Thursday, 23 August 2018

In defence of multiculturalism

“This is the future that liberals want”: a woman in full-face hijab sitting next to a transgender woman on public transport

Though this blog could very well be retitled Stuff I Disagree With, I try not to argue with the same person two posts in a row, especially when it’s someone who is mostly on the same side as me. So I’m sorry to have to pick on Chris Trotter again. But his recent Bowalley Road post “Checkmate In Two Years?” needs a response. I’m not debating its major thesis – I don’t know whether the present media flap over free speech for “alt-right” bigots will or will not blow up into an electoral defeat for Jacinda Ardern’s Labour-Greens government in 2020. I can’t see it myself, but Trotter has historically been better at predicting New Zealand election outcomes than I have. But I have some things to say about the points Trotter raises along the way.

Let’s start with this:

There’s a saying, often attributed to Voltaire, which declares: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” The free speech controversy, by identifying multiculturalism as the concept Kiwis are not allowed to critique without drawing down the unrelenting wrath of its state-sanctioned and supported defenders, has caused many citizens to wonder when and how “nationalism” and “biculturalism” became dirty words.

Do I have to pull out that xkcd cartoon again? When did Southern and Molyneux get arrested? Because I don’t remember seeing that bit on the news. People protested against them, yes. That is to say, people criticized them loudly and angrily. There’s a saying, often attributed to Voltaire, which declares—

OK, cheap shot. Again, I’m not here to rehash my previous post. I’m here to talk about “multiculturalism” and “nationalism”, and in New Zealand that means giving biculturalism a look-in as well. Trotter’s post makes as good a springboard as any.

First up, either Trotter or I must be confused about what “nationalism” means. Trotter says

A country whose elites have signed up to an economic philosophy based on the free movement of goods, capital and labour – the three fundamental drivers of globalization – is more or less obliged to adopt multiculturalism as it core social philosophy.
Old fashioned New Zealand nationalism, and its more recent offshoot “biculturalism”, were products of a country which saw itself as offering something uniquely and positively its own to the rest of the world. It is probable that a substantial majority of Kiwis still subscribe to this notion (although a significant minority still struggle with the concept of biculturalism).
What the free speech controversy of the past four weeks revealed to New Zealanders was that too forthright an expression of cultural nationalism can result in the persons advocating such notions being branded xenophobic or racist – and even to accusations of being a white supremacist, fascist or Nazi.
The battle for free speech cannot, therefore, be prevented from extending out into a broader discussion over whether or not New Zealanders have the right to reject the downsides of neoliberalism, globalization and multiculturalism. Is it any longer possible to advance the radically nationalistic idea that the nature and future of New Zealand is a matter which New Zealanders alone must decide, without finding oneself pilloried on Twitter or banned from the nation’s universities?

Abstractions are always fuzzy around the edges, and “nationalism” shades into “racism” along one edge and “patriotism” along another. Still, Trotter is here giving the term a usage that I do not recognise. As I understand the word, the central concept of nationalism is to connect political sovereignty within a given state to membership of some particular ethnicity, understood as being the rightful owners (in some sense) of that state. Foreigners and immigrants, except for expatriates of the favoured ethnicity, are to be excluded from the political process. Typically this exclusion is to be accomplished by exclusion from the territory, sometimes with the alternative option of cultural and linguistic assimilation into the favoured ethnicity. It is not about “offering something uniquely and positively our own to the rest of the world”. It’s about keeping something uniquely and positively our own all to ourselves and the rest of the world can naff off.

What does Trotter mean by “the nature and future of New Zealand is a matter which New Zealanders alone must decide”? Is the “New Zealand” whose future is being decided exactly the same entity as the “New Zealanders” doing the deciding? Is there a concern that the New Zealand electorate might start accepting votes from citizens of Sri Lanka, Ghana, or Luxembourg? Or does the sentence mean “People of Pākehā and Māori ethnicity have a special right to exert political control over the lives of anyone, of any ethnicity, resident in the territory governed from Wellington”? (That’s insofar as “Pākehā” is a distinct ethnicity, of course. I’m not clear what we white New Zealanders have, as Pākehā, that’s “uniquely and positively our own” and couldn’t just as readily be found among, say, white Australians or English-speaking white South Africans.)

A lot of the opposition to global neoliberal capitalism is framed in terms of the threat it poses to the “national sovereignty” of individual countries over their own economies and ecologies. If this is where Trotter is coming from, then my only quarrel with him is his choice of words. I don’t like the idea of land or other local resources being owned and controlled by people who don’t live or pay taxes or buy goods and services in the area. But I also don’t like the “national sovereignty” framing. It doesn’t bother me that the people who own the farms or mines or whatever aren’t New Zealanders; it bothers me that the feedback loop between cause and effect is severed, that a small group of powerful people can wreak extensive damage on the landscape and economy without experiencing any consequences to discourage such behaviour. If some corporation is polluting rivers in Otago, it’s not important to me whether their headquarters are located in Auckland or Beijing.

But at least Trotter does offer some explication of his use of the term “nationalism”, however incomplete. That gives me some idea what he’s talking about. Not so “multiculturalism”. That word he never unpacks. It is evidently associated with “neoliberalism” and “globalization”, but more than that is hard to discern. So I genuinely don’t know whether what I will defend for the rest of this post under the name “multiculturalism” is the same thing as what Trotter is opposing, or at least lending support to the opponents of, under that same name. Bear that in mind as we proceed.

Multiculturalism, as I understand the term, is the idea that different ethnicities can coexist with each other, or should coexist with each other, or do coexist with each other. No ethnic group, and no ethnic group’s way of life, is superior to others; all are valid systems for coping with the world. Therefore, there is nothing to fear from encountering cultures different to one’s own. No culture can claim to be truer or realer than others. It is never the case that one culture’s way of doing things is objectively the “right” way of doing things, simply because there is no neutral frame of reference from which to make such a judgement. Therefore, no ethnic group has any business trying to force members of other ethnic groups to give up their own cultures and adopt the first group’s culture.

Let me start by laying to rest one reasonable, but misguided, fear: that if cultures are allowed to freely mingle, they will become diluted and indistinct, and everything that makes our culture unique (whoever “our” culture might be) will fade away and be lost – the horrifying image of the “melting-pot”. What actually happens when cultures meet is quite the opposite. They borrow ideas and artistic motifs from each other; they learn how to make each other’s food; they create whole new cultural experiences that neither one would have come up with by itself. The example most likely to be familiar to my readers is the English practice of drinking hot tea from porcelain cups – quintessentially English, and yet it must have begun with someone only a couple of hundred years ago saying “Let’s pretend we’re Chinese,” because both tea and porcelain are imports from East Asia. Or consider how much less distinctive Italian cuisine would be without pasta (from China) and tomatoes (from the Americas). I could list more examples at great length. It’s not a melting-pot, it’s a smorgasbord.

Anthropologists in the early twentieth century, when respecting other people’s cultures was a startling new idea for Europeans, would have disagreed. Margaret Mead argued that Pacific Island cultures did best when they were left pristine, untouched by outsiders. The social problems she saw in many of the Islands she attributed to contact with Europeans. This was far from her only or even her biggest mistake, but it was a mistake. Mere cultural contact doesn’t cause social harm. The problems Mead saw have a far more sinister origin. Europeans didn’t just make contact with the Pacific, and they didn’t just migrate into it. They colonized it. They took the land by armed force, they destroyed cultural centres, they imposed laws that made the local people second-class citizens, they beat children in schools for speaking their own languages, and they backed it all up with the fear of hell-fire. That sort of behaviour is what destroys a culture.

