"Either People Have Rights or They Have Uniforms."

At Butterflies and Wheels, Kenan Malik has a brilliant piece on the mythology of "cultural preservation." It's long and dense and well worth reading in full.

'It is in the interest of every person to be fully integrated in a cultural group’, Joseph Raz has written. But what is to be fully integrated? If a Muslim woman rejects sharia law, is she demonstrating her lack of integration? What about a Jew who doesn’t believe in the legitimacy of the Jewish State? Or a French Quebecois who speaks only English? Would Galileo have challenged the authority of the Church if he had been ‘fully integrated’ into his culture? Or Thomas Paine have supported the French Revolution? Or Salman Rushdie written The Satanic Verses? Cultures only change, societies only move forwards because many people, in Kwame Appiah’s words, ‘actively resist being fully integrated into a group’. To them ‘integration can sound like regulation, even restraint’. Far from giving voice to the voiceless, in other words, the politics of difference appears to undermine individual autonomy, reduce liberty and enforce conformity. You will speak French, you will act gay, don’t rock the cultural boat. The alternatives, the French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut suggests, are simple: ‘Either people have rights or they have uniforms; either they can legitimately free themselves from oppression… or else their culture has the last word.’

A century ago intellectuals worried about the degeneration of the race. Today we fear cultural decay. Is the notion of cultural decay any more coherent than that of racial degeneration? Cultures certainly change and develop. But what does it mean for a culture to decay? Or for an identity to be lost?... As the cultural critic Walter Benn Michaels puts it, ‘In order for a culture to be lost...it must be separable from one’s actual behaviour, and in order for it to be separable from one’s actual behaviour it must be anchorable in race.’

The logic of the preservationist argument is that every culture has a pristine form, its original state. It decays when it is not longer in that form. Like racial scientists with their idea of racial type, some modern multiculturalists appear to hold a belief in cultural type. For racial scientists, a ‘type’ was a group of human beings linked by a set of fundamental characteristics which were unique to it. Each type was separated from others by a sharp discontinuity; there was rarely any doubt as to which type an individual belonged. Each type remained constant through time. There were severe limits to how much any member of a type could drift away from the fundamental ground plan by which the type was constituted. These, of course, are the very characteristics that constitute a culture in much of today’s multiculturalism talk. Many multiculturalists, like racial scientists, have come to think of human types as fixed, unchanging entities, each defined by its special essence.

The idea of "cultural preservation" is useless partly because "culture" is such a catch-all. "I fear for the totality of all learned behaviors" is not a well articulated reason to shut the border or bribe women into pregnancy. Some behavior patterns are worth cultivating, and some are not; some are interdependent, and most are not. Preservationists have trouble individuating various behaviors, as if they were all logically connected in one anthropologic house of cards. Thus, if my cashier cannot speak English, my Second Amendment rights are doomed.

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  • ||

    The alternatives, the French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut suggests, are simple: 'Either people have rights or they have uniforms; either they can legitimately free themselves from oppression… or else their culture has the last word.'



    I like this.

  • ed||

    So simple anyone can understand it. Anyone but a priest and a politician.

  • Marcvs||

    Nah, it all just boils down to Homo Sapien's tribal instincts and fear of the "other". It was helpful back when you had to worry that the next guy from the tribe over was going to bash your brains in with a rock (it's actually still helpful for that), but now it's mostly just used to work people into a frothy anger "that they're gunna steel our jurbs!"

  • jasno||

    So what's the difference between speaking French and acting gay?

  • ||

    "I fear for the totality of all learned behaviors" is not a well articulated reason to shut the border

    Where's Mr. Nice Guy to refute this statement?

  • ||

    Multiculturalists and paleoconservatives: two sides, same coin.

  • Episiarch||

    All collectivist ideologies are idiotic, multiculturalism is no exception. It just happens to be politically acceptable right now, just like race was 100 years ago.

  • ||

    Would Galileo have challenged the authority of the Church if he had been 'fully integrated' into his culture?

    Why does this piss me off so much?

    How was Galileo not a product of his culture and therefor fully integrated?

  • ||

    Why does this piss me off so much?

