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The challenges of constructing a truly diverse society

The particular identities are not universal, nor is the concept of ‘identity’ itself universal, but is itself the product of an individualistic, late capitalist modernity. The challenges of living in and constructing a truly pluralistic society are immense. If we are going to accommodate many different lifestyles and worldviews then we shall face many dilemmas.


Steve Latham


Reconciling opposing interests is a main problem multi-cultural and interfaith societies will have to deal with.

Recently in the UK, a college banned female students from wearing the hijab. It was ostensibly for reasons of safety and security.

Understandably, the students protested; and the ban was reversed. Surely this was a victory for common sense as well as human rights. At around the same time, a Muslim, state-funded, school in Britain also hit the headlines, for contravening gender equality policies.

They were segregating students, making girls sit at the back, and insisting that (even non-Muslim) female staff wear head coverings.

It would easy to use these events to castigate Muslims for their double standards. But that is not the issue.

The problem is how to navigate the thorny issues arising from competing claims to human rights, how to balance out their various priorities.

Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that it is not merely behaviour or beliefs which are being offered protection under law.

A concept of personal identity has developed in western culture, which it is claimed is also owed respect and not denigration.

This was originally conceived in terms of racial or cultural identity, so that racist hate speech was outlawed. More recently, the notion has been extended in law to, for example, sexual identity. But these identities are social constructions, from a particular historical context and geographical context.

The particular identities are not universal, nor is the concept of ‘identity’ itself universal, but is itself the product of an individualistic, late capitalist modernity.

The philosopher, Gilles Deleuze reckoned modern society is always producing new identities, fresh subjectivities, as the formation of our sense of self crystallises around ever-new material practices.

This would, he claimed, lead to a culture of increasing multiplicities, a chaosmos of fractured and plural identities and social groupings.

This Deleuze welcomed, not merely as the result of social change, but as a desirable liberation of the human subject from external control. However, we can ask, why certain identities receive privileged status and mass acceptance? It may be due to their success in utilising political power and media influence.

For example, why is paedophilia not accepted equally as a sexual orientation?

In Canada, for example, it is recognised medically as another orientation. But it is not accorded social recognition.

In the relative weighting of different rights claims, why is freedom of conscience not awarded the same respect as sexual identity?

Opponents of certain sexual practices, usually religious conservatives, may be accused of hate-crime, or prejudice.

It is ironic though to reflect on how conservatives complain vociferously about censorship, when they themselves were foremost in silencing other minorities when they held political power.Similarly, is it ironic when sexual rights groups want to silence conservative voices, when earlier they were demanding freedom for themselves. (The Prisma Memoirs)

(Photos: Pixabay)


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