Canada is arguably the apotheosis of modern Western multiculturalism (nations like Belgium are not in any sort of honeymoon phase obviously with the idea of inter-cultural amity). This article in The New York Times highlights the fundamental problem at the heart of this sort of political and social project, Canada Grapples With Adapting to Minority Needs:
At York University in Toronto, a furor erupted in January over a request by a student taking an online sociology course to forgo an on-campus session, because he said his religious beliefs did not permit casual contact with women.
At York, the professor refused to grant the student’s request, believing that it would be a dangerous precedent, labeling women as second-class citizens….
“It all goes back to the fundamental values the university has put in place that shape the culture — equity, diversity and inclusion — and tying them back to excellence,” said Sandra Carnegie-Douglas, the University of Toronto’s anti-racism and cultural diversity officer. “We look at what we need to do as a university to give students access so they can perform with excellence.
It is passé to point out the difficulties in accommodating both gender egalitarianism and religious traditions for which strong differentiation in sex roles and interaction are mandatory (e.g., Orthodox Judaism, Islam, and some conservative variants of Protestantism). Rather, I want to highlight the general idea of inclusion and diversity. The problem is that many cultures around the world revolve around the theme of exclusion, or at most assimilation of the Other. In fact this is much more normative over the history of the world than the multiculturalism that has emerged in the West after the 1960s. To be entirely frank, post-1960s Western multiculturalism is sui generis. It seems to view a person’s suite of cultural characteristics being assembled together a la carte, as individuals select of their own free will from a set of practices and beliefs so as to maximize their own self-actualization. The reality though is that for most humans cultures are imbibed as if one is selecting prix fixe menus, subscribing to a whole host of beliefs simultaneously, many of which are at contradiction with the individualist liberal ethos.
Obviously these are two stylized caricatures,* but they capture the basic essence of the dynamic. Western multiculturalists, steeped in the language of equity, diversity, inclusion, and egalitarianism, seem to tacitly assume that societies which they are attempting to integrate will discard all illiberal aspects, while maintaining the languages, dress, and food, which make them distinctive. But the truth here is that ultimately multiculturalism of this form turns non-Western cultures into carnival sideshows, colorful harmless variants of the Western liberal individualist template.
* There are nuances here. American Roman Catholics share more cultural orientations with their Protestant neighbors than with non-American Catholics. You need to peel back the sticker sometimes and ignore labels to get at the heart of cultural variation.
Over at The Nation Michelle Goldberg has a long piece on the internecine conflicts within online feminism. First, an admission. I’ve long been a follower of these blow-ups on the feminist Left blogosphere because it is compelling to me in the way a car-crash might be. I’ve never commented on it because it’s as intellectually a serious interest as watching Dancing with the Stars. Though I think Goldberg has a lot of justice on her side, there are two issues which always nag at me. Many of the feminists who are outraged at being raked over coals wouldn’t have any hesitation of doing the same if the target was someone else. In other words, the hyper-critical lens that they place on others is obviously not relevant for them, because they’re good people. So the second issue is that the extremely harsh, often unfair, attacks on these self-righteous types wallowing in their “privilege” actually draws upon a real phenomenon.
It reminds me of the famous photo of Obama campaign headquarters in 2012, which was filled with white faces. If you transposed this to Romney campaign headquarters you could imagine Melissa Harris-Perry at MSNBC making some snarky remarks. But it’s different, because they support Obama, and they’re good liberals…. By their nature they can’t be racist, so the same evidence can’t be brought to bear. The lived lives of upper middle class white liberals may be quite segregationist, but their hearts are not, and that’s what matters.
Which brings me to the weird general observation: American liberals are quite essentialist when it comes to the target of their critique. Conservatives and Republicans are racist by their nature, by their intent, so their social segregation from non-whites counts toward their racism. It’s a fundamental attribute. In contrast American liberals and Democrats are anti-racist, so their social segregation from non-whites is situational, and does not reflect antipathy to non-whites.
This can be generalized. Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton both seem to exhibit sociopathic tendencies in relation to their attitudes toward women. But for social conservatives Clinton’s transgressions reflect his lack of core morality, because he’s a liberal. In contrast, Gingrich says the right things, and acknowledges his moral failings. No matter what he does his fundamental essence is that of someone who understands the importance of morality. At least from the perspective of his supporters.
