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  • Multiple Cultures

    Posted by John Jay on July 23rd, 2007 (All posts by )

    After Ralph’s thought-provoking post below, I’d like to take another pot-shot at the multicultural elites who seem to value any other culture more than our own.

    One of the things that persistently puzzles me about the multi-cultural crowd is that, at least when I was a TA, they shied away from intellectually rigorous activity such as studying a foreign language. One would think that actually learning to speak a non-Western tongue would do more for true inter-cultural understanding than any pastiche of factoids, half-truths and generalized misinformation about other cultures that is the general Introduction to Foreign Culture claptrap at most Universities.

    The cynic in me says that most multi-culturalists don’t go in for a detailed study of a foreign language for three reasons – it would take away the focus from their departments, it’s hard (non-Western languages generally come with non-Western writing systems, and in my experience, students run from those like the plague), and, to Ralph’s point, the more in-depth you study some cultures, the more you are thankful you weren’t born into them. Hardly conducive to the facile moral relativism of the multi-culti crowd.

    Instead of useful work, power-hungry multi-culturalists try to enflame the bringing embers of racism into the flames of political gain. Long before Jesse Jackson’s “hymietown” remark, I’ve long suspected that those who scream the most about racism in this current society are either closet racists, cynical opportunists, or both. Not to say that racism doesn’t exist in America, it certainly does. Racism smolders everywhere people of more than one skin hue congregate together. But to think that one can legislate away the moderately low level we have now in the US is dangerous. Like unemployment, there will always be a natural (hopefully low) level of racism in a given society. Eliminating it entirely, requires – as did eliminating unemployment – Soviet methods.

    As more fodder for my mental model about cynics in the cultural elite, I caught this link
    the other day and I still haven’t gotten over the stupidity: The piece struck me as a way for a journalist who’s been out on maternity leave to get herself noticed before her comeback- cynical opportunism. That alone was disgusting – using her child to do that – but the whole piece smacked of liberal self-loathing being turned inside out and worn as a hair shirt to show public piety: “I’ve got these racist feelings, but look how I’m agonizing over them. Aren’t I special?” Gag. Choke. Puke.

    Now, I think of myself as pretty ‘right on’. My home is on the border of the London Republic of Hackney. I’ve been to the Notting Hill Carnival, even if I found the music a bit loud. Yet now I realise what a ‘white’ world I inhabit.

    Pretty much every professional in the US and UK lives in a white world, and for a journalist not to realize this is amazingly obtuse, and doesn’t raise my opinion of the MSM one iota. I’m a scientist, and almost every human being I interact with on a daily basis is also a scientist or a quantitative-type businessperson. Therefore, by definition, I inhabit a very white world, despite the fact that very few teams I work with have more than 50% Caucasian* membership. Science is a mentally European activity.

    What do I mean by that? More than her almost 30 years of living in America, it is my wife’s scientific training that separates her from her relatives back in Taiwan. Her hard-headed rationality contrasts starkly with their Chinese fatalism and superstition. Her brother, on the other hand, is only one year older and has spent the same amount of time here, but is mired in the immigrant Chinese community and a Buddhist group I consider to be a borderline cult. Despite being a salesman and spending more time interacting with white people than my wife does, he does not inhabit a white world. It did not take the epiphany of childbirth to make me see this. Our journalist friend is either an idiot, or spinning a narrative that does not match with what I’ve observed of reality.

    The fatuousness and narcissism displayed by Ms. “Mixed Race Baby” Turner in that article just amazes me. I know whereof I speak, too. I’m as white as it gets (speaking in a very slight Southern twang to boot), with the exception of having grown up attending Mr. A’s church (his real name was Newt Washington – see the picture at the bottom right of this page) every Sunday morning of my youth**. But my wife is of Taiwanese / North Chinese descent, with some Polynesian Taiwan aborigine thrown in there somewhere in the region of the great-grandparents.

    Ms. Turner’s faux distress over racism is horse crap, pure and simple. Distrust of the “other” is a basic biological instinct. In times past, when the clan was the strongest social unit, it was a survival trait. It’s how we modulate that instinct that shows how civilized we are. So airing the fact that one feels a tad strange when inter-racial reality spits up on one’s shirt is not to be marveled at, and the suppression of that feeling is nothing to brag about – it’s just what’s expected of a responsible adult who entered into marriage with a person of another race. It only needs to be suppressed once or twice before the child enters your heart as a unique human being, and it shouldn’t be all that strong, but the fact that it pops up is no surprise and the fact that you push it down is no virtue.

    Thinking about that biological reaction, and the socially conditioned reactions of other people, to the “dual heritage”*** child is what a responsible parent-to-be should do when trying to figure out how family will give their children the tools to defend themselves from the inevitable taunts. I went through that thought process, and so did my wife. So I have very little patience for lines such as these:

    I know the obvious comment is that I must have known how a child of our union would look when I married an Indian man, but it is a wise woman who thinks that far ahead when she falls in love.

    I didn’t think about any of this before I got pregnant. I wanted to have a baby. Her colour and culture were immaterial then.

    Actually, my wife worried more about the Chinese community’s reaction to our kids than about white racism. The Chinese community has not exactly bought into the PC culture, as demimasque can probably attest. They toss around terms such as ABC (American Born Chinese, often connoting that the subject either can’t read Chinese, or can’t speak it well, or indeed at all), FOB (from Freight On Board, a shipping term, but now said to mean Fresh Off the Boat) for people who dress and act as if they were still deep in Anhui province, to “Banana” – yellow on the outside, white on the inside.

    My wife and I thought about this, and we made a plan. We agreed that our kids would have Chinese first names and English middle names, that we would call them by their Chinese names, and that we would do our best to enforce Mandarin-only in our home. I’m barely keeping ahead of my oldest language-wise, but we are sticking to that plan. Many a time when I am upset with the kids I wind up starting and stopping like Bill Cosby’s father. Not because I’m trying to think of a word other than a swear word (well that, too), but because I’m trying to think of any word at all. And my wife still hasn’t taught me how to say “I brought you into this world, I can take you out of it” in Chinese.

