Monday, October 25, 2010

Multiculturalism: An Idea Promoting Unity or Divison?

[I take my train of thought here from remarks made by talk radio host Dennis Prager while I was driving in my car earlier today]

The idea known as "multiculturalism" has been very trendy for quite some time now. But, really, what the heck is this? What does it really mean? For a long time, there has been something about it--about what seem to be its social implications as it is usually promoted--that rubs me the wrong way.

It's not as though the United States has to be introduced to the idea that it is possible for a variety of people from a diverse array of ethnic and cultural backgrounds to live and work together in relative peace and harmony. There is no place on the planet as diverse and as relatively peaceful as the United States. It is one of our greatest identifying qualities that makes the U.S. special and unique. Just about everywhere else, significant differences of culture and ethnicity placed in close regular contact results in major strife and even violence.

There was a moment when this was made especially evident to me. It was while riding the Staten Island Ferry between Manhattan and Staten Island (at the time I was living on Staten Island and rode the ferry regularly to get to Manhattan). I surveyed the people around me on the ferry one day and I became suddenly amazed at how extraordinarily diverse the people on just that one, single ferry, truly were. That one ferry-load of people was a veritable United Nations of cultures. I'm not just talking about two or three. I'm talking probably a dozen, at least, different ethnic heritages were present on that one boat. People from seemingly every continent and every corner of the world. I'll bet there were easily 12--probably more--native languages spoken among the few hundred or so people. I was awestruck for a moment and thought to myself, nowhere but here--in the United States--could such an incredibly wide spectrum of people be together peacefully in one place and not only this, but that it might be a normal, everyday occurrence, so much so that no one particularly notices.

Sure, there are places in the world where different peoples live in proximity and intermingle regularly. But the sheer magnitude of the number of different heritages and the breadth of their diversity that is found frequently in American cities is unique to the United States. Nobody holds a candle to us on this front. We are human history's greatest living example of the peaceful coexistence of a vast multiplicity and diversity of cultures.

In light of this fact, what on earth is all this hubbub in the last 20 or so years of so-called "multiculturalism"?

I suspect that the term, "multiculturalism," is not meant merely to express positive sentiments about the peaceful and respectful coexistence of peoples of many cultures. If this were all it meant, it would be somewhat redundant; it would simply be a synonym for, "The United States of America." (And yes, I know that our history is not devoid of serious social clashes among us. But taking everything in our history into account we are still far, far more advanced on this than anywhere else).

So what, in the American context (the most diverse place on earth), is meant by this relatively new term, this supposedly new emphasis? What is implied in this term that is new or different from simply how America, on the whole, has been since our earliest days? What explains the perceived need for its use?

In the past, when people from other cultures settled in the United States, they desired to become American. They still had ties and maintained certain practices and customs from the places of their heritage. But, after making it here, they did not desire to remain associated above all else with the places from which they had come. Primarily, they wanted to be associated with being, simply, American. Living as and being an American was primary. Yes, secondarily, they were still Irish, or Italian, or German, or Vietnamese, or Korean, etc. Those things were not gone. They were still important. But they were no longer the most important thing about who they were. They were Americans first, and then (significantly, importantly, yet secondarily) Italian, Irish, etc.Would such people--our great-grandparents--be called multicultural by today's promoters of this idea?

I don't think they would. And here is the problem. Why not? "Multiculturalism" in today's lingo seems to imply that one ought to maintain your ethnic and cultural heritage as your primary identity and allegiance (especially if your heritage is from somewhere other than Western Europe). Your primary, personal, interior, psychological identity and highest value, in this view, is decidedly not placed upon American culture or being American. Rather, multiculturalism encourages a disregard for America as a singularly unique and special culture in its own right and puts in its place an allegiance to a (oftentimes, I suspect, more fantasy than real) largely imaginary bond to an overly romanticized notion of one's cultural heritage.

