Cultural Diversity

“Peace is not unity in similarity but unity in diversity, in the comparison and conciliation of differences” – Mikhail Gorbachev

It is interesting sometimes to consider the logical implications of philosophies, and whether the practitioners truly believe what their ideals suggest they should. For instance, a few weeks ago we considered the slogan “equal work means equal pay” and what it ought to mean. At its very basis, the statement must convey a desire for “merit pay” – people being compensated in accordance with their productivity. Yet, often those who hail “equal work means equal pay” as a great standard oppose merit pay in almost every forum. Odd.

Today we’d like to consider the notion of “cultural diversity” in rather broad terms. There are many in America who hold to the notion that all cultures are equally valid, equally good, and of equal value – only different. Now, I don’t want to weigh in totally on whether I agree with this notion, I’ll simply point out that given any criteria of “goodness” we ought to be able to weigh different cultural representations in terms of their relative strength. But for this post, let us consider what the notion of cultural diversity really suggests about public policy.

At its base, the notion appears to borrow from the words of Jesus – “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt 7:1). Now, clearly Jesus was not talking about cultural relativism in this verse. However, His words in this verse have often been extended (whether rightly or not) to infer the inability or inadequacy of humans to make valid judgments about the behaviors of others. (This is not without basis either – consider the rest of Matt 7:1-6, or James 4:11-12.)

I bring this up simply to note that the cultural diversity group does tend to hold that we, with our various cultural biases, are not capable of passing judgment on other cultures or their practices. Thus, we should simply hold that all are equally valid and cherish those differences. But this, my friends, is a two-edged sword.

We usually hear the cultural diversity mantra from what most would call “liberals.” Some will call themselves “progressives” though the early progressives and Fabian Socialists (e.g., Woodrow Wilson and George Bernard Shaw) were not cultural diversity advocates. One has to wonder if these good-hearted liberals really mean it when they say they cherish all cultures – or if they only mean it when it sounds good.

Let’s consider some examples, shall we? Suppose there were a cultural division in this country (or any country for that matter) that placed a high value on early teen pregnancy and single parenthood. Would our liberal friends cherish this as an equally valid, as one choice among many, or would they set out to help “solve the problems” within this culture? I think we know the answer.

Or how about this. Suppose there were a cultural division that supported marital fidelity, repressed sexual desires (sex is only for procreation), no birth control, HUGE families – all trained up in a religious zeal to carry on the faith. Would our liberal friends find this culture equally valid, to be cherished by all, or would they label it as arcane out outmoded – out of touch with the modern world? I think we know the answer.

Ultimately, the claim that all cultures are equally valid is one of freedom and respect. It is a notion of live-and-let-live. As a public policy statement it would indicate that the government has no role to play in propping up or bringing down this culture or that. Yet this is not how the culture warriors behave. No, instead they work quite diligently to rid society of cultural practices they find less appealing. These generally fall along religious lines, but are certainly not confined solely to that realm.

It reminds me of elections in totalitarian regimes. The people are free to choose their leaders – as long as they choose the right one. This is not freedom at all, of course. So too, our culture warriors support each people group’s right of self-determination and cultural preservation – as long as they don’t have practices that progressives find unsettling.

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