Multiculturalism seems to be the topic of the week. In USNews Michael Barone writes a column called “Cultures aren’t equal” and in The New York Times David Brooks writes a piece called “All Cultures are not Equal.” As the titles suggest, the point of these pieces is to argue that multiculturalism is bad. For Barone, the view bears some responsibility for the London bombings; For Brooks, multiculturalism obscures intelligent discourse.
First, Barone writes,
Multiculturalism is based on the lie that all cultures are morally equal. In practice, that soon degenerates to: All cultures all morally equal, except ours, which is worse. But all cultures are not equal in respecting representative government, guaranteed liberties, and the rule of law. And those things arose not simultaneously and in all cultures but in certain specific times and places–mostly in Britain and America but also in other parts of Europe.
In addition to the obvious slippery slope (“soon degenerates . . . “), Barone is guilty of the non causa pro causa or the wrong cause fallacy; the cause of the London bombing has something to do with the bombers buying the idea that divinely sanctioned mass murder is a legitimate way of advancing your political position–the recently jailed Eric Rudolph, homophobic abortion clinic bomber, knows something of this view–rather than say the tolerance of cultural difference.
For Brooks, on the other hand,
The gospel of multiculturalism preaches that all groups and cultures are equally wonderful. There are a certain number of close-minded thugs, especially on university campuses, who accuse anybody who asks intelligent questions about groups and enduring traits of being racist or sexist. The economists and scientists tend to assume that material factors drive history – resources and brain chemistry – because that’s what they can measure and count.
These poorly reasoned quips about multiculturalism (it appears to be the case that economists and scientists don’t work at universities, they’re racists and sexists, or they don’t ask intelligent questions) serve as a springboard for his more ambitious sociological project; according to him, multiculturalism inhibits understanding of the sorts of human events–such as terrorism–that should concern the inquisitive mind. That’s a bold claim–one which, as far as we can tell, he does nothing to establish. But the unarged assertion is becoming standard repertory.
Such excursions into grand theory raise more troubling questions. The attentive reader will not swallow the strawman (and just incoherent) description of multiculturalism of these two pieces–few I think would affirm the extreme moral relativism implicit in Brooks’s and Barone’s pieces. If anything, if notions are to blame, then the culprit of recent terrorism on British soil is that all too fancy notion of freedom of speech. But in the end, the attentive reader will wonder why Brooks and Barone have taken to such broad sociological categories to explain the homicidal actions of individuals. There is a word for such hasty cultural and racial generalizations, but it’s not coming to mind.