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"Diversity" for the Culturally Clueless

Dr. Peter Chojnowski
"Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western cultureís got to go!" The year is 1988. The site is the campus of Stanford University. The originators of this clever little slogan? Aboriginal pygmies dressed in tribal garb? Orientals with samurai swords? Indian matrons in saris? Not quite.

Rather, angry white upper-middle class co-eds uniformly vested in the standard garb of American academia, blue jeans, Los Angeles Lakers T-shirts, Reboks, baseball caps, Vuarnet sun glasses, and Rolex watches. The despised object of their vehemence? Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and other "dead white males" whose thought continued to dominate the "core curriculum" at Stanford University.1

This particular protest, which, by the way, was successful, is merely one instance of a phenomenon which, in the last decade, has swept through and fundamentally transformed the content of higher education in the US. The movement, which is most prominent in academia, is referred to as multiculturalism.

Its stated aim is to equalize all cultures in the estimation of the student. A student achieves this new state of consciousness, when he no longer views one culture or cultural outlook as superior to another culture or cultural outlook. The main effort of the multiculturalists is to induce the student to both view his own culture (i.e., Western, Christian culture) as one culture among many equally valid cultures and, consequently, assume a mental stance of "openness" to "values" present in other, non-Western cultures.

As in all egalitarian efforts, this process of "equalization" amounts to an attempt to "level" that which has traditionally been considered to be superior and exalt that which has normally been considered to be inferior. The multiculturalists believe that they can achieve this result by introducing courses into the curriculum which both make mention of other cultures and, most importantly, focus on the sinister avenues taken by Western, Christian man in his struggle to suppress into a position of inferiority, those non-Western cultures which are of an equal, if not superior value.

You might think that the multiculturalists would be frustrated in their attempt to familiarize the student with "suppressed" non-Western cultures, on account of the fact that the average co-ed knows little or nothing about foreign cultures and, normally, cares even less. Moreover, a realist would have to see their efforts to lessen the impression the great books and ideas of Western civilization are making on young minds as somewhat ridiculous, since it has been decades since the great works and great ideas of Western, Christian man have made any impression whatsoever on the young American mind. To spend time trying to convince a student that Aristotle was "really" a "racist" is tantamount to trying to convince a ten-year-old that the Copenhagen school interpretation of Quantum Mechanics is an example of epistemological relativism. She/He would be clueless.

This somewhat harsh judgment concerning the cultural awareness of the average American undergraduate is, however, supported by solid statistics. According to the statistics gathered by Lynne Cheney, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, it is possible to graduate from 37% of American colleges without taking a course in history, from 45% without taking a course in American or English literature, from 62% without taking any philosophy, and from 77% without studying a foreign language.2 Cheney also reports that it is now "extremely rare" to find students exposed to a core curriculum in Western civilization, even at major state universities and the elite colleges of the Ivy League.3 Not only is the average American undergraduate seemingly unfit, and definitely uninterested, in such expanded cultural "awareness," but the very purveyors of multiculturalism, the university faculties, are themselves obviously uninterested in any serious study of the ideas, habits, and customs which make up the content of either Western Christian or non-Western cultures.

I became intensely aware of this fact while teaching in New York City. During these years, the only visual manifestation of the multiculturalist idea then pervading the classrooms was the donning by certain black male students of "African clothing" which somewhat resembled a "Nehru suit." That Jawaharlal Nehru was an Indian nationalist leader, did not seem to dawn on these devotees of neo-African romanticism.

The professors which were most committed to the "multiculturalist idea" showed no interest whatsoever in uncovering the philosophical, theological and social reality of other cultures. In fact, from my own experience, I can say that, generally speaking, the "multiculturalists," whether professor or graduate student, were the academics most disliked by those students who were of non-European origin. Of course, as most people know already, in American graduate schools this means Orientals. Normally, the Orientals maintained close friendships with the conservative, white graduate students and professors who still existed as a besieged minority on campus. If, therefore, the underlying task of the multiculturalists is not to "enlighten" their students concerning the true content of non-Christian cultures, what is the nature of their activities? It is to attack and denigrate the cultural heritage of Christendom and to vilify everything associated with it. This vilification will even extend to overt racism, as long as that racism is directed against peoples of European origin. I think here of the well-publicized visit to my New York university campus by Dr. Leonard Jeffries. Dr. Jeffries, chairman of the Afro-American Studies Department at City College of New York, is well-known for his claim that whites are biologically inferior to blacks. Dinesh DíSouza in his book Illiberal Education: the Politics of Race and Sex on Campus cites the college newspaper The Campus as stating:

African American scholar Leonard Jeffries claims that whites are biologically inferior to blacks....Adopting an evolutionary perspective, Jeffries told his class that whites suffer from an inadequate supply of melanin, making them unable to function as effectively as other groups. One reason that whites have perpetuated so many crimes and atrocities, Jeffries argues, is that the Ice Age caused the deformation of white genes, while blacks were enhanced by "the value system of the sun." 4

There were no protests of Dr. Jeffries visit. Moreover, you could not help but believe that protests against his visit would be treated as "racist." Dr. Jeffriesí popularity during this time, 1991, is shown by the fact that he was asked to co-author a multicultural curriculum outline for all New York public schools.

