Monday, January 13, 2020

What Ever Happened to Multiculturalism?

In the future, people of all races, creeds, and nationalities were supposed to live and work in peace and harmony.   Obviously that didn't happen.  Actually, the opposite happened, which may have been predictable.

During the Clinton era through to the Obama era, "multiculturalism" was a big thing.   We were told that in this brave new world, we would all be accepting of people of different races and creeds, nationalities and genders (and new genders to be introduced!) and we would all live in peace and harmony, singing (and signing) "I'd like to teach the world to sing!" while holding hands and drinking Coke (or snorting it).   It was a nice dream - one that has been around for ages.   Sadly, it never quite works out that way.

During the Clinton era, there was a television program called "Star Trek - Deep Space Nine" which was a departure from previous iterations of the Star Trek franchise.  Instead of traversing the galaxy and encountering strange aliens and blasting them with phasers, this new show centered on a space station and trading post where all the peoples of the universe would mix 'n mingle, usually getting along with one another without too much friction.

Like much of Star Trek, it was an analogy of current events, although some of the characters were in somewhat poor taste. The "Ferengi" for example, were depicted as money-grubbing, large-nosed traders, which sounds an awful lot like a racist stereotype of a particular ethnic and religious group.  The Klingons, of course, were supposed to be the Russians - now tamed in later episodes - while the Romulans were the Chinese (with their Japanese cousins, the Vulcans).   It was not all that subtle.

On the television, everyone got along, celebrating each others' differences and culture, while not diluting their own.   We could respect other people's beliefs and habits, while not sacrificing any of our own individuality.   It was a nice fantasy - but that is all it was.

The reality - here on planet earth - is that when people of different cultures mix, there is an inevitable culture clash, which is why many cultures prefer not to mix.  When Japan first encountered the West, they rejected Western values, figuring correctly that if Westerners were allowed into Japan, it would degrade and dilute their own culture, and what's more, dominate it.  The example of China illustrates that they were right.  So for many years, Japan eschewed contacts with the rest of the world.   But when the finally decided to engage, they did so with a vengeance - adopting Western forms of dress and habit - and industry - to become one of the most powerful military powers in the 20th century, and one of the most powerful industrial powers in the 21st.

But getting back to multiculturalism, why didn't it work?   And why is it doomed (in my opinion) to never work?   Well, to begin with, you can't have a peace-and-love multicultural environment when one culture (or more) is predicated on eradicating all the others.   The Klingons Russians said right out, "We will bury you!" and that democracy and capitalism will be dumped on "the trash heap of history!"   It didn't work out quite that way, and it wasn't until detente and a realization that we were not about to overthrow Communism and they were not about to overthrow Capitalism that any kind of multicultural exchange could take place - as limited as it was and has been.

Some other cultures, less so.   The "revolutionary guards" of Iran are islamic revolutionaries, hell-bent on spreading islam across the world, by the sword, if necessary.  It is one reason we haven't been able to engage with Iran in a productive manner.  Yes, there are some politicians in Iran who want a more normal relationship with the rest of the world, and indeed, the average Iranian has no desire to take over the rest of the world - they are taking to the streets to protest the price of gasoline, not American imperialism.   Cheap gas - the ultimate bread and circuses.  But a small militant group, in charge of their military, thinks otherwise - and is spreading chaos and havoc across the region and indeed, across the globe.   Kind of hard to be "multicultural" with a culture whose main tenant is to wipe out all other cultures.

There is also the aspect of culture that I noted in the culture trap early on in this blog.   Many people in America assume we have no culture, as we don't have colorful native costumes to wear or traditional dances and celebrations, as many do in other parts of the world.    But of course, this isn't true - we have a culture here, but are so immersed in it that we fail to notice it.   We have our traditional holidays, celebrations, songs and dances, even if most of them are of modern origin, and not traditional.   We do have a culture, and when it changes suddenly, some folks get nervous - hence this whole "War on Christmas" nonsense - some people feel our culture really is under attack.   They even call it "culture wars" which is a bit extreme, and somewhat dangerous.

It is this influx of new cultures that has many Americans - particularly conservatives and the lower-classes - on edge.  You grow up in a small town where "multiculturalism" means you have both Catholic and Protestant churches. Maybe if your town is progressive, there is a synagogue as well - reform, of course.   New immigrants settle in your town, and they wear funny clothes.  The women are veiled, and their "church" blares poorly amplified "calls to prayer" five times a day, drowning out the carillon at the church.  They speak a foreign language and they don't look like you.   And some preach a religion of hatred - arguing that you and your kind should be wiped off the face of the earth.

Hey, what's not to like?   Of course, our country had been through this before - with each successive wave of immigration.   At one time in this country, people freaked out over Catholic immigration - convinced that the Irish and Italians (among others) were going to "take over" the country and turn it into a Papist paradise.   That never quite happened, of course.

The failure of multiculturalism isn't limited to the United States - arguably we are the most multicultural country in the world, actually.   Think about it - our European friends say they are multicultural, but if you are not blond-haired and blue-eyed in Sweden, you stand out.   If you wear a head scarf in school in France, you are asked to take it off (not so in the US!).   Most of the rest of the world is proudly mono-cultural or wants to get that way - and hence the rise of the new nationalism and the new strongman dictators, everywhere you look.   It's isn't just us and Trump.

It sort of cracks me up when I hear people from overseas criticize the US for "all that racial strife!" when the country they come from either has no races to strife with (e.g., Japan, Sweden) or sweeps their racial divides under the rug by warehousing minorities in government flats out of town (e.g., France).  But this is not a blame game, only to point out that we've tried the hardest to be multicultural, and have struggled with it - now the rest of the world is, too.

But once again, I digress.   The point is - and I did have one - is that the current push-back against multiculturalism is a worldwide phenomenon.   Modi wants to turn India into a Hindu state.  Xi wants China to be more Chinese.  Islamics across the world want to create Islamic states.   Many fundamentalist Christians in the US insist we are a "Christian Nation" or something like that.   It is not some limited or localized phenomenon, but a worldwide one.   And sadly, this seems to be a pattern in human nature - every 50 years, people go nuts over this stuff - politics or religion - and start slaughtering one another wholesale.   Seems we're about due for yet another purge.

And it will end - as all wars end - when people simply get tired of killing one another and give up.  No one really "wins" but it seems like everyone loses.   Over time, even vanquished cultures re-emerge and the whole thing starts all over again, in another 50-100 years.

I suspect that multiculturalism is - and is not - a natural condition of mankind.   We, as a species, do travel the world, trade and interact, historically.   And yet we also remain separated by language, race, religion, and culture.   And when cultures collide, there is inevitably some push-back.   This is not abnormal, any more than the desire to be multicultural is.

But in the end, multiculturalism is doomed to failure, simply because of this nasty thing called "human nature".