Speaking Difference

Been wondering, are an ethics of difference and human rights incompatible?

Also, at the prompting of Juliann Wilding, been mulling over the difference between multiculturalism and interculturalism.


11 thoughts on “

  1. by definition, multiculturalism is “the acceptance or promotion of multiple ethnic cultures, applied to the demographic make-up of a specific place.” in actuality, what this means is “different cultures share the same geographical space and we’re cool with that.” full stop.

    Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world–over 500 countries represented, wow! but where is the intermingling, the mixing, the influence? it is non-existent. and yet. multiculturalism is lauded as being so important, so good. but it feels stagnant. we do not penetrate each others’ worlds. Little Italy, Little India, Chinatown, Little Portugal. these places are populated, and not simply by purveyors of products to consume. but when do we invite each other into one another’s worlds, and not as a token? i love talking to cab drivers because they are always from another country, and they observe our culture and people so intimately, yet they are so unattached to it.

    how can we reach a state of interculturalism, “the philosophy of exchanges between cultural groups within a society” ?

    “Interculturalism is a political ideology that does not place a priority for all cultures to be on the same level as a basis to organize a given society. Its main objective is rather to develop a common civic culture based on the values of freedom and liberty, and of human rights, as derived from the Western civilization, while encouraging interaction between the communities living in the same country. As such, Interculturalism requries democracy and full respect for universal human rights (whereas multiculturalism explicitly doesn’t know this requirement).”

    however, we in Canada do not REALLY live in a democracy, but an oligarchy. inevitabley, interculturalism is the future, and we would be strong of mind to accept + adopt it now.

    multiculturalism is just a pastiche, at best. interculturalism demands involvement. this is what i want …

    • I am thinking about the first question because I absolutely want to maintain a connection between an ethics of difference and human rights, but in Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil [what I was reading that prompted the consideration], Alain Badiou claims that there isn’t a lot of common ground. He characterizes an ethics of difference as the right to difference, but believes that the people who champion this idea are “clearly horrified by any vigourously sustained difference.” [At this point in my read along notes I have a notation that reads “umm, NO.”] This is his justification for the claim: “The celebrated ‘other’ is acceptable only if he is a good other…on the condition that the different be parliamentary-democratic, pro-free-market economics, in favour of freedom of opinion, feminism, the environment. That is to say: I respect differences, but only, of course, in so far as that which differs also respects, just as I do, the said differences.”

      Human rights, then, are one way of reigning in difference, of assuring that difference is expressed only within acceptable limits. Badiou resolves these two ideas by positing what could be called an ethic of sameness. All that exists is difference, this is the common, mundane, banal reality of life. Ethics gets interesting when we attempt to sustain sameness between us, when what we have in common is the fertile ground of respect. “The Same, in effect, is not what is [i.e. the infinite multiplicity of differences] but what comes to be,” say Badiou, staking a fertile ground for truth [what is the same for all], which maybe could encompass human rights, or some new paradigm that is based on the strange beauty of they many or few things we have in common. Not an ethics in the singular, but an ethics of, in the plural.

      Baiou concludes [his chapter] by saying: “A philosophy sets out to construct a space of thought in which the different subjective types, expressed by the singular truths of its time, coexist. But this coexiestence is not unification; that is why it is impossible to speak of one Ethics.”

      Anyway, this is why I was thinking of you. Multiculturalism would seem to be the sigular ethic; interculturalism could be the multiplicity of truths. Another dear friend of mine puts her dream for Canada this way: moasic, not melting pot. You are apeaking of the same idea, non?

      How do you cultivate the involvement that you want? What can I do to help?

      • hello. i will address this comment before continuing to address the comment below…

        re: cultural mosaic. no. this is not what i speak of. Canada has long been thought to have a cultural mosaic and this term is more so equal to multiculturalism, by definition: “Cultural mosaic is a term used to describe the mix of ethnic groups, languages and cultures that co-exist within Canadian society. The idea of a cultural mosaic is intended to champion an ideal of multiculturalism, differently from other systems like the melting pot, which is often used to describe the neighboring United States’ ideal of assimilation.”

        so while i acknowledge that a mosaic is preferable to a melting pot, it still does not extend far enough.

        from wiki: “The ‘cultural mosaic’ theory is not without critics. Some pundits, such as the Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson, and Carleton University journalism professor, Andrew Cohen have argued that the entire Melting Pot/Mosaic dynamic is largely an imagined concept, and that there remains little measurable evidence that American or Canadian immigrants as collective groups can be proven to be more or less ‘assimilated’ or ‘multicultural’ than each other.”

        there is also the fact that those immigrants of British origin are overrepresented in all realms of power or influence and continue to be more well-off than any other socio-economic group, either immigrant or native to Canada.

        so, this cultural mosaic, the stagnant manifestation of Canada’s Official Multiculturalism Act in 1971. it still doesn’t really work. some other criticism for the mosaic includes the following: “Some say that the mosaic concept encourages immigrant communities to remain concentrated and segregated in certain areas, or that it implies that they should never be considered Canadians. In April 2005 Michaëlle Jean (later named the Governor General) openly criticized the concept herself, accusing it of leading to the ‘ghettoizing’ of Canadians.”

