YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

June 16, 2011

The antiquated “melting pot”

Israel Zangwill, Time cover 1923

This short statement was posted on H-US1918-1945, June 15, 2011 and was hotly contested in three responses today by defenders of social history. This is what aroused objections, including one that demanded to change the subject.

[My slightly revised posting:] One feature of my research (on contending ideologies during the period covered in this discussion group) has been on the move away from “scientific history” toward “cultural history” and “social history.” Although the statement in the first issue of Commentary, quoted below, is dated 1945, Carolyn Ware had already reported to the American Historical Society in 1939 that “scientific history” (apparently materialist in her eyes, and too focused on the individual investigator following the evidence wherever it led) was now displaced by what many call culturalism, a focus on the individual as interacting with groups, and indeed, groups now possessed individuality in her ideology, thus erasing the conflict between the individual and society. I am wondering if anyone on this list has looked into the New Deal Bureau for Intercultural Education, cited in this article quoted below. I noticed that the stigmatizing of the unique individual as the measure of value had begun long before, as I showed in this blog  http://clarespark.com/2011/03/06/groupiness, also in my work on the German Romantic predecessors to what is now called “multiculturalism.” [See http://clarespark.com/2011/03/28/index-to-multiculturalism-blogs/.  The lengthy quotes from Mordecai Grossman’s article are followed by a comment of mine.

[Mordecai Grossman, “The Schools Fight Prejudice,” Commentary,Nov. 1945:]

“To many school people and laymen, prevailing widespread intergroup antagonisms with their tensions and outbreaks, like the recent school strikes and riots, testify to the school’s failure to date to communicate America’s democratic heritage.

“The intercultural education movement [begun with the New Deal Bureau for Intercultural Education, 1935] in which many teachers, schools and national organizations of teachers…are now joined, is based on two principal assumptions: first, that prejudices are culturally transmitted rather than biologically inherited, and second, that the school can, by one method or another, contribute significantly to the transformation of self-enclosed, mutually exclusive and hate-breeding cultures into open, interplaying and cooperating cultures. We have here a reaffirmation of the faith in education as a force for human progress and in the schools as the principal instrument of education in democratic ideals. A democratic way of life…is one which seeks to provide every individual with the maximum possible opportunity for personal growth and community service, for sharing in the control over the economic, political, and social conditions of group life, and for mastery over his own destiny–for all individuals regardless of race, creed, or ancestry.

“However, inter-individual (man-to-man) democracy is…only one aspect of the democratic way of life. The other is intercultural democracy [that] occupies a somewhat intermediate position between the ideals of “cultural pluralism” and of the “melting pot.” In contrast with the former, intercultural democracy denies both the possibility and the desirability of maintaining fairly intact the ancestral cultures of the varied ethnic groups that came here. But it also denies the possibility and desirability of stamping the 140,000,000 Americans in the mold of a uniform dominant culture–of a “melting pot” Americanism. For a democratic culture is an open culture, continually growing through individual and group interaction. Advocates of intercultural education recognize the survival of elements of old world culture in the new. Such elements of the old world heritage that are at odds with a democratic way of life are to be eliminated.

“But there are others which do not impede the growth of a common democratic culture, and which may even enrich it. These are to be retained…(35). [The Program:]…to contrast democracy with rival ways of life, say fascism…The thick walls which separate the social and ethnic groups in American society consist in large part of the stereotyped pictures that members of the “in” group have in their minds of individuals in the “out” group…[We must study] the tricks the human mind plays on itself, including those of “rationalization,” “projection,” and “scapegoating,” and which others play on us by means of propaganda techniques,
etc. (37, 38)…[T]here is the risk that the gains likely to accrue from the school’s attempt to develop an appreciation of the sub-culture will be nullified by the possible heightening of the sense of difference. Much depends on the way the intercultural program is administered (42).” [end Grossman quote, my emphasis]

[My commentary on the Grossman quote:] All of postwar pedagogy fits into this impossible dream, a scheme to be realized by an artful administrator (who would presumably prevent further “school strikes and riots”). But Grossman has distorted the meaning of “the melting pot” as it was previously understood and bodied forth in Israel Zangwill’s famous play of 1908. For Zangwill and his predecessors (including de Crèvecoeur and Jefferson), a new man would be created out of the religious and ethnic mix unique to America, and this rights-endowed individual new man and woman presumably would be fit to judge their elected government representatives with the critical tools of the Enlightenment: analysis of propaganda and access to primary source documents, ending the monopoly of rulers whose affairs were conducted far from the public eye.