Since we’re on the subject of cultural sharing and colonization, I suppose I need to quickly mention what’s called “cultural appropriation”, which is the intersection of the two. Much digital ink has been spilled over what it means and what it doesn’t mean, and I can’t do it justice without giving it a post to itself. It doesn’t mean white people doing yoga; it means white people claiming authority over the meaning of yoga. When a colonizing ethnic group picks out images or expressions from a colonized ethnic group, discards their original meaning and uses them with some other meaning, and then the new usage becomes so widespread that the colonized group can no longer use them to convey their original meaning because the colonizers’ new meaning gets in the way, that’s cultural appropriation. Often the new meaning is no more than “Look at me, I’m a [member of colonized ethnic group], aren’t I funny / sexy / spiritual / rebellious?” Think “tribal” tattoos, topless Pacific Islander pinups, Native American feather bonnet Halloween costumes, and T-shirt logos of the Hindu sacred word Aum (ॐ).

The deepest kind of cultural sharing is the opposite of appropriation; you learn the meaning of the image or expression from the other culture, and you take it to heart, and you give proper credit for where it came from. But of course if you’re doing that, you are already being multicultural. Multiculturalism facilitates the free sharing of ideas, and the free sharing of ideas is an inescapable prerequisite for both science and democracy to function. It won’t have escaped you that this is also one of the central arguments for free speech. If you believe in free speech – at least, if you believe in it for this reason – then in all consistency you must also believe in multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism shades into what’s called cultural relativism, which in turn shades into social constructivism and idealism and various other less-than-creditable philosophies. You’ll often see cultural relativism portrayed, by its opponents, roughly as follows: “All cultures’ beliefs are true, including the ones about gods and demons and magic. All cultures’ practices are moral, including genital mutilation and human sacrifice and cannibalism. The only standard for assenting to a belief or practice is whether it is believed or practised by a bona fide culture, whatever that is. No genuine cultural belief or practice is ever wrong.” Do we really have to accept this?

I wish I could dismiss this as a pure straw-man, but alas, it’s not. My own university degree is in cultural anthropology, and this semester I have for the first time been set to take notes in an introductory cultural anthropology paper. And I am cringing, absolutely cringing, at some of the things I’m having to write down. Especially when anthropology lecturers talk about the health professions, of which I have extensive lecture-room experience. In the last month I have heard, and had to type without adding any dissenting comment (because that’s the rule of my profession), that people don’t need protein because some cultures understand food in different terms; that Tibetan herbal remedies must be effective because they contain so many ingredients; that the use-by date on a bottle of cough syrup is a power play by “biomedical” technocrats. (For the record, pharmaceutics break down over time into waste products, some of them dangerously toxic.) Cultural anthropology, my own degree, is turning out to be the single most evidence-scorning discipline that I’ve ever taken notes in – and I’ve done economics.

But cultural relativism doesn’t have to go that far, and it can’t be thrown out the window completely. Cultural relativism means taking the perspective of another culture to the point that you can see how their beliefs and practices make sense. Every culture’s beliefs and practices make sense within that culture; when they stop making sense, they stop being believed and practised. Cultural relativism in this sense is a methodological tool without which no study of any culture can be done. I have been unable to track down which philosopher it was who first pointed out that no language has a word meaning “I wrongly believe that...”, but whoever it was, their insight applies just as well to cultures as to individuals. Existential beliefs serve the same functions in people’s minds, behaviours, and social interactions regardless of whether they happen to be correct or incorrect. If you want to empathize with someone who believes the Earth is flat, “Imagine if you believed the Earth was flat” is the wrong formula. The correct formula is “Imagine if the Earth really was flat.”

You also have to do cultural relativism in the other direction. With cultures that aren’t your own, the difficult part is getting to the point where their beliefs and practices make intuitive sense. The, well, not exactly easy, but easier part is analysing the economic, environmental, and historical circumstances that led them to those beliefs and practices. With your own culture it’s the other way around. Presumably your own beliefs and practices already make sense to you; the great difficulty is in realizing that “Why do they make sense?” is even a question. This epiphany is perfectly in line with the core principles of science. Just as all astronomy depends on realizing that the Earth is not the centre of the universe, and all biology depends on realizing that humans are not the centre of the biosphere, so all studies of humanity depend on realizing that one’s own culture is not the centre of the human world. There is a reason why anthropology no longer addresses, as its core question, “Why are brown people funny?”

So where does science fit in? One school of anthropology would have it that science is merely one more cultural belief tradition, that its claims to objectivity and legitimacy are nothing but manoeuvres for power, that scientists and doctors are the priesthood – in white robes, no less! – of the West’s most prominent fundamentalist religion. They allude to Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and snidely insinuate that scientific discoveries are purely political events. They call science “Eurocentric” on account of its being dominated by dead white men, a criticism which quietly slips out the back window when they start expounding G. W. F. Hegel, Karl Marx, Max Weber, Émile Durkheim, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Michel Foucault. Outside of anthropology departments not many people hold this view consistently, but lots of people from time to time find their politics rubbing up the wrong way against particular scientific findings, and they predictably mine this school of thought’s talking-points for gotchas even while happily citing science on other topics where it is convenient to them. No political party or movement that I’m aware of is free of this particular hypocrisy.

You’ll have gathered that I think this view is wrong. Again, I don’t have the space to argue the point here (how often do I say that?) Science is simply what we call ordinary applied curiosity about the world when it gets complex and far-reaching enough that we have to pay people to do it. Every culture I know of has a vibrant empirical information-gathering tradition, at least in aspects of life where there’s a clear connection between accuracy and survival. Most hunter-gatherers would put Western experts to shame with their in-depth knowledge of natural history and forensics. I have had occasion before to describe the phenomenal navigational achievements of the Pacific Islanders. And of course Europeans were late-comers to the scientific enterprise as we know it, following on the heels of the Chinese, Indian, and Muslim civilizations.

“The mosquito bites bring on, according to the same authority, deadly fevers; the superstition probably arises from the fact that mosquitoes and fevers become formidable about the same time.” —Richard Burton, 1850s, on Somalian folk beliefs

It must be conceded that it was in Europe that people first banded together to apply this practical curiosity to the deep questions of existence, like “Where did the world come from?” and “Why are people people?” There have been various self-congratulatory theories as to why. Personally I think it’s mainly because Europeans in the seventeenth century urgently needed a new way of addressing such questions that didn’t involve setting people on fire – something their contemporaries on other continents were mostly managing, by that point, to avoid. That headstart gave Western scientists of the following centuries an entirely misplaced sense of superiority, which led them to dismiss all other cultures’ knowledge (as well as that of their own working classes) as “superstition”. (“Superstition” included, among many other things, the quaint beliefs that cow pox is protective against smallpox and that malaria is carried by mosquito bites.)

