The Clare Spark Blog

September 26, 2013

Cultural pluralism vs. multiculturalism

Pandora's_box

[Update: see https://clarespark.com/2017/04/10/a-reassessment-of-a-critique-of-pure-tolerance-42-years-later/, for this is a better antidote to the prevailing New Deal phony liberalism that goes by the name of cultural pluralism/multiculturalism.]

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 (most?) 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.)

Collage, Clare Spark, early 1990s

Collage, Clare Spark, early 1990s

Advertisements

April 26, 2013

The television season goes Dark

The-following-posterI understand that television is not considered to be other than escapist entertainment, and not a business with pretensions to artiness or literariness, but there are many critics who treat its more upscale offerings with the reverence once reserved to Balzac (for instance see the indefatigable Terri Gross in her new interview with Matthew Weiner, creator of MAD MEN: in the part I heard she was insisting that Don Draper has a “death wish”).

As the 2012-2013 season draws to a close, I must say that I can’t remember a time when popular entertainment was as ideological driven or death-obsessed. I admit to not understanding the adolescent craze for vampires or zombies, though I have my suspicions of deranged right-wing Romanticism and/or the adolescent desire to irritate parents. But I do get the populist flavor, laced with morbidity, of the “better” television series, especially those directed to a more upscale, presumably educated audience.

Lest I be misunderstood, I am not nostalgic for the television fare of the 1950s and 1960s, with its frequently inane glorification of the ordinary folksy American family, rural or urban. The material introduced in response to 1960s and 1970s uproars was critical, and though usually anti-American and anti-establishment, was at least well-written, brilliantly acted, and interesting to decode for its (typically populist) politics. Nor do I fail to detect the ideology in the theater popular when I was growing up: at least it was well meaning, brilliantly written, conceived, and performed—and relatively anti-racist.

But what to make of such paranoia-inducing recent offerings as the romantic necrophiliac THE FOLLOWING (internet gossip reports it renewed!), or the ongoing goriness in CRIMINAL MINDS, or the hatred of hedge fund managers profiting off evil drug companies as displayed in the last episode of PERSON OF INTEREST, or amoral rich people as were evident in DECEPTION, now in SCANDAL (the last episode particularly horrifying), MAD MEN, REVENGE, and even the apparently harmless and well-written THE GOOD WIFE, a love triangle that manages to mostly evade the possibly unparalleled corruption of  Democratic Chicago, while “Alicia” wavers between family and sex? (I have been watching reruns of the Dick Wolf generated LAW AND ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT, and find the same targets, often Jews, who are either the perps, or who as doctors and lawyers are equally loathsome and corrupt. In one episode, “the Jewish mob” is identified as the most “vicious” of all: oh really?). Add to that the swipes at Mossad in the ever-popular NCIS, and you have the picture. Nouveaux riches and the government enforcers (cops, government regulators, other bureaucrats, CIA, etc.) whom the moneybags obviously control in their own depraved interest, are the chief subjects of the most watched television shows. The poster for THE FOLLOWING (illustrated) shows the dual character of those who serve “law and order.” “Order” for whom? is clearly implied as Bacon and Purefoy are halves of one whole, following Poe’s “William Wilson” in its doppelgänger conception, perhaps a major conceit in the imagination of television writers. And don’t be fooled by the poster for THE FOLLOWING. “Joe Collins” (James Purefoy) is clearly the protagonist, and he stepped out of character in the most recent episode to plug Green living. Why not Kevin Bacon, who barely appears in the series, and whose character is an alcoholic to boot?

Are there any shows with family values? So far, BLUE BLOODS takes the prize. Irreproachably Irish Catholic and upright, the patriarchal Reagan family holds together in contrast to the decadent cities it valiantly disciplines. Even THE MENTALIST is terror gothic in spirit, and clearly plays on fears of the French Revolution, while teasing its faithful viewers that “Patrick Jane” is actually serial killer Red John, rather than someone likely to be very high up in the government. It too is paranoia inducing. Shame on you Bruno Heller, who should know better.

And SMASH, the backstage story of a Broadway musical, will not likely be renewed, while its writing and music to these ears are downright embarrassing. What a hollow victory for hip movement culture, with its glorification of the ever-misunderstood and pathetic Marilyn Monroe.  On to off-Broadway, inter-racial understanding, and the offbeat rock musical and heterosexual and homosexual pairing off. On television, racism/miscegenation has disappeared if you sing and dance well enough. Perhaps the same thing can be said for new Broadway shows, either PC or living off the bones of its ancestors.

Meanwhile, few in show business pay attention to education reform, the illicit power of the teachers unions, and their relentless, media-supported attempts to undermine the educations of real black and brown children in urban ghettoes and elsewhere. Try to find a decent public school in NYC or Los Angeles, homes of those who write and produce the mindless (though technically advanced) shows I have listed above.

Now tell me the condition of our urban schools is not racist in the extreme. The better historians lament the world wide indifference as the Holocaust and other horrors proceeded in the 1930s and 1940s, while today the hippest among us wallow in gonzo ressentiment, apocalypse, the undead, blood and gore. Who is indifferent now? Should we blame the audience, who allegedly want this polluted fare?

Is the great American experiment going down? If popular culture is any indication, the answer is “you betcha.” Who needs a Fifth Column or other demonic forces when you have the entertainment industry?

[I have blogged about most of the tv shows mentioned here and others: see https://clarespark.com/2012/03/16/index-to-blogs-on-popular-tv-shows/.]

good wife cast pic chris noth 2 season 2

Blog at WordPress.com.