The Clare Spark Blog

February 11, 2011

“Undoing” multiculturalism

Houdon's Condorcet, 1785

In my last blog, I summarized those who benefited from the institutionalization of “multiculturalism” (https://clarespark.com/2011/02/10/multiculturalism-cui-bono/).  By referring to the Freudian conception of “undoing”, I do not substitute one form of magical thinking with another. Symbolic gestures designed to change behavior are no substitute for a complete renovation of our conception of democracy and its reparable flaws.

I begin by reviewing my own history of the subject. As program director of Pacifica radio station KPFK in Los Angeles, I was told to implement “multiculturalism.” In my naïveté, I thought that meant that the history of minority groups, women, and labor would be integrated into all of our programming. This was no impulsive gesture: I had already heard and seen the rise of cultural nationalism and its feeble opposition in the academy.  Although the other program directors of the five Pacifica stations ratified my resolution to use the integrationist approach throughout the network, I was immediately red-baited by David Salniker, then the Executive Director of the Pacifica Foundation.  I am convinced that my ongoing insistence on scientific thinking over myth-making was the major cause of my firing in the summer of 1982, eighteen months after my hiring.

In graduate school at UCLA, I was appointed to represent all the students of the University of California system in the Committee on Affirmative Action Hiring and Programs. I introduced a similar resolution there: in those appropriate subjects, all professors would be expected to integrate into their classes the recent discoveries regarding the history of women and minorities, rather than shunting off these new or updated histories to separate departments and leaving the current curricula untouched.  To be unaware of such new scholarship, I argued, would be tantamount to hiring a biologist who hadn’t yet learned about DNA. This resolution was unanimously passed, but I later learned that it was derided by the UC Academic Senates as an impingement on academic freedom and refused.

I had thought that my resolutions at Pacifica and the University of California were innocent and intellectually sound enough, but I had entirely underestimated the power of an ideology and its internalization by conforming academic administrators and their analogs in the liberal foundations. So I systematically went about tracing the history of the concept, and the scales fell from my eyes. The results are found throughout this website, with quotes from the sources of those responsible for perpetuating this social policy, now being disavowed by key European heads of state.

The magnitude of our endeavor can be only briefly sketched here. Here is a preliminary list; the points are all interrelated.

1. We must recover the conception of the autonomous individual, trained in all the skills of citizenship, which in turn suggests the study of the history of individual psychology versus “social psychology.” It is the latter “discipline” that reflected and perpetuated the statist and collectivist notion of “community” and cast the “rugged individualist” as the Indian-killer/enslaver of blacks par excellence. If “white” people have individuality, so does everyone else (potentially), but tribalism and/or premodern economies stunt the growth of individuality, and multiculturalism is tribalism writ large. We need to draw a hard line between ourselves and our ancestors. Their achievements and atrocities are not ours, whatever the reparations/social legislation crowd that controls the teaching of “interdisciplinary” history and “cultural studies” may argue. (For more on this last point, see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/. )

2. We must end “liberal guilt” and the social democratic (foggy) conception of “social justice.” The past is past, and although many atrocities are part of our history– atrocities that have the capacity to traumatize the descendants– the conditions and laws that made the atrocities possible have mostly been removed, and yet some prominent academics have made a career dwelling on the past as if it lingered in the present, with no countervailing structures and/or diminishing prejudice, hence “whiteness studies.”  There is no such thing as American identity or “national character” apart from our laws. Such counter-Enlightenment/anti-science notions as the folly of “the search for truth” emanating from postmodernists and their sympathizers must be countered with a renewed insistence on the clear definition of political rhetoric and the history of its usage in propaganda.

3. We can’t solve our gigantic problems with original sin smoking up our minds. Nor can we acquiesce in the religious notion of an uncluttered “free will.” Each of us has had a personal history since infancy, and some of that history has been either traumatic or has created inhibitions that make problem-solving difficult if not impossible.  We must stop thinking of mental health services as a Jewish invention useful primarily to New York Jews. Effects have causes, even if there are many causes that influence the present, and even though it is hard, if not impossible, to disentangle them. Victimhood exists, but so does survival and resilience, with help from our friends.

4. We must restore the useful idea of the melting pot. Culture is syncretic: we learn from each other and borrow that which is enriching and bonds us as individuals with other individuals. We may admire, but not hero-worship.  Such idealization of heroes or other celebrities inevitably leads to disillusion, apathy, intolerable stress, and depression. It is a learned helplessness that erases the very notion of a democratic polity. We are all Americans who live under our Constitution and defend it from its enemies. That implies the erasure of the hyphenated American, but not before its depoliticizing, divisive, antidemocratic, and anti-intellectual bases are widely understood.

[Illustrated: the martyred Marquis de Condorcet, avatar of progress, science, anti-slavery, feminism, and enlightenment.]

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