There are many practical consequences of the multiculturalist anti-European ideological outlook. In their drive to implement the mathematical abstraction of equality in the life of their university, college administrators have undertaken a program of "affirmative action" in which professors are hired and students admitted, not because they are the most qualified applicants, but rather, because they happen to be female, black, Hispanic, or "Native American." Interestingly enough, Orientals rarely "benefit" from "affirmative action" programs. Probably because they are not clients of the American Left.

This systematic disregard for academic qualifications, along with the proliferation of anti-Western "attack" courses (e.g., "Women in African literature in French," "Harlem Renaissance," "Ibo I and II," "Politics of Black Autobiography," has resulted in a precipitous decline in academic standards and achievement. Nothing else can be expected if students and faculty are not chosen on account of the quality of their minds. In a 1989 survey of 5,000 university faculty members by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching found general agreement about the "widespread lowering of academic standards at their institutions." This decline was only partially masked by an equally "widespread grade inflation." 5 Moreover, a review of 25,000 student transcripts by Professor Zemsky of the University of Pennsylvania showed broad neglect of mathematics and science courses, especially at the advanced level, and an overall "lack of depth and structure" in what undergraduates study.6

There is something, however, which the multiculturalists can build on and exploit for their own ends. It is the ingrained relativism and instinctive egalitarianism which characterizes the moral outlook of almost all American undergraduates. Here I do not believe my attribution of relativism and egalitarianism to "all American undergraduates" is extreme or exaggerated. This same judgment has been etched into the contemporary psyche of American academia by Professor Allan Bloomís book The Closing of the American Mind. Unfortunately, I have even found that when you meet a student with some type of religious faith, she/he never attempts to defend or support the intrinsic veracity and universal validity of the doctrines which they hold to, but rather, are content to say that "this is what I believe" and "other people believe other things," therefore, we can never know who is right or wrong. Consequently, the foundational virtue becomes "toleration." "Toleration," that is, of all but the "intolerant" (i.e., those Christian believers who refuse to accede to the basic premise that all ideas are equally valid as "personal beliefs").

Relativism and Equality

It is, however, the all-pervasive idea of "equality," which opens the mental doors of the young American mind to the multiculturalists. I would even assert that the underlying relativist assumption is ultimately traceable to the belief in equality. Having been told from their early years that the goal of all of human history is the application of the mathematical abstraction of "equality" to the concrete realm of men and human societies. The final goal being the complete conformity between reality and abstraction. Why does it, then, seem strange that young people, and not so young people, can so readily accept the idea that all cultures are equally valid, and that if there is one culture which predominates it must be "levelled" while others are exalted.

When we search for the philosophical roots of multiculturalism, we find that it has its origin amongst those who mix together the concepts of "equality" and the "relativity of truth." Professor Allan Bloom refers to them as the Nietzschean Left. In the US, we might call them the 1960ís New Left. Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher of the last century who discovered the idea of "value" or werte. According to Nietzsche, all "values," that is, what is considered important, varys from nation to nation, century to century, and culture to culture. Moreover, "values" are simply the projection of a peopleís "will to power." That which increases their strength and power is "valuable" and "good." That which weakens their power is "bad."

It is with Nietzsche in the 1880ís that we see the emergence of historical and cultural relativism (i.e., that philosophical position which holds that truth and value are dependent on the time period in which we live and the culture we have). If this be the case, Western Christian culture is nothing more than white, European males solidifying their own power by forming a culture which portrays their particular values as ideal. "Values," here do not have any universal validity or intrinsic worth. It is interesting to note, that Nietzsche, famous for his statement "God is dead," insisted that all values are relative, because there is not God. If God existed, He would be the one who gave all truths and values their intrinsic worth and universal validity.

If the ideals and ideas which have guided Western man since the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ are merely surreptitious "power plays" of a dominant elite, the forces of the Revolution, taking their cue, as usual, from the French Revolution, will try to storm this citadel of oppression in the name of the previously exploited. All the multiculturalists whom I have met, heard of, or read about, are leftists (i.e., ideological supporters of the egalitarian revolution begun in Paris in 1789). Their leftism is normally expressed in different ways. The homosexual "life-style" struggles for equality against the dominance and "oppression" of heterosexuality, women struggle against men, blacks against whites. This "social warfare" aspect of multiculturalism has been fostered by academics intellectually attached to Frankfort School Marxism. These thinkers, who "inspired" the radical students of the 1960ís and the academics of the 1990ís, wove together the ideas of relativism, equality, and the "class struggle." What they advocated was simple. In the words of one of the New Leftís most prominent spokesmen, Theodore Adorno, we must "negate the dominant ideology." 7

The dominant ideology which they believe they must overthrow is none other than the dogmas, ideas, customs, habits, social structures, and moral norms packed into the concept and historical reality of Christendom. Ultimately, that is what they are after. Moreover, it is the residue of that, in the minds of Americaís youth, which they are successfully eliminating. If you spend most of your academic year studying "Films on popular religion and healing in Peru," "Reggae lyrics," and "Rastafarian poetry," you will not long maintain contact with the foundational truths of Christian civilization.8 Or rationality, for that matter!

