In spite of my British last name, I’m actually a Scandinavian by ancestry. Mostly Norwegian, if it matters. And as a card-carrying Norwegian-American, I’m more or less obligated to disrespect Columbus for Leif Eriksson’s sake. “Columbus was just a self-promoter who sailed on bad information,” any Sons of Norway member will tell you. “He bumped into a continent he couldn’t have missed, and never did figure out where he’d gotten to.” (If we’re really worked up, we’ll mispronounce our j’s and w’s.)
But I’ve lost my taste for that amiable sport in the last few years. Since Columbus has been re-cast from the hero of an epic of discovery to the villain of an anti-imperialist morality play (generally portrayed as wading ashore with a sword in one hand and a warrant from the pope in the other, authorizing him to “First kill all the savages, then enslave them”), the fun has gone out of the exercise.
But the fact remains that, hero or villain, Columbus was a pioneer in the classic European pastime of meeting people from a different culture, observing them, getting to know them, and misunderstanding them completely. His preconceptions cancelled out his experience.
Everybody does this, to some extent. Liberals and conservatives. Smart people and stupid people. Religious believers and skeptics. If nobody ever held onto their convictions in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence, there wouldn’t be any great stories. What is Frodo, what is Edmund Dantes or Odysseus, if not a guy too stubborn to face facts? The same goes for real-life heroes like Alexander the Great or George Washington or Louis Pasteur. (Even Lenin, if you admire really extreme denials of reality.)
But perhaps the greatest denial in history is the massive elephant-ignoring that’s been going on in Western civilization ever since race theory went out of fashion (in itself an excellent thing). The majority of educated people in our culture since that time have been sure — absolutely positive — that “people are all the same.” In spite of what the individuals and groups under consideration might say, in spite of what they do, the man who straps an explosive device to his daughter and sends her out to blow herself up in a crowded market has to be (somehow) precisely the same in every way as the stockbroker who spends eighty thousand dollars to give his little girl the best Sweet Sixteen party ever. No theologian struggling to reconcile human pain with the goodness of God ever worked harder than the modern liberal trying to prove to himself that “we’re all really the same, and any evidence to the contrary is just a trial of my faith.”
Already as I write, I can hear the outraged objections. “Are you saying people are different? You’re a racist!”
And that’s the problem, of course. We’ve confused “different” with “inferior,” and culture with race.
My contention is that the idea that everyone is the same is the profoundest racism (it’s also not very Diverse, if you value diversity as a self-evident good). I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s a substantial element of unconscious bigotry and chauvinism in the currently triumphant, triumphalist doctrine of Multiculturalism.
I know this is confusing. It confuses me too, because obviously one root of Multiculturalism is the West’s loss of faith in its own culture and traditions. So, you ask, how can a way of thinking that denigrates one’s own culture and traditions at the same time be contemptuous of everybody else’s culture and traditions?
The short answer is that it’s not necessary to love coffee to prefer coffee to tea, providing you really hate tea.
I’ll use Europe as an example. I choose Europe because it’s far away, and I prefer, whenever possible, to criticize people who aren’t close enough to poke me in the face. Also I love Europe, and I’m watching it die, and that troubles me.
Here’s my question: Why would any nation assume that welcoming in a massive demographic of exotic immigrants will not radically alter, even destroy, its own treasured traditions and liberties?
It seems to me the only explanations are either cultural arrogance or plain racism.
To attempt the Multicultural experiment, a country has to take it for granted that all these new immigrants are either…
a) so culturally impoverished that they will gladly discard their own traditions in order to embrace those of their new home (“There are only two kinds of people in the world; us and those who wish to be us”), or…
b) so stupid that they will soak up their new environment like sponges, unable to generate sufficient will to resist. (“They’re just little brown people, after all. They’re really like children.”)
(Hint: Read those imaginary quotes with a French accent. It makes my writing seem funnier.)
A fashion of thought at once self-loathing and contemptuous of others sounds like a contradiction, but we see it frequently in individuals. The greatest bigots are often the most insecure and self-hating people.
I hope you understand I’m talking unexamined racism here. Unconscious presumptions. I don’t mean to suggest that the multiculturalists think of the matter in these terms, and are maliciously covering up their true agenda. I think they’re doing what they accuse their opponents of doing. I think they’re making racist assumptions without realizing it.
“We’re all the same,” provides cover for the racism, but it’s a thin cover, and somebody’s going to flip the corner back eventually.
I imagine a couple Arawak Indians watching Columbus doing paperwork in his office, sweating in his heavy Spanish doublet.
“You think he’ll ever assimilate?” one asks.
“Don’t worry,” says the other. “Basically he’s just like us.”
Author’s note: The comments made above apply only to Europe, and have no application whatever to the United States. None at all. No sirree.
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