Sunday, February 18, 2007

Cheesefare Sunday, Sen on Multicult

"As an eleven-year-old boy I could not do much for Kader Mia as he lay bleeding with his head on my lap. But I imagine another universe, not beyond our reach, in which he and I can jointly affirm our many common identities (even as the warring singularists howl at the gate). We have to make sure, above all, that our mind is not halved by a horizon."
--Amartya Sen


Though my cold is much better today, I did not venture into SoHo for Liturgy and Forgiveness Vespers; I barely made it up to Barnes and Nobles on 82nd Street, where I found Sen's Identity and Violence (Norton, 2006), the last sentence of which I have transcribed above.

In his latest book Sen, a Nobel Prize economist, meditates on what the Patriarch of Venice has well termed the unavoidable fact of civilizational hybridity. Sen, like Cardinal Scola, is sensitive to the concerns that many of us, who call ourselves cultural conservatives, have over what passes for multiculturalism:

"There is a real need to rethink the understanding of multiculturalism both to avoid conceptual disarray about social identity and also to resist the purposeful exploitation of the divisiveness that this conceptual disarray allows and even, to some extent, encourages. What has to be particularly avoided (if the foregoing analysis is right) is the confusion between multiculturalism with cultural liberty, on the one side, and plural monoculturalism with faith-based separatism on the other. A nation can hardly be seen as a collection of sequestered segments, with citizens being assigned fixed places in predetermined segments. Nor can Britain be seen, explicitly or by implication, as an imagined national federation of religious ethnicities." (165)

By cultural liberty Sen means the ability given by education to make intelligent, informed, and responsible choices among the cultural alternatives offered. As Goethe says somewhere, we do not really own what we inherit until we freely embrace it. If you wish to call this the criterion of Western civilization I will not dispute you, though it is one we have not always honored, and Sen points to paradigmatic instances of it east of Suez.

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