    What my wife and I realize that more than any other cultural points, for a group of people in exile from its homeland, it’s food and language that hold a culture together. So our kids eat and speak Chinese. It’s amazing how much of a culture is transmitted by the words that you speak. The language skills (and the ability to eat some of the more “unusual” Chinese dishes without flinching) will help blunt the worst of the “half-breed”, “ABC”, and “banana” taunts that come their way from the Chinese****. We are giving them the tools to deal with their situation.

    My Indian friends assure me that the Indian equivalent of “Banana” is “Potato”, so I’ve got no truck with Ms. Turner’s agonizing over suddenly realizing that:

    In the real world, I fear for my daughter’s sense of self. She has a tiny foot in cultures. How will she negotiate a path between the two?

    That was Ms. Turner’s job as a parent to figure out, at least for the first years of her daughter’s life. I feel sorry for the girl, because Ms. Turner does not seem to have a clue. Her best ideas have more to do with surface forms than deep culture:

    Part of me thinks I should be playing sitar music to her in her cot, mastering pakoras and serving them dressed in a sari, but that would be fantastically fake coming from me.

    Nothing so casual as buying a few CDs and a few yards of cloth will do anything to transmit culture. Food and language, as I said. Make the pakoras and teach her the lingo. Forget the sari. The best thing to do is teach her daughter whatever language is spoken in her husband’s native region. Then there will always be a grudging respect from the Indians (especially when contrasted with full-blood immigrants who don’t speak their culture’s language), and unless the subject is brought up, most whites won’t see anything other than another olive-hued girl.

    Nothing gets my wife’s knickers in more of a twist than seeing FOBs speaking only broken English with their kids*****, breaking the cycle of culture. Native Chinese, most adult immigrants, and people with a foot truly in both worlds by virtue of late-childhood immigration, all look down on Chinese people who don’t speak Chinese. I can’t imagine Indians are much different.

    But learning to cook in a foreign culture takes persistence and dedication (ask my wife) and learning a language more so (ask me). Neither activity suits the casual multi-culturalist. It takes work, and so takes your mind off of narcissistic projections. It also takes up the time you would otherwise spend beating other people up for their racism.

    * Unless you count East Indians as Caucasians, which, technically, you should.

    ** White people may or may not be able to jump, but we sure don’t do soulful religious music very well. Our Yankee American Baptist church tries to do spirituals every once in a while out of some PC instinct, and, it grates on my musical nerves. Mr. Newt would have laughed if he could have heard it when he was alive. Laugh, and bring his group, the Brothers of Harmony, up to show our congregation how it’s really done.

    *** I’m not sure just what that means. I’m dual heritage – German and Scots-Irish – an unholy combination if ever there was – but apparently that doesn’t count.

    **** I’m figuring that membership in the DAR and / or Sons of Confederate Veterans will go a long way towards shutting up those Americans who don’t quite go along with PC culture, and so will learning how to fight properly.

    ***** Well, the 6 year old who insisted on a cheeseburger while everyone else in his family (less than 10 years in America) ate Chinese food came pretty close.

     

    42 Responses to “Multiple Cultures”

    1. Ralf Goergens Says:

      Thanks, those are very good points, :)

      As to ‘FOBs’ speaking broken English with their kids: Immigrants in general who speak the local language badly do their children no favors when they use it to talk to them all the time, for the kids wil grwo up speaking it badly or at least heavily accented. Much better to talk to them in your native language and let the kids learn the local language in school and from their friends. Most of those among my friends and colleagues whose parents are first-generation immigrants learned unaccented German in just that way.

      Comparable to our mother of the mixed race baby, is this at Gene Expression, quoting from the NYT:

      Excuse me while I blow off steam at a report in yesterday’s New York Times (may require subscription) about the latest terrorist attacks in Britain. The authors casually refer to Britain’s ‘disenfranchised South Asian population’.

      Disenfranchised??? According to my dictionary, ‘disenfranchised’ means ‘deprived of the right to vote’, or ‘deprived of rights as citizen’. So in what sense, literal or metaphorical, are South Asians in Britain ‘disenfranchised’?

      Unless they are very young or very recent immigrants, they certainly have the vote (which in Britain depends on residence, not citizenship). Indeed, they may have more than one vote, as the South Asian communities tend to follow the old Ulster maxim ‘vote early and vote often’. Nearly all the recent cases of electoral fraud in Britain have involved South Asians, especially in the abuse of proxy and postal votes. Never mind if your granny is in Pakistan (or dead), that is no reason why she shouldn’t vote. And your local Mullah will probably be kind enough to deliver your postal vote for you – just leave the details blank!

      PC triumphs again! ;)

    2. veryretired Says:

      Several other cultures, Chinese and Japanese being the obvious examples, are every bit as xenophobic and prejudiced as Birmingham under Bull Connors, but get a pass by the multis because they’re not examples of white racism, which is the only one that really, really counts.

      Every human being has a psychological sludge of emotional antagonisms going all the way back to the vestiges of our reptilian brain. The point of educating and civilizing a child as it grows is to enable the person to become increasingly capable of recognizing and controlling those elemental urges as they mature.

      Only fools and ideologues expect and demand perfection in this task, within themselves or in anyone else.

      It’s not how you feel inside that matters, but rather how you act towards others, and what you teach those who look to you for an example of what constitutes a mature adult. This does not satisfy the “true believers” of course, as they demand not only conformity of behavior, but thought and feeling as well.

      The growing world culture will result in the human race becoming more and more blended as time goes on, anyway. I read somewhere several years ago that the probable future “human look” would be an asiatic polynesian facial form and coloring.

      Whatever people end up like, I’m sure they’ll find something to fight about. Seems like we’re just built that way, almost at the genetic level.

