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Every multiculturalist is a recruiting officer for al-Qa’eda.
February 5, 2002 8:53 AM   Subscribe

Every multiculturalist is a recruiting officer for al-Qa’eda. The Spectator's cover story this week suggests that white intellectuals' posture of hatred for Western civilization is at least somewhat responsible for British Muslims' hatred of the West. Is this a revealing insight, or just a twisted blame-the-victim argument? Or both?
posted by mattpfeff (54 comments total)

 
Tilting at strawmen. Who hates who?
posted by walrus at 8:58 AM on February 5, 2002


If there's an argument buried in all of this, I can't find it. Islamic youths grow up in horrible slums but Western medicine is good, so multiculturalists are terrorist fellow-travelers. Hmmmmmm.
posted by BT at 9:08 AM on February 5, 2002


Dalrymple doesn't like it when people join the Taliban, but he seems to hate his own country's poor just as much. His suggestion is "Be Western, but don't be poor." Easier said than done.

Note to conservatives: impoverished people act like they have nothing to lose because they really DON'T. Left-slanting intellectuals aren't the ones keeping people poor-- you are with your "Why help someone when I can shit on them" attitude.
posted by Harry Hopkins' Hat at 9:10 AM on February 5, 2002


It seems that many Northern Europeans and Americans do hate their own culture, or at least adopt that pose-- think of how often 'multi-culti' has been attacked. Clearly a white contstruct, it is almost always attacked by fellow whites who hate what their own civilization has produced.

However I will say that it does make things easier on one level for someone outside of Anglo-American culture to hate it because he has allies inside of it-- but in another way it makes it harder, as the openness that he so craves/despises is embodied in its most extreme example-- someone who thinks just like he does.
posted by cell divide at 9:12 AM on February 5, 2002


Tell you what cell divide, not a "white intellectual" I know hates western culture, and many of those are pretty damn left-leaning. The honest ones will acknowledge that western culture is probably the best culture we've yet seen, but that it could be a whole lot better. That's why I think the "hate" in this article is mere projection. I realise that I don't know many white intellectual extremists, but then I have to ask myself who this article is aimed at?
posted by walrus at 9:23 AM on February 5, 2002


Yes, I am a multiculturalist, and if you sign on now with Al Quaeda I can probably get you a corner office, a signing bonus, relocation reimbursement, free beard barbering, and complimentary "Evil Doer" coffee mug.

Remember. We never submit your resume to any worthwhile terrorist organization...from the Klan to the U.S. Air Force...without your personal authorization.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 9:24 AM on February 5, 2002


That was my thought about it also. What an ugly mess. The first half of the article goes on and on about how ugly, impoverished, and culturally backwards Tipton is, and then makes the claim to the cultural superiority of Western culture. All to support a straw man attack on the "intellectual elites" that these poor, isolated, impoverished Muslim extremists were probably never exposed to. Of course, there is the obligatory praising of the "Western tradition" started by Greek philosophers. Although as multiculturalist I can say that interpretations of those Greek philosophers by Arabs such as Averroes set the stage for St. Augustine to import Aristotle into Christianity.

Of course this is all based on a straw man attack on multiculturalism which has more to do with acknowledging that genius is not the exclusive domain of the "Western tradition," and that the "Western tradition" did not develop in a cultural vacuum isolated away from everything east of the Balkans, than a hatred of the Western tradition. But for some reason suggesting that Rumi is worth reading alongside Chaucer, and Pablo Neruda worth reading alonside T. S. Elliot somehow becomes a statement that Chaucer and Elliot are worthless.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:25 AM on February 5, 2002


Actually, walrus, I was pointing out the irony of the article as the author is attacking something from his own culture, ie multiculturalism.
posted by cell divide at 9:28 AM on February 5, 2002


and perhaps it is not entirely coincidental that the three most rabidly anti-Yankee Latin American countries — Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela — are those in which the most baseball is played.

Ah ha. It's all Steinbrenner's fault.

That the phenomenal and unique inventiveness of the West might be connected in some way with its long philosophical and cultural development, going back to Ancient Greece, is a thought that is never for a moment entertained.

Trying. to. keep. open. mind.

