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Community and identity in late modernity: Part Eight

By Mark Wegierski
web posted September 29, 2008

A possible critique of the attempted, left-liberal "rainbow coalition", is to note that it does not even consist primarily today of the ethnic groups it professes to champion, as opposed to other types of groups (e.g., lifestyle groups such as décadentiste artists and students, rock and rap musicians and the consumer tribes they inspire). "The sisterhood of women" is represented in the "rainbow coalition" in terms often defined by the most radical feminist theory. What is rather troubling to some critics is that the "rainbow coalition" is almost inherently and ferociously adversarial towards the so-called "mainstream" or "majority" culture.

Ironically, the "rainbow-coalition" could in some ways be seen just as tightly "ascriptive" as the orderings of the Middle Ages. Just look at the way in which black conservatives and conservative women are treated by left-liberals! It should also be noted that the use of the term "persons of colour" as a coalition constituency -- as opposed to "ethnic groups" -- excludes so-called "white ethnics" at the outset.

When it comes right down to it, the liberal ideal is probably a "unicultural, multiracial, secular society". They are indeed afraid of the challenges of religion and ethnic identity. The "white ethnic" cultural enclaves of Eastern and Southern European groups are particularly ignored, if not despised. Is there really not an attempt to create one North American liberal culture? Is this not what one is expected to assimilate to?

The issue of traditional cultures being assimilated to a North American liberal culture extends across so-called white ethnics and so-called visible minorities. Is it necessarily positive that, for example, a traditionalist Sikh would assimilate to this North American liberal culture? And what is even more interesting, is that the longstanding, local traditional cultures in Canada and the United States, are also under pressure to assimilate to the North American liberal culture – which mostly emanates from the "bicoastal" elites in the U.S. – and mostly from the arts and media circles in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, in Canada. What appears to be happening is that the values of a few trendy and/or grungy neighbourhoods in Toronto are projected onto Canada as a whole. When somebody complains today that there is "too much cultural diversity", one might respond that there is not enough cultural diversity – for example, colourful "white ethnic" communities – such as the various Slavic-Canadian groups -- are all brainwashed into one insipid North American way of life by the managerial-therapeutic regime and its cultural auxiliaries.

Some traditionalists might argue that there is occurring today the triple distortion of reality by the "politically-correct" cutting-edge -- there are very pronounced trends to valourize visible minorities, and devalourize persons of European descent throughout much of current-day Western societies; at the same time the cutting-edge types still persist in seeing conservative straight white males as "the cruel and harsh masters" of current-day society, while also asserting the explicit moral right of "the persecuted" to rise up in a cruel, violent, and pitiless revolution. Thus, the cutting-edge types enjoy increasing amounts of social power, a sense of self-righteousness and moral superiority, and an unchecked ability to act (why should one set any limits on ``the just struggle against oppression'?) -- all at the same time. A framework has possibly been created for the establishment of "the tyranny of `the just'".

It might be argued that the only national groups or ethnicities which are seen as wholly legitimate by many left-liberals, within the contemporary Western world, are "ethnic groups" who are minorities in given territorial national communities, or national communities that are perceived as having been ferociously persecuted by right-wing forces throughout their history (e.g., the Irish, and the Québécois). And it may be remembered that in the 1990s in Canada, there was a savage turning against the Quebecois in the Canadian liberal establishment, because they appeared to be on the verge of achieving their own, fully sovereign, nation-state, i.e., they would move from being a minority in Canada to becoming a robust territorial national community in Quebec. The ethnic national identifications of nearly all of the Western nation-states are seriously questioned and placed "under interrogation" by typical left-liberals.

Perhaps the most positive approach to all these community/identity issues is to not become overly committed to any one grouping or community. A degree of eclecticism might be a way to break out of identification with one community. The term "community", should, it is argued, be considered fairly broadly, in tune with its current sociological reality.

A second concept to be considered is "maintenance of `standing'". Although the ways one achieves `standing' in different communities varies enormously, the concept of `standing' is remarkably similar. One can be considered a recognized "authority" in many different communities of interest. The issue of "movement between the communities" is quite important. ("Communities" refers here to all the various types of identity in late modern society.) Even though Western societies are ostensibly individualistic, people continue to seek involvement in various types of group identities. Most people end up in one or a few communities or interest groups -- they usually network within that one community, striving to become "king of the network". It might be argued that the key to real insight and success is not to become swallowed up entirely in any one community or interest-group, but to be a sort of "border-dweller" -- participating in a great variety of communities. One can see here the beginning of a theoretical model, description, and strategy for maximizing a person's impact on society, politics, and culture.

It is difficult to deny the sociological fact of the overlappings, ambiguities, and multiplicities of identity in late modern society. A "unimodal" notion of community is today highly problematic. Involvement in more than one community is something which is the norm today, and which can be recommended. This, it might be argued, offers a slow but sure healing way out of the overwrought identity politics and struggles of both the Right and the Left. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

 

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