      God, I wish there was a ship leaving for Alpha Centauri tomorrow that needed a fat old man with bad knees. I get so tired of this endless squabbling and fighting over every word and idea and piece of dirt.

      Maybe I’ll console myself by singing the Gully Foyle song a few times…

    3. Ralf Goergens Says:

      God, I wish there was a ship leaving for Alpha Centauri tomorrow that needed a fat old man with bad knees. I get so tired of this endless squabbling and fighting over every word and idea and piece of dirt.

      Why do I get the feeling that you’d shortly start a mutiny? :)

    4. david foster Says:

      “One would think that actually learning to speak a non-Western tongue would do more for true inter-cultural understanding.: It is specifically the ability to feel a sense of knowingness about *everything* without actually having to go to the trouble to learn very much about *anything* that makes a certain kind of education appealing to some people. From my post The Dictatorship of Theory:

      Becoming an alcolyte of some all-encompassing theory can spare you from the effort of learning about anything else. For example: if everything is about (for example) power relationships–all literature, all history, all science, even all mathematics–you don’t need to actually learn much about medieval poetry, or about the Second Law of thermodynamics, or about isolationism in the 1930s. You can look smugly down on those poor drudges who do study such things, while enjoying “that intellectual sweep of comprehension known only to adolescents, psychopaths and college professors” (the phrase is from Andrew Klavan’s unusual novel True Crime.)

    5. John Jay Says:

      “Immigrants in general who speak the local language badly do their children no favors when they use it to talk to them all the time, for the kids wil grwo up speaking it badly or at least heavily accented.”

      Ralph- my wife’s point is that most ABCs learn their English at school and will have no accent. My wife has no accent in English despite having spoken only Taiwanese at home in the US and (only Mandarin in school for her first 11 years in Taiwan). You can hear that same phenomenon in children of the immigrants from the UK who work for my company – their parents’ heavy Kent, Yorkshire, and Scottish accents are not found in their kids who were born and raised here.

      But that assumes a certain socio-economic level – I think you are more to the point about lower-class immigrants without access to better education. Many of them do have a bit of an accent in English (I’m tlkaing ABCs here, I have not experience with other groups).

    6. Verity Says:

      I read this journalist’s piece and thought she must be mad. The Indians are right up there in the ‘TOP GORGEOUS’ category of humans. The first time I went to Delhi, I was almost dizzy with looking around at all the passing young adults. Men and women. Movie star quality and going to jobs as receptionists and flipping veggie-burgers.

      “Racism smolders everywhere people of more than one skin hue congregate together.” This isn’t correct because it isn’t inclusive enough. Racism smoulders everywhere and that is because, by and large, we prefer, and trust, our own tribe. It is in our genes to be so prejudiced.

      But it’s got nothing to do with hue of skin. Indians, by and large, do not trust Indian Muslims and Pakistanis. Both the same colour.

      I lived in Singapore, which is around 87% Chinese (and intentionally kept at that percentage because the Chinese know that you must have one prevailing race for order to prevail) and the rest split between Indians and Malays (and “other”). I had friends among all three races, plus my own, and here is my experience: If I was talking to an Indian friend and said my landlord wouldn’t fix a drain, he/she would automatically say, “Chinese?” If I were talking to a Chinese friend, she/he would say, “Oh! Indian!” If I was talking to a Malay friend, they would say, “Must be Chinese, lah! Maybe Indian also can!”

      These are people who have lived closely for 150 years and their government over the last 50 years has actively encouraged integration (although not intermarriage). They work happily together, they joke around together, the women share men problems with one another and talk each other through them, they go out for drinks after work together — but they trust their own race above the others.

      We trust our own tribe. We British prop ourselves up against the walls laughing at the French. The French fall into their bowls of potage at les rosbifs. I have seen them helpless with laughter, tears, and then remembered there was a Brit present and tried to control themselves and that made it worse. And this is two white peoples who live so close and find each other so endlessly amusing.

      This whole race deal was manufactured by the one-worlders.

    7. Verity Says:

      PS -By which I mean, when they noticed that people – i.e., whites and blacks – were beginning to get along,live in the same neighbourhoods and feel fine with one another – the race industry had to pump up the volume. People are just so intractable! They get along! Got to put an end to that! – otherwise we lose our grants and our high-profile spots on the 9 o’clock news.

    8. Oliver Suess-Barnkey Says:

      Americans are, in practice, the world’s most multicultural people and that goes for conservatives as well as liberals. I’m surprised conservatives aren’t more eager to claim the label for themselves. I suspect most, though perhaps not all, rightists would bridle at being described as “monoculturalist.”

      I consider myself a committed multiculturalist, yet none of the prejudices described by JJ and other “monoculturalists” pertain to me, nor, I would argue, to the majority of practicing multiculturalists in America.

      Cultures are best interpreted from within and without. If we don’t make the effort to carefully understand the internal logical development of a culture, we have very little chance of understanding it as outsiders.

      This does not mean that outsiders cannot understand cultures other than their own, it just means that it takes extra work to do so. (Of course, relatively few, if any, people understand their own culture completely, so inside or out isn’t the most important distinction in practice.)

      The chief complaint of “monoculturalists” seems to be that multiculturalists don’t like them and their culture enough, or see them as intellectually inferior. Another common allegation, often confusingly leveled by the same people making the former, is that multiculturalists fail to distinguish among cultures or believe “all cultures are equal.”

      Yet I find no multiculturalist of any rank anywhere any time making such a ridiculous statement.

      The point isn’t that all cultures are equal or, as is confusingly alleged so often here on Chicagoboyz, that Western culture is inferior, it is that culture is almost entirely nonfungible. There’s little point, then, to assert that Australian culture is “better” than American culture, since the two cultures cannot meaningfully be understood or practiced outside their native existence.