That the cynical response of the impoverished to the culture around them is not tempered by a good reading of Herodotus is truly what is at root of our current dilemma. Philistines.

He does have points in there, though they're hidden and not terribly ground-breaking.

Anyone given only one side of the story is almost inevitably going to make poor decisions. The West has plenty to answer for, but if this is the only thesis spread, without being tempered by the ideas that being a bastard is part of the human condition (and hence there are few places better), that the West has a lot to be proud of, and that "fixing" the West is likely to be more useful than destroying it, then naturally people will act as anyone under the influence of orthodoxy.

So, take from Dalrymple that we need a balanced approach than West=Evil, destroy, rinse, repeat, and bop him on the head for having such an obvious dislike for the lower-class.
posted by apostasy at 9:32 AM on February 5, 2002


Actually, walrus

Yeah, sorry. I need a coarser trigger. I got your point, second reading.
posted by walrus at 9:33 AM on February 5, 2002


What passes as multiculturalism is usually the simplistic and extremely patronising formula:

non-white='authentic'=good

This formula is nothing more than beached-out cultural colonialism that favors the 'authentic experience' of the 'noble savage' over the 'compromised' output of the 'western' tradition.

I believe a true multi culturalist considers ALL human endeavor as equally able to be judged upon the same high standard, and that other cultural expressions do not need my affirmative action to compete.

And good to see fold-and-mutilate trolling again, with his original little agenda.
posted by evanizer at 9:37 AM on February 5, 2002


Well said, KirkJobSluder.

In my view, attacks from the right on multiculturalism, postmodernism and deconstructivism specifically, do more to expose the ignorance of the critics, many of whose hostility toward academe and the "intelligentsia" is long-standing, and needs only the slightest excuse to boil over into charges of disloyalty.

It's one thing to recognize that my government (the U.S.) has, in the past, supported and committed acts which could be defined as "terrorism." It's quite another to take the side of al Qaeda, or to suggest that the attacks were somehow justifiable.
posted by Ty Webb at 9:44 AM on February 5, 2002


you are with your "Why help someone when I can shit on them" attitude.

You said it best. I mean, who DOESN'T hate poor people! C'mon! It's fun to hate poor people by saying that they are ultimately responsible for their situation, and should work to get out of it, not receive handouts. I mean, when I go to hotels, I try extra hard to make a mess so that the stupid, poor maid has to work harder. And then I laugh at her minimum-wage plight! All in all, it's pretty damn fun, 'shitting' on the poor, as you so elegantly stated. I spend every waking hour thinking about how I can make life harder for some stupid, poor sonofabitch. That's right, because conservatives HATE poor people. Hate hate hate. I love this level of intellectual discourse. Of course, I probably totally went for your troll. Oh well.

As for the topic. Al-Qaeda doesn't get their ideals from the west, or from muliculturalists. Multiculturalism doesn't teach them anything, because they don't believe in multiculturalism as a valid philosophy, so they don't listen to muliculturalists. Multiculturalism only teaches people in the West to hate Western culture. The 'Tipton terrorists' in this example were perhaps taught in this way, but again, that does not apply to Al-Qaeda.
posted by insomnyuk at 9:47 AM on February 5, 2002


This article just represents the ideological flip-side of the arguments of Chomsky, et al, that U.S. foregin policy is to blame for 9/11. It's another form of blame the victim, and in my mind just as reprehensible. Just goes to show you that tasteless political opportunism is the stock-in-trade of extremists on both sides of the fence.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:51 AM on February 5, 2002


evanizer: c'mon. fold's responses was just funny snarking, not trolling. quite an improvement over other threads, i think.

besides, if you sign up now and list me as the referral, i get a free month at the gym and 50 extra hours of aol.
posted by lescour at 10:08 AM on February 5, 2002


Of course, I probably totally went for your troll [...] multiculturalism [...] teaches people in the West to hate Western culture.

Troll leading the troll? FWIW I think Chomsky is pretty reprehensible too. I don't want him representing "my" politics, thanks.
posted by walrus at 10:08 AM on February 5, 2002


Multiculturalism only teaches people in the West to hate Western culture.

Really? How so?
posted by cell divide at 10:11 AM on February 5, 2002


Really? How so?

