".... share ideas and develop .... activities .... [that] incorporate the theme of "Celebrating Cultural Diversity" .... we are primarily keen to support any initiative which encourages .... respect and appreciat[ion of] other cultures and to develop an awareness of the variety and value of different cultural values and perspectives."Before proceeding to plan action, it strikes me that it is necessary first to ask:
"Why should we value and so celebrate cultural diversity?"
Without an adequate answer to this question, no attempt to address the issue can succeed. In contemporary EduSpeak: there is a need to have a clear "Learning Objective" before planning a lesson. What is the truth that the activity "Celebrating Cultural Diversity" is meant to mediate? Is, perhaps, only a behavioural outcome intended?
"....we are primarily keen to support any initiative which encourages students to respect and appreciate other cultures and to develop an awareness of the variety and value of different cultural perspectives."This seems to presume that
The contemporary mind wants to "celebrate diversity" not because it welcomes the challenge of difference, but because it wants to de-emphasize difference and so avoid conflict!I have particular experience of an establishment's efforts to avoid controversy by trying to give equal value to contradictory views. I was once present at a technical meeting where it was seriously proposed that no ideas were to be criticized. The intention was not to facilitate creativity by first assembling a mass of variously outlandish "silly ideas" and only then subject them to the critical facility. The notion was rather that all ideas, no matter how implausible or incoherent, were to be accepted as equally valid. This was in the context that a particular project had been subject to a good deal of technical criticism and various senior members of staff had not enjoyed the process.
".... looking at anything from a variety of cultural perspectives is in itself a valuable and enriching process."
|Marxist Leninists (followers
of the political philosophy of
Marx and Lenin)
|Adherents of Taoism
(followers of the philosophy
|Adherents of Confucianism
(followers of the political
philosophy of Confucius)
|Platonists (followers of the
political philosophy of
Socrates and Plato)
|Adherents of Shinto
|Maoists (followers of
the political philosophy
|Shiite Muslims : e.g. Iran/Iraq||Japanese||Chinese|
|Manic Depressives||Republicans||Buddhists (of various types)|
|Ethiopians||Abyssinian Orthodox||Ancient Egyptians|
|Ancient Babylonians||Contemporary Astrologers||Ancient Celts|
|Practitioners of Wicca||Ancient Persians||Zoroastrians (Parsees)|
|Sufi Muslims: e.g. Egypt||Cannibals||Campers and Caravaners|
|National Socialists (followers
of the political philosophy
of Adolph Hitler)
of the American Philosopher
of the Rev Moon's
|Motor Neurone Disease||Night-Clubbers||Iranians|
|Arabs (an ethnicity)||Transsexuals||Cyclists|
|Israelis (a nationality)||Morris Dancers||Wahhibi Muslims: Saudi Arabia|
|Semites (an ethnicity)||Rock Climbers||Greek Orthodox|
|Jews (a religion)||Left-handers||Mormons|
|Punks (a music based lifestyle)||Roman Catholics||Paraplegics|
|Those with Down's Syndrome||Eskimos||Homosexuals|
|Unitarians||Deaf||Goths (a music based lifestyle)|
|Australian Aborigines||Theosophists (modern Gnostics)||Sunni Muslims: e.g. Turkey|
|Anglicans||New-Agers (of various types)||Tongans (a nationality)|
|Afro-Caribbeans||Practitioners of Voodoo||Methodists|
|Midgets||Haitians (a nationality)||Those with Asperger's Syndrome|
|Creationists||UFOlogists||Psychics and Mediums|
|Women||The Young||The Aged|
|Those with AIDS||Trekies (Star Trek fans)||Physicists|
The fourth and fifth examples deserve a more detailed analysis.
The fourth example glibly presumes "the validity of Irish Culture", without explaining what gives "validity" to a culture. Was not the Protestant English culture that brutalized Irish Catholics just as "valid". Should it not be celebrated too? The tenor of the example is to deprecate the English and to praise the Irish. The whole Northern Ireland situation is very complex. On a point of fact, the "early period of English contact and colonization" was pre-reformation and mandated by the Pope. The basis of this was, supposedly, to establish some sort of law and order among the feuding Irish clans. It was certainly not based on any notion that the Irish Religion was inferior: it was recognizably the same as that of the English, after all! Should one celebrate the whole cultural spectrum there: from Fundamentalist Calvinism (and beyond) to Nationalist Marxism (and beyond), or only the nicer crowd in the middle who variously claim to eschew violence? Why?