      I live in Japan and, as an American, find myself routinely comparing the culture here with the culture of my native land. Japan suffers from astonishingly little crime, almost no drug abuse (though perhaps a majority of men are high-functioning alcoholics) and near-zero poverty. It might seem logical, at a simplistic level, to assume that the culture is therefore superior (Believe me, plenty of monoculturalist natives do think that.)

      Yet it is obvious to me, as a multiculturalist, that the aspects of Japanese culture that deter crime and other ills, also discourage entrepreneurism, free thought, individual compassion and, ultimately, social and political justice. This doesn’t mean these things don’t exist in Japan, as they surely do, just that they are far more plentiful or vigorous in America.
      What, then, would be the point of asserting that either Japanese or American culture is “superior” or “inferior”?

    9. John Jay Says:

      Oliver – when the superiority or inferiority of a culture is asserted here it is usually based on objective performance measures such as material success. In that regard, Western culture is superior to any other that has ever existed. Not to say that it is perfect.
      Ralph and I are pretty much your definition of practicing multi-culturalists, but we draw the line between ourselves and the people in Academia who call themselves multi-culturalists, since those people are more accurately described as cultural relativists.
      What we are calling “multi-culturalists” are a distict academic and governmental group who denigrate Western culture and do come out and openly say that other cultures are superior to our own. I can get you cites if you’d like, but I sat through plenty of crap in literature grad school that asserted the superiority of primitve cultures that have not contributed one iota to the material prosperity that the whole world enjoys thanks to the West.
      “There’s little point, then, to assert that Australian culture is “better” than American culture, since the two cultures cannot meaningfully be understood or practiced outside their native existence.”
      Yes, there is a point. The “tall poppy” concept in Australia holds them back in the same way that you described Japan’s “nail sticking out” culture as holding them back. Neither Australia nor Japan have a large high-achieving scientifc class relative to the size of their economies and populations. The Australians also lack a high-achieveing engineering class, which the Japanese do possess due to certian peculiarities of their culture which are pro-evolutionary, and therefore pro-survival. I think that Shannon Love and others have repeatedly made the point that anything in a culture or organization that hinders evolution is untimately an anti-survival trait.
      Australia and Japan both have a high degree of anti-evolutionary elements in their culture, although it is a mistake to think of cultures as monolithic. Think of the entrepreneurial spirit of Kansai versus the bureaucracy of Kanto. How many Japanese entrepreneurs come out of Kansai versus Kanto? And yet where does the political power lie? That inhibits progress in Japan. Over time (and I’m talking centuries, here), the culture that is more adaptable will prove itself superior.
      In 1400, Japan and Europe looked roughly equal. By 1868, Meiji realized he had to get with the (Western) program. Today Japan is bascially a Western country that uses kanji and chopsticks. That statement will for sure get your hackles up, but remember I’m coming from the perspective of rural China being the Asian norm. You can tell by the smell (or lack of it) getting off of the plane in Narita that Japan is missing some “Asianness”. Sure, by virtue of a Confucian culture it’s on the more collectivist side of Western civilization, but I’d argue that Russia is more collectivist than Japan (I’ve lived in both countries).
      In times of minimal stress, the “Kanto” Japanese way of doing things looks fine. In times of high stress, some of the less dominant strains in their culture (which happen to look more Western) come to the fore, as they did in the Meiji Restoration or in the Kwantung Army. Japan is a curious hybrid of evolutionary adaptability and traditional opposition to progress. It works, but clunkily, and would not enjoy nearly as high a living standard as it does if it had not adopted more Western ways than the rest of Asia.
      As for the no poverty in Japan – have you been to the Ueno, Shinjuku (behind City Hall, not Shinjuku Gyoen), or Yoyogi parks recently? Or Osu Kannon park in Nagoya? Granted I haven’t lived there in 6 years, but I saw plenty of homeless there, mostly of the type one sees in Washington DC (i.e. in dire need of institutionalization and a detox program).

    10. Oliver Suess-Barnkey Says:

      veryretired writes:
      “Chinese and Japanese being the obvious examples, are every bit as xenophobic and prejudiced as Birmingham under Bull Connors, but get a pass by the multis.”

      I’m a “multi” and I’ve never given Chinese or Japanese a “pass” on xenophobia or prejudice, nor am I aware of anyone who has. Perhaps veryretired has some examples in mind??

      As I mentioned, there are many comparisons to be made between bigotry in Japan and in the U.S. To compare the two on quantity is, though, is virtually meaningless. By some measures, Japanese are far more bigoted than Americans, but other measures, they are far less so. Is this what veryretired means by “giving a pass”?

    11. Oliver Suess-Barnkey Says:

      “the superiority or inferiority of a culture is asserted here it is usually based on objective performance measures such as material success. In that regard, Western culture is superior to any other that has ever existed.”

      There are a few problems with this:

      1. What do you mean by material success? GDP per capita, or infant mortality? Median income, or violent crimes per 1,000 population? GDP growth rates, or environmental sustainability? Economic opportunity or economic security? Perhaps an index of all these might provide an objective assessment of material success. Anything more specific is itself the product of sub-cultural bias. Based on the broadest, most objective measures of material success, Japanese culture holds its own just fine with Western culture.

      2. What do you mean by “Western” culture? Do we include Latin America? Northern Europe, but not the Mediterranean? Only English-speaking countries, like Singapore, South Africa and Australia?

      3. Western culture is many thousands of years old. The West’s relative prosperity isn’t. More important, Asia is rapidly closing the gap, outgrowing the West by leaps and bounds.

      JJ writes:
      “What we are calling “multi-culturalists” are a distict academic and governmental group who denigrate Western culture and do come out and openly say that other cultures are superior to our own. I can get you cites if you’d like.”