I'll second that question. How is an inclusive treatment of many cultures a threat to the dominant one? This kind of reasoning is very similar to the notion that permitting women and ethnic minorities into more areas of the workforce, government, etc. is inherently threatening to white men. It's specious at best, and it's plain, mean bigotry at worst.
posted by Fenriss at 10:22 AM on February 5, 2002


venezuela is rabidely anti-yankee?
posted by signal at 10:24 AM on February 5, 2002


a) I'm an intellectual, I hang out with intellectuals, I read the work of intellectuals - yet somehow I've completely missed all the "hating of Western Civilization" that Mr. Dalrymple says is "almost mandatory."
b) I've always seen multi-culturalism as the acknowledgment that there is something worthwhile to pay attention to or learn from in all cultures. Once again I've somehow missed the hating aspect. Personally, I think it's a good thing. When I was in grade school, "world history" classes presented only Europe. It was as if the rest of the world didn't exist. I'm glad to hear that may be changing somewhat.

Perhaps Mr.Dalrymple interprets suggestions that we may not be the center of the universe and always right in all things as self-hating. Sure enough, that would drive young Muslims to terrorism - the sight of western intellectuals admitting they weren't perfect.

Just a side note, Dalrymple, claims that Western (material?) superiority is due to traditions & culture reaching back to the ancient Greeks. Modern Western & Islamic cultures may be different, but they are miles closer to each other than either one is to the Europe or Middle East of 1000 years ago.
posted by tdismukes at 10:24 AM on February 5, 2002


All in all, it's pretty damn fun, 'shitting' on the poor

I realize that you're being tongue-in-cheek, but what you must eventually admit to yourself is that you DO love having social lessers.
posted by Harry Hopkins' Hat at 10:35 AM on February 5, 2002


How is an inclusive treatment of many cultures a threat to the dominant one?

Depends on what the cultures are, I suppose. "Inclusivity" as a goal seems to me to be nonessential. Studying all cultures is a worthy attitude to take, but once you've evaluated them and found a culture to be essentially bad(by whatever your standards are), being "inclusive" about it seems to make as much sense as being inclusive with regard to poison in your diet.
posted by mw at 10:57 AM on February 5, 2002


many != all
posted by walrus at 11:00 AM on February 5, 2002


I challenge this notion of dominant culture anyway.

According to the International Database of the US Census Bureau, 84.3% of the world's population in 1998 lived in what would be categorized as 'non-western' countries or cultures. Even allowing for the influence of Western culture and media upon these countries, I would venture a guess that the notion of what constitutes a dominant culture is a very regionally specific one.

The idea of a hegemonic Western culture comes because those who criticize such a thing generally live in a western culture. But if one lived in, say, Poona, India, what would be one's perspective of cultural hegemony? Probably distinctly Indian. This idea is relative.

The agenda often pushed on people in the name of multi-culti is that 'other' cultures are somehow, as I said before, 'more authentic' and better than one's own culture. Think how racist and colonial this would sound if you flipped it around and said that children in China need to learn more about Western cultures, rather than their narrow focus on the (truly, in terms of population density) hegemonic culture of China in general and specifically, their particular region of China. It is true that Chinese (and American and South African and British etc.) children should learn about other cultures, but not in preference to their own culture. This is nothing more than cultural globalism (differentiated from economic globalism) which I think leads to the demise of rich and regionally specific cultures and traditions.

And I think that American culture is much richer and broader than either lefty academics or arch conservatives would lead you to believe.
posted by evanizer at 11:06 AM on February 5, 2002


And I think that American culture is much richer and broader than either lefty academics or arch conservatives would lead you to believe.

I agree, and I think the main reason for this is that American society is the most adaptive and, hence, most multicultural in world history. For all the right-wing caterwauling about how multiculturalism is weakening America, well, wake up Madge, you're soaking in it. We have a long way to go toward full political enfranchisement, true, but there is a reason that people keep risking death and prison to get into the U.S.

