Multiculturalism-blurred-people

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A few years ago a group of people from an accrediting agency for a particular school in the university were on campus. I was part of a group of faculty who taught core courses invited to talk with those individuals. One of them asked me how I included “diversity” and “multiculturalism” in my Introduction to Philosophy class. I replied that “We read a number of writers from very different cultures: Plato and Aristotle from Ancient Greece, St. Augustine from North Africa, St. Thomas Aquinas from medieval Italy. In order to discuss Aquinas adequately, I have to mention Maimonides, of the Jewish faith, and several Muslim Arab philosophers.” Needless to say, that is not what the woman asking me the question wished to hear.

But what I do in my teaching is teaching diversity. There is a huge difference between the culture of Ancient Greece and medieval Arab culture. The ancient philosopher Plotinus may have been influenced by Indian thought. Sometimes I refer to Buddhism’s view of causality as having some similarities to the modern philosopher David Hume. That is true multiculturalism–taking the best philosophy of many times and places and cultures and presenting it to students.

But there is an alternative view of diversity–one that understands “diversity” only in terms of race, gender, class, or sexual orientation. Frankly, this is an abysmally ignorant position. Region and local traditions are much more a part of cultural diversity than the aforementioned factors. Even with the same sex, race, class, or “sexual orientation,” there is a great deal of cultural diversity. Compare, for example, a black farmer from Tennessee with a black resident of Newark, New Jersey. Most of the time, the cultural difference between the two is extremely sharp. For another example, take so-called “homosexual culture.” A number of homosexual individuals, and I have met and talked with some of them, absolutely loathe the culture of “coming-out” and “in-your-face” of many homosexual rights advocacy groups. One told me once, “I don’t flaunt my sexuality; why should they flaunt theirs?” Yet “queer studies” tends to take homosexuals as a monolithic group. Thus, what is called “multiculturalism” falls into its own racial, sexual, and class stereotypes and refuses to recognize genuine diversity. Even “dead white European males” are diverse–compare Plato with Hume, or Kant with Nietzsche. Or in literature, compare Belloc with Wilde. Reducing individuals to their gender, race, class, and/or sexual orientation creates cartoons out of people, and both the particularity of the individual and the richness of his culture is lost. What is sad is that even liberal academics have told me that they realize such a simplistic account of diversity is totally flawed. But they tow the party line because those who promote the simplistic view of diversity are about power–and when they gain it, they wield it over other academics. As a result, diversity morphs into the politics of victimization–“I’m a victim, you’re a victim, he’s a victim, she’s a victim, wouldn’t you like to be a victim, too?” The so-called victim, who often lives in a middle-class household with an education provided by scholarships favorable to a “victimized” group, uses his so-called “victim” status to set himself as higher than others.

I will continue to be multicultural in the genuine sense. I do not exclude any philosopher from consideration in my readings on any grounds except quality and/or influence. My students get a better sense of diversity than any student who goes through a politically correct course in pseudo-diversity.

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