      Do you mean superior in some aspects? For example, I’m a “multi” and I say Japanese culture is superior at preventing crime, promoting social harmony and building automobiles. But as I made clear previously, it’s simply not meaningful to assert that Japanese culture, overall, is superior to the West, just because some of the outcomes are more desirable.
      Do you mean to say that some academics decline to assert that other cultures are inferior? That could be true, as they prefer to maintain a more objective view of culture. Since no culture can be transplanted, we have no way of testing its performance independently of key variables such as geography, language, etc.
      Or do you mean that fringe-left quackademics slag the west because it’s the only way they know to get attention (just as fringe-right quackademics slag ethnic minorities)? If that’s what you’re talking about, why do you find time to acknowledge them, when there are far more intelligent, articulate representative proponents of multiculturalism to be engaged?

    12. Oliver Suess-Barnkey Says:

      “Today Japan is bascially a Western country that uses kanji and chopsticks.”

      Economically Japan has adapted some Western conventions and adapted many others. Culturally, it remains deeply, fully, Japanese.

      Tellingly, Christianity has made no headway in Japan. It’s virtually unknown as a religion, though some conventions such as church weddings and Christmas gift giving are popular among urban sophisticates.

      Some Westerners are misled by the ease and speed with which many Japanese adopt Western habits, such as eating with cutlery, using the English alphabet and listening to British pop music. But they do so in almost every case as an additional layer of behavior, not as a fundamental alternative way of life.

      We can think of many examples, if anyone is unconvinced…

    13. Verity Says:

      Oliver Suess-Barnkey: As John Jay writes,correctly, you are a cultural relativist and your opinions and contortions are predictable and make for unchallenging reading.

      You write, incorrectly: “Americans are, in practice, the world’s most multicultural people.”

      In practice, no they’re not.

      America is monocultural. It is American and everyone except perhaps a few flying imans and Keith Ellison has bought into the American ethos of democracy, freedom of speech, equality for all, and capitalism. You can say America is multi-racial, if that’s of any comfort, but multicultural America most certainly is not.

    14. david foster Says:

      When people speak of multiculturalism, they often mean cultural relativism, which can be defined as the doctrine that a person’s actions can be judged only by the standards of his culture.

      In any complex society, however, an individual is likely to be a member of multiple cultures. Consider a German army officer in 1935 who is trying to decide on his positition vis-a-vis Naziism. (I have in mind specifically somebody like the cultured and intelligent Gen Ludwig Beck.)

      Our man is clearly a member of Prussian military culture; however, he is also a member of German intellectual culture, which is in turn closely linked to European intellectual culture. He is a member of either the Catholic or the Lutheran church, which has its own set of moral standards.

      Cultural relativism suggests that we cannot judge him harshly if he goes along with the dictates of his culture, but which of these three (or more) overlapping cultures is he supposed to use to determine his actions?

    15. Shannon Love Says:

      Verity,

      America is monocultural.

      That is extremely funning and obviously wrong. Americans appear mon0cultural, especially to Europeans, because we have an additional layer to our behavior that most other people lack. American’s derive our collective identity solely from our political ideology. That ideology becomes an an additional cultural layer that no one else really has.

      At the ethnic level, American do remain the most diverse people of any time, any place. We have more root cultures, more religions, more languages etc. A large body of research has arisen in the last 15 years documenting how Americans of differing descent still retain major cultural elements even after many generations. Areas of the country with differing patterns of ethnic immigration and migration exhibit significant social and political patterns.

      In any case, you had better learn to love America because as the world grows ever more peaceful and integrated, the global culture everywhere will grow to look more and more like America. It is a process that has been running for 200 years now and shows no signs of slowing down.

    16. Verity Says:

      “… in any case you had better learn to love America …”. Thanks for your well-meaning advice, but I have nothing to learn.

      The United States has been my favourite and most admired country all my life. My years in Texas only reinforced my admiration for this extraordinary and extraordinarily successful land and I defend it constantly.

      But I still take issue with you. I didn’t say the United States is bland. I didn’t say people had cut off their cultural roots. But other than the whistles and bells of their cultural history, Americans have bought into the same ethos: democracy, capitalism, a voice for all, equality of opportunity and a notable lack of deference. And a raging desire to succeed. I think it’s the most bracing country in the world. And it’s monocultural in that it is a distinct,separate identity and all – mas o menus – Americans share it.

      David Foster: “When people speak of multiculturalism, they often mean cultural relativism.” Yes. I take your point.

    17. Verity Says:

      PS – There was no arcane pun in ‘mas o menus’,in case people are scratching their heads for a hidden meaning. It was a typo. Mas o menos.

    18. Shannon Love Says:

      Oliver Suess-Barnkey ,

      Tellingly, Christianity has made no headway in Japan.

      Actually, Christianity made tearing headway in Japan when first introduced in 1500’s. It was wiped out in a massive, decades long persecution, that killed hundreds of thousands. The totalitarian Tokugawa Shogunate made Christianity illegal and used its omnipresent police state to hunt down and kill all but a tiny handful of Japanese Christians. Christianity, christian paraphernalia and christian missionaries remained highly illegal until the Meji era in 1870’s.

      I think it is apparent that Japan is culturally Western in John Jay’s sense because the Japanese use logic, reason and evidence in discourse just as most Westerners do. Certainly, Japan would be an outlier in any set of Western countries but dealing with Japan or Japanese institutions is no where as disorienting to your average Western as is dealing with any of the other Asia countries.Hell, Japan is easier to work with and in than Mexico because Mexican culture really hasn’t made the leap to enlightenment culture.

      As to judging the superiority of a culture I would offer very pragmatic attributes: How to people vote with their feet? Do emigration patterns flow from non-Western to Western or the other way around? How does cultural adoption flow? Do cultural elements, ideas and institutions flow primarily from Western countries to non-Western or the other way? As history changes do non-Western regions look more like Western regions of vice-versa?

      Cultural conservatives may slow the transition, (in Japan the Tokugawa froze the culture for 250 years) but in the end pull of Westernism seems to win out. I think the historical evidence shows that the vast majority of human beings seek the kind of life and environment that Western culture provides and they eagerly seek to mimic those attributes of Western culture they perceive as granting those benefits.