There is, however, a tendency toward equivalence in a lot of lefty PC multiculturalism that is just foolish. I think it's valuable to study the ways and lives of the Bushmen of the Kalahari (as I did in elementary school) but I don't think they have much to teach in the way of modern society, and I'm not for a minute foolish enough to romanticize their way of life as somehow "more authentic" than my own. A lot of what gets called "multiculturalism" is just an exercise in self esteem building.
posted by Ty Webb at 11:24 AM on February 5, 2002


How difficult a concept is "of, relating to, or including several cultures"?
posted by walrus at 11:32 AM on February 5, 2002


Pretty difficult.
The author's description of Tipton sure badmouths Western Civ:
"A way of life has emerged that is utterly charmless and that no sensible person would wish to emulate." He then proceeds to conclude that "Those who claim to hate and despise themselves for good and sufficient reasons will very soon enough be taken at their word by others, in the most literal sense, particularly by those who believe themselves to be in possession of an all-embracing creed."
My subculture had a song about this kind of thinking:
" ... and you know there's something happening
but you don't know what it is,
do you, Mr Jones?"

Looks like a clear case of someone busy working on ideas till he gets it right. Thesis - empirical verification - new thesis. We multicultural Westerners call this the scientific method. (Per PBS, the scientific method and algebra were big intellectual trends spreading out of Bagdad, back when they needed to figure out how to administer an empire.) Oops, was that Bagdad? Another hydra head from the axis of evil! Fetch some garlic, say a prayer, quick!
posted by sheauga at 11:35 AM on February 5, 2002


In agreement Ty Webb.

sheauga: I consider Iraq (ruling regime of) as part of that axis of evil precisely because the great legacy of Persia and the Mid East in general is now so thoroughly strangled by dictatorial and theocratic regimes, regimes which have laid ruin to and made a mockery of the centuries of previous advancements by Arabic scholars, philosophers, painters, thinkers, mathematicians, &c.
posted by evanizer at 12:02 PM on February 5, 2002


white midle dlass (or whatever) intellectuals mgith write or speak about shortcomings of West but I have not seen or heard of any fleeing it for another place, another culture. Dumb article, for sure.
posted by Postroad at 12:15 PM on February 5, 2002


I read stuff like this:

What passes as multiculturalism is usually the simplistic and extremely patronising formula:
non-white='authentic'=good


and this:

The agenda often pushed on people in the name of multi-culti is that 'other' cultures are somehow, as I said before, 'more authentic' and better than one's own culture

and I really wonder about this "often" and "usually" stuff. Not only do I doubt the idea that this is the rule rather than the exception, but I would challenge you to cite these claims actually being made by a western intellectual of any standing.
posted by rodii at 12:15 PM on February 5, 2002


I realize that you're being tongue-in-cheek, but what you must eventually admit to yourself is that you DO love having social lessers.

Well, you're probably right, because you would certainly be the authority on what I love (this is tongue in cheek, of course)

I'll second that question. How is an inclusive treatment of many cultures a threat to the dominant one?

Dominant or not, in my experience, multiculturalism inevitably leads to the criticism of American culture (not that it is undeserving of criticism, by any means), simply because multiculturalists want you to value all cultures, and some want you to hold all cultures as equal. Invariably, I have found that multiculturalists are often rabid critics of Western culture. I wish I had a decent explanation for why people act this way, but I don't.
posted by insomnyuk at 12:44 PM on February 5, 2002


multiculturalism inevitably leads to the criticism of American culture

Shock horror!

(not that it is undeserving of criticism, by any means),

Oh. So then what's your point?

simply because multiculturalists want you to value all cultures,

That's pretty incendiary stuff! Next you'll telling us some people think "all men are created equal" or some such craziness.

and some want you to hold all cultures as equal.

...I've got nothing. I've already done the faux-shock bit.

Invariably, I have found that multiculturalists are often rabid critics of Western culture.

Invariably in all your many, many years on this earth and the wide variety of your experiences, you mean? Because, I would have though, young as you are, sequestered as you are in an enclave of conservatives, you wouldn't have encountered all that many.

I wish I had a decent explanation for why people act this way, but I don't.