        i agree with this, in part because i see and feel that segregation every day. i call it “segregation with a smile” because on the surface we are supposed to be celebrating difference when really what we are doing is putting it in a little corner until we feel like consuming it.

        one of my worries is that over the past 100 years or so, immigration to Canada [ie: mulitculturalism] has been ostensibly shaping our “culture,” into what is described as a “varied, rich, cultural mosaic” but this shape does not feel rich nor deep. when you are in it, it is flat, not fluid or flourishing.

        if you imagine a mosaic in its literal definition it is a bunch of tiles or small pieces placed next to each other. but they each have borders and they touch but do not influence each other. nor do they extend their reach to say, the tiles on the edges.

        my imagined interculturalism looks more like a kaleidoscope. the pieces and the total are constantly changing, sliding in and out of themselves and each other. interculturalism seeks commonalities, and i think this is what you mean by the ethics of sameness. this approach leads to an ethics of maximum tolerance for an individual’s choices and of minimum tolerance for totalitarian and theocratic systems of ideas. interculturalism is a multiplicity of truths, open and speaking and listening to one another.

        so, how do we cultivate this? interculturalism requires an inherent openness to be exposed to the culture of the other. how do we lay this fertile ground of mutual respect? how do we encourage people to be open to the influence of the other? it requires a shift in thought, because people must look at the other in light of the same, and currently that is not the case, currently the difference is highlighted.

        i do not know how to reach th level of involvement i crave. i will suggest that, rather than telling people that what they are currently doing is wrong or incorrect, which usually leads to defensiveness and more divisiveness, we gently suggest alternative methods of thinking and highlight the benefits of these alternatives. does this feel too slow, too difficult? it does to me as well. i do not have the answer. i just know how it feels in this current landscape and how it feels when i am inside the kaleidoscope and the two are very different …

    • This is from the Wallpaper* City Guide Toronto:

      “Presently the 5th largest city in North America, Toronto is home to more than 80 languages. In most neighbourhoods, it boasts pho huts, tandoori ovens, sushi bars, shwarma stands and corner convenience stores run by Koreans and other east Asians. But that’s where the cultural linguistics end. Districts with designations like Little Italy, Little India, Chinatown, Greek town and Polish village are visited by tourists and locals alike, mostly for the food, but the residents tend to keep to themselves.

      “Relatively inexpensive and safe, and still a little provincial, Toronto is too young a city to have developed a serious culture of its own. Commerce is king here, and the unifying factor bringing the various communities together…The city might be best suited to a brief stopover, or as an alternative to the hardness of London or the rawness of New York. Toronto is light, and its sophomoric softness is actually its charm.”

      This is exactly what you are getting at, that sharing space is not the same thing as interacting. Wallpaper* is proposing commerce as a force of unity. What do you think of that? Also, what do you think of the implication that the city’s youth might be a factor in its compartmentalization of cultures? Might interculturalism be a factor of maturity?

      • i do not think that commerce should be the starting point for unity. when Wallpaper says that commerce is king and is the unifying force bringing communities together, i can see how an outsider would possibly glean that from a short visit to Toronto. but i think what is actually happening on the street within this “commerce” is groups of people viewing other groups of people + their culture[s] as products to consume. i think that trading philosophies and ways of living and ideas and DIALOGUE is more important to interculturalism than commerce could ever be.

        and actually i think the city’s youth could be its strong point in terms of reaching interculturalism. i do not think interculturalism is a factor of maturity i think it is a fresh, fervent force that could shake this city out of its musty old multiculturalism before it crusts over and matures into a shell – a cultural mosaic of a shell, mind you.

  2. eric says:

    i can’t help but read this as a conversation about how we would prefer our immigrants to behave. it seems to be a criticism of how groups of people have self organized, but it doesn’t state how this is harming them or anyone else, only that it feels stagnant to us.

    i think the Wallpaper guide makes the valid point that there is no “Torontonian” culture to attract immigrants away from their native culture. and i wonder how many immigrants have any desire to change their culture. more likely, it seems to me, they immigrate for economic reasons, rather than an interest in canadian culture.

    encouraging intermingling sounds fun, but requires that the interests of these segregated cultures be addressed. if they don’t want to join your kaleidoscopic party, that seems like your problem, not theirs.

