actions of any group which reflect that group's own indigenous worldview. While cultural relativists have always claimed to be friends of tolerance -- indeed the only true friends of tolerance -- this doctrine actually implies that no one can object to any group's intolerance, if intolerance is that group's thing. Neither the cultural relativist nor the multiculturalist can object to Mayan infant sacrifice, or Spanish Inquisitional torture, or Nazi genocide because each of these practices is validated by the perspective within which it arises. To criticize indigenous intolerance or any culturally authentic practice no matter how brutal or exploitative, one must apply general, trans-cultural norms which both cultural relativism and its multicultural descendent denounce as imperialist. But multiculturalism's moral relativism precludes any such appeal and, hence, it precludes any affirmative case for tolerance.

In addition to its moral relativism, multiculturalism also proclaims (as the one great Objective Truth) that all truth, objectivity, and evidence are also relative. Each culture has its own truth, objectivity, and standards of reason and evidence. Thus, whatever beliefs any culture emits, they are validated by the fact of their emission. This, of course, precludes any rational dialogue among individuals. Each individual is merely a representative of a certain biologically defined perspective with its own idiosyncratic, but self-validating, biases. Hence, each individual must agree with members of his or her own group and be unable to make rational contact with members of other groups.

By chanting his mantra of relativism, the multiculturalist can evade honest confrontation with all intellectual challenges. Consider the argument that multiculturalism cannot support tolerance since grotesquely intolerant social orders can be as true to their distinctive ways of perceiving, cognizing, and feeling, as any other social order. According to the multiculturalist mantra, this argument itself is merely an expression of one particular perspective, the Eurocentric -- hence, linear and logocentric mode of perception and thought. Thus, this challenge, like all attempts at rational disputation, can be rejected by anyone who doesn't feel that way about it. (Eric Mack, "What Is Multiculturalism?" The Freeman, October 1996, Volume 46, Issue 10)
Professor Mack, of course, is debating this issue with opponents, and there are some advocates of multiculturalism who argue that it does not presuppose cultural relativism, but it certainly does so in its radical form, as I've maintained, and Professor Mack even supplies an anecdote demonstrating the sort of multiculturalism that he and I are critiquing:
In a campus debate a couple of years ago with an earnest multiculturalist, I strove to help her see that she could not both accept multiculturalism's relativism and continue confidently to proclaim the profound evils of various regimes. In desperation, I appealed to the instance of Hitler and Nazism. Given this relativism, I asked her, can you even assert that Hitler was evil? Well, she said after a moment of thought, I'm not valorizing him.
But also not judging him as evil, it seems. This "earnest multicultualist" is by no means rare, for as I've said, I've met some who defend genital mutilation of young girls because it's a cultural practice!

But enough for now, I've no energy for more, but go and read Mack's article . . .

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At 12:30 PM, Blogger The Sanity Inspector said...

"Don't judge" has become in modern circles "don't think". And as we sit bound and gagged, "large and awful faces" slink around the perimeter of our civilization, waiting their chance.

At 12:42 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I wonder, was Belloc using "awful" in its older sense?

Is the entire essay available online?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:02 AM, Blogger The Sanity Inspector said...

Yes, it is in his book This And That And The Other, available on google.books.

At 5:40 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, but let me enliven that link.

Jeffery Hodges

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