“The world's getting smaller, and everyone in it belongs”.I've been thinking about it since.
Recently the BBC reported that Angela Merkel has declared that multi-culturalism has failed in Germany.
Here is Angela Merkel:
“We are a country which at the beginning of the 1960's actually brought guest workers to Germany. Now they live with us and we lied to ourselves for a while saying that they won't stay, and that they would all disappear again one day. That's not the reality.I know that there was a political dimension to this statement, but even allowing for that, I've got to say, and I don't mean to trivialize this, she doesn't seem like a very nice person. Perhaps that is too narrow and too personal. Let me say rather that she is giving voice to a spirit that is abroad in the world which shames us a species.
This multi-cultural approach, saying that we simply live side by side and are happy about each other, this approach has failed, utterly failed.”
In the broad sweep of history, there seem to be ideas that we have of ourselves which gain ascendancy, explore their flaws and limitations on the stage of events, and are replaced in turn by different ideas. In the thirties, a tide of narrowly selfish, nationalist militarism swept a generation of young people into the maelstrom of world war. Advances in the technology of destruction have made a scenario of generalized all-out warfare unthinkable today.
The spirit sweeping the world today is a spirit of smallness and limitation in a time of unbelievable abundance. “Leave me alone” it says. “I'm having porridge now, and I don't want to be bothered with anything larger than my bowl of porridge.” You see it in nativist movements, both here and abroad, and in the tendency to ascribe poverty to the moral failings of the poor. The rich, by contrast, are intrinsically virtuous. This spirit of smallness divides, but does not conquer. It leaves us split into tiny principalities of identity, each with its own fortified castle keep. Each living in fear of encroachment by their neighbors.
Living in a multi-cultural society challenges us on many levels. We are conditioned from birth to ascribe right and wrong to almost all of the choices before us. How to do things, how we recognize personal space, grooming choices, cuisine, etc. These are the fabric of which cultures are constructed. It is natural enough that we should feel challenged when confronted by cultures other than our own.
But the truth is simple: Failure to find a way forward in a multi-cultural world is not one of the available choices.
For me, successfully multiculturalism can be summarized in two words: San Francisco.
I am a distinctly non-urban person. All of my instincts, all of my natural preferences are oriented towards rural living, but I absolutely love San Francisco. Going there is like finding an extra 300 horsepower engine under your psychic hood. It is the only place I know where you can get a taxi ride from a guy from Nairobi who has a Phd in psychology. He gave up a full professorship at Berkeley because he wanted a more direct and personal view of his subject for a book he is writing. He's married to a woman from Taiwan, who works down in San Jose as a semi-conductor engineer. Her gay brother has also come over from Taiwan. He works down on Market street as a stock analyst, but at night he plays pedal steel in a Texas swing roadhouse band.
Okay, so maybe I'm exaggerating a little, but that is how it always feels when I go there. It's got all the same problems as any large urban center, but it has a population that has become accustomed to discovering that in a city full of remarkable people with remarkable histories, it is a mistake to take anyone for granted. It doesn't matter whether they are selling you coffee from a roadside stand or performing brain surgery, everybody has a story, and everybody has a position of value. Concepts of class and role and 'place' break down and personhood reigns. It is a glorious, cacophonous jumble of humanity to be celebrated and enjoyed. If we are to have any future at all, it is our future.
“The world's getting smaller, and everyone in it belongs”.And so it is, and so they do.
I'll leave the last word to another old hippie song writer:
“Why on earth are we here, surely not to live in pain and fear?
Why on earth are you there, when you're everywhere?
Come and get your share.”