On Wendy Davis, it turns out that she elided aspects of her biography to burnish a particular image. I don’t think this will be a long term problem, anymore than Newt Gingrich’s history of philandering was an issue for social conservatives. Those who were with her will stay with her, and those who were against her will have more reasons to be against her. But as someone with only a passing familiarity with her biography the key detail that comes out of the piece is that Wendy Davis misrepresented a major aspect of her class background, and therefore how much hardship she overcame to get to Harvard law school. Though she was obviously not born with a silver spoon, by her mid-20s Davis had married a man with an upper middle class income (he was a attorney with a real estate related business). This makes the fact that she finished college, and matriculated at Harvard law, somewhat less impressive than the image of her has a single mother, which was definitely what even a high-information voter would have assumed was the case from the reports in the media.
Granted, juggling two children and finishing college, let alone getting into Harvard, is still highly noteworthy and laudable, and not a trivial accomplishment. But the narrative arc here is one of bourgeois striving, and pooling of the resources of a married couple where one earned substantially more than a middle class income. It seems that most of the time when politicians try to sell you a tale of overcoming lack of privilege, many of the details fall apart upon closer inspection. That probably tells us a lot about how much deprivation actually is overcome in American society, and how often those nearer the bottom reach the top.
Addendum: The allegations of focusing on one’s career as opposed to family, adultery, and selfish exploitation of ex-husband for her own ends (e.g., staying with him long enough for him to apply his resources to paying off her loans), are not shocking. They’re probably not atypical for most elite politicians in terms of behavior because of their average personality type (i.e., narcissistic). I wouldn’t be surprised if they pan out (in any case, it doesn’t seem like most people behave like saints in the midst of a divorce). The qualification that she should have been more “precise” with her language is laughable coming from someone with a Harvard legal education, but exactly the kind of slippery argument that a politician would make. But that’s democracy. It tends to reward that personality type from what I can tell. I don’t know that it matters for governance one way or another.
From Heather, The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity:
Until 2011, students majoring in English at UCLA had to take one course in Chaucer, two in Shakespeare, and one in Milton —the cornerstones of English literature. Following a revolt of the junior faculty, however, during which it was announced that Shakespeare was part of the “Empire,” UCLA junked these individual author requirements. It replaced them with a mandate that all English majors take a total of three courses in the following four areas: Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Disability and Sexuality Studies; Imperial, Transnational, and Postcolonial Studies; genre studies, interdisciplinary studies, and critical theory; or creative writing.
Such defenestrations have happened elsewhere, and long before 2011. But the UCLA coup was particularly significant because the school’s English department was one of the last champions of the historically informed study of great literature, uncorrupted by an ideological overlay. Precisely for that reason, it was the most popular English major in the country, enrolling a whopping 1,400 undergraduates.
In this day and age we sometimes reflect upon the insanity of the intrigues of the late dynastic courts in Imperial China, where manipulative functionaries migh chop off the knees of their own armies while barbarians massed at the walls. So insulated within the walls of their world, they were obvlious to the actions which were hastening their own demise. Modern humanities in the United States is somewhat like this. The vast majority of students at universities might be willing to endure a few courses in diversity and such to fulfill requirements, but far few will enter into a course of study to explore the shallow waters of ostcolonial theory after the depths of the classics are closed off to them. And without students the field slowly dessicates and dies.
Last week This American Life had an episode on housing discrimination, House Rules, which drew upon a ProPublica series, Living Apart – Fair Housing in America. The TAL episode began with a side-by-side comparison of the differing treatments of black and white renters-to-be by a super in Queens. Then it went back in time and focused on the long and arduous process of passing legislation to allow for equal access to housing, and then enforcing said legislation. The moral of the story is that things haven’t changed as much as you think they’ve changed. This moral is reinforced by the selective narrative framework of TAL.
As it happens though HUD has been doing broad surveys of the exact form that is outlined in the TAL episode. So I decided to browse the 2012 report. If you read the whole thing, you conclude that:
1) There is indeed discrimination against minorities.
2) But the differences are often on the margin. The stories in TAL are at the tails of the distribution, but people may be confused and assume they are ubiquitous.
For example, from the full report from HUD: “black, Hispanic, and Asian renters are all shown significantly fewer housing units than equally qualified whites. Blacks are shown about one fewer unit for every 25 visits; Hispanics are shown one fewer unit for every 14 visits; and Asians are shown one fewer unit for every 13 visits.” These are statistically significant differences, but probably less than what you might expect given the stories highlighted in the TAL episode. Additionally, the report makes clear that there has been a massive decline in housing discrimination since the 1970s.
Atheists need to stop making fun of “Christian rock” and the assorted second rate derivates of culture produced by the evangelical subculture if this is not a rip-off of The Onion, Atheist ‘mega-churches’ look for nonbelievers:
It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any mega-church. Hundreds packed in for more than an hour of rousing music, an inspirational sermon, a reading and some quiet reflection. The only thing missing was God.
