Multiculturalism as Consumption
by Adam Naphta
The Nature of Multiculturalism
This short essay will defend the following thesis: multiculturalism entails reduction of any culture it comes into contact with to be reduced to only its consumable element. This thought should cast light on the phenomena of cosmopolitan obsession with ‘ethnic’ food. For example, the common claim that we should accept more immigrants from other countries because we could start consuming their food. I claim that this widespread belief amongst cosmopolitan types stems from the meaning of the term multiculturalism as a system of beliefs regarding the availableness of all cultures.
Therefore, this essay will first attempt to define what multiculturalism is and then it will argue that from said definition for multiculturalism to actually exist, it can only do so by reducing its constitutive cultures (for multiculturalism, by definition, requires two or more constituent cultures) to its consumable elements. An example of a consumable element would be food, clothing, or music. I argue that multiculturalism must do this because of its inherent commitment to allow participation in all of the constituent cultures.
Understanding the Meaning of Multiculturalism
First, let us define multiculturalism, for the term is notoriously slippery. Anyone in the anglo-sphere has heard this term used to justify a wide variety of policy measures, business practices, etc. It is commonly used to signal justification of a certain practice. For example, accepting more students of a certain race into a University fosters multiculturalism and therefore the policy is just. I will attempt no history or critique of said policies or about multiculturalism, my goal is to merely expose that its implementation can only be realized in a certain way. I will actually define multiculturalism twice. First as a state with multiple cultures forced together in peace, and then as the multicultural state itself.
Multiculturalism, in its first sense, is defined as multiple ethnic groups spatially located in one area, usually within the jurisdiction of a state whose dominant culture is none of the constituent cultures, living together peacefully. I include this last portion because it is easy to think about many examples in which multiple ethnic groups live together under one state without any sort of harmony. For example, Iraqis and Kurds living in the state of Iraq. Therefore, we learn multiculturalism is normative, it demands of its constituents that they live together peacefully. In the literature, multiculturalism is said to also demands of its constitutive cultures that they respect the customs, traditions, values and communicative patterns of each other. It is committed to diversity.
Diversity and Inclusion
However, it should be familiar to everyone that the word diversity is usually said alongside a far more problematic word, inclusion. I will argue that the aforementioned demands are secondary, and perhaps illusory, to the demands of peaceful cohabitation and more importantly, participation, and that multiculturalism will have to entail that any culture part of a multi-culture must ‘de-fang’ itself in order to fulfill the inclusionary standard.
I now wish to introduce my second definition that I mentioned above. A multicultural state in its fullest sense has long since destroyed any actual cultures to create the multicultural itself. The multicultural state has no constituent cultures in full actuality, but instead the remaining limbs of its integrated cultures. It is the participatory and inclusive playground of the massacred parts of culture. As an arm is only an arm homonymously, a constituent culture of a multi-culture is a culture only in name. I will first focus on the first definition and then move to the second as this essay progresses.
Cohabitation and Multiple Cultures
Following the first definition, let us set up a thought experiment. Assume two cultures live under the jurisdiction of one state, and are located in the same spatial region. Culture A and culture B must, by definition, be able to cohabit in order to be considered multicultural. For this to work, A and B must either have some intrinsic compatibility, IE their customs will never come into conflict, or they will have to reach some agreement via a process of mediation.
The probability of two cultures being intrinsically compatible is, historically speaking, very low. Even if it did, once we start adding more and more cultures into the mix, the probability of conflict becomes high enough that assuming an intrinsic compatibility between multiple cultures becomes nothing more than pure fantasy. However, due to their location in the same state, a state which we shall suppose enforces multiculturalism, it would be safe to assume that the state or the cultural apparatus of the state will intervene in said proposed conflict.
What should we then conclude from this hypothetical arrangement? I aim to show that the only way this cohabitation will be possible, is by some sort of redefinition of what it means to be a culture. This redefinition, I argue, is the central locus of the ‘defanging’ process. The common redefinition observed is the debasement of a culture from a set of practices, virtues, and customs to a set of consumable meals, entertainment, and clothing. I claim that the third party state will always, whether explicitly or implicitly, either through state means or its own cultural armaments, reduce these other cultures into mere consumables. Sex is to pornography as the genuine cultural act is to a consumable cultural act.
Understanding Inclusion as Consumption
Now to return to the present argument, why is it so that it must be reduced to a consumable in a multicultural state? Our present multiculturalism will not follow the classical historical trend of cultural conflict, in which one state is dissolved into another. Multiculturalism is more pernicious than classical domination and sublimation. It does not merely dissolve and sublimate cultures into its own, but the idea of multiculturalism, used by this third governing apparatus I have hinted at, has no culture of its own beyond the de-mapping and ‘defanging’. It will fashion itself out of the organs torn from its sublimated cultures. Previous empires would destroy two warring clans and bring them under the banner of the master culture.
The multicultural state has no identity of its own but will fashion itself as the continuation and synthesis of its lower constituent cultures. However, it will only do so as a simulacrum. The multicultural apparatus takes the culture in name only and reduces it to its wholly recognizable and consumable parts. In the same way that pornography maintains only the consumable and technologically transferrable part of sex, the visual, as does multiculturalism maintain the transferrable portion of culture, namely its consumables. Culture becomes nothing but the consumables in the same way sex becomes nothing but its visual. How do we assert something has been lost without pointing to some ephemeral quality that can so easily be dismissed precisely because it has no tangible part? So then, in what sense do I assert that multiculturalism must be this? I maintain that there is a key difference between multiple cultures, and multiculturalism.
Culture and Multiculturalism
A culture is by definition exclusionary, and multiculturalism is by definition inclusionary. Therefore, in the transfer from exclusionary rites and initiation, we deterritorialize rites and initiation and reterritorialize consumables and participation. When a culture is one of many to choose from, there is no possibility of rites and initiations, for this would by definition exclude any parallel and existing cultures from participating, thereby excluding them in a way that would cease to allow for the possibility of a multi-culture.
To be in a multicultural state or society is to be in on where all cultures are open to all. Therefore any notions of mysticism, rite of passage, or initiation must be excluded lest it threaten the existence of the participatory multi-culture. Here we see why it is necessary for the multi-culture to reduce and ‘de-fang’ its constituent cultures. If it did not, it could not be multicultural for two reasons.
Transition from Culture to Multiculturalism
First, it would violate definition one due to the possibility of war. Second, the multi-culture must allow all in it to participate in each of the constituent cultures. Therefore we see that the participatory element necessarily entails that what makes a culture a culture, namely the rites of exclusion, must be destroyed. However, the illusion of said culture must exist to continue to be consumed lest we realize that there actually is no culture left.
We then keep the visible elements of culture without any of the cultural context, mythological grounding, or rites that gave those consumables any real meaning in the first place. This participatory element in which all must be available, for the right price, defines multiculturalism in its essence. Therefore we ask, what can we all participate in? To which the answer is not values, customs, or beliefs, but food and clothes. We must destroy what is particular to all in order for the participation of all, which leaves us with some nice food and amusingly exotic clothes.