For there to be an explanans, there must be an explanandum. I don't believe there is one. Show me.
posted by rodii at 12:58 PM on February 5, 2002


and some want you to hold all cultures as equal.
...I've got nothing. I've already done the faux-shock bit.
This is the problem with multiculturalism. Egalitarianism. What is the supposed benefit of holding an irrational culture that results in poverty and misery as equal to a rational one that results in prosperity and happiness?
posted by mw at 1:30 PM on February 5, 2002


It's only certain people's strawmen that paint a word with a simple meaning with all sorts of vague implications.
posted by walrus at 1:41 PM on February 5, 2002


What is the supposed benefit of holding an irrational culture that results in poverty and misery as equal to a rational one that results in prosperity and happiness?

I dunno. What's the supposed benefit of holding an poor, miserable person "as equal to" a prosperous, happy one? Yet we do it all the time. "Equal" doesn't mean "equivalent" or "interchangeable"; it means that the same standards of judgement apply to both. And, perhaps, that something other than naked prejudice ("irrational culture") should be involved.
posted by rodii at 1:52 PM on February 5, 2002


Here's a darn fast multi-culturalist malignancy test. Quick, decide on {female genital mutilation} -- is it:

a) legitimate expression of quasi-religious tradition;
b) illegitimate horrifying practice from the middle ages.

Between {} one can substitute many things, such as the version for polite company, {wearing the burqa}, or {stoning homosexuals}.

The fact is that many people seem to have trouble with this point. I figured out this test for myself a number of years ago, which probably marks the beginning of my divorce from the Chomskyite left: I decided that there were some values I as a Westerner held more dear than "respect" for other cultures, especially when those other cultures cross the ocean and join my own. It was then an easy decision to feel that the Taliban were an illegitimate, fascist theocracy that was committing terrible crimes against its own people. Alas, even today on MeFi we find people longing for the "good old days" of the Taliban -- people who would cry bloody murder if a Taliban vision of social order were imposed on the United States, but feel legitimated in defending it as the "Afghan way" despite the lack of any reputable institution such as democracy or an international protectorate putting that regime in power. That's multiculturalism at its worst.

Surely it's acceptable in an academic setting to make the argument that Naguib Mahfouz should be read alongside Borges and Nabokov as a major author of the 20th century. (Heck, once upon a time letting Borges in the door might have seemed radical.) It's quite another to apply that in a political sense to the removal of all judgement of other cultures, especially when there is very often a heavy dose of judgementalism nakedly directed at Western culture. It's a curious form of self-hatred, the person who feels that Columbus day should be cancelled and the only 'rogue nation' on earth is the one flying Old Glory. If you press these people -- and I'm not speaking hypothetically, I'm talking about some of my best friends, alas -- they won't even admit that we have one of the best political and economic systems that has ever been devised, simply because we fall short of unattainable ideals. In extreme forms, you get people like John Walker Lindh. In academic forms you get people like Noam Chomsky, who goes around to American campuses peddling the notion of a self-critical America, but also goes to campuses in Pakistan and India -- not to educate the students there on how to be self-critical, but to peddle the same America-is-a-rogue-nation schtick. Pakistan and India don't have foreign policies? They don't have national interests that at times have overridden ideal forms of behavior? They've never erred in their diplomacy or economic policy? It would be nice if someone like Chomsky would indeed extend his theoretical matrix to those other peoples and foster dissent in those cultures that would, presumably, cleanse them and improve them in the same way that he claims to do for Western culture, but he doesn't. This is why some people see the essence of multi-culturalism as the removal of judgement from all but Western culture, which then bears the brunt of responsibility for everything bad that happens in the world.

Today on the radio (NPR TOTN) I heard someone express, in almost so many words, the idea that the Clinton administration was more responsible for genocide in the former Yugoslavia than the Yugoslavs themselves. Talk about topsy-turvy logic. Hell, talk about breaking the logic machine and throwing it in the trash.

Illiberal democracy of the type found in nations from Nigeria to Zimbabwe to Serbia to Iran to Russia to Uzbekistan, and looming dangerously for regions from eastern Europe to South America and Southeast Asia, is a growing problem -- yet the multiculturalist point of view refuses criticism of these failed states and points the finger instead at Western powers and Western institutions. This "permission to have no responsibility" is not healthy for the nations thus given a pass. They do not feel the pressure to reform their own institutions and create responsive, responsible governments; they remain, in a word, adolescent. This is a key basis for the growth of Islamist/Islamofascist movements such as the Taliban and their resort to terrorism as an instrument of power.