Why is this bad? Ironically, it creates division rather than unity. The older approach did not disregard the special and unique value of many aspects of one's own cultural heritage (though at times people were probably too quick to distance themselves from all of the particularly singular aspects of their cultural heritage). But, their continued identity as being a part of a unique heritage which is Italian, German, Cambodian, etc., was placed in second place to becoming and embracing life as an American. In other words, they were still Italian, but, willingly transformed by the unique set of values which are the foundational values of America. It seems to me that "multiculturalism" no longer even cares to recognize that there is such a thing as an American culture and values in itself. Rather, it seems to want us to maintain divisions among ourselves along ethnic-cultural lines to such an extent that there could be no other option but to live in a kind of lowest-common-denominator equality in separate enclaves. If there is no overarching culture which unites us together, how can the great melting pot which is America still be a single pot, with all the flavors coming together in harmony? The direction of multiculturalism's thrust does not envision different cultures coming together making one single, unified community (i.e. America, as based on founding American values). Rather, it seems to envision lots of small pots each with their own ingredients, never mingling together as one.

So, that's my issue (one, anyways) with so-called multiculturalism. I'm all for the ideal of many diverse cultures living together in peace and harmony and mutual respect, mutually benefiting from each other's rich cultural treasures. But if we are to do this in the context of the United States of America, it ought to be done in such a way that we truly come together under the big tent of shared values that are specifically American values. To the extent that multiculturalism does not support this (and may in fact even be hostile to this), I am of the opinion that rather than being a good thing, it is (as it is actually promoted) a cancer, instilling a potentially lethal sickness into our nation. This is a sickness that divides and pulls us apart in the name of "diversity."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Cult of Female Sexual Power: A Boon to Women?

Today I came across a very interesting article: "Aging," by former supermodel Paulina Porizkova.

It seems to me that one of the things radical feminism has done, at least in years past, is to buy into the idea that women gain back power over their sexuality by deliberately flaunting it. It's something the whole fashion industry culture seems to take for granted. An overt, over-the-top focus on the sexual values of a woman's body is presumed to be a boon for women overall in the culture at large. Just look at the clothes in department stores for teen girls for evidence (I don't spend time doing this myself, but many others have commented on this phenomenon).

And closely connected to this is our culture's excessive and unbalanced worship of all things youthful. If it has to do with being young, a thing is presumed to be good. If something has to do with being old (especially looking old), it is presumed to be negative. The modeling and fashion industries, and advertising in general, promote these ideas. And there seems to be at least a kind of loose association in the culture between this and the progress women have made in society compared to years past.

It is true that things have become better in many ways for women over the last century. And this is, of course, a good thing. But consider the following excerpts from Paulina's article. I think she makes very prescient observations.
My first recognition of age setting in was exactly on my 36th birthday. I have no idea why, on this day of all days, I looked in the mirror and realized my face no longer looked young. I didn't look bad: only, the freshness had somehow disappeared. I immediately became hyper-conscious of my looks and went out and bought the most expensive cream on the market. (For your information, it did nothing.) And I began the battle of acceptance, something I have to do now almost every time I face a mirror. 
 And later,
But would I ever have dreamed that I would miss the time I couldn't walk past a construction site unmolested? These days when someone whistles at me, it's mostly a bike messenger about to mow me down.
To me, to let yourself age means that you're comfortable with who you are. Yes, sorry, I do believe that all the little shots here and there, and the pulling of skin here and there and the removal of fat here and there, means you still have something to prove; you're still not comfortable in your skin. The beauty of age was supposed to be about the wisdom acquired and with it, an acceptance and celebration of who you are. Now all we want for people to see is that we have not yet attained that wisdom. Aging has become something to fight, not something to accept.
Contemporary fashion and marketing have made these negative experience worse for women. Does this indicate true progress for women?

According to the messages present in our popular culture (fostered at least in a background way by a radical feminist acceptance of the notion that control of sexuality is gained by flaunting it), the most important thing about a woman is her sexual power (and this is closely linked to her youthful appearance and exterior beauty). But in such a cultural climate what happens to society's valuation of women, and of women's own sense of worth to themselves, as they age?

I would suggest that the contemporary cult of female sexual power--the unbalanced hyper-emphasis of sexual values above all other human and personal values--has not been a boon to women. In the long run, it has turned into a curse, making them more vulnerable to abuse and to being seen as less than whole persons. The tendency to quickly demote and even disregard women as soon as they become less physically attractive with age plainly shows this. Women like Paulina know this. Do the rest of us?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Conversion by Way of Evil, Part 4

See part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.

So, I had come to believe that only supernatural origins are able to explain, ultimately, the reality of both good and evil acted out in human life in all its complexity. And I became certain that this source influencing us toward actions that we call good (for the very meaning of "the good" entails this) is superior to that source influencing us to do what we call evil.

