24 February 2015

#Multiculturalism is 'old as culture itself'

@iwallerstein.


As Islamophobic paranoia and demagoguery gain appeal among audiences in Europe and the US, we ought to remember that our own cherished "West" is little but an illusion.


That's the message being advanced by top US academic sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein, at his syndicated column. And in a world with growing violence on an increasingly irrational basis, it is apparent that more people need to listen:
Both its advocates and those who denounce it seem to be under the illusion that multiculturalism is something very new. But it isn’t new at all. Multiculturalism is as old as human cultures have existed. And it has always been the subject of passionate debate.
Considering the cultural side of Immanuel Wallerstein's analysis of the world-system is important at such a tense moment in the crisis of our world-system. Think, for example, of the knee-jerk cultural reactions to Islam that seem to drive numbers of Europeans and Americans increasingly towards imagining a political resurgence of Christianity in their countries, with many believing that Christianity is intrinsically superior to Islam due to its comparative lack of terrorists.

But the main reason for a lack of terrorism by Western Christians isn't because Christianity is peaceful. It's because Christianity is kept powerless under our constitutions. The separation of church and state keeps Christianity from hurting people in the way that Islam is alleged to hurt people. With this in mind, advocacy of political Christianity as an answer to political Islam would be a recipe for hypocrisy and medieval sectarian warfare, and not a solution against militant groups like Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

Beyond defeating religious illusions that instigate violence lies defeating the state itself, which relies upon nationalist illusions to instigate violence. These crises understandably make many people confused and violent, but there is a future. Alternatives are being conceived, and these alternatives that will make us better than the state and better than human are where the most elite architects of the future are turning.

In many respects, dwindling resources and the inevitable trends of migration and modern communication are pressuring groups into competition with each other, and they are grasping at any petty difference to reject the other and instigate warfare against them. It is a trap that will accelerate the death of our species:
Humans have always been on the move for many reasons. One is ecological exhaustion of the area from which they are moving. Another is the attraction of a higher standard of living elsewhere. A third is that for some reason they are being chased out of the area from which they are moving. The reality is that, if we trace descent far enough into the past, no one is where their ancestors once were. We are all migrants. We are none of us indigenous except by suppressing historical reality. 
To be sure, this issue has caused more acute strife in recent decades for two simple reasons. Technological advances in transport and communications make it far easier to migrate further and faster than in earlier times. And the polarization of the world-system is much greater, making it considerably more tempting for persons in poorer countries to move to richer countries. 
In addition, the fact that we are living amid the structural crisis of the modern world-system has meant that the rate of real unemployment has mounted very sharply. Hence the search for scapegoats has led to focusing on the migrants who are supposedly the cause of the high unemployment rates in the wealthier countries.
Here are the cultural questions that shake the foundations of our dwindling society:
Can we in effect support the inevitable and desirable form of multiculturalism that is the basis of a fruitful peaceful interchange of cultural values? Or will we succumb to xenophobic ethnic cleansings across the world?
Just as Wallerstein is urging, people must rise above the primitive impulses that create the conditions for ethnic cleansing. We must look beyond the protectionist boundaries of both the state form and the human form, to envisage a future that is not despair and extinction.

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