The Jews were never criticized because of their culture, but only because of their racial identity. Largely, this was in reaction to the initial animosity of Jews towards Catholics, before the establishment of the Church under the Emperor Constantine. Once the Church had secular influence, the Jews were confidently condemned as intrinsically evil, utterly wicked and incapable of any good, because as a race they had "killed God". They were forbidden to own property and so forced into the practice of money lending, which was forbidden (as one of the gravest mortal sins) to Catholics. They were then resented for having a monopoly of this business: which monopoly the Church had itself forced on them! Finally, they were then blamed for all and any evil that beset society and accused of being conspirators against the interests of decent Christians. The answer to anti-semitism is not to celebrate Jewish culture, but to tackle the root cause of this wickedness. This would be done by exposing the incoherence of the idea that any ethnic group as a whole can be held responsible for any actions of any particular set of its members!
The fifth example follows the same pattern. Only the names have changed. For the Protestant English, read the Catholic Iberians. For the Catholic Irish, read the Indigenous Americans. Again, the value of the former culture (with its "assumptions of .... superiority and religious certainty") is not to be celebrated but rather questioned. The real, though limited and compromised, concern to preach the Christian Gospel and to better the social, economic, technical and educational status of the indigenous peoples, as exemplified by various Jesuit missionaries, is passed over in silence. Only the unspecified values of the Mayans, Aztecs and Incas (which in at least one case, I understand, included human sacrifice on a massive scale) are to be celebrated. What, I wonder, are the "obvious messages about today?"
The wickedness characteristic of both cases was nothing to do with a denigration of culture, but much more simple. It was the unbridled pursuit of immoderate wealth and political ascendancy. The Irish and Aztecs were not degraded because their cultures was not valued. Rather, the individual Irish and Aztec was dismissed by secular, if not in the end Ecclesial authorities, as sub-human on a racial (i.e. a genetic) basis. This was because it was then possible to pretend that the political and economic outrages perpetrated against them were not immoral.
The sixth example isn't about Cultural Diversity at all, but rather about cultural engineering! More interesting would be to ask why: with what purpose and objective, the Police Force is seeking to "promote individuals from diverse racial backgrounds".
"The idea is not just to look at the ways in which subjects can celebrate different cultures and traditions by looking at the contribution individuals from different cultures have made to a body of knowledge or subject. It is also to use activities within subjects to suggest that the process of looking at anything from a variety of cultural perspectives is in itself a valuable and enriching process."The seventh example is intriguing. It would seem to be a way into exploring bias and prejudice. It would be invaluable to explore and criticize attitudes to the Holocaust from diverse perspectives, for example. The main categories of person involved were, I understand: Jews, Communists, Polish Catholics, Gypsies and Homosexuals. It would be be interesting to hear typical accounts of what happened from each of these perspectives (even if not all of them are accounted as cultures: after all, that didn't prevent the individuals in question being vivisected or gassed after being identified as persona non grata), as also from that of Nazi sympathizers and Muslims.
The eighth example is especially interesting. It suggests that cultural diversity per se has contributed to identifiable technical advance. Examples can be put forward in support of this thesis. Some suggest that "zero" appeared in Indian mathematics before that of Europe or Arabia because the idea of an absence being in and of itself a thing was characteristic of Buddhist thought. Others propose that "zero" appeared early on in Mayan mathematics because there was a pressing cultural need for it. Such propositions are, it seems to me, largely a matter of hindsight.
Clearly, any advance is due to some individual or group of individuals. Clearly, they are going to belong or be somehow associated with some (sub)culture(s). Hence it is a truism that various cultures have contributed to technical advances. However it can never be clear that anything about the cultures themselves was causal here. For example Turing, the founder of Cryptography and Computer Science was British, Middle Class and Homosexual. Turing did not invent his famous machine because he was British or Middle Class or Homosexual: but because he responded as an individual genius to the urgent demands and opportunities of his context.