The irony is that science thrives on positing new ideas and challenging old ones, both of which would only be enhanced by regular exercises in making sense of the unfamiliar and re-examining the familiar. I do still get frustrated with those science writers, and they are not few, who shrug off cultural relativism root and branch as irrationality. But having observed at first hand both cultural anthropologists and scientists – yes, “biomedical” scientists in particular – lecturing undergraduate students on these matters, there is no longer any doubt in my mind that the anthropologists are the ones coming to the table in bad faith. That is a pity. Multicultural science would be science improved, and the good news is that the scientists are gradually getting there even without the anthropologists’ help.

So what happens to biculturalism? It’s a legitimate question. For readers not from New Zealand, biculturalism means “two cultures”; it’s how our national ethnic profile was reconceived around the late 1970s and 1980s when it became generally acknowledged that Māori culture was not, after all, going to disappear. Not coincidentally, this was also the time when Māori people began organizing to demand and win their rights under the Treaty of Waitangi. I was a small child at the time – just young enough, I believe, to have received instruction in Māoritanga from my very first day at school – so I can’t tell you from direct experience how much of an adjustment in attitude this required from Pākehā adults. I do know that many of my parents’ generation (though not my parents themselves) have never made that adjustment.

Biculturalism means public signage in English and te Reo Māori, Māori greetings in broadcast media as well as a dedicated Māori television station, Māori art motifs in the branding of government documents, and a few hours set aside each semester for health professions students to learn about things like why you don’t sit on the bedside table if you’re visiting a Māori patient in hospital. It doesn’t, so far, mean Pākehā internalizing Māori values or adopting Māori standards of public comportment, nor that Māori are no longer judged by Pākehā values and Pākehā standards of comportment. It doesn’t mean that employers won’t discriminate against job applicants with tā moko facial tattoos, though it probably does mean that they won’t admit to it. To be fair, it does seem to have brought about a general grudging acknowledgement that Māori culture is part of New Zealand’s soul; something worth preserving and perpetuating; something to show off one’s knowledge of when overseas.

In 2008 John Key’s National Party became the government in coalition with the Māori Party, an arrangement which proved distinctly one-sided. Six years previously, however, Don Brash had pulled National out of electoral free-fall with a speech appealing to Pākehā resentment of the Māori renaissance. And back in the 1990s, National got elected and re-elected on promises of curtailing the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process. At every stage, the objections raised to biculturalism were exactly the same as those being raised to multiculturalism. It’ll destroy our national unity, it’ll erode away our European heritage, I can’t understand their funny language, hang on weren’t they cannibals before we came along, can’t we just all be New Zealanders?

This much is true: in the 1990s, National’s more liberal supporters did like to counter the Left’s picture of a bicultural Aotearoa with “No, I think we should be a multicultural country.” I think this was mostly about opening up New Zealand to international developers, a process somewhat at odds with the aspiration of returning stolen land to Māori. It also, obviously, allowed them to present themselves as having the more enlightened view of racial justice while maintaining their political alliance with those who took offence at hearing the National Anthem in te Reo Māori at international sports events. “Multiculturalism” in that time and place had the same kind of associations and implications that “All Lives Matter” does in the late 2010s, with biculturalism in the place of Black Lives Matter. Trotter’s objections to the term are to that extent fair.

But that was the 1990s. Since then the Māori Party have come and gone; whatever else one might say they achieved, they did get the National Party to stop pandering openly to anti-Māori bigotry. And I think that particular character flaw is getting rarer now than it was in 2002. Once upon a time you could get the nation’s attention with a book titled The Travesty of Waitangi. Now even the anti-Māori racists have to call themselves “Hobson’s Pledge”, a reference to Governor William Hobson’s words upon the signing of the Treaty, to avoid being jeered off the public stage. (Hobson said “He iwi tahi tātou,” and had his grammar gently corrected by Hōne Heke to “He iwi kotahi tātou” – “We are one people.” Don Brash and his fellow passengers on the ship of fools that is Hobson’s Pledge read this as “Cultural distinctiveness is bad and government policy should ignore any ethnic disparity in social, economic, or health outcomes.”) There is not at present any serious danger of Māori losing the gains they made in the 1990s and 2000s; the pressing task is to extend those gains towards true equity with Pākehā.

Biculturalism was fundamentally the recognition that Māori continue to suffer social and economic injustices as a result of colonization by Pākehā which cannot be set right without restoring the status of Māori culture as a legitimate framework for life in Aotearoa, plus the choice to use the Treaty of Waitangi as the basis for the process of restoration. No aspect of that is contradicted or threatened by multiculturalism in the sense that I’m defending in this post – don’t be fooled by the contrasting terms. If anything, the presence of multiple different cultures should help persuade us Pākehā that it’s not our way or the highway.

And now for the elephant in the room. Go do an image search for multiculturalism cartoon with SafeSearch off.

Revolting, isn’t it?

Well, I feel that vindicates my hypothesis that overt racism is driven by the patriarchal view of women’s bodies as property, with men of unapproved ethnicities as thieves of that property.

(If you can’t see the cartoon I’m talking about, try adding "that's my daughter" to your search terms. Graphic content warning for rape and racism. No, I’m not showing it here. Or linking it. Or describing it.)

Trotter doesn’t mention Islam at all in the post I’m answering. That’s why I’m calling it the elephant in the room. I’m going to assume, from charity, that he moves in different online circles from me and just didn’t know that “multiculturalism” as a pejorative is a dog-whistle for Islam. Scroll down through that Google search and it will soon become clear. There are multiple entangled moral issues here which, at the risk of becoming repetitive, I don’t have space to deal with in this post. We can simplify considerably by noting that anti-Muslim bigotry shares a basic mindset with other bigotries. The hated group are all the same and can’t change – they share an essence of evil. Every one of them is morally responsible for the bad actions of any one of them, because those bad actions arise from the shared evil essence. They lack moral instincts and empathy; their motives are purely predatory or else senselessly hateful. Any appearance to the contrary is a pretence, and a sinister pretence at that. They are dirty and sexually deviant. They are after “our” women, and their long-term strategy is to replace us. There can be no negotiation, compromise, or accommodation with these people; they must be excluded from our territory by force, and if necessary by deadly force.

Bigots will find means to justify their prejudices when under threat. Typically this means compiling long lists of bad things done by members of the group they hate. Now, there are over a billion Muslims in the world, of whom roughly 24 million live in western Europe and maybe two million in the United States. If Islam has no effect either way on violence, then the proportion of violent criminals in the Muslim population will be the same as that in the population at large, a few percent – which makes tens of thousands of violent Muslim criminals in the US and hundreds of thousands in Europe. If it were one-hundredth of that, a few hundredths of a percent, that would still make hundreds in the US and thousands in Europe. And yet anti-Islamic bigots present lists of only dozens as damning evidence against Islam. I have seen the same done against transgender women and also (lest I get complacent about my own group’s virtue) against Trump voters. It only takes four or five repetitions of something for it to feel like a pattern, but that’s a flaw in the cognitive software of the human brain.

Suppose, on the other hand, that you did find a statistical correlation between Islam and violent behaviour. Would that then justify tearing down mosques and banning immigration from Muslim countries and whatever other measures the bigots want to see? Well, put it this way. There is a category of the human race who are vastly more likely to commit violent acts than those not in the category, and by “vastly” I mean typically at least an order of magnitude. For sexual violence it’s two orders of magnitude, i.e., the ratio of members to non-members of this group among sexual assailants is about a hundred times as high as that ratio in the general population. These people occupy nearly all of the positions of power in our society – to the point that it’s the denial of that statement that carries a whiff of conspiracy theory. Should we exclude these people from the political process for the safety of democracy? Should we restrict their ability to enter Western countries? If not, then we cannot in all consistency justify doing the same thing to Muslims.

