Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Strange Death of Multiculturalism?

Writing over at Real Clear Politics, Ian Buruma laments The Strange Death of Multiculturalism in his native Netherlands.

The ideal of multiculturalism at home was echoed with an ideology of cultural relativism abroad, especially in the 1970’s and 1980’s. This evolved stealthily into a form of moral racism which held that white Europeans deserved liberal democracy but that people of different cultures had to wait for it. African dictators might do dreadful things but somehow they did not meet with condemnation from many European intellectuals, for criticism implied cultural arrogance.

The Netherlands, where I was born, has perhaps been divided by the debate over multiculturalism more than any other country. The murder of the filmmaker Theo van Gogh two and a half years ago by an Islamist assassin has incited a wrenching debate about the country’s entrenched culture of tolerance and easy access for asylum-seekers.

Long before the arrival of Muslim guest workers in the 1960’s and 1970’s Dutch society was in a sense ‘multicultural’ in that it was already organised into Protestant, Catholic, liberal and socialist “pillars,” each with its own schools, hospitals, TV stations, papers and political parties. When guest workers from Morocco and Turkey became de facto immigrants, some began to champion the creation of an additional Muslim pillar.

But at the moment that multiculturalism’s advocates were making this suggestion, Dutch society was undergoing a dramatic transition. With secularization taking hold, the traditional pillars began to break down.

Moreover, fierce attacks on Muslims started to come from people who, raised in deeply religious families, had turned into radical leftists in the 1960’s and 1970’s. From defining themselves as anti-colonialists and anti-racists – champions of multiculturalism -- they have become fervent defenders of so-called Enlightenment values against Muslim orthodoxy. These people feared the comeback of religion; that the Protestant or Catholic oppressiveness they knew first-hand might be replaced by equally oppressive Muslim codes of conduct.

But their turn away from multiculturalism is not what prevented the emergence of a “Islamic” pillar in Dutch society. The main problem with this idea was that people from Turkey, Morocco, and the Arab countries, some deeply religious and some quite secular, and all with perceptible animosities towards each other, would never have agreed on what should constitute such a pillar.

In any case, it is now too late to create such a pillar. With the earlier pillars having collapsed, the emergence of a new one would bring about a situation where an increasingly integrated majority would be negotiating with a minority, thus perpetuating its isolation in the process.

Whether Europeans like it or not, Muslims are part of Europe. Many will not abandon their religion, so Europeans must learn to live with them and with Islam. Of course, this will be easier if Muslims come to believe that the system also works to their benefit. Liberal democracy and Islam are reconcilable. Indonesia’s current political transition from dictatorship to democracy, although no unqualified success, shows that this is achievable.


Read the rest.

Roger Kimball, writing over at The New Criterion blog, thinks that Buruma tries too hard to straddle a fence between good and evil, and he takes issue with Buruma's efforts to maintain some form of multiculturalism in a post-9/11 world:

The case of Mr. Buruma illustrates an important point: That the "openness" that liberal society rightly cherishes is not a vacuous openness to all points of view: it is not "value neutral." It need not, indeed it cannot, say Yes to all comers, to the Islamofascist who after all has his point of view, just as much as the soccer mom, who has hers. Western democratic society is rooted in a particular vision of what Aristotle called "the good for man." The question is: Do we, as a society, still have confidence in the animating values of the vision? Do we possess the requisite will to defend them? Or was Fran├žois Revel right when he said that "Democratic civilization is the first in history to blame itself because another power is trying to destroy it"? The jury is still out on those questions. How they are answered will determine the future not only of Western universities but also of that astonishing spiritual-political experiment that is Western democratic liberalism.

Not surprisingly, I think they are both missing the point.

Multiculturalism is a valuable step in human evolution, but it has degenerated into political correctness and cultural relativism, as Ken Wilber has so cogently pointed out over the years. But postmodernism has a plus side as well, and it has contributed much to our understanding of the world:

"This is where postformal developments are so important. For the pluralistic stage takes formalism and differentiates it into numerous, multiple systems, each with its own wonderful richness, color, local context, and diverse backgrounds. This is, of course, the major wave behind multiculturalism, the diversity movements, and postmodernism in general. It is responsible for being able to take multiple perspectives and appreciate all of them with sensitivity and care.