    Because you are not fully integrated into the (t)Reason culture. Begone!

  • Josh||

    Multiculturalists and paleoconservatives: two sides, same coin.
    Explain?

  • zoltan||

    One can be a product of a culture and not be fully integrated. Unless you think even those people who disagree with a culture are a part of it simply because the existence of that person's beliefs rely on the existence of that culture. I would say in Galileo's case, his views were certainly not integrated into the culture, however much they were a product of them (whatever that means). I'm pretty sure his views and discoveries were products of his own mind as opposed to some hegemonic entity of culture.

  • ||

    Gallileo was not fully integrated into the culture of holding the church in highest regard no matter what. Most people were religious at the time, as shown by the immense power of the church during that period. The fact that he was persecuted implies that he was going against the grain.

  • ||

    Today we fear cultural decay.

    I do my part to help denigrate our culture by buying every episode of South Park, The Simpsons, and The Family Guy and farting in elevators.

  • glass bottom||

    Multiculturalists and paleoconservatives: two sides, same coin.

    No. Multiculturalists want a decentralized situation, with lots of different cultures living side by side within a country. Paleos want countries to have one dominant culture (in the case of the U.S., roughly, white Christian culture), to which all other groups submit.

  • Curious||

    Who decided that whatever cultures, climate, animals and national borders we had in 1960 had to stay that way in perpetuity, backed up by government force? Has anyone else noticed this?

  • Dagny T.||

    Multiculturalists and paleoconservatives: two sides, same coin.

    No. Multiculturalists want a decentralized situation, with lots of different cultures living side by side within a country. Paleos want countries to have one dominant culture (in the case of the U.S., roughly, white Christian culture), to which all other groups submit.


    Slightly different, yes. But step back and observe that both ideologies think they've found the "right" cultural agenda to enforce, organic changes & adaptations be damned.

    Like Epi pointed out above, collectivist ideologies are deeply flawed, and regardless of which end of the political spectrum, they share some particular flaws.

  • T||

    Who decided that whatever cultures, climate, animals and national borders we had in 1960 had to stay that way in perpetuity, backed up by government force? Has anyone else noticed this?

    Yeah, there's a large portion of people that are so uncomfortable with change that they want to freeze the world at some point where they imagined things were better. I think somebody wrote a book on it.

  • New World Dan||

    So we should be free to be you and me?

  • ||

    Definition of multicultural.

    How does that not describe the United States of America's society since it's founding?

    Yeah, I'm a multiculturalist. I'm an American.

  • jtuf||

    For me the key question isn't the mutability of culture, but rather the freedom to pick ones own cultural traits. A person's culture is a collection of behaviors. If one of those behaviors is peaceful, the government should allow it. If one of those behaviors involves violence against others, the government should ban it. Unfortunately, we've gone from demanding freedom in general to demanding freedom based on group affiliation. These days, if a county government randomly picked 100 people to forcibly relocate, who would protest?

  • jtuf||

    J sub D, if multiculturalism happens through free interactions, great. If a government passes subsidies and bans to preserve its preferred cultural mix, then I object.

  • ||

    These, of course, are the very characteristics that constitute a culture in much of today's multiculturalism talk. Many multiculturalists, like racial scientists, have come to think of human types as fixed, unchanging entities, each defined by its special essence.

    Holy crap, Malik said what I tried to say a week ago 4X as well as I did.

  • bernd||

    It is very easy (and fun!) to mock a wish of cautious cultural change as backwards and naïve and take the weirdest closeted racists who take culture as code for race as a straw man for a certain conservative temperament.

    Still, it should be recognized that different cultures will promote different values and achieve different results (why else is migration practically happening in one direction only?), and that a rapid influx of people belonging to a different culture can overwhelm the capacity of the culture they're moving to to assimilate them. This is even more of a problem in areas like Europe, where belief in its traditions and demands that new arrivals should assimilate is considered uncouth for PC reasons.

    In other words, yes, the fear of too rapid or outright negative cultural change is sometimes irrational or a cover for ugly feelings, but just denying any possible validity is pretty nihilist.