The Spectator column is crude, and not well reasoned, but it springs from the same well as Richard Ellis's strong denunciation of this trend in The Dark Side of the Left: Illiberal Egalitarianism in America, which examines this -- and possibly points to a more descriptive term, at least one more free of jargon and baggage than "multi-culturalism".
posted by dhartung at 1:55 PM on February 5, 2002


dhartung, may I say that I carefully read and finally agreed with every word you said, until the multiculturalist point of view refuses criticism of these failed states and points the finger instead at Western powers and Western institutions, although I agreed with some of the stuff you said afterwards. I consider myself a multiculturalist, and my involvement to date in this thread has been an expression of the outrage at the witless labelling I find applied to myself. Now I will stop.
posted by walrus at 2:05 PM on February 5, 2002


Dhartung, as usual, makes some excellent points. I agree with his central point which is, as I take it, the idea that what passes for 'multiculturalism' is often exploited as a way to not hold people accountable for their actions. While I believe it is important to take into account the outside influence the West has had on other nations, that should never be an excuse to exclude the essential cause of a conflict or problem. Through Dhartung's comments we can extrapolate the idea that reactionary 'multiculturalism (for lack of a better word), is a genuine problem. Just as reactionaries on the other side of the fence seek to obscure Western involvement in Eastern problems, these left-reactionaries seek to inflate Western involvement into the be-all and end-all of any conflict, thus reducing its true central players to the sidelines. Not very multicultural at all, really.
posted by cell divide at 2:17 PM on February 5, 2002


This "permission to have no responsibility" is not healthy for the nations thus given a pass. They do not feel the pressure to reform their own institutions and create responsive, responsible governments; they remain, in a word, adolescent.

Leaving aside any argument about the term "adolescent", I have to ask, dhartung, who do you think has empowered undemocratic, repressive, politically corrupt "governments" across the globe? Who backed the Pakistani generals? Who drove the Communists out of Afghanistan by fostering (instead of a democratically committed resistance) the religious extremists close to hand and arming them with the tools they would use to repress their own people?

Who has kept cosy with brutal regimes in Nigeria? What political party favored the murderous destabilization of democratically elected governments in Central and South America because of the fear of Socialism and what that would do to American business interests? What country has happily avoided the consideration that the Saud family are simple despots, because it's nice to be friendly to the chaps with the oil and the strategic location for military bases? What free-market capitalists embody the glorious values of Western culture by cheerfully buying Chinese labor-camp products?

The "permission to have no responsibility" has largely been granted by big corporations (and their powerful political advocates) and the architects (both Republican and Democrat) of American global power. Not by Chomsky or any of the nameless "multiculturalists" whom it would be a comfortable dream to blame.
posted by BT at 2:24 PM on February 5, 2002


Every death is an abrupt one / Every cop is a corrupt one / . . . Every broke muthafucka gonna form a gang / And when we come we taking everything
posted by yerfatma at 2:39 PM on February 5, 2002


Actually, the most baffling thing about the Western Tradition vs. Multiculturalist "clash" is that many of the supposed fans of Western Tradition actually loathe big chunks of it. Strictly speaking, the major figures in The Western Tradition from the Enlightenment onward all represent trends that the right loathes, including cultural relativism (a "softer" version of which emerged in the 18th c.), secularism, pluralism, contemporary socialism, etc. Hobbes, Mandeville, Locke, Hume, Smith, Rousseau, Voltaire, Mill, Marx, Darwin...
posted by thomas j wise at 2:39 PM on February 5, 2002


It seems that many Northern Europeans and Americans do hate their own culture, or at least adopt that pose-- think of how often 'multi-culti' has been attacked. Clearly a white contstruct, it is almost always attacked by fellow whites who hate what their own civilization has produced.

I think that Optamystic's comment here is germane to this thread.
posted by y2karl at 2:58 PM on February 5, 2002


Rodii, what's my point? I guess I did not go out and state my subjective opinion.