By rejecting the culturally syncretic* “melting pot,” Grossman was left with the cultural pluralism he was adjusting, to be replaced by a vaguely defined “intercultural democracy.” There are no autonomous free-standing individuals in his model, only interactive (collectivist) entities. Since he was actually reversing the Enlightenment by replacing individuals with groups (today we would say “community” as a substitute for the group and a corrective to hyper-individualistic loose cannons of all types), he resorted to the contrast of “democracy” with “fascism,” all the while ignoring the statism and destruction of the dissenting individual that was common to both ideologies as realized in the collectivist categories asserted in the New Deal and its progressive antecedents. (For “the individual” or “rugged individualist” was now associated with “laissez-faire capitalism” by statists of every stripe, from fascists to social democrats, though I do not equate them.) And of course Grossman underestimated the grip that authoritarian ideologies and ancestor-worship maintained in the offspring of his would-be democrats.

The editor of this Humanities-Net list, Jeremy Bonner, helped historians on the list with the following addition: “For the record, the papers of the Bureau for Intercultural Education are located at the University of Minnesota. Founded in 1934, it initially operated in New York high schools as the Service Bureau for Education in Human Relations. The Bureau for Intercultural Education emerged out of a reorganization of the original Service Bureau in 1939-1941. It subsequently provided workshop training for teachers and scientific research in human relations through field centers in Detroit, Gary, and Battle Creek. It was dissolved in 1954.

A finding aid can be found at: http://www.ihrc.umn.edu/research/vitrage/all/bo/GENbie.htm

*Syncretic means that cultures do not evolve in isolation but frequently fuse with other cultures. For instance, the popular music of the early 20th century was a fusion of mid-19th century middle-class music (often Irish or British in origin), black music, remembered Jewish music, and music from such sources as Gilbert and Sullivan and European opera.

September 15, 2009

Making mobs with bad words and concepts

Hiram Powers, The Greek Slave

Few have left comments on my blogs. I take this personally. One friend tells me that my views are too unorthodox, even though I do class analysis, which should at least elicit some response from the left and from left-liberals. The same friend tells me that I use too many big words. What is a big word or a big concept today? Here are some words in common use that few fully understand, though they throw them around in political speech in the media and in schools, with the consequence that we create mobbish political emotions, not thoughtful individual citizens, teaching each other how to think like participants in an advanced democracy:

1. FASCISM. It seems that both statists (the “big government” Left) and anti-statists (conservatives, small businessmen, and libertarian economists) are “fascists” if we are to look at signs at protest demonstrations, whether these be tea-parties or antiwar demonstrations. How many of us, if asked what is meant by the corporate state, would know how to describe its ideology and institutions? Does journalist Jonah Goldberg know, whose Liberal Fascism is popular on the Right, but to me is a scandal? [Why is it a scandal? Because he is tarring social democrats with the fascist brush, even though he makes the disclaimer that of course we have free speech here, so he is really only nailing the American Progressives for their production of the nanny state, eugenics, and other crimes against humanity that had parallels in states we abhor. As I have said earlier (http://clarespark.com/2009/09/09/preventive-medicine-and-preventive-politics/), state investment or state sponsorship does not necessarily imply state control, and the arguments against any form of "statism" are often mounted by those authoritarians who fear losing control of their children to such wacko theories as science, evolutionary biology, or evidence-based medicine, including psychiatry.* Why do we not all know about Hayek and Rose and Milton Friedman as they call for both a public and private sector? OMG, I must be a neoliberal.]

2. NATIONAL CHARACTER. I could have substituted “group mind” for this. Why do few pundits, in academe or in the media, squash this absurd formulation? It is true that a set of customary laws, or religious pluralism can create a large segment of the population bound by common cultural patterns (such as skepticism toward arbitrary authority in America), but those who devised the concept had collectivist mentalities, and were hostile to dissent and the very concept of the individual as a person with rights, not merely duties to a presumably like-minded “community.” [See prior blog “The Fallen Flesh Brigade (repaired).”]

