Friday, February 09, 2007

Culture wars - is there still a fence to sit on?

It seems to me that you can have respect for individuals or respect for cultures, but these will inevitably lead to contradictions at some point, and that if and when the contradictions become serious enough you have to start making choices.

This article and, of the debate that it kicked off, this supporting piece by Turkish German author Necla Kelek, persuades me of the case for valuing respect for the individual above respect for culture.

Thanks to ButterfliesAndWheels for the link


Roger Lancefield said...

In my view, the fence-sitting was made possible by the fact that we (here in the UK) had an unchallenged, dominant culture. It was also deeply condescending, based upon the implicit assumption that no constituent culture could ever pose a threat to the dominant one. Therefore, there was no need to put in place 'politically dodgy' safeguards, such as the reasonable expectation that people migrating to this country actually had just an iota of commitment to democracy in general and our way of life in particular. Perhaps this wasn't so much condescension so much as an assumption that principles such as women's rights, spearation of church and state, the primacy of the individual before the law, etc. etc. were so clearly good and true, that they could never seriously be called into question or threatened.

Obviously, we now know that we were living in dreamworld, comparable perhaps to someone who is convinced that human nature is fundamentally good and so refuses to ever turn anyone away from his front door - or question why they were trying to gain entry in the first place. As most people who aren't smoking something realise very well, such a relaxed 'door policy' will soon see your home exploited and used in ways that you don't agree with, to say the least.

In other words, the 'luxury' of cultural relativism was an illusion, caused by a lack of credible or conceivable cultural threat or strife. When such problems do arise, it seems to me that a commitment to relativism is the first thing to be flung out of the window. Visit any BBC news web site "Have your say" thread, and witness the dozens and dozens of statements both in proportion and tone that would have been regarded not very long ago as culturally insensitive at best, racist at worst.

Fortunately, the disastrous and dangerous use of 'racism' as a synonym for 'discrimination' is on the decline as far as I can tell, and meaningful discussion of very real social and cultural issues and tensions can now take place without fear (on the part of members of the dominant culture) of being branded a Nazi.

Phew, got that of my chest. How are you today Francis?

Francis said...

Better than yesterday, thanks!

The main reservation I have about all this is that changing national attitudes on this scale will be like steering an oil tanker - easy to do badly, very hard to get just right.