If you’ve ever read this blog before, then you’ll have guessed that the group I’m talking about is men.

Let’s turn things down a notch. Not everyone who feels threatened by Islam is the kind of know-nothing I’ve been talking about so far; they’re just the loudest and most obnoxious kind. And, after all, I do believe our society should take steps to limit male violence and mitigate male power, so my analogy by itself doesn’t rule out taking some kind of precautions against fundamentalist Islam. I don’t get to drop the mic yet. Islamic countries at present are doing relatively poorly on a number of well-being measures, notably democracy and women’s rights, and worldwide more terrorist violence is committed in the name of Islam than any other cause. (Worldwide, but not in the US; there it’s eclipsed by white far-right extremists.) Does this constitute a problem for multiculturalism in the sense I’ve been talking about? Does it challenge the proposition that all cultures, including Islamic cultures, are valid ways of life that should be allowed to run free in society?

First of all, the general validity of all cultures does not entail that all cultures have an exactly equally good response to every single challenge. Islam does seem to have a problem with terrorism, but then Catholicism by the same token has a problem with child sex abuse. Evangelical Christianity has a problem with racism, at least in America. And of course all three have a problem with homophobia. It so happens that terrorism by its nature is something done loudly in public, whereas child sex abuse is something done quietly behind closed doors; and also Western news media have a lot more Catholic viewers to keep mollified than Muslim ones, which they accomplish by treating terrorism as a systemic failing of a whole religion and sex abuse (when they report on it at all) as an individual failing of particular priests.

You’ll also notice I said that Islamic countries are doing poorly on well-being measures at present. That’s not a trivial qualification. If I were to be whisked away in a time-machine and marooned in some century between about the eighth and the fifteenth, and was told I could choose whether to be dropped off somewhere in the Islamic world or somewhere in Christendom, I would unhesitatingly choose the former. Muslim polities then were more liberal, more scientifically advanced, more medically advanced, more peaceful, and more prosperous than Christian ones. Granted, there are passages in the Qur’ān that encourage violence, but you can find worse in the Bible. If liberal Christians today can intellectualize and theologize and spiritualize and generally waffle away Biblical violence, there’s no reason why liberal Muslims can’t do the same with Qur’ānic violence – and indeed they do. The reactionary condition of the Islamic world today demands an explanation beyond “Because Islam.”

And if various other issues I’ve touched on would need their own post to explain properly, this would take a whole book. Colonization is part of it. Oil is another; mineral wealth tends to enrich only a very small fraction of a country’s population, because its value isn’t enhanced by labour and hence can’t be threatened by industrial action. Largely because of the oil, foreign powers have bombed and invaded and disrupted elections in the Middle East more than any other geopolitical region, and you can see how this would confirm and perpetuate any cultural narratives to the effect that said foreign powers are allied with the forces of cosmic evil. That then casts a pall over ideas associated with such powers, like, oh, let’s say, democracy and women’s rights. Which is not to say that there aren’t proponents of those ideas within the Muslim world, because there are, many and courageous. Just because Westerners haven’t heard of them doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Here’s something else Westerners haven’t heard of. One talking point of the “Because Islam” theory is that Israel sits right in the middle of the Middle East, an oasis of liberal democracy if not exactly of peace. It can’t be geography making the difference; it must be that Israel isn’t Muslim. Except that there is another oasis of liberal democracy emerging as we speak in Muslim North Africa, so far completely unacknowledged by Western countries: the Democratic Republic of Somaliland. No, not Somalia, Somaliland. Here, go and read about it. Then maybe write to your political representatives about persuading your country to officially recognise it. Somaliland is Muslim, unlike Israel, but like Israel it is a new state with no historical inertia binding its government to religious institutions, and even more than Israel it has the good fortune to have had women active in building it from the beginning. It follows that Islam per se does not impede progressive or liberal values in a society. It further follows that the existence of Islam is no argument against multiculturalism.

New Zealand can be a bit complacent about race relations sometimes. After all, we can always with perfect truth claim to treat both immigrants and indigenous people better than Australia does. But that’s a pathetically low bar to clear, and we need to do better.

For a start, the excuses people all over the English-colonized world give for their suspicion of immigrants are even more transparently bullshit in New Zealand than elsewhere. We are one of the world’s most sparsely populated countries; we have plenty of room. If more people came to live in our cities, we could shift our economy more towards manufacturing and technology and away from dairy-farming, which would mean less stress on our natural environment. Nor would we have to farm more intensively to feed them, because we already grow far more than we ourselves eat; net immigration just means that that food will be consumed here instead of exported. Yes, we’d need to invest a bit more in our infrastructure, but you can do that when you have more people in the country being productive, and our infrastructure is overdue an upgrade anyway. And contrary to what people fear, immigration has been shown in multiple studies to enrich economies and reduce crime.

I can understand people who don’t know these things (and they are not well-known) being a bit cagey about immigration. And I know people do not suddenly change their minds when presented with new facts in public debate; not when they have face to lose in front of their allies. All the same, it’s telling that their next rallying point is reliably something along the lines of “But too much immigration too fast will make New Zealand look unfamiliar. Immigrants should have to learn to assimilate into our culture.” Let’s consider what this entails on the level of individual justice. “Sorry, madam. Sorry, sir. I acknowledge that you’re experiencing hard times where you live and that we’re, comparatively, sitting pretty. I can see that your skills – a doctor and a computer engineer, well done, you must be dedicated workers – are just the sort of thing our economy needs. New Zealand would clearly be an ideal place for you to settle down. But I’m afraid that your presence here makes us look just that little bit less like a Footrot Flats cartoon, so I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

Trotter objects to opponents of multiculturalism being “branded xenophobic or racist”. I wonder what he would say if he had spent the time I have in recent years trying to convince people on Facebook that the solution to child poverty and homelessness in Auckland is not to close the gates to immigration from East Asia. “I’m not being racist, but there are too many of them.” There cannot be such a thing as “too many” of something unless there is something bad about that thing that accumulates with increasing numbers. “I’m not being racist, but I don’t recognise my country any more.” Why not? I do. Neither Pākehā nor Māori culture is in any danger. There are now cultures here that weren’t here before, but that’s only a bad thing if there is something bad about those new cultures.

And if you’re against multiculturalism, and don’t want to be accused of xenophobia or racism, then frankly I think the onus falls on you to explain exactly what that “something bad” is.


  1. I can't speak for Chris Trotter but I have read the post you refer to, and most of the Bowalley Road posts over the past six months or more. First , you suggest that because Trotter doesn't mention Islam he must have it in mind ("the elephant in the room") and that what he has in mind is critical or hostile. That is completely specious, and while you have taken it as occasion to comment extensively (and I might add fairly and intelligently) on Islam, it is irrelevant to the content of Trotter's post.
    Like Chris, I am wary of the concept of multiculturalism, and, as it happens, also of biculturalism, with which Chris seems to be more comfortable. Biculturalism in New Zealand seems to assume that Britain supplies the forms of political institutions for the nation as a whole (the monarchy, parliamentary system, civil and military services etc) while Maori retain their own institutions (iwi/hapu structures, the Kingitanga etc) solely for their own purposes. So biculturalism and multiculturalism are premised on the notion that there is a dominant culture and one or more subordinate cultures. If you have been rejected by, and reject in turn, that dominant culture then biculturalism and multiculturalism seem less attractive than they do to the dominant culture.
    I have mokopuna who are of half Indian descent and others who are of half Chinese descent, but I see them playing together, going to school together and growing up together and I like to think that as grown men and women they will see themselves as belonging to the same indigenous culture. That does not mean that they will be disinterested in hostile to any other culture, including Indian or Chinese culture. It means that they will belong here in this land, knowing its ways, its language and its people as their own.
    "Multiculturalism", on the other hand, I fear will take us into dangerous waters. Wherever the empires of the world have established multicultural societies (they are always imperial creations) they tend to end badly.

