One of many abominations we can blame on Jimmy Carter is the United States’ blessedly half-hearted embrace of multi-culturalism, which Jimmy and his acolytes believed was enlightenment from Europe when in fact it was a disease. This was linked to the ethical value of tolerance, which was in turn used to bludgeon into submission anyone who committed the politically incorrect crime of criticizing conduct that was antithetical to American values engaged in by citizens from other nations.
Civilization needs standards, and culture is the setting of standards, ethical and otherwise. Multi-culturalism is a compact oxymoron that makes society’s standards schizophrenic, impeding efficiency, fairness, and consensus about right and wrong. “Tolerance” requires acceptance of the intolerable, or in its most common permutation here, tolerating the intolerable practices that progressives would like to see established here, while somehow reasoning that other practices that progressives don’t admire shouldn’t qualify for “tolerance.” The traveling companion of this cynical tolerance is political correctness, properly put in its place by French philosopher-historian Jacques Berzun, who said “Political correctness does not legislate tolerance; it only organizes hatred.”
Now the leaders of Great Britain, France and Germany have suddenly figured out that multi-culturalism is destructive, based on the ethical confusion and fractured societies it has created in their nations. Why it took them so long, I have no idea. Back in the 1980’s, I was in charge of a long-term study of the Hispanic American business community, seeking strategies for the U.S. business community to assist its development. One of the big fights on the study committee was over the concept of “mainstreaming,” helping Hispanic businesses develop practices that would lead to success. The representatives of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce insisted that American business had to learn to be tolerant of cultural norms in South America and Mexico, not seek to change them. Among these norms: casual or non-existent time perspective. In many Hispanic cultures, the idea of set times for meetings doesn’t exist. The members of the Hispanic Chamber demonstrated this repeatedly by their own conduct, sometimes making the other members of my committee wait for hours. They would then arrive without apology. This was “their way.”
Well, “their way” wouldn’t work in American business, and our final report said so. A system cannot flourish with one set of rules for one group, and another set for everyone else. Persistent tardiness was not going to be tolerated, and multi-culturalism, in this area, was impossible.
When philosopher Denis Dutton died a few moths ago, I tried to find a good way to mark his passing here and couldn’t. Now I have one. In an article from 2002, Dutton mused on the topic of multi-culturalism, and began with this anecdote:
“When General George Napier was governor of Sind province in India in the 1840s, he vigorously enforced the ban on suttee, the practice of throwing a Hindu widow on to the funeral pyre of her husband. A delegation of Brahmins came to him to explain that he must not prohibit the practice at the funeral of a particular maharaja, as it was an important cultural custom.
“If it is your custom to burn a widow alive, please go on,” Napier responded.
“We have a custom in our country that whoever burns a person alive shall be hanged. While you prepare the funeral pyre, my carpenters will be making the gallows to hang all of you. Let us all act according to our customs” The Brahmins thought better of it, and the widow lived.”
America benefits from many aspects of the other cultures that enter our melting pot–a term that my friends from the Hispanic Chamber objected to and wanted changed to “stew.” I have no problem with the stew analogy, as long as it is understood that the American culture is the cook, and has the right, and indeed the duty, to reject ingredients that it has good reason to believe will poison the stew or make it taste bad.