Untimely Observations

Immigration and Boutique Multiculturalism


If you spend any time on Facebook, you may have seen someone you know post the following copy-and-paste status message, which seems to have been making the rounds at least since the Arizona immigration law went into effect:

Your car is Japanese. Your pizza is Italian. Your beer is German. Your wine is Spanish. Your democracy is Greek. Your coffee is Brazilian. Your tea is Chinese. Your watch is Swiss. Your fashion is French. Your shirt is Indian. Your shoes are Thai. Your radio is Korean. Your vodka is Russian--and then you complain that your neighbor is... ......an immigrant? Pull yourself together! Copy if you are against Racism!

Let's just address a few basic problems with this.

First of all, my car is a Toyota, but as you can see from the VIN, it was actually made right here in the USA. In fact, we make Toyotas here in Indiana. And that pizza we had last week? That was made from all US ingredients, too. I’m pretty sure at least the cheese was from Wisconsin. I think the tomatoes were from California, though I realise some don’t consider that part of the US anymore.

With that out of the way, let's talk about what Stanley Fish calls 'boutique multiculturalism'. I read his article on the topic back in my college days and it has remained a favourite of mine ever since. Fish is a Leftist of the highest order, but he's an intelligent Leftist, so I do rather enjoy what he writes, even when I don’t agree with all of it. If you can find it, read it; I highly recommend it.

Boutique multiculturalism, as Fish defines it, is a superficial fascination with the Other: ethnic food, weekend festivals, and high-profile flirtations with the Other. Boutique multiculturalism is exactly what all this global consumerism nonsense in the Facebook status message means. Purveyors of this superficial brand of multiculturalism appreciate, enjoy, sympathise with, and 'recognise the legitimacy' of cultures other than their own. But they always stop short of approving these radically different other cultures at the point where it would matter most to the strongly committed members of the other culture. We may, for example, say that Jews should be allowed to practice their religion in our countries, but we certainly don't approve of kosher animal slaughter or of women being forced to shave their heads and wear wigs. But hey, that dreidl game is really fun! At the point where the boutique multiculturalist finds another's cultural practices inhumane or irrational, he withdraws his respect and appreciation. For this person, multiculturalism is just a matter of lifestyle.

Fish then goes on to define strong multiculturalism. For the strong multiculturalist, the guiding principle is tolerance, but Fish points out the inherent dilemma faced by these people. For strong multiculturalists are really just less shallow versions of boutique multiculturalists. They face a dilemma when their esteemed tolerance requires them to tolerate cultures that are inherently and fundamentally intolerant . . . and most of the world’s cultures are intolerant. That’s how they’ve managed to survive thus far. The strong multiculturalist, who advocates diversity in principle and whose game is the politics of difference, cannot then advocate any particular cultural difference because allowing one such particular difference full participation in our socio-political world would mean that other cultural differences would be suppressed. He cannot speak out for cultural differences that may intrude on another culture's right to practice its own different traditions, customs, and beliefs. That wouldn't be fair. That would be intolerant. They can't favour one culture over another, as they are all equally valid ways of life. But his guiding principle of tolerance is, as you can see, quite useless. It’s a lose-lose situation for the multiculturalist.

Now, someone like this could possibly stay the course, supporting cultural differences no matter what, no matter if they impinge on another group's freedom to be different in a Western democratic society. But then that person is not really a multiculturalist. If he is willing to go to the wall over a particular culture, then he is a uniculturalist—which Fish argues we all are to some extent. And I agree—because the so-called multiculturalist’s strong support for one culture necessarily excludes his strong support for some other, or for all other cultures.

(Fish then goes on to discuss at great length what this means for liberals and why they are incapable of thinking about hate speech—which is interesting, but not entirely relevant to this discussion.)

What does boutique multiculturalism have to do with immigrants? If we enjoy tacos, does that mean we want to move to Mexico, or that we want Mexico's problems to come here? If we go to Irish Fest, does that really give us true knowledge of Irish culture and its values and traditions? Of course not.

Now, most people who advocate mass Third-World immigration, I find, do fit into Fish's descriptions of the boutique or strong multiculturalist. They rely on weak arguments to justify mass immigration from cultures radically different from our own, saying we should all just get along and isn't it wonderful that we have Mexican restaurants and Chinese restaurants and Indian restaurants. Or that we have no right to judge someone else's culture, that we must be tolerant of them all.

Historically, the multiculturalist experiment has failed everywhere. It leads to deep division and conflict. In the West, the problem will never be solved as long as we have an establishment that keeps pretending that we can all get along, and that differences in the multicultural society are merely superficial differences of lifestyle and opinion.