    "Free speech" (which I guess "free minds" alludes to, since we don't really read the contents of minds) and "free markets" are cultural values, too, and reason (thankfully) isn't shy about defending those.

  • bernd||

    Oh yeah, drink if you feel the need for my last paragraph.

    And while you're at it, make the toast to von Hayek, who didn't personally subscribe to it, but recognized the necessity for a conservative (conservative, not republican!) element and temperament to temper the unqualified drive for change that others feel (which is just as necessary as a driving force).

    (Full disclosure: I am not a conservative myself, but I find the reflexive hipness and mockery of any more cautious viewpoints here just as sickening as the LvMI crowd's "Leave it to Beaver" world view - and their grotesque overuse of 'heroic'. I read them both anyway.)

  • ||

    glass bottom said:

    No. Multiculturalists want a decentralized situation, with lots of different cultures living side by side within a country. Paleos want countries to have one dominant culture (in the case of the U.S., roughly, white Christian culture), to which all other groups submit.


    Both see "culture" as being definable, outlineable, and defendable. Neither understand the fluidity of human interaction.

  • Dagny T.||

    bernd,

    ...a wish of cautious cultural change...

    A "wish" is one thing. I wish people who ride my bus would be a little more consistent vis-a-vis their deodorant application. I sure as hell wouldn't advocate for legislation involving either of the above.

  • ||

    Because you are not fully integrated into the (t)Reason culture. Begone!

    NOOOOOO!!!!

    Please forgive me. I will do anything. All i want to be is loved by you all!

  • bernd||

    I see the right solution not so much in new laws ("Bob" knows we have too many already), but in social judgement (ostracism for anti-social activities like drug abuse and absentee parenting); repealing subsidies for same (and for unproductive immigration), ie., the welfare state; and consistently applying laws (no "culturally understandable" defense leading to eg. lenient punishment of "honor"-killings).

    None of these seem to be very popular with most defenders of multi-culti.

    Oh, yeah, and I'd make punishment for violent- and property crimes stick, which they don't anymore back in Europe. "Three strikes" like in many places in the US is a good start, if only it wouldn't be used against non-coercive/victimless offenders.

  • ||

    One can be a product of a culture and not be fully integrated. Unless you think even those people who disagree with a culture are a part of it simply because the existence of that person's beliefs rely on the existence of that culture.

    Then how do those people even exist? Did Galileo get his ideas from outside of the culture which spawned him?

    One should note that at the time of Galileo almost all cultures had institutional control of astronomy. What is distinct about the culture Galileo belonged to was that it was at least malleable enough to allow him to explore his ideas. I guess maybe i might have gone to far....i just might have implied that reason is not an international phenomena but in fact a cultural phenomena.

  • Fluffy||

    J sub D -

    I don't think there's anything at all in that definition to take issue with.

    The definition doesn't cover the full spectrum of multiculturalist ideologies, however, and completely leaves out of consideration the variant of multiculturalism being critiqued here.

    For example, a cultural situation where a modern western culture and a Stone Age tribalist culture occupied the same space might end up with the members of the tribalist culture adopting a great part of the modern culture [science, technology, industry, consumer items], while the modern culture adopted certain fragments of the tribalist culture [artistic motifs, traditional medicines, etc.]. The resulting melange of the two cultures would fit that dictionary definition, since it would be "of, relating to, reflecting, or adapted to diverse cultures".

    But multiculturalist thought, as I presently understand it, would hold that this outcome would be a great evil, and that the proper multiculturalist outcome would be for the Stone Age culture to be preserved without augmentation or change of any kind. The introduction of any modern technology, consumer items, or worldview would almost certainly be portrayed as a culturally imperialist rape of the less modern culture, and would be added to the litany of sins of modernity recited by college anthropology majors. It is important to remember that any time any group of people adopts any element of western culture, modern multiculturalists see it as a pollution of the "purity" and "authenticity" of the non-western culture, and as a crime against "diversity", because diversity cannot be maintained if cultures grow together by mutual exchange, but only if non-western cultures are held in a stasis that makes their distinctive and non-western features permanent.

  • Dagny T.||

    ...in social judgement (ostracism for anti-social activities...