Counterrevolution vs. the Counterculture

Can we salvage and nourish in contemporary human minds the traditional culture that the multiculturalists are so cleverly trying to destroy? I believe that we can. There is one problem, however. The very fact that we have to think about the question of how to retain and nourish true culture means, to a large extent, that we have already lost it. Since intellectual culture is like a "second nature," to consciously have to cleave to it means that it is not had as it should be had. The reason why culture must be possessed as a "second nature," is on account of the fact that culture is the manner in which a human being responds to the truth of order. A cultured soul is one whose response to order is natural and instinctive. The cultured soul is one which can both appreciate the refined breadth and depth of order, along with responding properly to the specificity and exact worth of being.

Such precise responses to the specificity and refinement of reality are normally the result of an inheritance passed from generation to generation as a deposit of truths and attitudes and adaptations to those truths. This deposit is normally expressed in art, customs, festivals, manners, and behaviors. This inheritance is not merely "behavioral information." It is the silent spiritual communication of the generations. It says "do this and you shall be right."

What can be done, then, to form a new generation, immune to multiculturalism, because immersed in the fresh springs of Catholic culture; which, by the way, is the authentic form of "Western" culture. The first thing to remember in this regard is the most fundamental. True "culture" is, in its origins, that which surrounds the "cult." The true "cult," of course, has at its core an act of sacrifice to God. An organic culture then, one not artificially engendered, is one which develops out of manís response to the reality of this act of sacrifice. The most primordial forms of culture, then, are those actions, behaviors, attitudes, and art forms which surround and constitute our participation in the act of sacrifice.

According to this view, culture is not manís way of expressing inner states of consciousness, as has been suggested by Pope John Paul II in the course of his philosophical career. Rather, it is manís response to an objective reality outside himself, which is not dependent at all upon his will but upon the will of God. True and authentic culture, as opposed to a "culture" stemming from purely human concepts and needs, is an adequate response to the very specific character of the Holy Sacrifice. True culture must be ultimately based upon Godís revelation of a form of worship acceptable to Himself and one which is a fitting response to the specificity of the Divine Nature.

The first thing that must be done to rebuild a culture which has, ostensibly, left the hearts and minds of men, is to place within young hearts an intimate awareness of the rhythms and values inherent in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This means a cultivation of the proximate and remote externals, such as ceremony and festival, which convey to human minds, dependent as they are upon physical perception, the inner secret of the mysteries being celebrated. Culture can only be regained, when the individual and collective imagination is placed under the yoke of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

After the initial conquest of the imagination, the cultivation of the soul must extend to the intellect. Ultimately, the intellect must come to the defense of this vision of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful if it is to be sustained. The most perfect way to cultivate the intellect is to have it engage itself with meditation on the philosophical and theological truths which underlie and surround the Holy Sacrifice. With this, intellect, imagination, and sensation can be welded together to form an organic whole, a unified outlook on the world. Such a unified outlook, armed with the intellectual arguments, can easily withstand the flaccid and unsubstantial concepts of the multiculturalists.

Finally, those who would possess and cultivate Catholic culture, must identify with those who have possessed and cultivated it in the past. Since culture is meant to be a "second nature" for the mind, an habitual imaginative and intellectual affinity or, perhaps, a connaturality must be established between the intimate lives of our predecessors in the Faith and our own innermost lives. We must "sympathize with" giants upon whose shoulders we stand. I believe that such an agenda can be realized in families, small communities, and in schools dedicated to the integral Catholic Faith. We must know what it means to be Catholic. We must be Catholic, unabashedly, again.

  1. See, Dinesh DíSouza, Illiberal Education: the Politics of Race and Sex on Campus (New York: The Free Press, 1991), p.60.
  2. Lynne Cheney, Humanities in America (Washington, D.C.: National Endowment for the Humanities, 1988), p.5.
  3. Lynne Cheney, Fifty Hours: A Core Curriculum for College Students (Washington, D.C.: National Endowment for the Humanities, 1989).
  4. Dinesh DíSouza, Illiberal Education: the Politics of Race and Sex on Campus (New York: the Free Press, 1991), p.7. Cf. The Campus, City College of New York, April 26, 1989.
  1. See DíSouza, p. 14. Cf. The Condition of the Professoriate: Attitudes and Trends, 1989 (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching).
  2. DíSouza, p. 14. Cf. Thomas DeLoughry, "Student of Transcripts Finds Little Structure in the Liberal Arts," Chronicle of Higher Education, January 18, 1989, pp.A-1, A-32.
  3. Mae Henderson, ed., Borders, Boundaries, and Frames: Essays in Cultural Criticism and Cultural Studies (New York: Routledge, 1995), p.18.
  4. DíSouza, p.70. © 2013                    home                    contact