"However, as so many researchers have pointed out, if the pluralistic wave succeeds in differentiating the many cultural systems into numerous meta-systems, it cannot yet integrate them. This is why postmodernism tends to end up in mere fragmentation, alienation, and despair. Only with the next wave of consciousness development--that of the integral or holistic wave--are the numerous differentiated systems brought together into an integrated tapestry that, while honoring their important differences, sets them in an integrated context that finds unity and wholeness as well. [Wilber]


One of the ways Wilber distinguishes whether the postmodern, post-formal stage of development will go awry or not is by understanding if it is passed through as a communal stage or an agentic stage. He contends that 60% or so of those at this stage are in the communal version, which he believes results in these people getting stuck in the Mean Green Meme, or Boomeritis. Please note that Wilber is using color terminology from Spiral Dynamics in this passage -- Green is essentially a post-formal, relativist stage.

"Now I believe that such is often the case, but it is not necessarily or inherently the case. I believe the evidence strongly suggests that any stage can take on an agentic or a communal tone. If we look at the four basic structures we are talking about--concrete, formal, pluralistic, integral--there is nothing about those stages that says, this stage inherently must be agentic and this one must be communal. So here is my suggestion: every stage can be experienced in either a relatively agentic or communal fashion . And that means that green can exist in both hot and cool tones--there is both agentic green and communal green. In fact, it appears that whether a particular stage is agentic or communal depends on factors in all four quadrants . Let me give some quick examples:

"In the Upper-Right quadrant, a major contributing factor is whether you are a male or female. If you are a male, then you are more likely to experience most stages of growth with a relative emphasis on agency. When you go through the concrete stage (blue), you might be a John Wayne--a strong defender of traditional communal values, but carried out in a very strong agentic fashion! (Because SD incorrectly insists that blue is communal by nature, it is forced to say that John Wayne is 'dipping back into red' for his agentic tilt; but that is exactly what John Wayne's screen character is not : his character is humble, self-facing, never takes credit, just does his duty, fights for God and country, never complains, never draws attention to himself: he has so little red it's pathetic! What he is, is strong agentic blue , a fact SD can't account for). Of course, if you are a man with a more communal personality, then you will experience blue in a more communal way. Likewise a woman with a more agentic personality will be more individualistic at this stage, and so on. There is no biological determinism here, it is simply that biological factors in the UR quadrant have a significant hand in determining how the stages will be experienced, and that means that, on average , males will experience stages more agentically and females more communally (probably testosterone and oxytocin, but that's another topic). The point is that each stage can tilt toward agentic or communal, depending on various factors in the UR.

"Likewise, of course, with factors in the Lower-Left quadrant: one's cultural background will have a very strong say in how individuals experience the stages of development. I was talking with a friend from Japan just yesterday, and he said that his countrymen just do not have any stage that is highly agentic; it would kill most males or females to be highly individualistic. 'We have a saying: the nail that stands out, gets hammered down.' This is often thought to be why the Japanese receive so few Nobel prizes--which demand individual, creative initiative--but are so good at taking other inventions and perfecting them. Well, the point is simply that, in Japan, all of the stages tend to have a strongly communal tone to them. Put it this way: orange in Japan is as communal as blue in America; moreover, according to my friend, the social herd pressure at orange is just as strong as it is at blue--there is very little 'alternating' going on here because the LL quadrant is so powerful in Japan.

"Look now at some of the factors in the Lower-Right quadrant: the social system itself--and especially the techno-economic base--can exert a profound influence on whether a stage will be experienced agentically or communally. Foraging, herding, industrial, and informational bases select strongly for agency; horticultural, agrarian, and maritime, more for communal. Horticultural red is actually very communal, herding red is flamingly agentic.

"Well, perhaps you see my point. I do not believe that there is anything inherent in the cognitive basic structures of a stage that says this stage must in all ways be agentic or must be communal. The relative strength of agency and communion at every stage is a product of factors in all four quadrants--intentional, behavioral, social, and cultural.

