Abstract. Multiculturalism imitates cultural/religious pluralism, while undermining it by denying that we can understand persons of different “races” or genders, for each category is self-contained and indecipherable to other groups. Cultural pluralism should be about lots and lots of competing political parties and religions. The very fact that there is no state religion can call into question dogmatic upholders of any one belief system, religious or otherwise. Intellectual diversity can freak out the true believer, no matter how affiliated or indoctrinated.
Several Facebook friends have asked me to define my terms more carefully, because I assume too much when using academic jargon that is unfamiliar to them. Today’s topic is “cultural pluralism.”
Cultural pluralism is a confusing term because of the word “culture.” Much of this website is devoted to tracing the history of the term “culture” as a substitute for a more materialist analysis of our society and its institutions (i.e., substitute secular for materialist to distinguish me from a dialectical materialist). As currently practiced, cultural pluralism is almost synonymous with “multiculturalism,” which is adhered to by those envisioning a happy cooperating system of grouplets based on race or ethnicity. The multicultural assumption is that the race or ethnicity they name is free of internal divisions or divergent and/or incompatible economic interest. Thus it may be imagined that all “African-Americans” think alike, have the same economic and gender interests, and are “different” from other Americans, even though the (better) Founders and their 19th century admirers imagined that we would all live under the rule of law as distinct individuals endowed with inalienable rights.
A better term than cultural pluralism, not weighed down with “cultural” differences, would be intellectual diversity or “the marketplace of ideas.”
But in order for the marketplace of ideas to work, all participants need to be able to decode propaganda, whether the propaganda is transmitted through buzz words like “family” or through images that compel our allegiance or frighten us. Herbert Marcuse’s theory of repressive tolerance remains useful, but when first presented, it aroused a firestorm of opposition because Marcuse wanted to ban all but left-wing speech. Can anything be reclaimed from his theory? My view is that we lose when we allow the opposition to define the terms of the debate.
We are familiar with such tactics today, as Harry Reid and others define the Republican Party as “obstructionists” or “anarchists” or “defiant.” Reid and his ilk could define the competing ideas that motivate different political factions today (for his own party does not think as one), but he cannot do that, for he MUST smear the opposition in order to 1. present a united front of Democrats; and 2. to please the political class that supports him. It is the way things are done in Washington DC today. I could point to some polarizing Republicans as well.
These are hard times for intellectual diversity. That is why I admire Eva Moskowitz’s notion of having her charter school kids learn how to extract the message of a poem in grade school! Reading comprehension has never been more important. I could add to that the decoding of images.
Another confusing tactic use by authoritarians of either party is the accusation of “power-seeking” as an end in itself. I have been watching House of Cards on Netflix, and “Francis Underwood” talks to the viewer explaining that he is not out for money but “power.” But in a few episodes later, we learn that he has risen up from Southern “white-trash”. So his delight in “power” is all about revenge for the snobbery, bullying, and exclusion he undoubtedly experienced as a boy.
Displaced aristocrats (or those working for them) originated the notion of the organic society, or the organic nation, or “races”. For wannabe “aristocrats” today, nothing is so forbidden as reasoned differences of opinion, or as I call it intellectual diversity, including the summoning of “facts.” For once you open Pandora’s Box, there is no telling what monstrosities will fly out. Better to keep that box shut tight, lest the inquiring mind acquire the legitimacy that it occasionally enjoyed in eighteenth century England, parts of the United States, the Netherlands, and France. (On Pandora in Greek mythology see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandora.)