Dozens of gatherings dubbed “atheist mega-churches” by supporters and detractors are springing up around the U.S. after finding success in Great Britain earlier this year. The movement fueled by social media and spearheaded by two prominent British comedians is no joke.
This is almost a parody of what organized atheism can become.
This is not the time to be talking about Left-Right alliances. I know. But this piece by Kevin Drum got my attention. He’s responding to the fact that asthma inhalers are very expensive because of the way pharmaceutical companies have gamed intellectual patent law. Here’s Drum:
In other words, pharmaceutical companies didn’t just take advantage of this situation, they actively worked to create this situation. Given the minuscule impact of CFC-based inhalers on the ozone layer, it’s likely that an exception could have been agreed to if pharmaceutical companies hadn’t lobbied so hard to get rid of them. The result is lower-quality inhalers and fantastically higher profits for Big Pharma.
As someone with asthma I have kept track of this issue more than most. There’s someone else who pointed out how ridiculuous banning CFC-based inhalers was in light of their trivial contribution, Sen. Jim DeMint aims to overturn inhaler ban:
“It’s a stupid regulation,” DeMint told POLITICO. “It’s just one more example of just out of control regulation that’s harming the quality of life for Americans.”
DeMint argues the inhaler emits just a tiny fraction of chlorofluorocarbons.
While Republicans especially have gone after a series of Obama administration EPA and other regulations this Congress, the FDA rule actually traces back to the George W. Bush administration.
FDA began public discussions about the use of CFCs in epinephrine inhalers in January 2006 and finalized the phase-out for using CFCs in the inhalers in November 2008. It is part of the U.S. commitment under the international Montreal Protocol agreement that aims to reduce ozone-depleting substances.
Many inhaler manufacturers are now using a more environmentally friendly propellant called hydrofluoroalkane. Primatene Mist — marketed by Armstrong Pharmaceutical Inc. — is the only FDA approved inhaler for relieving mild asthma that is sold over-the-counter without a prescription.
FDA last month said there are “many other safe and effective inhalers to treat asthma symptoms,” which would require a prescription.
In general I agree with those conservatives who believe that the Republicans have been emphasizing style over substance recently. But it’s a reminder that people like DeMint on the “Far Right” have who adhere to principle over pragmatism can sometimes surprise those Left critics would argue that Republican populism is always a facade.
There are occasions where I don’t even understand what universe the academic cultural Left is inhabiting. Their utilization of plain and simple terms in bizarre fashions makes implicit the reality that their factual universe is radically different from mine. AFP has a piece up, Indian-origin Miss America shows evolving US ideal. It covers the controversy over an Indian American winning the Miss America beauty contest. Much of the article is banal or unsurprising, and naturally it focuses a great deal on the winner’s ethnicity, and the uproar over numerous racist Twitter comments. But the assertions of the academics interviewed struck me as both illuminating and depressing:
The author Jim C Hines sparked a conversation on Twitter after posting a picture of the all-white past, present and future chairs of WorldCon and coining the hashtag #DiversityinSFF. As the South African books blogger Lauren Smith wrote, it’s a problem often talked about in SFF circles. “These genres – or at least their English-language versions – lack diversity, with the major problem being that white male authors and straight, white, predominantly male characters are favoured,” she said, adding that it’s clear “who and what is underrepresented: anyone who is POC [person of colour], female, gay, transgendered; settings and cultures that aren’t North American or European; non-western folklore and mythology”.
Saladin Ahmed, who was born in Detroit and raised in a working-class, Arab American enclave in Michigan, was one of the non-white males at WorldCon: his novel Throne of the Crescent Moon was shortlisted for best novel at the Hugo awards, given out at the convention. He called for diversity in science fiction to be extended even further – to class. He tweeted: “Class diversity also needs to be part of #DiversityinSFF. I want fewer kings and starship captains, more coach drivers and space waitresses.”
I can take Lefties who are concerned with the immiseration of the working class seriously. Usually I disagree with their diagonsis and prescription, but the concerns are intelligible and broadly serious. These sorts of cultural obsessions are infantile in light of more pressing material concerns in this world. On this specific point if you read William Sims Bainbridge’s Dimensions of Science Fiction you will note that fandom and authors tend to be disproportionately atheist, Jewish, and libertarian within the culture of science fiction. These are all minority persuasions, last I checked….
Obviously. In any case, if you want to read some sordid goings on in the ‘skeptic/rationalist movement’, check it out. You should be able to use Google from then on….