Today in our world a lot of emphasis is placed on how good different is – we are encouraged to celebrate pluralism while respecting our differences. We hardly question assumptions of multiculturalism as we have come to place so much belief in its veracity. A former critic of pluralism once said, “We are all multiculturalists now.” I will like to show today that while there may be in fact positives from embracing a more pluralist society, it is also dangerous and makes for a less progressive society.
The proponents of multiculturalism have always raised two questions as their fighting words. One of their go-to arguments is the fact that multiculturalism solves the conflicts between different cultures as the establishment of universal norms eventually leads to tyranny (Hartmann and Gerteis). The second argument they hold dear is the fact that humans are born with a deep need for cultural attachments. These needs can only be satisfied via a public validation of cultures. I look at both arguments and I see some flaws in them. While discussing ‘value pluralism’, Isaiah Berlin claimed that although life should be seen through many windows; those windows could very well be opaque, clear or distorting but those traits don’t make the pictures any less real. People of different cultures had different truths and beliefs that they considered valid and the fact that they may not be to another group does not make them any less valid.
This brings the flaw of pluralism to light as proponents of this idea claim that cultures cannot be universally assessed and as such a plural society cannot be said to be better. For groups to be considered as being equals their experiences and social contributions needs to be publicly recognised. Equality will only work if its yardstick for measurement is common and not plural as it is not easy to look for equality while embracing diversity (Bloemraad). There have been concerns raised about how multiculturalism could and does affect language, race, immigration and culture. When dealing with a case like immigration where practically people that are dissimilar from a native population arrive to populate an area, they are usually met with suspicion or even hostility. This hostility could be traced to the fact that the people now fear that the immigrants would compete for jobs that may have previously been available for just them. Others have worse case scenarios of these immigrants having to depend on welfare that are catered for through their own tax payments. Similar concerns arise in language, culture and race where arguments are made about how they hamper assimilation (Bloemraad).
Multiculturalism leads to indifference as it has been famously said by many proponents that while equality is good for us it might not necessarily be good for them. Although there is a propensity for culture in all humans, culture in itself is not equal. Just like in today’s world where we can say that some democracies are better fashioned than others, the same should be said about culture. Equality of culture denies man the opportunity to seek equality of man as innovation’s capacity is what separates man from other creatures.
We could look at concepts like universal values and democratic politics and see them for what they are – better than what existed previously. This is not because the European race is a superior one but because philosophies coming out of the European renaissance are better. In our world today politics is no longer seen as a vehicle of change as human beings have been known to place more emphasis on their cultural attachment as opposed to their political attachments. It is true that culture is an important part of society as we cannot live outside culture. But we should not fall into the trap of thinking that we must live inside one particular brand. As transformative beings we can change and experience progress as a result and this should be celebrated. When you now look at humans and expect them to bear specific cultures then you are denying them the opportunity to be transformed.
Many things can be seen as the seed that sowed multiculturalism and these are things like the demise of the social movement, liberation defeat in third world countries and others can be seen as the political defeat that led to what is today termed multiculturalism. You now see societies that want to create a diverse society at the expense of equality. Equality has never come easy and it took people rejecting the status quo, marching against the grain and challenging accepted practices to get it to come and it should be enjoyed and celebrated. The American writer said it well herself when she said that injustice can only be redressed by recognition of culture and not political redistribution (Nancy Fraser).
A society is termed multicultural when it has people that have various ethics and backgrounds. As we have seen from the many reasons above, multiculturalism may not be the way to go. There are those that believe that a proper multicultural society advances the level of tolerance and respect needed to succeed in such environments and these traits can eventually ensure a more stable political terrain as their members have learnt to live at peace with each other. Unfortunately, the reverse can also be true and multicultural societies that lack tolerance among members could lead to wars.
Multiculturalism should be given a chance because just like anything handled properly, multiculturalism will provide a lot of benefits if it is inculcated into the society properly. It is true that no two cultures are exactly the same and while the opponents of multiculturalism use this as a reason why multiculturalism should not be practiced the truth remains that a properly merged community with different characteristics could lead to synergy that propels human progress. While immigrants and immigration is usually painted in a bad light, they do in fact infuse the society with new sets of skills that many locals did not currently have. Some of them also bring their varied business ideas and in so doing help create a boisterous and colourful society as multiculturalism has provided food, hair and beauty and other shops that may otherwise not have existed. If you look at the sporting community in the United States for example you can see first-hand the benefits of multiculturalism. The fact that this country is always at the top of the leader board in sporting activities is as a result of multiculturalism.
In conclusion, statistics available has made it difficult to choose for or against multiculturalism as they are both wrought with pros and cons. Multiculturalism’s irony as a political process is that it undermines the value of cultural diversity. Diversity helps us to compare and contrast and see what is different from ours to others and make the judgement that we will respect them. As we understand that we wish they too would look at us with tolerance and respect. Pluralism today has come to be seen as a public good rather than a private freedom. The above traits have turned multiculturalism into what it had hoped to avoid – becoming an authoritarian outlook that lacks any human touch.
Hartmann, Douglas & Gerteis, Joseph. “Dealing with Diversity: Mapping Multiculturalism in Sociological Terms.”
American Sociological Association. 23. 2 (2005) : 218-240. pdf. http://homepage.westmont.edu/xzhang/SeniorSeminar/Readings/TheoreticalPaper/HartmannGerteis.Multiculturalism.pdf
Bloemraad, Irene. The Debate over Multiculturalism: Philosophy, Politics and Policy. Sept. 2011. Web. 25 Sept. 2013.