C. Hill, A.B.
University of Oxford
The traditional discussion of multiculturalism and arguing for change on its behalf could be classified as an academic strength sleep-aid. Normally, multiculturalism gets pitted against some form of segregationist thought or a call for national integration. However, if you compare multiculturalism with an organized attempt at global monoculturalism none of the traditional arguments or defenses for multiculturalism apply.
In fact, one cannot responsibly even begin to speak on multiculturalism’s behalf until one has considered its new, dangerous big brother. So let’s not ignore the stampeding herd of robotic elephants in the shopping mall. Let’s ask a few questions before we even attempt to think about multiculturalism and the “change” it requires. After all, if it’s up against organized monoculturalism, we’re not arguing to change stereotypical segregationist/integrationist policies – we’re arguing to actively resist the establishment of cultural hegemony.
Three central questions emerge: Is pure monoculturism a philosophically coherent position? Is it at all practicable? If it’s incoherent and impractical, is there a version of it that is coherent and practical, given what we know of human history?
Pure monocultures face two unique threats – internal consistency and provision/maintenance costs. The former effectively makes monoculturalism philosophically incoherent and the latter makes its so difficult to implement it might as well be practically impossible.
The idea of internal consistency threatens the very core of the monoculture initiative – can we come up with a coherent set of ideas that do not afford people the chance to choose between competing ideas? A pure monoculture seeks to provide cultural “answers and practices” which are uniform and can be applied across all cases.
A pure monoculture would not be able to hold the contradiction of both superhero stories and anti-hero stories if the moral messages conflicted. The basic idea is that any ambiguity, moral or otherwise, could lead to bifurcation. A pure monoculturalist must devise a coherent culture with no internal contradictions!
From the author’s experience with academic moral philosophy, there is no grand unifying theory of moral philosophy which satisfactorily solves all the ethical problems. A pure monoculturalist who puts a hodgepodge ethical theory together would thus face the problem of introducing contradictory ideas that could be freely applied in a non-perscribed fashion. If the pure monoculturalist insisted on deontological medical ethics but consequentialist environmental thinking, what’s to stop groups of people from forming cabals where they reverse the thinking applied to each position?
Designing a pure monoculture would be a fool's nightmare. Perhaps strong AI would be up to the task. Even so, resource constraints, technology, human biology, memetics - these things all evolve naturally over time; sometimes predictably, other times not. The monoculture could be consistent one year but then have to change drastically the next - the mere anticipation of a contradiction or an ambiguity could create contradiction and ambiguity! Pure monoculture seems to seek an idea of perfection which simply cannot exist.
The woes for a pure monoculturalist multiply drastically when you think of the cost of provisioning and maintaining the monoculture. Not only do pure monoculturalists have to expend significant resources to even come up with a monoculture (which they might not be able to do, as argued above), they have to spread and maintain their monoculture. If one human could write down or even conceive of the pure monoculture they want to implement, they face the problem we know more commonly as the game of “Telephone”. Context will vary from human to human, whether they read, watch, listen, or are coerced into joining the monoculture. To make matters worse, humans actively alter their memories every time they recall said memories; they essentially distort them with the emotions they feel at the time of recall. Memetic mutations such as those would have to be suppressed/controlled in some fashion. Multiculturalism, on the other hand, is much less resource intensive.
Compared to the command and control model of pure monoculturalism, multiculturalism is the lean, agile, entrepreneurial free market solution to provisioning and maintaining culture. As costs of creating culture continue to fall dramatically thanks to technological innovations, multiculturalists hold a home field advantage in that anyone has a shot at not only remixing and creating new culture, but also building more and more platforms for people to create and share culture on! Granted, there are policing costs involved in making sure one culture doesn’t attempt to obliterate another but these costs are obviously dwarfed by the costs of provisioning and maintaining a pure monoculture.
The Foundational Monoculture
If a pure monoculture is impractical, let’s consider an alternative: the Foundational Monoculture. Perhaps the trick is not to have a consistent, all encompassing culture but rather to try and place a few ideas or a few rules above all others. Such a structure might decrease cultural diversity over time (but not necessarily).
The American Hegemony or the Western Capitalist Social Order operates in this more improvisational fashion, seemingly more concerned about the acceptance and worship of certain ideals above others, some of which we might view as beneficial to multiculturalism (freedom of association) and others of which will arguably suppress or force integration (the cult of productivity, worth being financially rather than socially calculated etc…).
Now we begin to get into the idea of consolidation and identity. A foundational monoculture can contain many opposing ideas and many cultures in fact. The foundational monoculture might seek to root out real opposition by manufacturing consent on key issues and allowing debate, diversity, and struggle on issues that are ultimately unimportant.
