Friday, October 07, 2005

Diversty as relativistic conservatism

I found an excellent article, via Political Theory Daily Review, which makes some points that I’ve been meaning to make, and which have been swishing around in my head for the past week.

The Poverty of Multiculturalism
Today, to criticise multiculturalism, one is invariably derided as 'right wing' or 'reactionary'. Conversely, to champion multiculturalism, one is invariably perceived as 'progressive' or 'of the left'. But it should be, and historically it has been, the other way around. Multiculturalism represents the antithesis of the Enlightenment principle of colour-blindness and the notion of the universality of humankind - while the fetishisation of ethnic particularism is a quintessentially Tory ideal. The liberal-left's love affair with multiculturalism today is a betrayal of what it used to stand for.

From Edmund Burke to Roger Scruton, traditional conservatives have attached greater importance to place, tradition and culture, while those on the Left had a far greater affinity with the tenets of the Enlightenment and the idea of the brotherhood of humanity.
Multiculturalism, or to use the common parlance, ‘diversity’ is an ultraconservative concept. It sees progress as bad; indeed, it denies the very concept of progress. Progress requires that one can conceive of a better society, and that steady reform is possible to move society closer to this concept of the good society. Multiculturalists, under the sway of an enervating relativism and bolstered by the sophistic thought of postmodernists, deny that there is a “better” society possible. There is no Archimedes lever upon which one can set one’s feet and move the world, no objective standards by which societies can be judged, and by which positive social change can be made—instead, all is a descent into a relativistic tar pit of cultural contingency.

It’s not difficult to see how “diversity” is ultraconservative and antithetical to liberalism and, indeed, progress in general. Diversity is based on the belief (it can be no more than a belief, by its own admission, because it denies the possibility of knowledge) that all values arise and are relevant only within the context of a culture, and so the values of one culture cannot be used to evaluate the values of another cultural. They deny that there can be a metavalue system to referee between all the different competing value systems. This is a postmodernist notion: Jean-Francois Lyotard, in his seminal book, “The Postmodern Condition,” defined postmodernism as an “incredulity towards metanarratives.”

To see how even modern Liberalism is undermined by the ultraconservatism of diversity, take the issue of gay marriage. According to diversity, gay marriage advocates have no ground to stand on in their attempts to change the traditional marriage culture. Their talk of metanarratives like “liberty” and “equality” are ethnocentric views which cannot be forced on Christians, Muslims, or anyone that thinks gay marriage is undesirable, for whatever reason.

Back to the article:


Multiculturalism in subsequent years has acted only to divide the population into groupsicles of competing ethnicities who feel they have nothing in common with each other. What is more, redistributive politics are not accepted when people feel they have to share with strangers, who are 'not like us'. In an article in the liberal monthly, Prospect, in December 2000, Alan Wolfe and Jytte Klausen argued: 'Solidarity and diversity are both desirable objectives. Unfortunately, they can also conflict. A sense of solidarity creates a readiness to share with strangers, which in turn underpins a thriving welfare state. But it is easier to feel solidarity with those who broadly share your values and way of life. Modern progressives committed to diversity often fail to acknowledge this.' Diversity and solidarity, both sound bites of the Left, can be mutually antagonistic.

That “diversity” is opposed to “solidarity” is obvious. If differences brought us together, then there would be no reason to encourage diversity—we would naturally be brought together into groups with those radically different to us, encouraged to do so by the cohesive effects of diversity. As it is, we tend to associate with people we can identify with. That is an uncontroversial truth.

Nevertheless, it is held as self-evident by diversiphiles that highlighting our differences will make us more united. It is impossible to argue with a diversiphile on this, because they simply assume it as a premise, effectively begging the question. They have been so successful in this practice, that they have successfully redefined diversity to include unity—an Orwellian sleight-of-hand which creates a false linguistic façade over the stark reality of homogeneity as solidarity and heterogeneity as a source of conflict.

