How Societies Commit Suicide
Tell me if any of this sounds vaguely familiar to you. From Theodore Dalrymple, writing in the City Journal:
In an effort to ensure that no Muslim doctors ever again try to bomb Glasgow Airport, bureaucrats at GlasgowÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s public hospitals have decreed that henceforth no staff may eat lunch at their desks or in their offices during the holy month of Ramadan, so that fasting Muslims shall not be offended by the sight or smell of their food. Vending machines will also disappear from the premises during that period.
Apparently the bureaucrats believe that the would-be bombers were demanding sandwich-free offices in Glasgow hospitals during Ramadan. This kind of absurdity is what happens when the highly contestable doctrine of multiculturalism becomes a career opportunity for the semi-educated and otherwise unemployable products of a grossly and unnecessarily swollen university system.[* update: Dalrymple's reporting on the Glasgow hospital policy appears to be in error (h/t Hubris, in the comments); sadly, it is easy to substitute in a number of other similarly-minded policy proposals and their defenders to fill the void left by this rather happy error - ed.]
Meanwhile, the highest court in Italy was confirming an appeals courtÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s acquittal of the father and brother of a Muslim girl, whom they beat and locked up for becoming too WesternizedÃ¢â‚¬â€that is to say, for having a Western friend. The court ruled that, though they had undoubtedly beaten her and locked her up, this was not because of any culpable ill-feeling toward her. It was, rather, because of Ã¢â‚¬Å“her lifestyle, which did not conform to their culture.Ã¢â‚¬Â
When western cultures begin bending their own rules of law to accommodate the “higher law” of “toleration” (defined, ridiculously, as preventing offense — the absolute opposite of the legal idea of toleration that provides the skeleton for such liberal ideas as free speech protection) they’ve blithely skipped past the outposts of boutique multiculturalism and have taken those first tentative steps down the far more exotic road of complete cultural relativism.
The upshot? Should such accommodating cultures find themselves subsequently compelled to apply their own reconsidered laws equitably in the face of new precedent, there is, in theory, nothing that can prevent activist identity groups from coalescing around their own preferred set of laws and then claiming special dispensation to circumvent rules of the state.
Because let’s face it, even the most brainwashed adept of illiberal multiculturalist social policy can recognize that it is problematic for a society professing to be “liberal” to punish different groups of people differently for identical crimes — particularly when the “difference” is tied to something so arbitrary as what group you choose to join.
This is particularly tricky with regard to religion — where conversion, or a simple affirmation of faith — is enough to provide one with a ready-made escape clause from the laws of sovereign liberal democracies.
Islamic law that is inconsistent with the laws of the host countries should not be granted exemptions; instead, the idea of assimilation — once the proper goal for those wishing to join the fabric of an already functioning society — demands that those wishing to adopt a new home make the appropriate social, religious, or ethnic compromises.
As Dalrymple notes:
The sound of a civilization committing suicide can be heard in these stories; for civilizations collapse not because the barbarians are so strong, but because they themselves are so morally enfeebled.
The inability to pass judgment — which requires the difficult work of criticizing and potentially offending — has been replaced with the convenient fiction that such an inability is not a weakness, but is rather a strength, and one that covers itself in a veneer of moral rectitude.
What is a bug is recast as a feature — and those who refuse to acquiesce to the anti-intellectual exercise of enforced equivalence (whether it manifests itself in the “equality of opinion,” the “equality of competing interpretations,” or the “equality of competing truth claims”) are cast as bigots, nativists, imperialists, or cultural hegemons.
As I described in my previous post, this is simply the shopworn leftist technique of shaming and redefining — all of which is born from a consensus vision of truth, whereby will disguises the intellectual and moral laziness masquerading as “progressive” virtue.
The fact that we can’t objectively appeal to some metaphysical referree to seek independent judgment on our “universals” doesn’t mean that the universals we adopt are not worthy of the rarified status we have granted them.
Multiculturalists take the pedestrian observation that “truths” are man-made constructs to conclude, with the ease and confidence of those no longer burdened with having to make hard choices, that competing truths are therefore equal.
But while this may be true rhetorically — all statements of truth are made of the same linguistic material — it is not at all true that we have no ground from which to pass judgment. Liberal societies have long relied upon rationalism and the rule of law — itself founded on consensually adopted “universals”. So from within this paradigm, it is perfectly acceptable to “pass judgment,” and to note that the “truths” claimed by others don’t comport with “our” own, and so we reject them.
Until we regain the fortitude it takes to criticize the Other as vigorously as we criticize those like us who argue for such a necessity, we are, as Dalrymple rightly suggests, well on our way to cultural ruination, and a return to totalitarianism.
(h/t CJ Burch)