    1. I didn't intend to suggest that Chris himself must have had Islam in mind when criticizing multiculturalism; if that is how my words came across, I apologize. I called it "the elephant in the room" because it's what "multiculturalism" is very, very often used to mean, and I presumed many readers coming here by a Google search would think I was being evasive if I didn't mention it. I'm pretty confident it's not what Chris thinks of Islam, because he spoke positively of Islam in the previous post I responded to.

      I'm going to need sources on each facet of the claim in your final sentence. For one thing, I can't help noting that nearly all the "empires of the world" have fallen, and thus could be said to have "ended badly", multiculturalism or no. Genghis Khan and Cyrus of Persia both seem to have had a comparatively multicultural outlook, and the Persians at least lasted for centuries.

      You seem to mean something different from what I do by both "biculturalism" and "multiculturalism". I won't debate your statement that in practice biculturalism in New Zealand has not removed the dominant culture vs. subordinate culture framework. I'm sceptical that it's premised on that relationship. And you don't give any reasons for extending that claim to multiculturalism.

      Do you mind if I ask: supposing that your mokopuna do grow up to perceive themselves as having distinct cultures, what bad result do you fear from that perception of theirs?

  2. Kia ora Daniel

    Multiculturalism cannot extend to the political level in either an empire or a nation state, although it may in the case of a loose confederation. That means you will always have a dominant culture which determines the form of the political system.
    In New Zealand, and throughout the British empire, that dominant culture is British, in the French Empire French, in the Roman Empire Roman. For the dominant culture, multiculturalism then functions as a system of political management.
    The salient point of difference between biculturalism and multiculturalism is that in bicultural societies the dominant culture makes concessions to the subordinate culture whereas in multicultural societies "divide and rule" can operate and fewer concessions may be required. Multicultural societies in which the dominant culture is no longer the clear majority culture are necessarily authoritarian, and can take a number of forms ranging from the South African apartheid system through the military governments of Fiji to the more benign autocracy of Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore (all examples from the twentieth century dissolution of the multicultural British empire).
    Other examples of British multiculturalism "ending badly" would be the Tamil war of secession in Sri Lanka, the Indian partition and al Nakbah in Palestine. Then the disasters in the Balkans after centuries of Ottoman multiculturalism and a brief interlude of Marxist authoritarianism, Rwanda, Iraq.. the list goes on.
    Imperialism and multiculturalism can work for centuries, as you have noted, but when they do end, as they must, they tend to end badly. That is hardly surprising when one considers that imperialism, even in its benignly multicultural form, is inherently exploitative and oppressive. When no longer harnessed together under the whip of the imperial driver, the bullocks may turn on each other.
    I am not afraid of perceptions of difference. An individual will always be aware of his or her unique antecedents and associations, and there is no harm in that. However there is great potential for harm when New Zealanders perceive themselves as belonging to specific national cultures, for example British, Korean, Chinese, Indian or Vietnamese in the event that two or more of their respective states entered into a state of war.
    Because a majority of New Zealanders identified as culturally British, New Zealand was dragged into two world wars and a series of so-called minor conflicts which were catastrophic for our people and for the peoples of invaded lands.
    So multiculturalism brings with it the possibility of involvement in foreign wars, foreign wars provoking intercultural conflict at home, and intercultural conflict resulting from collapse or a state of crisis within the dominant culture. These are three forms of conflict which we have already experienced in Aotearoa. It is more than hypothetical speculation.
    The way forward is an end to British rule, kotahitanga and a national tikanga. The longer that is delayed, the greater the potential for adverse outcomes.

    1. If this conversation is to continue, I'm going to need you to slow down and clarify your terminology before anything else. What do you mean by the word "multiculturalism"?
      You'll find I provide a definition in the blog post above. That definition is:
      the idea that different ethnicities can coexist with each other, or should coexist with each other, or do coexist with each other you'll pardon me for being more than slightly confused when you adduce apartheid as an example of multiculturalism, since the fundamental premise of apartheid is that different cultures cannot and should not coexist with each other.
      If your premise is that the evils of apartheid were due to people having differing cultural identities in the same space, rather than people being forced to avoid interacting with people with differing cultural identities, then I strongly disagree and I'm going to ask you to justify that proposition with facts and reasoning.
      I have further disagreements with other things you have said but I feel that articulating them would be a waste of time until we know we're both talking about the same thing.

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  5. Kia ora Daniel

    Your definition of multiculturalism is "the idea that different ethnicities can coexist with each other, or should coexist with other, or do coexist with each other".
    You offer three alternatives, one of which is the "idea that different ethnicities ... do coexist with each other".
    That is a fact which can be empirically determined, and multiculturalism so defined is unremarkable. The second case and third cases ("can coexist" or "should coexist") are redundant if it is shown that they actually do coexist. I take that as a given. Different ethnic groups coexist on the same earth and continental land masses, and within the same nation states and imperial systems. They communicate, trade, intermarry and fight - the full gamut of human interaction. Therefore multiculturalism as you define it is a fact.
    If you changed your definition to simply state that "different ethnicities should coexist with each other" it would give us something more meaningful to talk about, even though the idea that people "should" do something is often not very helpful. I suggest that it is more useful for us to talk about the consequences of certain policies and courses of action than to belabour people with ideas of what they "should" do.
    I also wonder at the jump from "culture" to "ethnicity". If you are promoting the idea of a multi-ethnic society, why not use that term? On the other hand if you are actually promoting multiculturalism, why not use the word "culture" in your definition?
    I think what we really understand by multiculturalism in public discourse is an ideology which encourages people to maintain diverse ethnic and cultural identities within the borders of a single nation state or imperial system.
    Multiculturalism so defined is therefore the official ideology of the Republic of Singapore, and an element in the defacto ideology of the Realm of New Zealand (meaning that it has broad acceptance across the political establishment).
    My definition of multiculturalism does cover the political ideology of apartheid South Africa, but so does your own. Blacks and whites coexisted within one legal jurisdiction and one economic system, while retaining their own clearly defined ethnic and cultural identities. The supporters of that system were able to create an idealized picture of how it worked to the advantage of all - whites, blacks and coloured people. In practice it was more often very ugly, but multiculturalism can be like that. When you scratch the benign idea of multiculturalism, all manner of unpleasantness may be revealed beneath its surface.
    Does that help? Do you not see anything lacking in or amiss with your definition?

