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Category Archives: Multiculturalism

Happy Holidays?…. Bah! Humbug!

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Now that the holiday season is over, can we now say, “bah! humbug” without disrupting the self-hugs that many multi-culturalists are giving themselves?

In my previous post I had written about the 3 layers of culture we learn to negotiate. That was actually a very simplistic way of looking at culture. Let us introduce a level of complexity. Imagine that this individual moves to a culture where he is an outsider—perhaps is an immigrant, a globe-trotting professional or just part of the constantly churning global population?

For instance, she is a Hindu ( albeit, a laid back Hindu) in a largely Christian but also substantially mixed racial, religious society. Suppose she claims a participant’s stake in the Christian traditions?

So how many flakey layers of cultures can there be?

Multicultural Poster and Posturing

So here is this multicultural poster that I happened to see a few days ago. It said, “Happy Holidays” and had a whole list of festivals so we could wish everyone a happy holiday season. By the logic of the politically correct multiculturalists either we all celebrate or no one does.

So the poster starts off: Hanukkah(24th Dec), Christmas(25th Dec), Kwanzaa(26th Dec); so far so good. Trying very hard, the poster manages to find Pancha Ganapati ((21-25 Dec) for the Hindus….

On Being Told What to Believe

“Pancha Ganapati? What is this?” I ask myself. I am of the laidback, agnostic, non-ritualistic variety, but nevertheless a born Hindu. So I investigate. I google.…Ooops! It does exist! Here is a link and lots more, if anyone is curious. So apparently someone decided that upset Hindu children should get gifts like other children around Christmas time. Knowing that Hinduism gives you the license to create /invent gods and festivals, I cannot argue. But I am convinced that Pancha Ganapati is actually a retail conspiracy. Expectedly, in the next few years India and Hindus worldwide will switch over to Panch Ganapati of instead of Diwali or Dusherra because that’s right in the middle of the shopping season.

Or, is this some humbug from the militant multiculturalists who want to tell Hindus what they should be celebrating?… Because they need a Hindu festival to fit into the “Holiday season”?

Then, I look at the poster further. For the Buddhists, Bodhi Day(Dec), Yule (Dec 21) for the Pagans, Omisoka for the Japanese, St. Nicolas Day, Chinese New Year, St Lucia Day, Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Three Kings’ Day and for the Muslims, Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

Notice how the multicultural logic is breaking down. If the list is by country or by religion, is the poster not missing a few? If the list by the month of the year, Eid al-Fitr is almost 6 months off.

Paying for Being Included

These sentimental well-intentioned folks have to be told to stop being so belligerent about inclusiveness. Not to be included is better than being included on someone else’s terms. The multiculturalists are taking away my freedom to my beliefs, and trying to give Christians a guilt complex they do not deserve. If I wish someone, “Merry Christmas” and if the person happens to the same to me, I am not offended. I do not become a Christian, I do not celebrate Christmas, but I party.

Does anyone have a problem with that?

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The Three Layers of Culture

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In one of my earlier posts, I had suggested that culture operates at 3 levels. It is the personal, the familial and the communal/national. We shift into anyone of these roles automatically. And this is what I had meant by the term Cultobot. A cultobot is one who has automated certain types of cultural responses Cultobots mechanically negotiate communal and familial cultural responses while fiercely guarding their personal cultures.

Personal culture

For example the teenagers of the previous post, who are as universal (similar) as human beings on earth can be. But this happens only when the teenagers are interacting with their computers. This is their personal culture—shared on an unprecedented scale—the culture of ultra-modern technological beings of a radically globalized planet. When these teenagers become professional, they easily shift to the conventions of global corporate culture and become the LinkedIn professionals.

Family’s culture

It is when people are in their family environments, the culture of their upbringing surfaces—for example a family’s love of music, self-questioning or agnostics, atheists or believers, laid-back or complacent individual of all shades: Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhists and many, many others.

Culture of the community and the nation

And then there is the culture of the community and the nation: extremely dynamic, prone to expansive generalizations, error-prone, dependent on the political flavour of the day. And, yet like the furious water raging in a river, still has stubborn land in its bottom. To each community and country its distinctive culture

So, paradoxically, in a huge crisis of disconnect, 16-year olds cultobots, rediscover the hijab –very often online and alone in chat-rooms and fly off to marry ISIS fighters. They do not at all go to their parents or communities for clarifications.

Or if the virtual world is too much out there, and the real world not quite enough, a 100 people will stand in the middle of crowd of 100, each single person alone and looking down into their phones and tablets.