Yet the foundational monoculture, at least one that is trying to have a definitive say on the most important aspects of various cultures, faces a vexing problem. It must integrate or suppress every relevant existing cultural component in human society while at the same time playing a game of whack a mole with new cultural phenomena that challenges whatever paradigm it is attempting to impose.1 This is a losing battle because the wide-scale destruction or suppression of information is practically impossible. Distribution methods are so effective that it is relatively easy to hold massive backups of not only current information but archived change-logs of said information – think offline wikipedia, e-books, recordings of historical events etc… etc…
The difficulty of wiping information or culture off the map in any permanent fashion might best be embodied by the experience of the Jewish people, who were targeted for extermination on an industrial scale. Historically oppressed, their traditions have lived on for millennia thanks to the technology of the written word. The most recent attempt at cultural oblivion only brought about perhaps the strongest cultural immune response ever seen in history: the creation of an entire nation state which excels financially, militarily, and technologically. Even the untimely/unforeseen destruction of Israel would not spell doom for their culture – the surviving members of the tribe are spread throughout the world and integrated quite successfully into numerous societies. Their memes and their culture are preserved in films, hard drives, servers, books, artifacts – the list goes on and on.
As with Judaism, the knowledge and practices of many other cultures (some which are quite endangered) have been captured and preserved in a variety of mediums. Like Lazarus, future human societies might raise old cultures from the dead. Foundational monoculture that seeks to suppress valid dissent, valid criticism, or even just valid diversity could not covertly achieve those aims – the destruction required to create a consensus on even trivial ideals would be impossible to miss and probably heavily opposed once interested individuals were made aware of the initiative. I wish the best of luck to monoculturalists who think they’ll be able to dig up every single hidden flash drive.
Suppressing or erasing information isn’t even the end of the headache for a foundational monoculturalist. Individual human thought itself would have to be controlled. Any prescriptive element they might attempt to implement, even something as seemingly tautological as “you having more money is good”, will also invariably trigger amongst a certain percentage of the population either an academic or a defiant response where they flip the meaning and explore the thought in its antonymic form: “me having more money is bad”. It might be bad because suddenly my friends treat me differently (lottery winners) or I consume more which is bad for the planet (environmental concerns) or hey I heard about asceticism and maybe a certain degree of that is good (philosophy).
The conclusion one should reach from this critique is not that a foundational monoculture is impossible - only that foundational monoculture can never successfully be imposed by force (historically - consider the diaspora natives of the Caribbean, slaves who were forced to accept christianity but ultimately mixed in their tribal beliefs and practiced in secret, creating a whole new culture of pan-afro christian idols and gods). A foundational monoculture has to be accepted openly as good by each individual member of human society - hidden precepts and insidious instructions have a tendency to be ferreted out.
If there is any inevitability to monoculture, it seems likely that the inevitable ideas cannot be shaped or influenced – only brought about. To understand these inevitable ideas, we have to first consider multiculturalism – after all, it makes sense that any monoculture that arises would first begin as one of the many cultures currently manifest in multiculturalism.
Pure vs. Foundational Multiculturalism
We’ve applied some philosophical pressure to monoculturalism and found that pure monoculturalism is both incoherent and impractical. Could the same be said of a “pure” multiculturalism? After careful consideration, I would argue that pure multiculturalism would be philosophically coherent but deeply impractical. In order to exist, multiculturalism cannot tolerate certain cultural practices or strains of thoughts. Simply put, there must be both freedom of association and prohibition on the usage of coercion/violence. We cannot change what culture(s) we are born into but we must be free to choose our cultures that we wish to associate with as long as such cultures do not practice coercion/violence on their members or on other members of human society.
For multiculturalism to function therefore a type of foundational monoculture must exist to protect individuals and cultures. Nazism, Stalinism, White Nationalism, Violent Wahhabism, and even Speciesism are all examples of ideologies that should be actively resisted by the most effective means possible. Allowed to thrive unchecked, such cultures/ideologies/ideas threaten the diversity of which they are a part of. How such ideas and cultures should be suppressed falls to the providence of pragmatics. If it’s more effective to use outright bans, compassionate prison, and censorship over surveillance, civic leadership, and community activism over then so be it.
The key advantage this form of foundational multiculturalism has over pure monoculturalism lies in the fact that foundational multiculturalism never has to permanently and completely defeat the forces against it or even consistently justify why such forces are wrong. It only has to effectively resist these forces, just sufficiently enough to protect and preserve existing compatible cultures.