    1. I see I have miscommunicated by using the word coexist without qualifier. I don't mean merely that people of different ethnocultural identities occupy the same spaces and frequently come into contact with each other; that is, as you say, a given. I mean that they (can and should) do so peaceably, cooperatively, interactively, and sustainably while retaining their disparate identities as equally valid. Whether the space where this is happening is politically organized as a nation-state or an empire or some other form is another question.
      (By "should", since you bring it up, I mean that this is a good state of affairs, one worth working to preserve where it exists and to create where it does not.)
      Apartheid in South Africa and segregation in the US were both therefore anti-multicultural in the sense in which I am using the term. They discouraged interaction and cooperation between ethnically distinct people, and they presented one ethnicity as more valid than the others. That is not what I call coexistence.
      While the word "culture" can be distinguished from "ethnicity" on a number of technical axes, I am for the most part using them interchangeably. I am not, for instance, talking about gay culture or rugby culture or fanfiction culture, even though all of those are perfectly respectable applications of the word "culture" in other contexts. I am, however, talking about religious as well as ethnic identities, hence why I included a section on Islam. May I ask what you understand to be the difference between "ethnicity" and "culture" within the context of this conversation?
      As regards apartheid, I feel I also need to ask: suppose there had not been apartheid -- what do you think South Africa would have looked like instead? Would it have been the "Rainbow Nation" it now proudly aspires to be? Because to me that is a picture of multiculturalism. In New Zealand, harking back to your previous comments, how is "kotahitanga and a national tikanga" to be achieved? What will Pākehā, in particular, be asked to do differently in order to whakakotahi with Māori? Whatever it is, supposing a large amount of them would rather not, how will compliance be motivated?
      My previous questions still stand. I hope I have clarified my understanding of "multiculturalism" sufficiently for you now, but I remain puzzled as to yours. And I haven't yet seen an answer to the question I asked you earlier. Supposing that your mokopuna do grow up to perceive themselves as having distinct cultures, what bad result do you fear from that perception of theirs?

  6. I might use different language, but to me the word manaakitanga sums up the proper basis for relationship between human beings of whatever race or creed. In the spirit of manaakitanga relations will be peaceable, cooperative, interactive and sustainable and respectful, all the qualities that you look for in a benignly multicultural society. Manaakitanga certainly surpasses the rather narrow test of "coexistence" or even "peaceful coexistence".
    Manaakitanga is vital to the harmonious working of any society whether multicultural, bicultural or monocultural. It should be at the forefront of our thinking, because it would be wrong and self-defeating to show multicultural respect and generosity to, say, Arabs and Muslims, while treating a member of one's own ethnic group or religious persuasion with any degree of contempt or disregard.
    That is why the case for manaakitanga should be a separate discussion to the case for multiculturalism. Every society has need of manaakitanga, no society can survive without it, and it is not unique to any given form of political or social organisation.
    The difference between ethnicity and culture (tikanga) is summed up in the saying "Kahore he tangata whenua, kahore he tauiwi i roto i a Karaiti". This is an implicit acknowledgement that while we have separate tribal tikanga and identities, what matters in the ultimate is the higher tikanga which unites us in our common humanity.
    Separate tikanga can and do exist, but they do not trouble me. The problem is that the doctrine of multiculturalism seems to ignore the fact that there must always be a higher tikanga and a dominant culture. In our own nation we are called to choose between te tikanga a te Atua and the present political reality of te tikanga a te Kuini, the relict of British colonialism.
    I hesitate to speculate on what might have happened in South Africa, Cyprus, Palestine, Fiji if they had not developed within the multicultural British imperial system, but I suspect that their subsequent history might have been much happier.
    Because I am not a multiculturalist, I don't ask pakeha as a racial or cultural group to "do anything different".
    Having said that, the political system which was imposed upon us by the British, despite having certain merits, is unfit for our purposes and must make way for something better, and on an individual level each of us can change our lives in ways which make us better able to serve our God and our people.
    But it is wrong to point the finger at Pakeha, Maori, Muslims or whoever and tell them that they as a group must change in order to be acceptable. You yourself seem to come to a similar conclusion, albeit from a different premise, when you say that we should recognise disparate identities as "equally valid". If you recognise pakeha identity as equally valid, how can you tell pakeha what they should do to be acceptable to others?
    I thought I had answered the last question already, but let me reiterate. I have no fears for how my own mokopuna may develop their knowledge and understanding of their land, their people, their world and their God. I take it as a given that in some ways, perhaps significant ways, they will think differently to the way I think.
    All things are in God's hands, but by looking into the past we can have visions of our future, both good and ill, and by thinking deeply on the things that have been we can chart a safer course into that future.
    Of one thing I am certain: no good will come of making multiculturalism the preeminent social doctrine.
    I could comment further on the rather interesting history of multiculturalism, biculturalism and monoculturalism in Aotearoa, which goes back more than two centuries, but I will have that for another time, and perhaps another place.
    Nga mihi

    1. Of one thing I am certain: no good will come of making multiculturalism the preeminent social doctrine.
      Why not? On what grounds are you certain of this?
      And what on earth do you mean by "the doctrine of multiculturalism"? You've explained several things that you don't mean by "multiculturalism", which seem to include most of what I defend in this article. Yet you still clearly think there is something bad that can meaningfully attacked under the name of "multiculturalism". What is that thing?

      Because I am not a multiculturalist, I don't ask pakeha as a racial or cultural group to "do anything different".
      Ah. So it is only Māori who will be expected to behave differently to assimilate to Pākehā culture, then? Pākehā can keep on sitting on tables and mixing up pillowcases with underpants in the laundry and taking home the first catch of their fishing season and treating land as a possession, and Māori will have to pretend none of this bothers them? While Māori are to stop speaking te Reo, abolish the institution of the marae, forget the names of Papa-tū-ā-nuku and Tāne-mahuta, and otherwise behave as if they were Pākehā? Is that what you meant? If not, what did you mean? What do you think it looks like for there to be only one culture where previously there was more than one?
      You refer to the "multicultural British imperial system". Do you know what the British tried to do to indigenous cultures and languages, including Māori? The boarding schools here and in Canada and Australia (and in Wales and Ireland, for that matter) where children were taken away from their indigenous parents, had their hair forcibly cut in the case of Canada, and beaten if they spoke their own languages or told their own culture's stories? What on Earth was "multicultural" about that?

      I have no fears for how my own mokopuna may develop their knowledge and understanding of their land, their people, their world and their God.
      OK, forget the word "fear". Previously you said:
      I like to think that as grown men and women they will see themselves as belonging to the same indigenous culture.
      Supposing they did not see themselves as belonging to the same indigenous culture. Why would that be a bad thing? Why do you "like to think" otherwise?

