Friday, June 16, 2017

I Am a Prophet

Well, not really. But I like to flatter myself I was a little ahead of the curve when it comes to the current reaction against globalism-- a word which only seems to have come into common currency in the last year or so.

In 2007, long before Brexit and Trump, I sent this letter to one of the UCD newspapers, and it was published. I was a bit apprehensive it might turn me into a pariah, but I needn't have worried-- hardly anybody even noticed it.

I wouldn't stand by everything in this letter now, especially the parts where I drag in capitalism and big business. I've come to believe that capitalism and big business can be dragged into any theory, because it's everywhere. The predictions also seem too confident now; I would reclassify them as dangers rather than inevitabilites today.

Dear Editor

Cultural Diversity week has come and gone once again in UCD, and the
university has been running courses on cultural awareness as part of "Intercultural and Anti-Racism Week". The assumption is that this interculturality is unquestionably a good thing, and that anyone who disagrees is a racist and a xenophobe. I am neither of those things, and I do disagree. I believe passionately in cultural diversity, but I also believe that the ideology being flogged in UCD and the rest of Irish society-- multiculturalism—is in fact the enemy of every
culture, and inimical to meaningful diversity. Multiculturalism, under
all the highminded rhetoric, is little more than a capitalist's

Let me be clear: I am not attacking cosmopolitanism within UCD. Universities have always been, quite rightly, a place in which students come to encounter the best that has been thought and written, in all times and places, and encounter the world's wealth of traditions. I am, rather, criticizing the social ideology UCD is
helping to propound.

What is a culture? Surely nothing other than this; a nexus of traditions and customs that have evolved over centuries, in a particular place, amongst a particular people. It distinguishes them from the rest of the world. It possesses a certain unity, a certain aesthetic; a set of underlying principles running through all its customs, traditions, institutions and art. These underlying principles  may be enigmatic, elusive, even contradictory; in fact, they usually are; but they are deeply-rooted and pervasive. Such defining values evolve over time, and are constantly enriched by outside influences, but there must be a fundamental continuity, a fundamental unity, or we cannot truly speak of a culture.

All this seems very intangible; but its effect on actual human  existence has been very real indeed. A glance at the history, art, literature and folklore of past centuries shows us how much meaning, how keen a sense of belonging and even transcendence is given to countless lives by heritage and tradition, by the distinctiveness of one's native society.

Let me not overstate the case. The greatest things in life-- the  eternal truths of morality, the fundamentals of the human condition, the masterpieces of art-- are doubtless universal. But much that is precious and life-enhancing is not universal, and is precious precisely because it is not universal. You feel an affinity with the
man sitting beside you on the bus because he is a fellow human, but you love your best friend because she is herself and unlike anybody else.

Now we have embraced multiculturalism, what will remain of this  distinctiveness? Will there still be an England, an Ireland, a Germany? Or will the world become one vast consumerist bazaar, the same "Irish" pubs, Thai restaurants, pseudo-African gimcracks to be found wherever you travel? The second seems more likely to me; it's happening already.

Populations will shift from country to country, servicing  international capitalism's need for a pool of surplus labour. Communities whose core were formed of the same families through generations, that were wells of living memory for decades and centuries, will be transformed into entirely different places  overnight, suburbs of everywhere and nowhere. Every country will prostitute its history and traditions for the tourist dollar, becoming a crude parody of itself in the process.

Whatever apparent diversity we experience as a result will be entirely superficial. Cultures cannot be mixed and matched, transplanted and interfused, so cavalierly. They grew in a particular context, they were rooted in a soil, and though you may pick the flowers and scatter them all over the earth, they will be nothing but dead blooms. A culture is not a ragbag of recipes and dances and sayings; these are merely its expression. The culture is the shared value-systems,circumstances and memory that gave rise to them.

The skin-deep eclecticism multiculturalists celebrate is surely  ephemeral, anyway. The various ethnic communities that inhabit each state will create a new fusion, which seems-- going on current trends-- less likely to be some creative synthesis of their various traditions, then the universal culture of jeans, rock music, cars, American sit-coms, fast-food restaurants and international sport. We
are not fostering diversity. We are bringing about homogeneity, its complete opposite.

Maybe all this doesn't matter, however tragic it seems to me. Maybe modern communications and transport make this erosion of regional differences inevitable. Maybe we do indeed live in Francis Fukuyama's end of history. But let's at least accept all this for what it is--the world-wide victory of a consumerist society-- and stop pretending it has anything at all to do with culture, or diversity.

Yours faithfully

Maolsheachlann O Ceallaigh

No comments:

Post a Comment