Comments, In Focus, Needle's Eye

Multiculturalism… A case of sloppy thinking?

I want to make a simple point, that multiculturalism and a multiracial society are two completely different things, although they may overlap.

Nigel Pocock


Cultures are unequal, and some are extremely corrupt, cruel, violent and should never be accepted by any decent person. In this sense, some cultures should definitely be excluded from any complex association of different groups of people. On the other hand, compassionate societies should be open to all races, and exclude none.

Some cultures are extremely dangerous to society, any society. Cultures that encourage infanticide of girls in the end would collapse, since there would ultimately be no generation of children.

Tied to an unthinking view of multiculturalism is the idea that all cultures should be tolerant of each other, and non-judgemental.

These ideas are also typical of sloppiness in thought, a lazy relativism, a decidophobic ‘tolerance’ that shies away from the hard work of facing reality. For what ‘open society’ can tolerate, for example, Nazism? Or authoritarian forms of theocracy, with their oligarchies that permit of no criticism? I want to suggest that we need a form of ‘weak absolutism’ as a constructive way through this sloppy, relativistic decidophobia.

Professor Ian Jarvie has suggested that ideas need to be presented as though they were functionally absolute, while in fact being amenable to criticism and review. We see in a mirror dimly.

This is effectively how scientific research progresses. The crucial difference between “authority” and “authoritarianism” is precisely in this openness to critical review.

A relativist says that all views are alike in terms or value, therefore they are relative in terms of truth, and therefore critical review is irrelevant or impossible in principle; the authoritarian says that they know the answers already, and therefore there is nothing that that can lead to amendment and development.

Both of these positions prevent new knowledge, critical review and creative thinking. Both are, quite literally, the position of the person (or society) that does not want to think. They are decidophobic, in Walter Kaufmann’s expression. Consequently there are much-vaunted liberal societies living in a state of fantasy and denial.

We need a multiracial society, not a multicultural one, in the relativistic sense. Of course, there are relative differences in culture; but a philosophical relativism is self-contradictory, as has been known for over 2,000 years.

It is unhelpful to assert one thing (relativism) only to undermine this assertion because it is itself relative. This leads nowhere. The most dynamic and creative forces in society have been those that are open and critical. This is why we need a culture that makes judgements, not a culture that avoids them.

To avoid making judgements is the essence of decidophobia. It is completely irresponsible. For making critical judgements is not the same as making judgements that condemn.

Paradoxically however, some things should be condemned. If we want a compassionate society, then such things as destroy and exploit the vulnerable must not be tolerated.

Compassion is a virtue to be upheld. Ultimately it is non-negotiable; but it is subject to review in its practice. Compassion is open to all races and all people; it exercises responsible criticism of damaging cultures, and is not multicultural without limit.

(Photos: Pixabay)

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