Creative Commons License

Friday, 15 July 2016

A dialogue on multiculturalism between two strangers on social media

Conversation on social media is a tricky thing. 

Indeed, the opportunities to find offence in misreading another's comments are almost endless and when you add heightened emotive topics the possibility for antagonism is near absolute, even between normally rational friends. So, when you add complete strangers, many of whom use the opportunity to insult strangers as a sort of game (i.e. 'trolling') then the chance for a reasoned dialogue seems impossible. 

However, by fortune, I found myself able to share a few words with a complete stranger on a fairly volatile subject matter. Multiculturalism, in this case, his denial of it's ability to function/exist. I suppose that we were able to have a discussion was facilitated by my willingness to allow a number of assumptions to slide, rather than confront them head-on. It would have been rather easy to immediately accuse him (let's call him X) of bigotry, to start by calling X out on his implicit bias, but this, I suggest, would have stopped rather than started a conversation.

Indeed, that the majority of 'discussions' on social media (in this case, facebook) are either shouts of agreement or opposition without context or connection is the outcome of this lack. A lack of what? Reason, respect, trust? I'm not sure, but allowing another to hold a differing opinion without the desire to immediately 'correct' them seems to be the starting point. 

Is the job of the philosopher (or the philosophical thinker, or simply the reasonable) to merely correct the perceived errors of others, so that they might see the world as the philosopher does, that is, correctly? Perhaps, that should be as 'that' philosopher does, because philosophers tend not to agree with each other... 

I would suggest that instead of this didactic 'teaching' that instead what we want to be doing is rather questioning assumptions, including (it is hoped) our own. By doing this we hope to find some sort of common understanding, or else, to see the flaws in our own and others reasoning or beliefs. This is how I would define dialogue, anyway.

However, this sort of reasoned analysis is all but impossible via social media's 'chat' and it is too easy for points to become buried or lost and misinterpreted without the possibility of explanation. This is always a threat in normal conversation anyway, but it is too easy on a social media, so when even a partially open discussion happens it feels like a moral victory. Well, it certainly did to me. When X thanks me and says that he feels he learned something, I felt like we'd actually managed to communicate something.

Communication being something that social media actively distorts or removes entirely. The possibility is there, but the potential seems severely limited. My own brief conversation with X runs to not much over 1000 words but took the better part of a day to complete. Something that would take not much more than five minutes in a face to face discussion.

Anyway, below is the complete discussion. I've edited some lines together for coherence, and removed all uses of our names & minor typos. Whether I successfully changed his mind was never my goal, but hopefully we learned something from each other. You're welcome to assess my own failings and offer a differing perspective. Who knows, perhaps even start another conversation?


X: I'm all for a multi-racial society, but multiculturalism cannot work, unless you want to allow one group of people the right to FGM, arranged marriage etc etc.

Y: I don't see why you'd have to allow FGM or arranged marriage to accept another person from a different culture into this one. We have laws, these break those laws, & are therefore not allowed. Most importantly these are not the only things that define any culture.

Multiculturalism isn't about many cultures existing in isolation or one single culture that absorbs all others, but that there are many or a multitude of cultures living and working together. Multiculturalism takes an effort on both sides, WE (locals) have to learn about THEM (incomers) as well.

Also, Britain has always been multicultural and no it doesn't always work, but that's because one or both sides have stopping trying to make an effort to co-operate with other people and are trying to dominate.

X: Well you've summed it up there in your last paragraph. How do you cooperate with someone whose culture breaks the law of the land? Sikhs not wearing crash helmets, women made to cover themselves, the list goes on and on. I'm with you when you say that there is no problem if everyone abides by the law of the land, but that's the problem when the law is at odds with culture.

If you say to all people entering this country that you can enter but you must not practise this or that aspect of your culture because it is against our law to do so, then, by definition, that country cannot claim to be multicultural.

Y: As far as I know about Sikh's and crash helmets, an allowance was made along the lines that it is their choice to risk their own life by not wearing a crash helmet. They do not risk anybody else's life do they? Also, not wearing crash helmets is NOT comparable to FGM or arranged marriage. Notice how you had to move to this much lesser claim than your original one.

As for women being "made to cover themselves" that is incorrect because they choose to wear the hijab as it is part of their religion, indeed, I know that Muslim women can also choose to NOT wear the veil (in this country).

X: The hijab is not part of their religion. I offered a further example, I did not move to a lesser claim. An allowance, as you put it, to not be held to the law of the land is an example of where culture/ religion is not compatible with the law, meaning you have one law for one group and one law for another. Is that it? Is that all your argument?

Y: FGM might be an aspect of a culture, much like hooliganism or sexual abuse in places of authority is an aspect of our culture, but that is also illegal and not considered by most right thinking people to represent who we are.

X: What's your opinion on FGM and arranged marriage?

Y: Actually, allowing multiple cultural traditions within one jurisdiction (the laws of the UK) IS the definition of multiculturalism and as I said FGM or arranged marriage are not the only things that define any culture, any more than any negative aspect you might think of as part of British culture.

X: No, I can't say I understand your logic there. I understand when one refers to a culture of hooliganism in a football club but the culture of a country is somewhat different to that of a small group of non-representative people. To most right thinking people FGM and to a lesser degree arranged marriage, would be unacceptable to our culture but perfectly acceptable in others. Where does the compromise occur here?

Y: You're not getting this fundamental point, FGM is NOT the ONLY aspect of any culture any more than institutional abuse is. I'm not taking about "a culture of hooliganism" but as hooliganism as being an aspect of British culture.

 I'm glad we're talking though; I think the main problem with the country today is people with differing opinions not talking together respectfully. So thank you for that.

X: That's not a fundamental point. You are picking and choosing. I'm just pointing out the irreconcilable differences in cultures that you seem to want to ignore.

Y: I am not ignoring them and it is a fundamental point. You say that not allowing someone who comes from a culture where FGM and so on is viewed as acceptable and is therefore not allowed to practice that here is denying multiculturalism, but it is not, it is denying an ASPECT of that culture. A harmful negative aspect that the majority of nations in the world agree that it violates human rights. Indeed, that we have these laws is the reason many people move here from those countries.

Missed an earlier point... The hijab is not part of Islam? I'd have to check but I really think it is. And yes the law makes allowances for certain groups under certain circumstances. So, Sikhs argued that they didn't want to wear crash helmets for a religious reason. The law decided that it was not harmful to others and that they (Sikhs) were accepting of the risk. Someone else argues for the 'right' of FGM, the law disagrees AS it removes consent and thus is still illegal. So, yes, reasonable allowances. Remember I said that multiculturalism was about both sides learning to accept the other culture.

X: Therefore, you are changing the culture of others to fit into your own. So, multiculturalism is not, cannot be, viable. This is not learning to accept other cultures; it is changing them to conform to the incumbent culture.

Interesting exchange of views. I think I've learnt from you. Cheers

Y: Ah, here's the impasse then... I think of culture (much like a self) as a constantly changing thing (evolve or die) and so there is no problem in accepting some of other cultures in your own (as they adapt to our ways also). This is the value for me of a multicultural society, as I said to someone above, cultures like genetics benefit from greater diversity. Learning to accept IS change. Everything changes. Panta Rhei. I suspect you think not (?) and see culture as essential (unchanging). But that can never be the case, Britain today is radically different than 1950's than they were from the 1880's than... etc etc. Aren't you a different person today than you were 20 years ago? You've learned things, experienced things, some good some bad and that has shaped you. You don't have to accept it, because it's already changed you anyway. Indeed, not accepting changes things as well. Anyway...

 I've really enjoyed the discussion too and wish you all the best.