And then the physical world (of bricks and mortar, snow and sun) around us all becomes a hallucination and a mirage.

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN TODAY: Summarizing the Issues

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As globalized members of the internet community, we have  lost touch with the bio-rhythms of our unique locations.  We follow global fashions and share global concerns. By implication, we have lost touch with our immediate communities, our neighbourhoods, our streets and lanes.

Our issues may  no longer be immediate and local. We might raise funds for Somalian children—which I cannot argue that it is not a worthy enough cause.  The implication of our de-localized concerns is that we have also lost the sense of shared culture that comes with the feeling of belonging to a particular, specific and a locationally-defined community, which by definition is rooted in tradition, religion and inheritances.

To go back to one of the one of my earlier arguments, now more than ever culture can no longer be defined as a shared inheritance. Culture has moved to the personal sphere.

And, don’t these new practices of culture demand a redefinition of culture, and by implication also of multiculturalism?

Thus, to summarize the argument thus far:

Thesis 1: Humanism is bigger than culturalism

Thesis 2: Technology has redefined our social interactions and our sense of community

Thesis 3: Identity is no longer rooted in culture, community and religion. This is what it means to be a technobot

Thesis 4: Consequently historical issues have lost relevance as also have historical debates about multiculturalism.

Are People CultoBots?

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Amartya Sen in The Uses and Abuses of Multiculturalism asks a crucial question:
“One of the central issues concerns how human beings are seen. Should they be categorized in terms of inherited traditions, particularly the inherited religion, of the community in which they happen to have been born, taking that unchosen identity to have automatic priority over other affiliations involving politics, profession, class, gender, language, literature, social involvements, and many other connections? Or should they be understood as persons with many affiliations and associations, whose relative priorities they must themselves choose (taking the responsibility that comes with reasoned choice)?”
Bikhu Parekh writes that modern institutions are at times a “positive handicap” in dealing with multicultural societies trying to find that fine balance between unity and diversity. But the problem with Parekh’s view is that even when he talks of “conversation” within and between cultures, he fails to show how cultural responses to the same incident can change in different circumstances—because though the people responding belong to the same ‘culture’ but they are changed people or in changing times.
Unfortunately, assumptions of multiculturalism are based on a static view of culture and even worse, the individual practicing the cultures. To answer, Sen’s question, people are not cultobots with automated responses, but temperamental individuals with real and dynamic choices.
And this changes all the parameters of cultural interactions.
And also raises other questions:
Were people cultobots in the past? Were there more comfortable times in the past, when the cultural barometer was more accurate?
How are modern institutions “the positive handicap” that are making people less culturally automated?

The Cultural Minefield

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One of the paradoxes of Multiculturalism is that it has to take a very limited and reductive defintion of culture. A framework for the interrelationship between cultures can be theorized only if we pretend an intra-cultural structure does not exist.
An unacknowledged fact is that we live in contradictions–we smoothly transit through cultural conflicts when we shift roles from the social, professional to familial and further into personal.
The more roles we have in life, the more the cultural minefields we have to negotiate.
We cannot claim any one mono-culture for our hyphenated selves.

The Cultural Pyramid

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Multiculturalism as a name, newly coined, has its conveniences. It defines a concept and a course of action that has been automatic throughout human history. Wherever two human beings have met, there has been a ‘clash of culture’, if one can slightly distort Huntington’s term. Though culture is primarily defined to be communal, each individual practices it in his own way. Since human beings have unique personalities, the practice of their culture—even the so called ‘shared’ communal culture is never similar.

This means that we should also consider the layers of culture. As a starting point, is then our personal cultures, derived from our familial and communal culture. The culture of the family may or may not be secular but the communal social culture is derived largely from the religious group one is born into, and in this sense, is the bedrock and the most impositional of all cultural practices. Since nationhood is so recent a concept in human history, national values forms the thin uppermost film of culture. Sometimes, nations who claim religious values to be foundational, combine nationhood and religion in a lethal retrograde combination.
Question is, when we talk of multiculturalism, which layer of culture are we talking about? Should we consider that multiculturalism impose a communal definition on human beings? Does multiculturalism ignore the cultural interaction of two individuals? Is that why multiculturalism has remained an academic or a topic for radio shows and not become a blueprint for human relations?
Multiculturalism as a belief system ignores the real issues of daily interactions and imposes a group identity by which an individual must present himself to others. The assumption is that the group culture is bigger than the individual’s practice of culture.
If belief in individualism is the bedrock of ‘modern culture’ then the idea of multiculturalism needs a corrective.