Why Multiculturalism?

1 February 2009

Response to a Response

Get to the Point. By boliston, with Creative Commons licence (Attribution 2.0 Generic)In response to both my last post and my original post on multiculturalism and China, ‘yourfriend’ has written a number of perceptive comments, arguing that multiculturalism as an ideology (not to be mistaken for a country being multicultural) is not a viable concept and thus not applicable to China. Other points, including a more accurate definition of Chinese ‘nationalities’ as ‘ethnicities’ and a critique of Professor Crane’s original argument are well worth reading, so I’ll reprint the three comments here with very minor editing (mainly the correction of a mistake that ‘yourfriend’ pointed out). If anyone else would like to offer comments on the topic, please do – discussions such as these can be crucial ways to learn. I’ll reply tomorrow.

Correction: I’ll have to reply on Tuesday, given that I have a course to attend tomorrow night. In the meantime, what do other readers think of multiculturalism, and – as ‘yourfriend’ asks in a more specific manner – how can or should we define nationality and culture?

First Comment – Response to the Original Post

The post makes less sense to me each time I read it. China is already multicultural, why the debate on whether “whites or blacks” can be “Chinese”?

Multiculturalism is a pretty loosely defined ideology, and there is no sense in using China’s current “multiculturalism” to make an argument for expanding it to include “blacks and whites” in China. I came to think that you didn’t have much of an appreciation for the ethnic and regional differences within the PRC, but I might have been wrong. I apologize if I am.

I question the quote by Crane here:

If Chinese multiculturalism does not deepen, if whites and blacks and other racial and ethnic groups cannot become Chinese, China will discourage the very people it has invited to understand its language and culture; and in the process it will be limiting the global market for its cultural products and undermining its world-wide political influence.

This is very speculative. The global market for Chinese cultural products is not very large; and especially not for genuine Chinese cultural products. At least to Americans, they consume Americanized cultural products created by “ethnic people” for the sake of novelty … very debasing, and all-around an unpleasant trade.

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From Another Perspective

25 May 2008

The Benefit of Bifocal Thought

Exploring an Idea, by JJay, with reative Commons licenceIdeas are never stagnant – they move, they change, they make way for other, better, more enduring ideas. In every mode of thought, circumstance dictates just what remains useful and the extent to which inquisition should eventually reach. But we never think without a framework; we’re always bound by a directive, a whispered voice of reason, in one way or another. Writing in The Scientist recently, Steven Wiley pointed out the inherent flaw in presuming that research can be conducted without a theoretical base, that the information ‘out-there’ can somehow speak for itself. Hypotheses, he argued – whether explicit or not – provide a “level of simplification” at which meaning can be usefully extracted from data.

We need similar guides to the broad sweep of thought, directions in which to look for everyday answers in an ever-puzzling world. I wrote recently about the flexibility of ideology, how it remains as a sort of uber-hypothesis when circumstances change. Marxism dies, you might say, but the quest for social justice remains. But now I want to ask a more pointed question, given the passing of doctrines, given just how fast lives can reconfigure themselves without much effort from those concerned (think of a death in the family, or the community, and its repercussions). How can we know that our way of thinking is sufficiently developed, appropriately fine-tuned, to help others?

As with many of the questions I’ve been asking here recently, I only have a partial, tentative answer. It springs from my struggle to balance Greetings Earthlings! as a blog of sometimes wayward ideas through which I’ve mixed a heavy element of activism and A Death in Hong Kong, a blog of activism in which ideas are very carefully administered. This blog is my own, I can write what I like; the other belongs to a group, on behalf of which I write. Quite often the content is similar or the same – most of my recent writing has been a reaction, in one way or another, to Vicky Flores’ death here in Hong Kong.

Empathy, by Irina Souiki, with Creative Commons licenceYou could point to that preoccupation as my guide, the thesis to which I’ve been writing on both blogs, the hypothesis for more developed thought. But a greater concern, a more specific concern, has been to see things from a different perspective.

To explain, allow me a short detour. A recent edition of the Economist provided an interesting overview of a study conducted in America that sought to show how a “win-win” situation could best be obtained from a two-party negotiation. Now, negotiations aren’t terribly renowned for providing happy endings – one party more often dominates, and benefits. But Adam Galinsky presumed that if both parties were to benefit, a slight change of analytical direction was necessary. Instead of considering empathy and the ability to take another person’s perspective as one and the same thing, Galinsky separated them.

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18 May 2008

First Thoughts on Perceptions and Belief

Mountain HDR, by blackbodypie, with Creative Commons licenceWhen my wife was a teenager she spent her days walking through the hills of her province, a grenade in her pocket, carrying messages for the local sugar workers’ union. The man who would become her first husband was a charismatic union organiser in the years before his untimely death, a leader of men. My wife’s sisters and brothers had all joined the movement, the Communist-led rebolusyon, in the desperate hope that things would change. Their ideology was less the maxims of Marx and Lenin and more a collection of social norms. They were working against the outrage of massive unemployment, poverty, malnutrition, subsistence-only wages and political exploitation in their own way. And then everything did change.

This was the Philippines under the Marcos dictatorship, just before people power, before the EDSA revolution in 1986 showed the world that enough people with enough hope could change the way of things peacefully.

An important point to realise about that revolution, the first ever to succeed in the Philippines, is that the Communists did not participate, and neither did most of the self-identified left. They simply isolated themselves from history. As with many successful revolutions, people power gave voice to middle class anger, was led by the disaffected amongst the upper classes, and changed an old land-holder regime for another, in the form of Corazon Aquino’s new administration.

Aquino’s ilk are known as trapos – traditional politicians – and they believe in market norms rather than social norms, even though many people would argue that patronage is their prime method of maintaining power. As a way of framing my initial thoughts about ideology in this post I’m drawing the distinction between market and social norms in line with Dan Ariely’s recently published Predictably Irrational. In previous posts I’ve argued that the market is a social system, which I still believe, but I want to suggest here that market norms can be defined by price in some way or another, and that social norms are determined by obligation. They might be part of the same overall system, but they’re definably different.

10 Pesos - S3is10Pesos, by Daniel Y. Go, with Creative Commons licenceI also want to argue that market norms alone cannot form a true ideology (capitalism, here, would be a mix of social and market norms). Relating that back to landholding trapos in the Philippines, who are often mired in corruption and are clearly manipulative of the political system, the pure market basis should be obvious.

Everything has a price, even life and death.

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