Again, if only nature were at play in the sphere of human action--with no supernatural influence involved--it should be the case that I should be able to always do that which I have decided rationally is the best thing to do. But I can't, and I don't. This split between the knowledge of the good and what I actually do bores a hole right through any merely utilitarian or pragmatic attempt to explain human moral sensibility--most especially in considering the wretchedness that lies in waiting at the darkest depths of our worst selves. This is no mere realm of earthly nature.

So, what is this "good"--this beyond-nature source of moral influence in human life that is superior to that which pulls us toward evil? I will speak in a very summary fashion. The source of goodness must be singular--one (there does not seem to be a competition among multiple systems of goodness). This is our human experience. Search our conscience, our heart, our soul, our psyche, and we find there a spiritual wellspring gently pointing us toward the good which is entirely consistent, whole, integral, of-a-piece, with itself. It is one. I do not wonder whether that which guides me to prefer beauty over ugliness, or love over hatred, or honesty over deceitfulness, is multiple or is singular. It speaks to my heart with a unified, singular voice. It is a single orchestra playing with perfect harmony. Or, more accurately, a single benevolent power, speaking to me through various spiritual instruments that nonetheless are perfectly attentive to his one conductor's wand. This does not mean that there are no competing voices in my heart, but, I recognize them as such. Powers that try to bend me toward depravity and selfishness I realize are different powers than that one unified influence which beckons me to choose the good.

Why does this superior, unified, spiritual power have any interest in me??? Why should there be any such thing as some beyond-nature being who cares one whit what I do with my life??? These are highly perplexing questions.

Philosophically I realized, if there is such a thing as god (meaning, one single supernatural being who is all-powerful), it can not be the case that god--a real god, that is--could have any need whatsoever for human beings. For if a supposed god had any need for us he/it would not be god. Any being who needs other beings for anything, well, what kind of a god is that? Not much of a god if he/it is not all-sufficient within himself. No, god is not god if he has to seek outside himself to supply some lack within.

So, back to the question. The explanation for god's manifest interest in human life cannot be--it is philosophically impossible--that he needs to be interested in us. In other words, if god is god, we cannot be for him a source of good that he does not already contain fully in himself. If all good does not reside in all fullness in him, god is not god. A god that has to take an interest in human beings in order to gain something he lacks within, is not god. As I thought about all this, I came to this conclusion: the only explanation for god's (the singular source of all goodness) interest in we human beings has to be because he loves us! It's not because we provide something he needs. He is interested in us out of sheer goodness--out of love--out of benevolent regard for us to be good ourselves. Nothing else (if god is god--a robust, full, real god--not some wimpy half-god who needs stuff from mere human beings) makes any rational sense!

I thought about this quite a bit. I tried to come up with a philosophically satisfactory alternative explanation that answers the question why does god (understood as the all-powerful, singular source of all goodness) have an interest in human life if not because of a completely gratuitous love? Can there be any other explanation? I concluded--no. Rationally, philosophically speaking, if god is god (lacking in nothing) only one reason offers any sensible explanation as to why he should care about human beings at all--sheer love; love freely given out of total, simple generosity, and not out of any necessity. I tried to find alternative explanations for god's interest, and there are none. The only way you can find an alternative possibility to god's regard for human life than freely given love is if you demote god to less than god so that his interest can then be explained in virtue of some necessity in him to go outside himself.

And, I have not traced this line of thinking out here, but along with all of this I was realizing as well that because of the nature of the good and its influence on human life, of its unified character, and because love is the only philosophically tenable explanation for god's having any interest in us at all, god (now, capital 'G,' God) must be personal. God is a personal being! He has to be if the reason He cares about us is because of love. Non-personal beings cannot love. I had become utterly convinced that God cares about us because He must love us. And therefore, He must be personal.

I had become a thoroughly convinced and believing theist, believing not only that God exists (as the only reasonable explanation for the source of goodness in the cosmos and for its unfailing superiority over evil), but that He is a personal being who loves us out of a freely chosen gratuitous love--that He is interested in us because He loves us; that, in fact, . . . He . . . loves . . . ME!!!

This totally rocked my world. I was no longer alone in the cosmos. I had come to know that I live under the benevolent regard of a personal God who loves me out of His sheer goodness. Thanks be to God! I started thanking Him for life, for His care, for creation.