While I simply do not have the space to argue for why freedom of association and the prohibition of violence/coercion might be the two edicts that necessarily (but perhaps not completely) shape the foundational monoculture, I do think both edicts are fairly uncontroversial and intuitive. Although monoculturalism and multiculturalism can be viewed as a spectrum in reality they have this weird, symbiotic relationship where the more you think about either, the more you realize that the pursuit of either leads to the development in part of its opposite. To clarify the nature of this relationship and to think about the benefits that could accrue if monoculturalism and multiculturalism operated as complementary goods, I’ve set out a series of analogies.
Analogies: Culture and Markets
Think of multiculturalism and monoculturalism as being two facets of a market: the market itself and the rules of the market. We can establish rules for markets but there are certain rules we can’t seem to establish because markets will actively rebel and create rival markets. Drug prohibition creates clandestine farming, clandestine production, even clandestine policing/clandestine states (cartels). Monoculturalism probably operates in the same fashion – we can create certain meta rules but if we try to create other rules we might engender a multicultural backlash which makes room for “another” monoculture (cultish communes, harsh Islamic states etc… etc…).
A good monoculture (good market rules) or a good mix of multiculturalism (good companies/products/competition) will actively improve each other while the opposite is true if certain bad cultures arise or certain bad monocultural principals are implemented. Virtuous cycles are indeed possible but we should be equally cautious of negative feedback loops.
Analogies: (Mono)Culture and the Roads to Rome
Cultural interaction and dialogue works much like the construction of roads to Rome. If we imagine that there is a central monoculture, or a central monoculture emerging because of globalization then we should think of that culture connecting with other cultures much like Rome was connected to its empire through its extensive road network. A road is simply a shared idea between two cultures. It can be as simple as a language (because I speak English I am connected to every idea that I can read/access/comprehend in English) or a shared principle (honor thy father and mother in both christian and confucian traditions). The size and quality of that road is determined in part by the extent of shared ideas. Basic human experience also forms one of the connecting veins between people and cultures!
Imagining the actual, not to mention potential, connections between people and culture literally will boggle the mind in this analogy. It also makes puts to shame the idea that a monoculturalist can do anything but try to set some general rules for interaction! To control the narrative, to force all roads to Rome in an orderly fashion seems patently ridiculous when we think of all the potential connections we can make and how our experiences ripple over to others around us. In technical terms, the singularity isn’t coming. The singularity is now.
Analogies: Ketchup & Mustard
Is culture more like ketchup or is it more like mustard? Food scientists have found that people gravitate towards a perfect form of ketchup (stray from a certain formulation and satisfaction decreases, universally). Also, spoiler alert, the perfect Ketchup is Heinz Ketchup. Mustard, on the other hand, does not have a perfect form – people have a wide variety of tastes and actually enjoy many different individual types of the condiment – vary the formulation and you might find 20 different mustards you adore!
We should think of monoculture as something to be perfected – much like Ketchup. There’s an ideal set of meta rules which will maximize the variety of mustard we have access to – even hypothetical, safe versions of cultures that are currently incompatible with multiculturalism.
Analogies: Natural vs. Canine Guided Evolution in Culture
Effective foundational monoculturalism might be the equivalent of guided evolution (vs. natural selection) when it comes to cultural development. Specifically, I’m referencing humankind’s guiding the evolution of wolves to dogs. Unlike the guided evolution of livestock, canine breeding resulted in a vast increase in diversity functionally, morphologically and temperamentally. Establishing solid meta-cultural rules could lead to a flourishing of culture and creativity that simply would not exist otherwise in “nature”.
The most incongruous alien menace ever to grace the program Star Trek flew into Federation space in a perfect cube. Its members, though visually distinct, were perfectly identical in culture and mannerisms. Indeed, they were a hive mind that sought to assimilate everything they encountered into their monoculture. Contrast the Borg with the Federation – a society so diverse, so multicultural that it eventually incorporated even its former mortal enemies, the Klingons, into its illustrious folds. The Federation held principles, most certainly – it had a foundational monoculture – but those principles sought to preserve and protect the uniqueness of all life it encountered, and all compatible memes of said life. The human audience then, now, and I believe well into the future will identify more with the Federation than with the Borg. Beyond everything I’ve argued in this essay, pure monoculturalism just simply isn’t in human nature – it is in our human nightmares. Resistance to such forces isn’t futile – it’s inevitable.
1 Due to the Streisand effect, the current strategy for dealing with troubling information is to either distract or flood people’s attention span with even more information. This solution is temporary at best – since not everything can be integrated some information would need to be forcibly suppressed i.e. destroyed and pushing more information out into the ether cannot do this. Information overload will eventually be asymmetrically neutralized by more careful information/attention curation, either automatically or through trusted sources.