    19. John Jay Says:

      Shannon- also, using short term measures (e.g infant mortality) subject to short term fluctuations to evaluate progress is not useful, as I tried to outline in my Trajectories post. Take a time period at random, say 1868. Look at China, Indonesia, Japan, the US, and Germany. Now look at those same countries today. In which way is Japan headed? West or East?

    20. Verity Says:

      Shannon, by your measure, we would also have to judge China a culturally Western country. I wouldn’t argue with this. Cold, hard pragmatism is associated with the West, and the Chinese are nothing if not cold, hard, pragmatic planners.

      We would have to put India in the same slot.

    21. John Jay Says:

      Verity – no, China is an Asian country with a Western elite, common in Asia.

    22. Verity Says:

      No. China doesn’t have a Western elite in that sense. It certainly has an elite, by they are Mandarins, if I may use the term. Not Western educated. And it is indeed Asian, but it shares many of the qualities that have made the West so successful. I think for long-term planning, absolutely no one can beat the Chinese.

      In that sense, it slots right into our thinking. Also, you know, the Chinese do cleverly adopt protective colouration when doing business with the West. Also, they learn very fast.

      This is in contrast to Africa.

    23. Oliver Suess-Barnkey Says:

      “ Japan is culturally Western in John Jay’s sense because the Japanese use logic, reason and evidence in discourse just as most Westerners do.”

      No, they don’t. You must be basing your assessment on discourse with a Japanese person who has chosen to learn English, live in the West and consciously adopt Western ways of thinking. I assure you, without any hesitation, that the average Japanese person does not use logic, reason or evidence in discourse. Should you learn to speak Japanese, that will become unmistakably clear to you.

      The question “why” tends to perplex Japanese people. That’s because they are not taught and not practiced in logic, reason and evidence. Ask why the air conditioning in buildings isn’t turned on until June 21 or turned off until mid-September, regardless of the temperature. The answer won’t be, to save energy, to save time, because the computer is programmed that way and it’s too much work to change or anything. The answer will be, it’s the rule. If you ask, why is it a rule, the answer will be “because it was decided.” Keep going and with some effort, you may eventually get to “I don’t know why,” but what will be more apparent, is that they don’t care “why” since it is “the rule” it requires no rationale.

      The Japanese language relies far more heavily than English does on passive constructions and famously generates more sentences with implied subjects. It is also far more directional than
      English, as it draws meaning from a social heirarchy, separated from logic, that lacks cultural weight in English-speaking cultures.

      Shannon writes:
      “As to judging the superiority of a culture I would offer very pragmatic attributes: How to people vote with their feet?”

      One of Japan’s biggest immigrant groups is from the Christian West, Brazil. This has nothing whatsoever to do with Japan’s cultural success. Brazilians who immigrate to Japan famously chafe under Japanese culture. Rather, they endure Japan’s culture to make money. The U.S. picture is similar. People do not immigrate from Czech or Argentina or Thailand because they love Western culture. They come to make money. Moreover, countries like Japan gets fewer immigrants than the U.S. because they simply don’t allow it as much.

      Shannon writes:
      “Do emigration patterns flow from non-Western to Western or the other way around?”
      The clearest pattern is from south to north, not from the east to the west. Obviously, by far the biggest immigrants to America are Christian, Western Latin Americans. I would think that should be obvious. Likewise, immigration is far greater within Asia than from Asia to the West.

      “How does cultural adoption flow? Do cultural elements, ideas and institutions flow primarily from Western countries to non-Western or the other way? As history changes do non-Western regions look more like Western regions of vice-versa?”

      Yes, it is clear that eastern societies have adopted more Western cultural patterns than vice versa. And, in that sense, you could say western culture is superior–it is more adaptable. But that is only one measure, not the single, defining gauge.

      On cultural relativism:

      Surely we are all cultural relativists. Is bowing “worse” than shaking hands? Is it “worse” to live at with your parents through adulthood than to move out at age 18? Of course not. Behavior can only be understood within its own cultural framework. That is the basis of cultural relativism, not that behavior cannot be condemned from outside a given culture. That’s fringe extremist nonsense that isn’t worthy of discussion.

    24. david foster Says:

      Oliver….”fringe extremist nonsense that isn’t worthy of discussion”…a few years ago, I sat in on part of a philosophy course at a well-known university. The professor (actually, I think he was a grad assistant) challenged the strong form of cultural relativism and pointed out the kind of things to which it would logically lead. It was clear from the discussion that many of the students had never even considered that there might be an alternative to strong-form cultural relativism.

      The issue isn’t behavioral patterns such as bowing or maintaining extended families. The issue is whether we should tolerate such things as female genital mutilation among the populations of western countries…or, for that matter, advanced eastern countries.

      A country can support cultural diversity in many ways, but this only works if there exists a core set of behavioral expectations that apply across all the various cultures.

    25. Shannon Love Says:

      Oliver Suess-Barnkey,

      I think the strongest argument that the Japanese have adopted an essentially reason and evidence based out look is the fact they can manage a complex, high tech infrastructure without killing themselves. A culture that overly defers to tradition or that mindlessly follows rules cannot create or manage sophisticated technology.

      The biggest Western attribute that the Japanese have managed to duplicate which others, Asian or not, have failed to duplicate is the transference of loyalties beyond extended families to abstract institutions. The Japanese can create large scale institutions like corporations or national governments that work on a voluntary basis. Few other cultures have managed this trick, most notably the Chinese.

      I didn’t mean to apply my criteria for an empirical test of cultural superiority to just Japan or Asia but to all cultures at all times. People migrate to. or adopt the ways of, cultures they perceive as superior to their own. We can in turn use those patterns to determine which cultures best fulfill peoples hopes and aspirations.

      That’s fringe extremist nonsense that isn’t worthy of discussion.

