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Is multiculturalism utopian, and therefore intolerant?

This might sound totally paradoxical and contradictory, for how can a society that is mutually tolerant of multiple cultures, be intolerant?


Is multiculturalism 6Nigel Pocock


Some have argued that such an utopian vision of society could not be achieved without imposition from above.

Given that there would no doubt be many perspectives (a pluralistic and multicultural society demands that this is the case), then there are bound to be tensions and dissent. The means will disputed, even is the end is not. In order to prevent chaos, it seems that some kind of authoritarianism emanating from the most influential and powerful ideological group is inevitable, if the end of an utopian multiculturalism is to be effected. How might this work out in practice?

Is multiculturalism 2I want to look at one specific proposal, that of Indian theologian Stanley Samartha. Samartha has adapted the Hindu notion of advaita Vedanta.

The first term, advaita, is usually translated as ‘non-dualist’ (no either/or, no contradictions). Vedanta conveys the idea of the Transcendent One within and under which all culture-bound and contradictory cultural and religious forms are subsumed.

Thus local cultural forms in religion and culture, are only held onto as a means of identity.

Is multiculturalism 4As such it demands that a means of social control is used by society to facilitate change towards the harmonious (but unfalsifiable) Oneness of the Transcendent Mystery.

Thus all the contradictions that are seen between local forms (e.g., between Christianity and Islam) are on a journey towards resolution. There is no ultimate need for conflict. But doesn’t this mean the development of a monoculture, rather than a multicultural and pluralistic society?

In practice, this demands that all exclusive truth-claims be dropped as offensive to others—a notion that will ring bells with many, as the huge body of rules governing (for example) the ‘correct’ language to use with patient groups within the NHS.

El multiculturalismo en la       religión - Entrevista Hugh Osgood 5Thus Christians must drop their exclusive truth claims regarding Jesus, as ‘the way, the truth, and the life’, and Muslims likewise in their substantive truth-claims, because of the offence caused.

This begs the question : Isn’t this a form of gross arrogance on the part of the third party (in the west, of the secular state)?

Isn’t it a claim to exclusive truth, of the kind that this third party denies should be allowed to exist? In Samartha’s model, a privileging of advaita Vedanta, above all others?

As for the west, and its much vaunted liberal democracies, are they really so liberal, open, and pluralistic, as they like to claim?

Is multiculturalism 5Could it be that there are subtle totalising trends already at work, and that the utopian blueprint is really a recipe for intolerance, even if it claims to be multicultural?

By the very process of engineering an ‘understanding’ between dominant groups and ‘others’, social distance is reduced, hence working towards this ultimate goal of a monoculture.

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