"Now this implies the following: because of factors in all four quadrants, the pluralistic stage in this country has been largely experienced as a communalistic stage, and SD has described that stage fairly accurately as the green meme. HOWEVER, many people--I would say, based on deductions from Paul Ray's research, about 40% of those who go through the pluralistic level--experience that pluralistic level in strongly individualistic terms. In other words, they don't go through a communal green-pluralism but an agentic green-pluralism. Not cool green, but hot green; not self-sacrificing but self-assertive; not politically correct, but politically individualistic. Both agentic and communal green are still pluralistic (they both share the same basic level of consciousness, which is postformal pluralistic-relative), but agentic is individual-emphasizing and communal is group-emphasizing. These agentic folks are exactly the second-tier people who read SD and say, 'I don't have a green bone in my body--I did not go thru a green stage!' These are the folks that led Jenny to question, correctly, whether the green meme--as described by SD--is a real stage (and she's right: no, it isn't. But the pluralistic stage is. In other words, cool green--which is the ONLY green for SD--is not a universal stage, because there is also hot green. Thus, everybody goes through green, but it can be either cool or hot, depending on the four quadrants. The pluralistic green wave is universal, but neither cool green nor hot green is. So you can indeed get to second tier without ever going through cool green.)


If Wilber is correct, and many people feel is not, pathological postmodernism is largely communal, or culturally based, while healthy postmodernism is more agentic and individually based. Personally, I think he gets into trouble here by applying gender tags to each version (communal = female / agentic = male), but that's his cross to bear. I might be risking some serious flaming here, but in this formulation Wilber appears to be promulgating the patripsyche (an internalized form of patriarchal values that tends to reject feminine values).

If we look at the idea of multiculturalism (MC from now on), and its possible death, with all this information in mind, then I think we can begin to see both why multiculturalism might be in trouble, and why we need to transcend and include its best offerings.

Communal MC is what most people are rejecting when they reject MC as too relativist and too inclusive (an inclusivity that blames itself for other's pain -- and inherently threatens its own existence by neglecting to respect hierarchies for anything, but especially for value systems that want to destroy it). But it is also communal MC or postmodernism that brought us the feminist movement, racial equality, environmentalism, and a whole list of other communal values -- so I think it's hard to argue that it's all about communal MC being bad.

Agentic MC is not subject to these problems, supposedly, but is much more individualistic. As Wilber says, "not self-sacrificing but self-assertive; not politically correct, but politically individualistic." If Wilber is right about this, America -- with its powerful respect for individualism and autonomy -- ought not be subject to communal MC pathologies, but as he has so often pointed out, it is. This is true especially in the academic world and in radical Leftist politics.

So, then, the question is: Does the academic environment foster a communal mindset or does it reward those who already possess it? Most would agree that radical Leftist politics attracts those who already possess a communal mindset, especially as a result of its reliance on Marxist, socialist ideals.

I think the communal / agentic split is a red herring.

While Buruma laments the decline of multiculturalism in his own nation, and rightfully so since it appears that it is being rejected wholesale and not transcended into a more integral understanding, many in this country applaud the decline of MC's influence in the university.

Integral theory argues that postmodernism (or post-formalism) is a necessary developmental stage. We needed to get to a point where we could differentiate the multitude of different systems of thought and values -- but that it gets into trouble when it tries to see all of them as equal. The next, more integral developmental stage sees and values all the different systems, but it can also recognize ones that are pathological from ones that are healthy -- MC fails in this area.

We need not regress into a dogmatic, ethnocentric defense of our own values systems as a reaction against the failures of MC, as Buruma fears is happening in the Netherlands, and as Kimball seems to argue for (though it's not exactly clear if he wants to regress into ethnocentrism or transcend MC, but my sense is the former).

We can certainly intellectualize a more integral understanding of what must replace MC both culturally and academically, and that is the first step toward internalizing a more integral worldview. More people need to speak against the regression into ethnocentric values that is happening in Europe and in the United States, but we must also speak for a post-MC worldview that is capable of recognizing that some value systems are pathological and must be contained (how we contain them is another discussion).


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