|Value freedom, not multiculturalism
||[Feb. 6th, 2011|02:16 am]
Michael L. Davenport
We used to have debates in my Science, Technology, and Values class, which I took in the Winter of 2008. One week, the debate ended up being myself versus the entire class. My stance? That long-term multiculturalism is impossible.|
"How could you not believe in multiculturalism?" the other class members said, aghast. Now, the important thing about my generation is we all grew up watching Captain Planet. Most Canadians my age have ingrained ideas about what multiculturalism is, and what our opinion of it ought to be ("it's good"). But as I told my class, "multiculturalism" isn't about a menagerie of skin colours in the same room. It's not even about eating at places like Masala Bay Or Pho Dau Bo and liking the food. In the end, multiculturalism is about value systems. Competing value systems, at that.
The problem with competing value systems is sometimes they make mutually exclusive assertions. Let me give you an example.
In most (all?) Muslim cultures, it is forbidden for a woman to be alone in public with a man who is not her husband, father, or brother. But being with other women can be okay. Now, let's say a Muslim woman is in a situation where she has to be alone with another person for lengths of time. Like, she's getting driving lessons from a driving instructor. Two people alone in a car. Well, as long as the driving instructor is a woman, we're good to go, right?
Now imagine that driving instructor wasn't born a woman. The driving instructor is a male-to-female transsexual.
The above is not some contrived situation I concocted. It actually happened, and it went down pretty much as you'd expect. As far as the driving instructor was concerned, she was a woman. But the Muslim husband of the driving student asserted he was really a man. This scenario really turns political correctness on its head, for that reason it's currently my favourite news story of all-time. If there was software for tolerance, this would be a race condition. It's the sort thing Captain Kirk would say to a computer to make it explode.
But step back and think about it for a moment: if you have one culture which separates genders at nearly every opportunity, and another culture which doesn't believe in a binary definition of gender to begin with, they are not going to mix well. At some point, we as a people will have to make a value judgment, in essence siding with one of those groups. And that's not terribly multicultural.
I think it's important to remember how the West ended up with this multiculturalism problem to begin with. We're in this position because the West is pro-freedom — which is a good thing. But somewhere recently, within my lifetime I think, the freedom-train took a nasty turn. We started out struggling with "Okay, you can eat $STRANGE_MEAT" and "Okay, you can use birth control" and "Okay, you can marry whoever you want, regardless of religion, race, and (recently) gender". But now it's more like, "Okay, we'll stop people from celebrating their birthdays if it offends you" and "Okay, you can treat women like lesser people if your religion says so." We let freedom go in the wrong direction. It might amuse you to hear me of all people say that, but it's true. To maximize freedom overall, you can't let everyone do everything they want. If you let everyone do anything, we'd all end up under someone's jackboot in pretty short order.
Or, to put it another way, today's people learned the wrong lesson from the sexism and racism of the 20th century. They don't think at all about freedom, but they've learned all about tolerance. Tolerance and multiculturalism go hand-in-hand, after all.
When I was working for Imprint, I interviewed and hired two female co-op students. Unfortunately, I was sick while I interviewed them. Thus I did not shake their hands, explicitly because I didn't want to get them sick. But one of them admitted that she had been trained about "tolerance" and interview etiquette. She was told that some men would refuse to shake her hand on the basis of her femininity, and that she should be okay with that. I say, she should not be okay with that. Nobody should practice blind tolerance; nobody should co-operate with value systems that make them subservient and hamper their own freedoms. Or, as the UW engineers say, "We don't give a damn for any damn man who don't give a damn for us."
The queer rights activists know this, even though they wouldn't say it the way I do. If you doubt me, try the following experiment: wait until a queer rights activist starts talking about homophobia somewhere in the world. Homophobia in the Middle East, the Southern US, whatever — it doesn't matter. Immediately after they've finished describing the homophobia, interject with, "But shouldn't we tolerate other cultures and values?" I dare you. I promise the next few minutes of your life will be spectacular, though probably not very much fun to live through.
And going back to Captain Planet, the planeteers weren't very tolerant either. Yes, they are from five different continents and work as a team. But try selling bottled water around them — Wheeler will immolate you.
My point here is that nations can't pick "multiculturalism" or "tolerance" as their guiding principles, because they don't help us resolve anything when value systems inevitably do clash. Those principles don't even have to be stretched far to let people "tolerate" bigotry. This is what I believe UK Prime Minister David Cameron is saying with, "We need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism."
As I said before, we have these problems in the West because we're pro-freedom. If we were a fascist nation which valued harmony instead, we wouldn't have to wrestle with problems of cultures clashing. But I wouldn't make that trade. These problems are worth solving, because freedom is a good unto itself.
One of my other arguments about the impossibility of long-term multiculturalism was this: if a culture has a thing which is good, that thing will spread. For example, nobody in Canada today thinks of drinking tea or coffee as a "multicultural event", though our forebears got both from other cultures. When every culture has the same practice, you can't call that practice "multicultural" anymore. In short, multiculturalism is possible, but it's fleeting. Transient. Perhaps ironically, maintaining long-term multiculturalism would require maintaining disparate cultures, and then routinely mixing parts of them. Which might happen anyway. Who knows.