    Oscracize (privately, not through gov't) away.

    Start making laws about so-called "anti-social" activities, and you get a UK-style nanny state.

    Personally, it's my belief that if natural consequences were allowed to play out (i.e., don't work, lose house, etc) there would be a lot less "social judgement" necessary.

  • Fluffy||

    Then how do those people even exist? Did Galileo get his ideas from outside of the culture which spawned him?

    Mr. Corning -

    I don't think you are using the words in the same way that the parties to the argument are using them.

    Obviously Galileo is a product of early Renaissance EuroCatholic humanist culture. In some ways he is one of its highest expressions, because he took what he had inherited and added to it in a way that has benefited everyone who came after him.

    But what's under debate is that whole "added to it" bit. If one can simultaneously be fully within one's own culture and add to or change that culture, then the arguments of the cultural preservationists are pointless. When the cultural preservationists talk about being "fully integrated" into a culture, they mean something along the lines of what Nietzsche described as "living within a horizon" in On the Use and Abuse of History for Life - and someone who is doing that would not blend elements from another culture into his own, and would not tamper with the cultural hierarchies he inherited, lest they all come crashing down around him.

    In other words, if you think it's silly to say that Galileo was not fully integrated into his own culture, you agree with the author that cultural preservationism is stupid - so much so that you're offended even by rhetorical questions that poke fun at the assumptions of that school of thought.

  • ||

    "Thus, if my cashier cannot speak English, my Second Amendment rights are doomed."


    No Kerry it just means that your cashier is probably not going to go very far in this country. It also means that if it continues we will be faced with the economic costs of not having a common language. Yes places like Quebec and Switzerland do it, but they do it because they have to. It is a real pain in the ass for people not to have a common language.

    Cultural differences are great as long as they don't get too great. Places like the Sudan and the Balkans are nothing if not diverse. We live in one of the most stable and peaceful society in history. We have been spared real ethnic or sectional bloodshed for 150 years now. There is nothing to say that will last forever. We are in now danger of becoming the Balkans right now but who is to say what it will be like in 100 years? It is not like learning to speak English is a bad thing or is not a benefit to immigrants. Further, speaking a common language integrates people. It also makes intermarriage among ethnic groups more likely. Intermarriage is one of the keys to a peaceful society because you can't try to kill each other if you can't tell who is who.

  • ||

    But multiculturalist thought, as I presently understand it, would hold that this outcome would be a great evil, and that the proper multiculturalist outcome would be for the Stone Age culture to be preserved without augmentation or change of any kind.

    And I prefer dictionary definitions. Are we instead speaking of cultural relativism, which I despise with every fiber of my rational being.

  • ||

    Boy, I screwed that link up.

    cultural relativism

    There, that's better.

  • Fluffy||

    And I prefer dictionary definitions.

    The dictionary definition is useless if it can subsume within it two opposite ideologies.

  • Fluffy||

    It also means that if it continues we will be faced with the economic costs of not having a common language. Yes places like Quebec and Switzerland do it, but they do it because they have to. It is a real pain in the ass for people not to have a common language.

    Let me ask you something:

    Which possibility do you find preferable?

    1. 100 years from now, everyone in America speaks the same language - English.

    2. 100 years from now, everyone in America speaks the same language - a Creole tongue made up of elements of both English and Spanish.

  • bernd||

    Dagny - generally, I agree with most of what you say, but I think a bit of humiliation in the morning saves "losing your house" in the evening. All I'm saying is, there should be sanctions to behaviour before you're ruined your life, and without state interference. And yeah, in Britain the ASBO system is such a failure because the cultural norms aren't there anymore. ASBOs are worn like awards in a thug culture that's pervasive in some places.

    John - nobody is born with *any* language. The Swiss generally make up for it by knowing at least two of their languages, which is actually a huge boon. They still share more or less one cultural framework, Röstigraben and such aside, and I'm skeptical whether a society can do without that. Multicultural states are not the same things as multicultural societies anyway. Libertarians of all people shouldn't confuse state and society!

