by Ken Melvin
… He said I have no opinion about this
And I have no opinion about that
Asked an Honors History Class what they thought was the most important issue facing America. In an earlier period, Patrick, a kid from Africa, responded, “our differences.” In a later period, a black female, in a plaintive voice, responded, “we are different.”
Indeed. We are a world of people with many differences: different politics, different religions, … different cultures. Not just here; worldwide, humans are wrestling with this question: How to live with our differences? Can we humans, after all our centuries, change enough? Change enough to accept our differences?
The importance of these questions came to the fore with the recent onslaught of immigration into Europe and has since played out in referenda/elections throughout Europe and the United States. The pending further, and of greater scale, dislocations caused by global warming/climate change and globalization, makes their answering imperative. Plus: What will resulting cultures look like? At what point does an existing culture become more like that of the immigrant? What is the tipping point? Can the center hold?
Over the past 20 years, really quite late, much of our nation has come to believe that someone else’s sexuality is really none of our business. We, as a nation, now accept lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, LGBT, people as they are. Not ignore them, not tolerate them, not demand that they change; but accept them as they are. Yet, there are still regions of America, sectors of the population, where a majority of the people think that they know how people should act, should think, … that they have the right to demand that others change.
Really? Does anyone really have the right to tell anyone else that they must change? Be like the rest of ‘us’. That they must assimilate?
Time was, when most would have said that assimilation was the time-proven solution; that a minority should adopt the culture of the majority — with the culture of majority minimally affected. The mechanism for this change went along the lines we have often seen narrated in literature where: the immigrant parents clustered, were suspicious of others, and were subject suspicion. They may have squabbled with those within the cluster of different ethnicity, culture; even called each other names. But, their children played together, went to school together, and along the way took on many of the ways of the majority. Their children might marry someone of their own cultural group, or maybe someone from another; and some married someone from the established majority. Voila, in a couple generations, the immigrant families had assimilated; and the dominant culture had gained a few new dishes to enjoy, added a few new words and phrases to their vocabulary. An immigrant minority assimilated.
What if a cultural minority doesn’t want to assimilate? Feels that assimilation would mean the loss of their culture? What if aspects of a minority’s cultural beliefs are in direct conflict with those of the majority? For example: Does a minority cultural group that believes in female genital mutilation, FGM, have an inherent right to practice FGM in a society where the majority strongly oppose the practice?
Even in an accepting society, there will be norms, limits, bounds. All well-functioning societies have norms, limits, bounds, …; have common cultural norms that are the ‘laws of the land’; that supersede any and all other cultural customs. No cultural belief can ever supersede the law of the land. Though both laws and beliefs are subjective, and both are derivative of culture; they are not equal. Laws have precedence over beliefs. Everyone of a cultural minority chooses whether to believe or not to believe; they do not get to choose which laws to obey. In a multicultural society, some, maybe all, cultures will have to forego certain of their practices. The cultural majority will have to accept certain practices and behaviors of the cultural minority that are different from their own. Minorities cultures can maintain most of their cultural identity and still fit into a larger multicultural society. The cultural majority accepts most of a minority’s behavior. In exchange for this acceptance, the minority cultural group must agree to, at all times abide by, accept, the ‘laws of the land’.
If any minority cultural group were to be granted immunity to the laws of the land, others will petition for the same; society would soon descend into chaos and failure.
Doesn’t the first amendment give us the right to not have religious beliefs imposed on us? It does. But when homegrown religious groups try to impose their religious beliefs upon us, they often try to base their legal arguments on that they disdain most, science.