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Cultural accommodation: How to navigate societal div...

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  • 3 years ago
Cultural accommodation: How to navigate societal diversity
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While it is good to recognize societal diversity, it is difficult to argue in favor of creating cultural accommodations to preserve and protect specific groups.

Creating protections for people who belong to certain traditions can result in the creation of cultures that did not previously exist. The challenge would be to find a way to provide protections that are not too explicit while also being careful not to advantage one internal group and disadvantage another.

The classical liberal response is a principle of hyper-tolerance. Groups are free to form, members are free to dissent, and there are no acknowledgements of special protections or of the right to force conformity within cultures.

Chandran Kukathas holds the Lee Kong Chian Chair of Political Science and is Dean of the School of Social Sciences at Singapore Management University. He was previously Chair of Political Theory and Head of the Department of Government at the London School of Economics. He is the author of Hayek and Modern Liberalism (1989) and The Liberal Archipelago (2003). His next book, Immigration and Freedom, will be published by Princeton University Press.
Transcript: One of the issues that arises I think for liberals generally and for classical liberals included is how to deal with the fact of cultural diversity. And this may exist in part because a society is religiously diverse but it may also be because it’s diverse as a result of ethnic variation and the fact that a society is one that has multiple cultural traditions in operation within it. In societies like say the United States or Australia some of these traditions reflect the colonial origins of the society so you may have native peoples who have very different cultural traditions. But also because of immigration over the years there may be cultural diversity as a result of this. Now one response to this has been to say well what we need to do is to protect this diversity by establishing cultural rights of some kind. That is to say to recognize that people have rights to some kind of cultural protection to make sure that they can, in fact, live according to their own cultural traditions. Now I think this is a difficult solution to defend in some ways because while on the one hand it’s good to recognize that diversity and to allow for different kinds of ways to flourish, one of the problems is that it assumes in a way that when we say that there are cultures that exist we’re assuming that they simply somehow exist naturally and they exist independently of the kinds of rights and protections that exist.

Whereas, in fact to some extent cultures and traditions also exist because of particular kinds of norms or rights, laws that are, in fact, in operation. To give you a kind of almost trivial example or a hypothetical example imagine that a law was passed that said that anyone of Portuguese-Mexican descent in the United States would be entitled to fee college education. I suspect that everyone who’s got even the slightest hint of a Mexican or Portuguese background will go looking for it and try to say yes, I belong to this particular group. But absent that particular entitlement this group wouldn’t have any real existence. It’s there partly because of the laws that have come into place. And we can find more particular examples of this kind of thing in societies where the laws have changed to recognize different kinds of ethnicities and so on. The recognition of an ethnicity may mean that a certain ethnicity then comes into existence or comes into prominence. So I think to try to say what we’ve got to do is somehow protect particular cultures is a difficult thing to do because that itself may give rise to the existence of particular cultures.

Now that said I don’t want to deny that some kinds of traditions and cultures have a very, very long history. I mean, for example, the Jewish people don’t exist simply because someone has made a rule that says if you’re Jewish you get all these advantages. They have a long history. Similarly there are other traditions, religious and otherwise, within a society that exist not because of very specific laws that are created. Here the question is okay, how do we make sure that people from different kinds of traditions and cultures do get some kind of protection without making that protection too explicit. Because as I said one of the problems is that making an explicit can give rise to particular entities that... Read the full transcript here: https://bigthink.com/videos/cultural-accommodation.
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