3. MODERATE. One of the first books I read on psychological warfare was by a forgotten social psychologist, Ellis Freeman, author of Conquering the Man in the Street (Vanguard Press, 1940). It was about organicism through the ages, starting, as I recall, with Plato and ending with fascism and Nazism. It was a primer for me on how to do sykewar (or recognize it), and the strategy I remember best is “flogging the dead horse.” In this one, you call yourself a moderate, and everyone wants to be such a balanced person, though no one knows exactly what you mean by it. Unless you get down and dirty by specifying concretely what the conflict is that you are supposedly moderating, you are appealing to a fictional feel-good word, not to a specific policy proposal or tactic that can then be criticized on its merits. Richard Crossman also wrote a book along these lines: Plato Today (1938). The organic conservatives (the pseudo-moderate men) are those protofascist historians who don’t write materialist history, but write history as a subset of poetic natural history. (See for instance my blog http://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/, or http://clarespark.com/2009/09/03/advice-for-the-lovelorn-with-thoughts-on-hero-worship/, retitled “Manifest Destiny or Political Liberty?”) They may be avowed “anti-racists” but their discourse is racialist; i.e., they believe in group character transmitted through heredity and rootedness in a specific environment. The enemy is the rootless cosmopolitan, that unreliable and uncontrollable wanderer.

4. MIDDLE-CLASS. Do you remember when this term was either mocked as absurdly vague and too comprehensive to be descriptive, and at best, referring only to status, as if class was a ladder? No, you are too young. Today, our President uses it to refer to what used to be called the WORKING-CLASS. Now like it or not, there was and is such a thing as an industrial worker, and to conflate such workers with owners of small businesses, or members of the service sector, or bureaucrats, is meshugah to use my favorite word when I am very frustrated.

5. WHITE MALE SUPREMACY. Here is another example of political degeneracy in the spread of “whiteness studies.” It rests on a view ofAmerika” as one marauding individual, raping the environment, slaughtering Indians, grinding the faces of the [non-white] poor, and performing patriarchy on hapless females. It is the chief arrow in the quiver of cultural nationalists who really do behave like fascists under the banner of “self-determination,” but who are given a pass by guilty liberals. That is why this entire series of blogs has been devoted to combating the premises of multiculturalism, which is not the same as the non-discriminatory equality of opportunity that we strive for in a secular state. And of course the term “white supremacy” conflates the entire white working-class with the worst nativists who really did hate Jews, immigrants from Southeastern or Eastern Europe, blacks, Mexicans, the Chinese, and anyone who did not “build this country” and cross the plains in covered wagons, or earlier, defeat the British. (For a prime example of the type, see anything by Thomas Dixon, author of The Klansman, and a champion of the Scots-Irish, the true American Heroes. Now there was a true American fascist, see his Flaming Sword.)

6. FREEDOM. Need I elaborate this one? Years ago, I heard a famous leftist explain to an art student that freedom was yielding to the laws of historical necessity. And what was historical necessity? Ask any dialectical materialist, or Leninist for that matter as he attempts to co-opt the authority of science. For Herder (mentioned above) freedom signified freedom from the French language in favor of the German vernacular–the native language that would create a people’s community, the Volk, so as to express the natural Zeitgeist. The same goes for “the oppressed” who long to be free from “the West,” the banks, big business, white people, men, you name it. Social historians believe that they are striking a blow for freedom when they study “the people” instead of “literary sources” (by which they mean the documents that describe the actions of elites, whether these are diplomatic records, memoirs and diaries, high culture, or anything else that powerful people create). But for any thoughtful, introspective person, it is always ambiguous to separate “structures” from “agency”–how do we know when we are exercising free will or whether we are reacting to inherited qualities or events from the past or present that shape our preferences?

When I refer to intellectual freedom in these blogs, I usually mean the freedom of access to all primary source materials that could help us reconstruct the lives of others assessing them as friends or opponents. Whether or not we have access to our own interior lives is the subject of literature and its allied psychotherapies. If Melville, speaking through his character Captain Ahab, couldn’t figure out the free will-fixed fate conundrum, how can any of us? We need to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. Now that is a form of freedom I can live with. (See http://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/.)

7. Rugged individualist. For a Democrat or a leftist, this is the worst thing you could call someone. It means a Randian and randy selfish money-mad s.o.b. who lacks compassion, will cheat you out of house and home and senior medical care. In fact, such a one is exactly what our Constitution protects. But the rugged individualist was erased in the 1930s in favor of “the individual-in- society.” For these collectivists, we are all embedded in our historical context, and any hope of relative autonomy and objectivity is the blackest of propaganda. For details, see http://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/.

*A psychiatrist friend explains it this way: “Non-evidence based medicine is when a doctor or other health care provider orders a test or prescribes medicine for which there is no peer reviewed evidence to support the practice.  Some think it is equivalent to off-label prescribing but there can be evidence for some of that but it has not reached legal standards. Some of it clearly harms patients or at the least deprives them of recommended treatment options.”

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