Multiculturalism is more than just food, festivals, music, and clothes. If that were all that it was, then we could probably all just get along. For example, I really love chocolate and my boyfriend doesn't; and he really loves the Grateful Dead, which I hate . . .  but we've still managed to live together for six years in relative harmony and with pretty much no bickering. I even put up with that ugly sweater of his; he just doesn't get as many hugs when he wears it.

Having different cultures means having fundamental differences in values. A common “argument” (and I use that in the loosest sense of the term) is that “We’re all immigrants.” Well, that’s simply not true. Most of us aren’t immigrants. But for the sake of argument, I’ll assume the hypothetical proponent of this argument means we all came from immigrant families at some point. The difference between the immigrants that came here from Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries and those that come today from Third World countries is that our European ancestors shared a common culture. Yes, there are variations on European culture, as you move from one country to another, but Europe as a whole shares a common culture and a common history. We understand each other, we value the same things, we are alike in very fundamental ways. Our differences are largely superficial. European immigrants came to a country that was founded by other Europeans who established a government and way of life based on European Enlightenment principles—those of Locke, Mill, and other thinkers. European immigrants integrated relatively easily. And they wanted to integrate. They truly came for a better life, not an easier life. They knew it wouldn’t be easy. They knew many of them would die on the journey or during their first winter. But, disgusted and frustrated with the government policy in their homelands, they were willing to make these sacrifices.

Today’s immigrants to America are nothing like the European immigrants who came before. Today’s immigrants come from radically different cultural backgrounds. They have radically different ideas about notions we take for granted. For example, democracy, women’s rights, social responsibility, or freedom of religion, just to name a few. They have no common history with us, many of our most important ideas are as foreign to them as theirs are to us, and, instead of integrating, they form ethnic enclaves and isolate themselves from real Americans. These people do not come here for a better life and they are not willing to make sacrifices. They come because they have heard that there are a lot of free lunches being handed out over here. The majority of immigrants who come to this country, legally and illegally, are not skilled workers, but the dregs of their societies. They are not interested in what they can do for American society, but in what they can get out of it for themselves and their own people.

Now, let’s go back to that status message referenced above. Allegedly, my opposition to having immigrant neighbours makes me a racist. I can’t decide whether I should agree or disagree with the allegation. Am I a racist for believing that a culture can only be perpetuated by those who have a blood attachment to it and not by transplants who look, act, and think differently from me and my ancestors in fundamental ways? Am I racist because I want to keep my culture from being diluted or demolished by outsiders who have no interest in its continuance? Does wanting my own culture to carry on being the dominant culture in the country it created mean that I hate others and want to wipe them out?

The main problem with a multicultural ideology is that, at its core, it is completely hypocritical. It ignores the reality that many cultures are intolerant of others. For a people and their culture to survive, they must acknowledge that other groups may not like them—for any number of reasons—and desire their destruction or subjugation. They must actively take measures to neutralise threats to their way of life. And in some cases, they may take pre-emptive action and attempt to conquer a rival group first. (For more on why tribalist thinking has the advantage and wins in the long-term, see Lee Harris' book, The Suicide of Reason.) It’s impossible to convince every single person in the world that we can co-exist, and as long as any one group desires dominion over another, we must all guard against that threat in order to protect our own. Furthermore, to ask two radically different cultural groups to “put aside their differences” is an attack against what makes each culture unique, and therefore also unrealistic. Modern White Christians may be convinced to give up their Christmas celebrations in honour of tolerance, but no Muslim or Jew would even think of giving up their holy days just avoid offending members of another group.

This kind of “we-can-all-get-along” mentality is also inherently arrogant. To think we are so enlightened that we can accomplish what no one else in history has ever managed to do is ludicrous. Even more ludicrous is to assume that we can do it peacefully and democratically, that we are so eloquent and persuasive that we can convince others to give up their most deeply held beliefs for the sake of peace with groups they probably don’t even like. I think it could even be argued that such a belief is racist, as it is almost exclusively held by White liberals, who apparently think they know better than the coloured masses, whom they believe it to be their duty to “educate” into this “better” way of thinking. In that sense, they are no better than imperialists and colonialists, and they are certainly not in favour of true diversity.

And what if we did accomplish this utopian multicultural fantasy? What then? I think in order for that to happen, we would all have to turn into boutique multiculturalists, throwing off the ways of our ancestors, discarding any meaningful culture we might have left. We would all have to become the same, with no one holding on to any strong religious or cultural beliefs. And then we would not have a multicultural society but a unicultural society or, more accurately, a non-cultural society. If it didn’t offend anybody or exclude anybody, maybe we could still have Irish Fest. I hope so, because I like Irish Fest.