  3. i think it is far more complex than this.

    it isn’t about how i believe groups of people should behave. nor are my comments about our stagnant country about how i feel. it is a criticism of the [non]progression of our country in any kind of positive direction, pretty much since i can remember being aware that i lived in a country.

    my desire for “intermingling” is not for fun, rather relating to one another as humans sharing space within a system that, like it or not, currently we are all in to some degree. whether we were born here or not. my criticisms aren’t of how people have self-organized in the face of very few options–and, it is not all self-organization that creates neighbourhoods or segregation. my criticisms are of Canada on the whole, as a place, how it doesn’t work. the segregation-both physical and social-the lack of programs, education, and opportunities for new Canadians does harm people. ignorance of the existence of the other harms people. it’s not about a party. to me it is simply about striving for new levels of communication.

    and, you’re wrong, there is a Torontonian culture. let’s be honest – it’s little and it’s white. how many bands/artists/comedians/performers/designers/writers/gallery owners/curators etc can you think of who are working or are currently funded who are not white? the numbers are few. growing, perhaps, but still far too few to represent the “multicultural” face of Canada. i suppose you could argue that no one from within these other cultures wants a voice or wants to participate or wants to express themselves within a greater context than their own neighbourhood, but i do not believe that to be true.

    of course immigrants do not come here strictly for the culture, or lack thereof, for the most part. they come here for economic reasons or to create a possible better future for their offspring. i am also not suggesting that anyone change their culture per se, but that we all change our culture. that we share and therefore learn and therefore create communities that benefit more people, the people who live in those communities.

    i’m not suggesting that people change their culture or give it up-i think it’s clear i believe that people have the right to maintain an affiliation with their ethnic group and the right for cultural and religious differences to be displayed in the public domain. even with the inevitable future merging of cultures throughout the world there will still be difference, there will always be “subculture” to some degree. but sharing information within a large context simply gives everyone more opportunity, creates more action, makes connections, makes change possible. what i am talking about is to reach a state that can + does address the interests/needs/desires of all. and i believe this is all of our problem/responsibility.

    but i also do not think this is possible in our current Canada.

    so, i’m curious-how do you see people sharing a common reality in a positive and progressive nature, if not through sharing and communication? i suppose we could all close ourselves off to one another. but then how do we move forward?

  4. Juliann, I love to idea of using a kaleidoscope as a metaphor for cultural interactions, especially imagining the turning that reveals the magic of how all the parts can be recomposed again.

    Eric, certainly you would admit that the normal course of things for the world [the universe, really] is a constant state of flux and never-ending change. Given that the paradigm of multiculturalism has been our working model for some time now, what do you see it giving way to? If not interculturalism, however favourably interpreted or not, then what?

    Risking a barely comprehensible paragraph of metaphor and cliché, I am not sure how the kaleidoscope doesn’t fall victim to the same criticism as the mosaic. It’s still just a bunch of tiny parts coming together to make a whole. Both the mosaic and the kaleidoscope offer an image or reality that emerges from the constellation of the individual parts. They both reach the edges by way of the the whole they compose. If you mean to distinguish the possibility for change, something the kaleidoscope maintains whereas the mosaic is set, then I understand the change in metaphor. Otherwise, they are both just a bunch of little distinct bits hoping to make a pretty picture. In my ideal of cultural interactions, the distinctness of each actor is maintained, and what matters is a willingness to recognize how a stranger, an other, your family even, can be recognized in the patterns of behaviour we hold dear.

    So, Eric, it is not about how we want immigrants to behave, but how we want to be affected by the reality of the world we live in. How can the distinct parts that lay beyond our boundaries resonate inside us?

    What if we just took commerce as a starting point [much like how Marx takes commodity as a lens through which to analyze the capitalist mode of production], and worked toward the obviously always more substantial goal of dialogue? Again, what do we have in common? The rough matter of our social environment might not be a bad place to start, [though an unproductive place to stay]. Interestingly, the Huffington Post just published this: “Toronto Rises as the New Capital of Cool.” All the cool things about Toronto are commerce related: entrepreneurs=revitalization, shopping, spectacle, tourism $$$. Lauri Lyons mentions the cultural diversity of the city, but she’s using it as a talking point. Commerce might be a way to begin transforming a statistic into something more meaningful. If the Carabana spectacle draws people in, then maybe they’ll recognize the value of dancing in the street.

  5. i am not interested in commerce as a starting point. commerce is already more prevalent a conversation than any other, and i am not interested in what it offers, nor is it inclusive, nor do i see it as valuable as a cultural transaction. i see commerce as an end point, and i am far more interested in those parts of the equations that lead toward and quietly surround commerce, including commodity.

    i had thought it would be obvious that my use of the metaphor of “kaleidoscope” rather than “mosaic” was to distinguish the possibility for change rooted in the constant action, the constant transformation of all pieces involved? if not what on earth did you think i meant? we are always going to be a bunch of tiny parts coming together to form a whole; it’s how we get there that interests me, and i prefer no end picture over one that is static, but rather ACTION as the end goal, constantly changing and in motion, like reality.

  6. Juliann, what I mean to distinguish is that even though we can perform acts of translation and recognize ourselves in others, and vice versa, I am not suggesting some sort of tepid sameness. I want to maintain the strict individuality of each actor. I am not sure how a kaleidoscope actually works, but it seems like there are just a bunch of bits in there and that any bit could fall into any number of locations and fit. This is what I wanted to bracket out, this idea that the individual becomes a cog. In a mosaic, the pieces cannot be replaced one for the other. In a kaleidoscope, it seems they can.

    I am not sure if this is clear, but the difference I was getting at is something akin to the difference between translation and interpretation.

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