Fine. Multiculturalism, is, in my opinion, a stupid and irrational waste of time. (Multiculturalism according to my earlier definition in the thread) I think it is important to be able to distinguish between cultures that are successful and unnsuccessful (in feeding their people, for example). If I say that, for example, the culture of Afghanistan is backward, stupid, and unproductive, a multiculturalist would accuse me of hatred. "Hatred" is the buzzword used when there is no decent intellectual argument against the truth, it tugs at the heart and clouds the mind.

I just realized that there are probably 500 definitions for multiculturalism, only one of them is on dictionary.com, so I guess at this point there is no point in arguing if we can't even agree on terms.
posted by insomnyuk at 3:34 PM on February 5, 2002


"multiculturalism" has been used to mean so many to so many people that it now means exactly nothing. What's truly being argued about here is an infintesimally small group of people who are either so full of misplaced anger or so paranoid about being considered ethnocentric that they commit the kind of blinkered thinking dhartung spoke about.
These people may be a lot of things, but they are not Al Qaeda recruiters. Whoever believes that ate an extra helping of Paranoia Flakes this morning.
posted by jonmc at 3:37 PM on February 5, 2002


Based on my experience in the sort of academia in which "multiculturalism" is often touted (i.e. liberal arts), I can say that it does in fact often come with a specific agenda of tearing down "traditional" Western curricula.

For example, I took a class in "Modern Latin American History," and the theme of the class was undoubtably that America is bad, white people are bad, and everything bad that happens in Latin America is a direct result of American arrogance and greed. I wasn't surprised, because by that time I'd already taken plenty of classes, ostensibly on a variety of subjects, which were being used as springboards to invalidate western civilization in general and white American men specifically. This happened at four different universities, three in America and one in the Netherlands.

I'm not going to claim that I have a beeline on what "white intellectuals" as a whole are thinking. But I can say this: the argument against a great mass of vindictive, West-bashing, multiculturalist intellectuals is not an argument against a straw man. Many (not all, but more than you might think if you haven't been there lately, or if you majored in a hard science) liberal arts courses, at all levels, are now bent towards NOT teaching the canon, NOT helping students to appreciate why the great artists and thinkers of the past are so great, and NOT even teaching them which artists/thinkers/philosophers/schools of thought have been revered and influential, and why, whether they were right or wrong.

It's a sickness. I like Chomsky, though.
posted by bingo at 3:48 PM on February 5, 2002


but you kind of have to wonder about the west, too cuz like you'd think they'd try to embrace countries trying to express "western ideals," but oftentimes they don't.

like i don't see why iran was grouped in together with iraq and north korea as the "evil axis." here's a country trying to make democratic reforms, where the population seems to actually like the US, and then we equate them with two very repressive regimes?

i don't get it.
posted by kliuless at 4:17 PM on February 5, 2002


Where'd you go that you didn't get "the canon"? Aside from the occasional snippet of context, that's pretty much all we can teach at my campus.

Just to amuse myself, I once started surveying the course offerings at every four + year college in the country for which I could find on-line listings. I went through about, oh, two or three hundred before I stopped. The majority of them taught--guess what?--mostly courses devoted to canonical subjects. Everything else got shunted off to some little one-course ghetto somewhere. It was only once you reached the tony private colleges or major research institutions that you had heavily "non-canonical" courses.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:36 PM on February 5, 2002


“Find me the Tolstoy of the Zulus, or the Proust of the Papuans, and I would be happy to read him.”

Saul Bellow
posted by evanizer at 4:49 PM on February 5, 2002


I think it is important to be able to distinguish between cultures that are successful and unnsuccessful (in feeding their people, for example).

I think it is important to be able to distinguish between a political system, a regime, an economic system, a market, and a culture. Which one is at fault here? I have worked with people in Africa who have a vital, humane culture who live in one of those "failed nations" dhartung mentions, and who have only the most tenuous connection to the political or economic life of that nation. Should their culture be blamed for the nation's failure, or applauded for helping them survive it?

If I say that, for example, the culture of Afghanistan is backward, stupid, and unproductive, a multiculturalist would accuse me of hatred.

