Multiculturalism, in its normative understanding, can basically be defined as the belief that every culture is of inherently worth or value. I’ve heard it said that subscribing to this belief is basically what keeps a homogenous society stable and its citizens from killing one another, with those proposing such an idea often offering The United States of America as their prime example. Certainly the example is a faulty one if the need to distinguish between hate crimes and non-hate crimes is any indication. It is also a faulty example if one considers the proclivity of equal rights proponents – be they American or otherwise – to demand rights for or protections of certain populations within other countries or cultures.
For example, as of this writing, crimes in India over the past year or so have brought recognition to India’s “culture of rape.” Of course, their “culture of rape” has always been there but only now is it recognized how widespread the problem is. Obviously, no inherent worth or value is afforded to this India sub-culture other than from the perpetrators within that culture. It is similarly hard to imagine that in the Western world either a social liberal or conservative is going to claim that any culture that suppresses women to the degree that some Islamic societies do has some inherent value. It is clearly not true that people, at least in the Western industrialized world, actually subscribe to the full onus of multiculturalism’s definition. Perhaps qualifications are in order.
Qualifications always are in order when considering the idea of multiculturalism, implying that the culture that thought up the idea clearly thinks they are superior to every other culture by insisting other cultures accept the premise of multiculturalism. What I mean is that if multiculturalism is to be accepted, even by the people who thought of it, caveats are in order since the people who thought of it obviously do not condone the suppression of certain segments of a population or rape. To insist other cultures accept multiculturalism implies that the one culture insisting another culture be multicultural clearly thinks the ideas of their culture are superior to the ideas of the other culture. If a caveat is inserted here which amounts to multiculturalism’s defenders saying, “We accept the other culture’s right to exist as they have some inherent value, but that doesn’t mean we have to like their values,” such a caveat is so belittling that the opposing culture’s value is degraded to the point of nothingness. It also allows the saints to go marching in in an attempt to tweek the other culture’s values until the other culture’s values are worth something to the proponents of multiculturalism. Essentially, multiculturalists are saying it is fine for other cultures to be different – in fact, it’s encouraged! – so long as the other culture doesn’t differ in their values too wildly.
I do find the idea of multiculturalism (such as I have laid it out which is to a large degree how it viewed on college campuses if nowhere else) offensive on grounds other than it’s backhandedness. When I consider a culture such as the Taliban, I do not believe all cultures have inherent worth. I do not condone a culture that bans self-expression, violently suppresses it’s women, and calls for the literal deaths of those outside their culture for simply being outside their culture, especially the ones an ocean away who are so different from they are. Can a defender of multiculturalism actually argue for the worth of the Taliban as a culture without laughing? If they can, can they defend a culture which practices cannibalism or practiced live human sacrifice without laughing? Perhaps they can having defended the mostly laughable idea of multiculturalism for so long.
I say multiculturalism is “mostly laughable” because I will not go on the record as claiming one culture is superior to another, so I do believe some degree of respect for most other cultures is warranted. Most cultures have as many good and bad ideas as any other, though I suppose in the case of the Taliban I consider that particular culture mostly full of bad ideas as I am not within that culture or subscribe to similar beliefs. Multiculturalism does have the possible benefit of considering ideas or problems through differing cultural lenses (among other lens), so I cannot discount a necessity for multiculturalism entirely. I believe some value can be found in most cultures although sometimes we may have to go looking for that value. Usually, the best value can be found at a downtown ethnic food cart.
Accepting multiculturalism has never been what keeps groups of people from killing each other. It’s just that people don’t kill each other when resources aren’t an issue (and to a lesser extent, unless a group’s ideology comes under attack). Cooperation among groups born out of evolutionary necessity probably plays a much greater role in cutting across cultural divides than the idea of multiculturalism itself. That said, I politely ask multiculturalists to stop pretending they came up with a great idea. It was never theirs to begin with.