      Unfortunately, it isn’t as anyone who has spent time in college the last few can attest. The literal meaning of terms like “multiculturalism” and “cultural relativism” have little relation to the large body of corrupt and bigoted ideas that propegate under those harmless names. It is much the way that many say “racism” but when you query them they say that racism really means bigotry plus power to oppress. People holding this definition will then claim with a straight face that only white people can be racist because only they have the power to oppress. They have hijacked the word “racism” to mean something different than its plain or historic meaning. Ditto for “multiculturalism” and “cultural relativism.” They now mean something else than the transparent meanings you attach to them.

    26. Consul-At-Arns Says:

      I’ve quoted you and linked to you here: http://consul-at-arms.blogspot.com/2007/07/re-multiple-cultures.html

    27. Oliver Suess-Barnkey Says:

      “I think the strongest argument that the Japanese have adopted an essentially reason and evidence based out look is the fact they can manage a complex, high tech infrastructure without killing themselves. A culture that overly defers to tradition or that mindlessly follows rules cannot create or manage sophisticated technology.”

      That’s a tautology. You are defining western culture as one the only one that can manage high-tech etc., then saying Japanese culture must be Western because it can do that. To that, you add a false dichotomy between Western culture and “mindlessly following rules.”
      The Japanese culture is arguably superior to the West’s in managing high-tech infrastructure. This is an area where the culture excels, in fact, based on its affinity for rules, hierarchy, cooperation and sustainability. The culture famously fails to match the West at innovation for pretty much the same reasons.
      Please don’t confuse Japanese culture’s diminution of facts, logic and evidence as “mindlessness.” It is far from that. It is simply a different pattern of thinking and, unsurprisingly yields different results, some better, some worse, than Western culture does.

      David Foster:
      “It was clear from the discussion that many of the students had never even considered that there might be an alternative to strong-form cultural relativism.”

      If you have a beef with cultural relativism, you shouldn’t be taking it up with the people who teach it, not the people who obviously misunderstand it? Students come up with all manner of nonsense. Always have, always well. They are students, after all.

      It is striking how quickly and defenselessly the “multiculti” straw man has collapsed here. Turns out, we’re all multiculturalists and cultural relativists as well. No one, it seems, can name anyone of any standing who advocates the positions John Jay and others have claimed are held by multiculturalists and/or cultural relativists.

      The best some can do, so far, seems to be to absurdly attribute Japan’s obvious successes to the West.

    28. Oliver Suess-Barnkey Says:

      I meant to write: “If you have a beef with cultural relativism, shouldn’t you be taking it up with the people who teach it, not the people who obviously misunderstand it?

    29. Verity Says:

      No. We understand it only too well.

    30. John Wall Says:

      “The best some can do, so far, seems to be to absurdly attribute Japan’s obvious successes to the West.”

      What? So Japan’s successes are in no way related to their copying, sometimes by force of arms, the fundamental technological, economic and political practices developed originally in the West.

      Just a question Mr. Suess-Barnkey: do you read any history?

    31. Verity Says:

      John Wall points out that the Japanese did not invent any of the techniques or thought patterns that have made them rich. This is a good point.

      At least the Chinese have a long history of inventiveness – from toilet paper to the compass to wheelbarrows to umbrellas to gunpowder and fireworks. All useful and in use today. Inventionwise, the Chinese were going like the clappers from early AD.

      What did the Japanese ever invent before being introduced to Western technology almost 2,000 years later?

    32. Lexington Green Says:

      I have no expertise on Japan. However, I have had the good fortune to read the pre-publication draft of Alan Macfarlane‘s book on Japan which will be coming out in a few weeks, called Japan Through the Looking Glass: Shaman to Shinto. According to him, Japan is most certainly not a “Western” country. I found his presentation very convincing.

    33. Oliver Suess-Barnkey Says:

      Some facts to consider:
      In 2005, more than 427,078 patent applications were filed in Japan, compared with 390,733 in the United States, a country with twice the population. Moreover, less than a tenth of Japanese patent applications were filed by non-residents, whereas more than 190,000, or almost half, of those filed in the U.S. were by non-residents. (an interesting factlet for immigration opponents as well)
      Among the four biggest patent-filing countries at the national and regional level, three are Asian: Japan, China and South Korea.
      At the international patent filing level, the U.S. is number one precentagewise, accounting for 34 percent of all patents, with Japan coming in second at 18 percent, meaning that on a per capita basis, Japan files for more significantly patents than the U.S. does.
      I would argue that cultural differences are not very helpful to understand the U.S. patent deficit. Rather, political and economic priorities in Japan–which value sustainability over growth–lead to far greater investment in research and development as a percentage of GDP.
      A striking recent example is the hybrid automobile. U.S. car companies simply cannot make them without using patented Japanese technology.
      Toshiba, a Japanese company, invented flash memory the key technology for the iPod nano, digital cameras and, increasingly, portable digital devices of all kinds.
      Similar examples of Japanese innovation abound, if anyone remains unconvinced.

    34. Verity Says:

      I remain unconvinced. I don’t know where you’re getting your figures, but the three countries that account for by far and away the most patents applied for are the United States,Germany and India.

      To say that N Asian countries are more inventive and scientifically advanced than Germany and India is fanciful. You’ll be trying to persuade us next of that great myth of the Sahara, that the medieval Arabs – well, they’re still medieval Arabs, but we’ll let that pass – made brilliant scientific discoveries. Like zero. And invented “Arabic” (Indian)numerals.

    35. Shannon Love Says:

      Oliver Suess-Barnkey,

      That’s a tautology. You are defining western culture as one the only one that can manage high-tech etc

      I do not think so. To create and manage technology one must accurately process certain types of information in specific ways. For example, one must be able to measure accurately and then use mathematics to manipulate those measurements to produce yet more accurate data. One must also be willing to base one’s decisions on the results of that process regardless or any sociological concerns. If one does not do this, the technology will fail.

      Most world cultures cannot actually do this. Individuals of any culture can do it but very few cultures have created a social process that accomplishes it. In the culture of virtually every undeveloped region you will find that sociological factors trump measurement and math.