Well, I guess I'm a multiculturalist, and I wouldn't accuse you of that, so that's a counterexample. I might accuse you of ignorance, maybe, of the diversity that falls under the umbrella of "culture of Afghanistan", or semantic weaselling, when you really mean "government of Afghanistan" or "Pashto warlords' or whatever, or tendentiousness. But I don't actually care much about your opinion either way, because I don't think you know jack about it. So ignorance will do in this case.

* * *

I think two things are going on in this debate. One, people on both sides are using "culture" as a pawn in a game that's really about international politics. Does anyone really feel that, for instance, the fact that wedding celebrants in some parts of Pakistan have complex designs done in henna on their skin tells us anything about the "backwardness" of the nation? Any more than the fact that the US has emo kids and mullet-wearers tells us anything about the "rationality" of ours?

Second, I think that there's an idea (implict in Dan's "quiz" above) that one must take a moral position on every fact. If one declines to do this, moralists on both sides are infuriated. It's like the prescriptivism debate in language--prescriptivists seem to intuitively feel they're morally right and it drives them crazy when their "opponents" just treat culture as an empirical issue and not a moral one. In the multiculturalism debate, there are really three sides, not two: moralists on the right, moralists on the left, and a large group of people who feel that it's more valuable to have a (complex, even troubling) encounter with another culture than it is to simply take a position in a debate. You can't simply tar everyone you disgaree with with the same broad "mutliculturalist" brush, and the whole world is not going to line up in your us vs. them debate.

* * *

“Find me the Tolstoy of the Zulus, or the Proust of the Papuans, and I would be happy to read him.”

Saul Bellow


"A witty saying is not an argument."

Voltaire
posted by rodii at 5:07 PM on February 5, 2002


Oh, also: What jonmc said.

PS: Sekrit message to Jon: Danny Kirwan, Jeremy Spencer, and Peter Green.
posted by rodii at 5:10 PM on February 5, 2002


What rodii said.

Sekrit response : Roky Erickson, Syd Barrett, Skip Spence.
posted by jonmc at 5:46 PM on February 5, 2002


thomas j wise: I can't argue with your research, but I do wonder how you could tell for sure that the canon was being taught in those courses. You would think that a class like "Poets of the Romantic Period" would be a canonical class, but I found instead a professor dedicated to teaching the more obscure "overlooked" poets, mostly women, as a sort of "balance" for all the past courses that had taught Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, and Byron. There's nothing wrong with teaching poetry by women, of course, but the idea was that men had dominated the Romantic period for long enough, and now that was somehow going to be changed retroactively. A common attitude in many English departments.
posted by bingo at 6:29 PM on February 5, 2002


Actually, the most baffling thing about the Western Tradition vs. Multiculturalist "clash" is that many of the supposed fans of Western Tradition actually loathe big chunks of it. Strictly speaking, the major figures in The Western Tradition from the Enlightenment onward all represent trends that the right loathes, including cultural relativism (a "softer" version of which emerged in the 18th c.), secularism, pluralism, contemporary socialism, etc. Hobbes, Mandeville, Locke, Hume, Smith, Rousseau, Voltaire, Mill, Marx, Darwin...

I contribute this a little late, perhaps, but "yeah, what tjw said."
posted by BT at 5:48 AM on February 6, 2002


So who is this writer? "Theodore Dalrymple is the pen name of Anthony Daniels..." "Dalrymple, 52, is a psychiatrist who has practiced for a decade in a hospital in a British slum and in a nearby prison. He also is a remarkably engaging and prolific writer -- a columnist for the London Spectator, a contributor to the Daily Telegraph and a contributing editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal (www.city-journal.org)."

"Dalrymple takes readers on a tour of a suicide ward in his hospital, introducing us to the six lost souls present on a given day. 'Nothing unusual or out of the ordinary today," he chirps, "just an average trawl of social pathology, ignorance of life, and willful chasing after misery. Tomorrow is another day, but the same tide of unhappiness will lap at our doors.'

I agree with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Teresa Weaver, who concludes: "Surely nobody will ever accuse Dalrymple of being a cheery sort of fellow. But look around the streets of any city. Reality would suggest that we at least try harder to understand the causes and the consequences of all these lives spent at the bottom, or at least on the brink."
posted by Carol Anne at 6:11 AM on February 6, 2002


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