  • ||

    The fact is that the Western way of life is pretty damned attractive. I was recently in Germany. The Muslim Turkish teenagers there are a study in the attractiveness of Western culture. You see all of these young Turkish girls and they will be in jeans or skirts yakking on their cell phones, but they will still have the head scarf on and the scarf is color coordinated with the outfit. And what are they doing? Cruising the streets with their friends looking for boys like every other teenager in the world. Now, I am sorry but those girls are Western. If Osama and the Wahabbist nuts in the world think that those teenagers are going to embrace radical Islam they really are delusional.

    Most people if given a choice will be seduced by the western lifestyle. You just have to make sure that he radicals in the culture do not enforce conformity through violence. The radicals know that they will lose every time if it is a free choice. That is why they do things like honor killings and commit acts of terror. It is the only way they can win. The way the West can win and to clamp down hard on the violence and do everything possible to give people the opportunity to integrate into society.

  • ||

    "Which possibility do you find preferable?

    1. 100 years from now, everyone in America speaks the same language - English.

    2. 100 years from now, everyone in America speaks the same language - a Creole tongue made up of elements of both English and Spanish."

    Option number one because so much of the rest of the world speaks English as a Laguna Franca. The English that the Chinese or Europeans are learning is not going to change to match our new pigeon spanklish. Option two would just serve to isolates from the world. Further, given the amount of mass communication today, option two is very unlikely. What is more likely is that you have an elite class of mostly Anglos who speak proper English and get all of the opportunity and a second class of Hispanics who speak piegeon spanglish and are doomed to be an underclass. Basically under option 2 we are doomed to look a lot like Mexico does today where there is an Anglo elite that speaks good Castilian and a darker lower class that speaks a more informal dialect. No thanks.

  • zoltan||

    The world already adopted English in addition to their primary (and in some cases, secondary) language. Who's to say they won't follow the US's lead again?

  • ||

    Does it really matter? American English has adopted/incorporated so may bits and pieces from so many languages, you'd need to be an etymologist to begin to sort it all out. I expect that some additional spanish words will be adopted.* Then they will be American English words. I mean, do you feel French when you say automobile?

    *I expect that that form of bastardized American English** will be the language of commerce sout of the Rio Grand as well.

    ** As if the language isn't already of doubtful heritage.

  • ||

    pigeon spanklish

    RC'z Law award-winner of the day! A two-fer! (Although I really kind of dig "spanklish" - it sounds so, I dunno, naughty.)

  • ||

    Joshua says:

    One should note that at the time of Galileo almost all cultures had institutional control of astronomy. What is distinct about the culture Galileo belonged to was that it was at least malleable enough to allow him to explore his ideas.

    ...and I agree heartily. Questioning authority is a Judeo-Christian value. Obviously, it hasn't been applied (or even tolerated) consistently, but both of those religions make heroes out of people who speak against the prevailing authority of the time. That simply does not exist at the same level in any other culture, and that, I'd wager, is one of the secrets to the West's success, if not THE secret.

  • ||

    so much so that you're offended even by rhetorical questions that poke fun at the assumptions of that school of thought.

    I guess my problem is I did not realize that the author was poking fun at the assumption that Galileo was not part of the culture he was born into.

  • Tommy||

    Than how come all the multi-cultis I work with say it is time to get rid of the white-American culture of individualism?

  • preservationist||

    Some behavior patterns are worth cultivating, and some are not; some are interdependent, and most are not. Preservationists have trouble individuating various behaviors, as if they were all logically connected in one anthropologic house of cards. Thus, if my cashier cannot speak English, my Second Amendment rights are doomed.

    I'd say cashiers in the United States not being able to speak English is a behavior not worth cultivating, regardless of any other behaviors which may or may not be dependent on it. Hey, I can individuate!

  • ||

    Than how come all the multi-cultis I work with say it is time to get rid of the white-American culture of individualism?

    Because the multi-cultis you work with are assholes?

  • ||

    Than how come all the multi-cultis I work with say it is time to get rid of the white-American culture of individualism?



    Because they're socialists? Sorry, you're going to have to do better than "people I work with."

  • zoltan||

    Questioning authority is a Judeo-Christian value.

    As long as you're adhering to someone else's authority at the same time.

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