    2. Kia ora Daniel
      I would say that multiculturalism is a doctrine that encourages people to identify as members of an ethnic group, and to organise and to act politically or socially as members of that group. When it becomes the ideology of state it may be relatively benign (as in Singapore) or thoroughly malignant (as in South Africa). Even in its most benign forms however, a system of ethnic distinctions creates the potential for social strife.
      Because ethnicity gives little indication of character or behaviour, I don't judge pakeha or maori according to ethnicity and therefore I don't ask pakeha or maori *as a racial group* to act differently. Many, I would suggest most, do not conform to the kind of racial stereotypes which you have advanced. If you think that pakeha as an ethnic group have no understanding of or respect for tikanga or te reo then we obviously move in very different circles.
      The practices you condemn in Canada and throughout the empire were an expression of British imperial culture, just as slavery, indentured labour, mass movements of peoples and confiscations of land were part and parcel of empire. The tactics have changed, but the ends remain the same.
      New Zealand may be multicultural, but as in any multicultural system there is a dominant culture which happens to be British and which was imposed upon us by force, a fact which you fail to address.
      You obviously are aware of the evils perpetrated under British rule. So what are you going to do about it? It is very good that you respect tikanga and speak te reo, but at the higher level are you content to pledge allegiance to a Head of State who must by law be of British descent and of the Church of England?
      Are you happy to see the continuation of a system of gross exploitation of migrant workers and native peoples alike under the banner of multiculturalism?
      I don't support the British imperial system, in fact I have spent time in Her Majesty's Prisons for refusing to accept British sovereignty over our land, and I am very critical of the impact of British "multiculturalism" on countries such as Malaya, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Cyprus, Palestine and South Africa, not to mention New Zealand. That is the idea that you can use mass migration of disparate peoples (as slaves, indentured labour or "settlers") to achieve the commercial and strategic goals of empire, and then keep those peoples disparate so as to maintain a system of divide and rule. And I don't see the "new multiculturalism" of New Zealand as being so very different to the old multiculturalism of empire.
      I would like to see my descendants "as belonging to the same indigenous culture" because I want the childhood bonds between cousins to remain strong as they grow to maturity, and a common culture and sense of belonging which has room for people from every ethnic background is one way to that end. May I ask what you see as being so wrong about that?

    3. Thank you. This does clarify things considerably.

      Let me start with some disambiguation. "Culture" can mean quite a range of things. Most basically it's a set, a suite if you will, of beliefs, norms, practices, and forms of communication, which are characteristic of a given community and passed on from one generation to another within that community by learning and imitation. This can happen at a wide spectrum of different scales; each department at the University where I work has its own culture. But in this article the term is restricted to larger-scale cultural variation: ethnicities and religions in particular.
      When people notice that their community is different from other communities in some way or another, that becomes the basis for cultural identity. Again, identities can form at any scale and on any point of difference. Psychologists find that if you split a group of people arbitrarily into two, even if you do it by tossing a coin right in front of them, the two half-groups will quickly form their own group identity.
      It follows that people of different ethnic cultures will notice that they are different and thus form ethnic identities on that basis. From what you say, I take it that you are supportive of diversity in culture as such, but suspicious of diversity in ethnic identity. To which I would point out that the identity formation part of the picture doesn't require any encouragement from the state. Indeed, the evidence of modern history is that it will persist under quite heavy discouragement from the state.

      If you prefer states that don't encourage people to identify as members of an ethnic group, may I recommend Soviet Russia, where the official response to every ethnic conflict was "The problem no longer exists, (signed) The Government"? When the Soviet Union collapsed, all the conflicts that had been suppressed for seventy years flared right up again. We can safely dismiss the hypothesis that this was a matter of the few very old people who had been alive in the Revolution going about and energetically fomenting ethnic hatreds from scratch amongst a successfully-integrated younger generation.
      Or take France. The repressive measures that the British took against indigenous cultures in various parts of their empire, the French also took -- until much more recent times, well into the 20th century -- against the minority ethnicities and languages within France. Until the 1960s there were notices up in towns in Brittany reading "Il est interdit de cracher par terre et de parler Bréton" ("It is forbidden to spit on the ground and to speak Breton"). These measures were enacted in the name of the égalité part of the Revolution slogan: the "right" of every French citizen to be equally and uniformly French.
      You are quite correct, unfortunately, that diversity of identity can become a focus of conflict. I can see how you get from there to the conclusion that it is better for states not to encourage diverse ethnic identities. I think, however, that this conclusion also requires the premise that diversity in ethnic identity, and any accompanying hostility, would naturally diminish over time if the state did not encourage it. All the evidence that I'm aware of is against this premise.

      I've written more, but I went over the character limit for comments, so I'll click Publish here and continue later.

    4. Wherever two or more ethnicities occupy the same space, people in each one will notice -- whether the government wants them to or not -- that "These people act differently from us. They do some things that we know are Not Done, and they have strange superstitions against doing things we know are harmless. They gabble gibberish that doesn't seem to mean anything, and they don't understand when we speak to them with perfect clarity" -- and so on, and so forth.
      Having noticed these differences, there are two possible initial conclusions one can draw:
      (1) "These people are weird for no reason; they have some kind of malign cognitive dysfunction that prevents them from behaving and speaking properly."
      (2) "These people belong to a different culture from us, and our culture looks just as unfamiliar to them."
      Obviously conclusion (1) is going to lead to trouble. Most adults are now well-educated enough to avoid it, at least with regard to ethnic difference; you do still get this kind of attitude towards neurodiversity, sexual orientation, and nonbinary gender identity. However reductive or cramping labels might be at times, they are helpful in overcoming this sort of prejudice. People who know I am autistic sometimes respond with stereotypes, but this is far better than the "that guy's creepy and weird" attitude I get from people who don't.
      Conclusion (2), however, can lead to one of two further conclusions:
      (2a) "This other culture is less valid than ours. Its beliefs are wrong and its practices are bad."
      (2b) "This other culture is just as valid as ours. Its beliefs make as much sense as ours and its practices are just as good."
      Unfortunately conclusion (2b) doesn't seem to be a natural state of mind for human beings (except when the "Other" culture are "Our" culture's allies in some sense); it requires encouragement, in the form of actively celebrating ethnic diversity as a good thing. That is what I mean by multiculturalism.

      I'll get to your specific questions shortly.

    5. Now, specific responses:

      If you think that pakeha as an ethnic group have no understanding of or respect for tikanga or te reo then we obviously move in very different circles.
      I work at a university and live in a university town, so most Pākehā I know personally do respect what they know about tikanga Māori -- which is more in some cases than others. I have encountered very much less respectful attitudes in older people with less education.
      But the thing is, I didn't know about the not mixing pillowcases with underpants thing until only a few months ago. (I did know about the not sitting on tables thing.) Prior to that, if someone had told me I shouldn't mix pillowcases with underpants in the wash, I must confess I'd have thought they were being a bit obsessive or paranoid. Learning that this was part of the tikanga of a separate culture made me more accepting of the practice, not less.

      Are you happy to see the continuation of a system of gross exploitation of migrant workers and native peoples alike under the banner of multiculturalism?
      No. I want to see a nationwide movement on the Left to inform new immigrants about their legal rights and support them to say "no" to exploitation. Unfortunately this seems to be far less popular than the "stop all the Asians coming in here taking our jobs" option. I have spent many a weary hour arguing the point in Left-leaning Facebook groups these past few years.

      You obviously are aware of the evils perpetrated under British rule. So what are you going to do about it?
      The same thing I do about every other kind of evil -- complain about it on the internet.
      (I dream of one day having the ability to persuade people to do more than nod along as I complain. But I'm 40 and haven't learned how this works yet, so it's probably not going to happen.)