The postmodern obsession with language as constituting reality (a variation on the socialist belief that our reality is socially constructed, rather than constructed by natural forces—for example, say, the common feminist belief that there are no inherent differences between men and women, and that all observable differences can be explained by social conditioning rather than biology) makes this dangerous semantic game more common.

If there is no objective reality, reality instead being contingent upon the language we use to describe this reality, then control of the language itself becomes a means of controlling reality. Speech codes, political correctness, rampant accusations of sexism and racism, intent-disregarding hermeneutics such as Derridean deconstruction—these are the linguistic tools by which the postmodern left hopes to modify our perception of the world, or, in their view, modify the world itself. Double-plus ungood, that.

Back to the article:


Edmund Burke, Benjamin Disraeli and Michael Oakeshott are paleoconservative heroes, and detractors of the Enlightenment. Since Hayek and Popper, however, many on the Right have come to embrace the universalist aspects of the Enlightenment. Simultaneously, many on the Left have moved in the other direction.

I find this interesting, because Hayek and Popper are my favorite philosophers. However, one could question Hayek’s inclusion here as embracing universalist aspects of the Enlightenment. Indeed, Hayek was a vicious critic of the caustic hyper-rationality of many leftists, which I think Hayek even traced back to the Enlightenment, that ate through traditions and institutions, leaving the flimsy tenements of rational, centralized planning in their place. Hayek’s view’s on the evolution of traditions as a reason for accepting them, which I have wrote on before, also does come dangerously close to embracing a form of naturalistic relativism (believing something is good, simply because it exists), a possible consequence of his views that I do find somewhat disturbing, and that I’m still contemplating. Hayek’s evolutionist views notwithstanding, he was a strong believer in the universality of the liberal tradition. Popper fits the universalist mold perfectly, although I think someone could take his epistemological views and twist them into an endorsement of relativism (he believed that we can never know that we know the truth—not that there is no truth, just that we can never be sure that we currently know it and so should be open to new views).

The article, again:


Another to put his head above the parapet is the gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who rebutted accusations that his effort to ban homophobic reggae singers is racist. 'Some defend violently anti-gay reggae music on the grounds that homophobia is "part of Jamaican culture". Racism was part of Afrikaaner culture in apartheid South Africa, but that did not make it right', Tatchell wrote in the Guardian in August 2004. 'The real racism is not our campaign against murder music, but most people's indifference to the persecution of gay Jamaicans. No one would tolerate such abuses against white people in Britain; it is racist to allow them to happen to black people in another country.'


The sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, a tenacious socialist, agrees: 'If insecurity and the paralysing feeling of powerlessness are the two major spectres haunting the poor, "multiculturalism" and "moral relativism" must be two of the least topical worries of poorer people'. It has come to a bizarre predicament when, in July 2004, the left-wing Ken Livingstone saw no objection to welcoming to City Hall an Islamic extremist Muslim cleric who asserted that women who are raped are partly to blame; that husbands should be permitted to hit their wives; and that homosexuality should be punished by burning or stoning to death.

The celebration of ethnic particularism is a betrayal of the socialist ideal that the best way to create a more equal society is to perceive oneself, above anything else, along class lines. Celebrating diversity is an unwitting way of implementing a policy of divide and rule. In the words of the left-wing sociologist Brian Barry: 'There is no better way of heading off the nightmare of political action by the economically disadvantaged that might issue in common demands than to set different groups of the disadvantaged against one another.'

Diversity sets economically disadvantaged groups against each other, by emphasizing their differences. If diversity is opposed to solidarity, as it self-evidently is, then it is also opposed to Marxism, which relies on the solidarity of the proletariat to cast off the chains of the bourgeoisie. Marxism, after all, is just another metanarrative. Diversity cannot countenance any such claims at ultimate truth (well, besides for its own claim to truth, of course).

Diversity is opposed to progress. It is opposed to both liberalism and Marxism, although compatible with a relativist version of conservatism.

Diversity is relativist conservatism--I should think some in the university might want to rethink their near-religious commitment to it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen brotha.

9:10 AM  

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