      If I may say so, I think you have a firm grasp of how Japan differs from European descended cultures but I don’t think you have a grasp of how Japan differs from the cultures of the undeveloped world. When you start listing attributes, such as attitudes toward time, you will find that Japan looks far more like a Western country than it does anything else.

      I think it is clear that Japan either copied or independently evolved key aspects of Western culture and that is why it has prospered when others have floundered.

    36. Oliver Suess-Barnkey Says:

      Japan’s culture is many thousands of years old and one of most distinct on the planet. On what basis do you assume that the Japanese affinity for mathematics is “copied” from the West?

      If Japan “independently evolved” its mathematics and engineering prowess, why do you persist on labeling it an “aspect of Western culture”?

      You’re repeating the tautology:
      Only the West can manage tech.
      Japan manages tech.
      Japan must be Western.

      Perhaps what you really mean is that there is a disconnect between the idea that Japanese do not rely on logic and evidence in discourse, yet go about inventing hybrid vehicle engines, flash memory and so on. Indeed there is such a contradiction. I can only say that after a very long, up-close look at Japanese culture, that gap in my understanding has yet to be satisfactorily closed.

      As a cultural relativist and multiculturalist, I submit that you cannot fully understand Japanese culture without looking at what it produces from within a Japanese cultural framework.

    37. Verity Says:

      Funny that all the good movies out of N Asia come from China – specifically Hong Kong.

      The Japanese put (past tense,obviously) an elevated value on conformity and unquestioning devotion to the emperor. I’m not saying any of this is wrong, but it isn’t conducive to flights of creative fantasy.

      Indians are immeasurably more creative, plus they are better at business – as individuals.

    38. Oliver Suess-Barnkey Says:

      Come to think of it, there probably is a cause and effect relationship between Japan’s technological prowess and the culture’s relative weakness in using logic and evidence in discourse.
      Many of the West’s best minds go into management, law, the sales side of finance and other areas that require and reward logic and evidence in discourse. Engineering and basic sciences, the engines of technological development, are left to draw from the remainder.
      Japan’s smartest young people are nonetheless culturally ill-equipped for careers that require using logic and evidence in discourse, so tend to choose math-oriented careers in engineering, design and scientific research. It should be no surprise, then, that the country’s applied technology infrastructure is superior.

      I have suffered first-hand from the culture’s “logic deficit.”

      I had the misfortune to find myself on the losing end of a court case in Japan. The appeals judge initially made no oral or written comment about why he ruled against my side–nothing. After much persuasion from me, my attorney agreed to ask the judge for a written statement of the reasons for his decision. He complied. It was three words (two in Japanese). “It was appropriate.” The initial judge was a little less terse, if no less inert. He wrote that he ruled against our side “Because I trust the other side’s version more.”
      The courtroom presentations in the initial case were similarly illustrative of verbal-analytical deficits. My lawyer would make statements pointing to fatal logical flaws in the other side’s case. (All of which I had to highlight and explain to him, because he absolutely could or would not on his own, even though he was undeniably brilliant enough to memorize every detail of the complicated case.) In response, their lawyer would simply repeat the contradictory assertions verbatim, ignoring each and every contradiction pointed to by our side. The judge would stare poker-faced.
      Trial by jury is scheduled to be phased in in Japan from 2009. No one I know of who knows the culture, be they Japanese or foreign observer, is unconcerned about the potential for disaster.

    39. Linker Barn: Thursday July 26 Says:

      […] Chicago Boyz on multiculturalism issues. […]

    40. Wolf Pangloss Says:

      Though I enjoyed reading it, I’m not sure how your thesis leads to your exposition, so I’ll try to answer your thesis alone.

      After Ralph’s thought-provoking post below, I’d like to take another pot-shot at the multicultural elites who seem to value any other culture more than our own.

      One of the things that persistently puzzles me about the multi-cultural crowd is that, at least when I was a TA, they shied away from intellectually rigorous activity such as studying a foreign language. One would think that actually learning to speak a non-Western tongue would do more for true inter-cultural understanding than any pastiche of factoids, half-truths and generalized misinformation about other cultures that is the general Introduction to Foreign Culture claptrap at most Universities.

      That is because multiculturalism is not related to academically rigorous Cultural Anthropology (focusing on Kinship and other classic Anthropological topics), or Language, or Linguistics, or Psychology, or Philosophy (other than the Hegelian/Marxist kind). Multiculturalism is part of the communist-sponsored post-modernist (Pomo) movement that denies the meaning of things, that denies universal truths and acclaims subjectivity in everything, that claims that life is arbitrary and thus too hard to work hard at. It is a new tribalism leading to a caste structure as in India, with the most victimized of the victim groups at the top of the caste system and white men at the bottom, where the untouchables would be. Pomos would all die off, as they grasshopper-like do not want to go to the bother of having children or planning for the future, but since so many of them stay in and around the university they continually evangelize among innocent young men and women and create more like them.

      I would not feel that I had completed this thought unless I had a solution in mind. Inoculate your children against pomo poison. Tell them how the pomos will talk to them, and what happens when you get to the endgame of a life with a pomo strategy. Loneliness. Despair. Self-loathing. Kind of like permanent adolescent angst.

    41. Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » Cimrman’s Place in the Collective Dream Says:

      […] ethnic differences. This could inspire a lot of posts. The thoughtful self-consciousness with which John Jay describes the choices he and his wife have made leads us naturally to think of parental choices. […]

    42. John Jay Says:

      Wolf – it was less a thesis and more a prologue. Ms. Turner is a product of a modern journalism school steeped in multi-culturalism. And yet, when it counted, when there was a little life at stake, not just academic posturing, she could not bring herself to get beyond the superficial training she had received. Nothing hard like studying the language entered her mind, it was simply buying a sari, some food, and a few CDs. She is the real-world manifestation of the Academic idiots I was describing.