    6. I think we agree that the formation of cultural and racial identity is a natural phenomenon found wherever different cultures and races come into contact, and attempts by the state to suppress either are futile or dangerous.
      However I don't agree with the conventional wisdom that cultural and racial diversity are a "good thing". To me they are simply a fact of life, which, like any form of variation in the natural world can result in a range of organic responses from symbiosis and hybridization to competition, predation and parasitism.
      It takes a particular religious or moral viewpoint to transcend the fact of diversity and maintain as I quoted in the earlier comment "Kahore he tangata whenua, kahore he tauiwi..." which is to say that while diversity is a fact of life, it does not determine how we relate to other human beings.
      So I see no reason to either encourage or discourage diversity, and for me that is a point of difference from multiculturalism.
      I also see dangers in the formation of strong social identities based on ethnic or cultural difference (diversity), and that is a second point of difference from multiculturalism.
      In our particular circumstances, I encourage people to embrace the indigenous culture of Aotearoa. Some manage to do that the day they step off the plane, if not before, but for most it is a slow process that takes place over two or three generations.
      Why is the process of acculturation so rapid with some, and so slow with others? I suggest that the reasons are largely political and cultural. Those who come here without any preconceived ideas of cultural superiority will more readily embrace Maori/Pakeha culture. So will those who feel more confidently grounded in their own strength and personal identity.
      Others, when confronted with the demand to swear allegiance to the dominant British culture take that as a warning that they will ignore to their own cost. The fact of British cultural dominance in New Zealand is impressed upon immigrants from the first day, even while they are being assured that their own ethnic culture will be accepted.
      So immigration has the effect of helping to preserve and maintain British political and cultural dominance within the Realm of New Zealand. The Premier Sir Julius Vogel, who strongly encouraged immigration, stated that the main purpose of mass immigration was to protect British sovereignty.
      We might argue about whether immigration today is driven by politics or economics, but we can be sure that humanitarian concerns hardly rate.
      There are complex linkages between diversity, identity, immigration, economic efficiency and political stability, which are coming together to create social and political tensions not just in New Zealand but throughout the capitalist world.
      Workers say "these immigrants took our jobs" when they are dismissed from employment to make way for migrant labour. On one level one can understand why they say that. On another level, their complaint is based on the delusion that they have some ownership or proprietary right over their employment, when in reality the "jobs" are in the dispensation of the employer, not the worker.
      It does no good to blame immigrants (who are innocent parties) or employers for our predicament. We all have a hand in our own destiny. If we can't get the right to a decent life through our own individual efforts, we can still get it by working together collectively, but to do that we have to transcend our own narrow racial and cultural identities.

    7. I think you'll find Vogel's immigration scheme was for mass British immigration -- i.e. monocultural. It's not surprising that British monoculturalism would protect British sovereignty. It was the very opposite of the multiculturalism I've been defending here, and entirely different from the present open-borders ideal where anyone of any nationality or ethnicity can freely migrate to any country.

      Again I think you speak to our fundamental disagreement when you refer to "those who come here without any preconceived ideas of cultural superiority", as if ideas of cultural superiority were something acquired rather than the base state of the human mind. If we grow up knowing only one culture, we don't think of it as a culture; we think of it as The Way Things Are. When we then encounter people of other cultures, we read them as not knowing The Way Things Are.
      (A highly progressive friend of mine has written of the mortifying moment when her then young son ran towards a pair of young women who were conversing in a foreign language and shouted "Stop talking like that!")
      The way to counter this, in my experience, is to have early contact with other cultures. As a teenager I was one of a few Pālagi in my school's Pacific Island dance club; the experience gave me a much greater appreciation for my Scottish heritage, but also, and particularly, the consciousness that the Pālagi/Pākehā way of life is a historically-contingent culture rather than The Way Things Are.
      Did you read the second of my three sequential comments above? What is your response?

      I too see risks in the formation of strong social identities based on ethnic or cultural difference. But in culturally diverse contexts people will, in fact, form strong social identities based on ethnic and cultural difference, regardless of what you try and do about it. That is not an effective point of attack for any plan to mitigate the risks. It is more effective to disrupt the process a step further along, at the point where people say "...and those differences make ours the superior culture" or "...but we should all be the same (i.e. those funny people should stop being funny and become normal like us)".

      I cannot speak to the effect on cultural consciousness of being required to swear allegiance to the British crown, as I am not an immigrant and have no experience of it. I'd obviously prefer that they were asked to promise to live peaceably and cooperatively in their new society.

    8. As to whether cultural or ethnic diversity are a good thing in themselves, they do expose us to a wider range of ideas than we might have had access to otherwise. They allow us to challenge our notions of the norm. That I think must be considered a net good.

  7. Kia ora Daniel

    "Vogel's immigration scheme was for mass British immigration -- i.e. monocultural". Mass immigration has been an economic and political strategy pursued by the Realm of New Zealand since its inception. Over the decades the sources of immigrants have progressively broadened, but the political and economic objectives of the strategy remain essentially unchanged. Put simply, they are to reduce the costs of labour and to shore up the political system against internally generated dissent. Sure, some people have notions of "open borders" but we have not arrived at that Utopian ideal, and the Realm of New Zealand's current immigration policies are anything but idealistic.

    "as if ideas of cultural superiority were something acquired rather than the base state of the human mind". I don't know what evidence there is for a "base state of the human mind" in respect of cultural superiority. There is a natural curiosity about other cultures, ideas and political and religious persuasions, which is why many people are able to move between cultures. People can also become more or less open to other cultures over the course of their lives, which must mean that either the base state changes endogenously, or they acquire or discard ideas of cultural superiority exogenously. The human being is a pragmatic animal which will readily adopt and adapt, but will also fight against or flee from perceived threats to its survival. We have seen the full range of responses in the two hundred year history of contact between European and Maori, and it seems quite clear to me that the key to positive constructive relations lies in goodwill and understanding, and I am pretty confident that we would agree on that.

    "The way to counter this, in my experience, is to have early contact with other cultures." For some people "early contact" with other cultures may not be as positive as it was for you. "Contact dispels paranoia" only when chance and social conditions allow. The precondition for positive contact is a degree of understanding of and sympathy for the other culture. Early or frequent contact will not help if these preconditions are not met.

    "I cannot speak to the effect on cultural consciousness of being required to swear allegiance to the British crown, as I am not an immigrant and have no experience of it. I'd obviously prefer that they were asked to promise to live peaceably and cooperatively in their new society." If you were to ask immigrants to promise anything ("live peaceably and cooperatively" etc) you would be assuming authority and in effect asserting your cultural superiority. You would be saying "I am in charge here and this is what I expect of immigrants". That does not sound like you, and so I am assuming that if it came to the point, you would simply let the immigrants get on with their lives, treat them well and trust that they would show the same respect towards you. That would also be my approach.

  8. "As to whether cultural or ethnic diversity are a good thing in themselves, they do expose us to a wider range of ideas than we might have had access to otherwise. They allow us to challenge our notions of the norm. That I think must be considered a net good."
    Fascism was a new idea which helped us to refine our understanding of the nature of evil, but even so I don't think we should call it a net good. So a "wider range of ideas" is not necessarily a good thing. Unlike fascism and similar new-fangled political ideologies, most ethnic and religious cultures have been tried, tested and moderated over the ages, but it would still be prudent for us to critically and objectively consider the kind of culture being introduced into this country by immigrants from, for example, South Africa. That is not to say that we should dismiss out of hand the values of white South African immigrants. Quite the opposite. We should judge the culture on its merits, accepting that there will be positive elements generated out of the South African experience, while discarding those elements which conflict with our own cultural standards.

    "Did you read the second of my three sequential comments above? What is your response?"
    Sorry, can you be more specific?