Rather than facilitating progress, cultures tend to stifle technical advance by imposing socially acceptable ways of doing things! In an emergency situation, such mores tend to fragment, individuals are allowed "to think the unthinkable" and progress is facilitated. Sad to say, but War is a great force in favour of scientific progress. In more hum-drum times, the importance of cultural diversity is not so much in the coming together of the positive characteristics of various cultures but more the negative fact that cultures do not share the same taboos, conventions or myopias. What one culture makes unthinkable, another allows, and ingenuity and imagination percolates through the gaps.
The individual should be celebrated, not their context. Taking this approach avoids the necessity of deciding what constitutes a culture and what doesn't. The focus is on the successful individual, whatever their context. The fact that they are left-handed, or a Hindu, or a transsexual is not generally going to be the cause of their success. All of these attributes should be mentioned in passing: the purpose being to communicate the idea that they are unimportant. None of them should be celebrated. There is then no need to decide whether the person's change of gender can safely be passed over, because that form of diversity is not cultural.
We had been discussing Timberlake Wertenbaker's "Our Country's Good" (1988). The play argues that the best way to reform convicts is not to flog them.but to make them suffer the far greater punishment of participating in amateur dramatics.
I loudly suggested that I might adopt amputation as a punishment for those who forgot to bring their books, but no one woke up. The student went on. Apostates, gays and adulterers should all be dispatched. It wasn't my place to say anything. My job as an employee of a listening university is to respect diversity.
But maybe that was the previous week's mission statement. So I took a chance and asked if she didn't think these measures a tifle harsh, although after contemplating the state of our front garden this morning I agreed that drunks should be thrashed without mercy. She intimated that it was not for us to question the word of God.
I am not a great reader of the Koran but I do puzzle over bits of the Bible. It would be nice if the Almighty could occasionally explain himself.
What on earth did he mean by saying "I create evil" [Isaiah xiv, 7]? TIhere's no doubting that, in the Old Testament at least, he had a decidedly nasty streak. As well as booting the Amorites, the Hittites and the Canaanites off their land, he also ordered Saul to "go and smite" the Amalekites and "utterly destroy all that they have and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass".
You wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of him, would you? But aocording to Christian Voice, we have. This is the organisation that persuaded a cancer charity to refuse money raised by a performance of Jerry Springer the Opera because it was "tainted".
When you hear such things you can almost agree with them that we have lost our way. Much needs to be done.
We can make a start by banning abortion, homosexuality and sex education, and by restoring corporal punishment and the death penalty, not just for murder but also, apparently, for adultery. If I have one tiny criticism of Christian Voice it is that they don't seem to have heard of the New Testament. You have to look hard for the word "love" on their website.
The rise of religious fundamentalism is a worrying trend. We have faith schools, we have plays banned and we have evangelical Christians who blame Satan when the exhaust falls off their car. And these are the people who increasingly have the ear of the Government.
It would be an exaggeration to say that there could be some kind of theocracy in Britain in the next twenty years, but it would be foolish to deny that the conditions for one are starting to emerge. Most of us would like to think that there is a God who loves each and every one of us, but there is no evidence for such a being. In fact, quite the opposite.
At this point, someone usually wheels out the
argument about free will. But we didn't choose to have free
will, it was thrust upon us. In any case, how can we decide
between good and evil when half the time we can't even make up our
minds what to wear?
Some religions are lucky because their God tells them how to dress, which is certainly more useful than being told to stone an ox if it gores someone to death.
Ah well, I suppose it's all a question of priorities. And, anyway, who am I to plumb the mind of God? The religious Right have a sttunted conception of the sacred. They make their holy books a barrier to knowledge a nd turn ignorance into a virtue.
A Muslim student once screamed at a colleague who tried to introduce
the Big Bang theory that he was "dissing his religion".
We need to fight this attitude by insisting that truth needs evidence, that arguments should be logical, that morality is not simply a matter of applying rules, and that we, like the cosmos, are pretty complex things. Of course, that won't happen because we're all too busy servicing the economy. Still, we can always hope that human imperfection will bring us to our senses.
Feeling rather down about the views on punishment espoused by my student,
another Muslim girl said: "Oh, you don't want to listen to this lot with
the hijab. They're all slappers." I'm sure that's not true, but it restored
my sense of perspective. ' .