Wednesday, March 16, 2011


In domestic dispute
Pennsylvania man pours gasoline
in basement, sets house on fire.

Multiethnic, yes, multiracial, yes, multireligious, maybe, multicultural, no. I know, I know, the big and by far the most important news at the moment has to do with the nuclear disaster in Japan. I cannot comment on it fairly because, frankly, no matter how it turns out, I believe to continue depending upon nuclear energy plants after Chernobyl and now Fukushima is so totally insane as to be completely unfathomable. Either people in power are just insane to begin with or their desire for profit is so overwhelming they are willing to sacrifice even life on the planet for their short-term gain. I don’t even care if it is safe (which it clearly is not), there still remains the unsolved problem of nuclear waste that will be around for centuries. If President Obama truly believes these plants are safe, and continues to provide billions in taxpayer money to promote them, he is truly the Commander-in-Chief of Insanity.

So, on another topic entirely. You are probably aware that Europe is having enormous problems with immigrants and what they are calling multiculturalism. Germany, France, Belgium, and others are now admitting, or at least claiming, that multiculturalism is a failure. I don’t know what they thought would happen when they invited large numbers of immigrants into their countries, but whatever it was, it hasn’t worked very well. After WWII there was clearly a shortage of labor (and men) in these countries, as a result they allowed, even encouraged, immigrants to enter to help them. This in itself was not such a bad idea, but over the years these immigrants, not needed any longer, did not return to their places of origin. Not only that, they had brought their wives, children, and even other members of their extended families. But unlike immigrants to the U.S. they did not assimilate into their host cultures. That is, in the U.S. every wave of immigration within the space of two or three generations essentially became Americanized, recognizing American law and culture. It is true that there are rare cases of individuals still doing things that are not regarded as legal or proper in the U.S., like female circumcision, eating dogs, killing a child who (in their eyes) brought shame on the family, or becomes (again in their eyes) too Americanized (wearing jeans, using makeup, dating, etc.). But, as I say, these are rare and individual cases, and when they violate U.S. laws they are held accountable. There are no organized large groups in the U.S. trying to insist they should be able to follow Shari’a law (in spite of what a few nitwit Congresspersons or others claim). Thus we have in the U.S., however imperfect, a situation in which different ethnic and racial groups exist in relative harmony. Muslims, just like all others that came before, the Irish, the Italians, Germans, Scandinavians, and others are slowly becoming enculturated to American culture. If this were not so we would not be seeing fathers killing their daughters for becoming Americanized and so on. For the most part we also have almost unbelievable religious diversity. And even though people profess all kinds of religious beliefs, for the most part they follow American laws that are pretty generous when it comes to religious freedom. There are limits, of course, as we do not (in principle) allow polygamy, or other violations of law. Insofar as Shari'a law has a religious element this is another problem with respect to the separation of church and state.

In Europe, however, different cultural groups have not assimilated as they have in the U.S. There are large groups who believe they should be able to still follow their cultural patterns even though residing in host cultures. It is not their ethnic heritage or their race, per se, that causes the trouble, it’s their cultural practices that conflict dramatically with the host cultures. Shari’a law is simply incompatible with British or French law. Even wearing burqas or head scarves are seen as problems, let alone more serious behavior practices such as revenge killings, honor killings, child brides, and so forth. To allow immigrant groups to live in your culture while retaining their own culture patterns simply cannot succeed. I don’t believe countries like France, Germany, or England, for example, truly believed they were going to encounter this problem, most probably assuming their new citizens would assimilate. But as they haven’t they now must face the problem of what to do. The possibilities are not attractive.

This is no more than having to confront the problem of cultural relativity practically rather than theoretically. Ruth Benedict and Melville Herskovits, both famous anthropologists, were the chief architects of the doctrine of cultural relativity. They argued that customs had to be seen in their cultural context before they could be properly judged. For them, senilicide among Eskimos, for example, had to be seen as a sometimes necessity if the larger family or group was to survive. Infanticide could also be seen as a cultural necessity in certain circumstances. That is, what is regarded as right and proper in one culture was not necessarily the same in other cultures, there are no universal standards for behavior. As long as they were mostly talking about small-scale cultures around the world, usually semi-isolated and “primitive,” that they wished to both understand and protect, this was a doctrine that made at least some sense. It was also predicated on the view that cultures had to be “functional” if they were to survive, and it promoted an attempt to understand how different aspects of culture were “functionally related.”

The problem with this concept was that it basically overlooked the question of whether there were dysfunctional cultures, or dysfunctional elements in cultures. Or, more simply, were there cultural practices that were decidedly “bad,” or even “evil.” Anthropologists of the time tended to believe that all cultures were pretty much “functioning wholes” and for the most part ignored the fact that some cultures might not be of that character. It is important to note that neither Benedict nor Herskovits tried to make any excuses for Nazi Germany. There is a point where basic questions of morality cannot be ignored. Thus the problem of multiculturalism could have been predicted had anyone thought it would arise, but as nations obviously did not really think about it at all, or at least expected their immigrants to assimilate, it has rather insidiously materialized. Now that Germany and other nations have announced that multiculturalism isn’t working, solutions may be forthcoming. They will not be quick and easy or painless.

Our first and most pressing problem is how to do away with warfare as a method of solving conflicts between national groups within a society who have different views about how the society is to run.
Margaret Mead

Orson Welles did his famous radio show, “War of the Worlds” in October of 1938.

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