Who Owns the World?

(Keynote for the October 2007 conference on Multiculturalism, Pluralism, and Globalization)

Multiculturalism, pluralism, and globalization! My thoughts have long dwelt in these arenas, wandered into various aspects of each. But this conference has afforded (or forced) me to become explicit, to attempt to place some shape and focus on my meanderings.

I have been “into” these issues in various forms and explorations for most of my life, having been brought up in a very “ethnic” city. And my life-partnership with a small-town woman, has helped us to portray the world and its people, in various attempts to understand the questions posed in this conference.


But I have not yet – until now – been in a position where something like actual possibilities of a global world, have inserted and asserted themselves in my thinking and imagination. So: thank you, Deborah, and the Conference.


At this fragmented and fragile historical moment, these issues loom larger and larger. The possibilities of a world gone astray and awry seem all too possible. Growing up during WWII, and experiencing the conflicts of communism vs. capitalism, under the seeming all-too-real atomic threats captivated much of our experience. My first job was at Cornell Aeronautical laboratory in Buffalo, being an early computer worker: the major project working for the Navy, was to create systems of anti-missile missiles which could – cynically or actually – destroy the expected Soviet missiles before they destroyed us. Parenthetically, our desks were actually covered with IDBM’s – interdesk ballistic missiles – which we rescued from packages of cereal (I think – Cheerios).


The notion of totalitarian was fed us amply – the Nazis and Japanese – then the Soviets. This went away – essentially and literally left our imaginations – after the Bay of Pigs in 1962; was revived under Reagan in the early 80s, faded, and now surrounds the complicated contexts of our middle east “relationships.”


It seems too easy to imagine a world in which the peoples seem always on the very verges of the anarchic, out-of-control; to virtually necessitate a totalitarian rule. Or���else.


Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the formerly “unimagined” rise of “strong” religion being often transliterated into theocratic rule, the scene feels strangely totalitarian once again. But now in the name of “good and evil.” All of this plays out ancient and Machiavellian plots of control, necessitated it is claimed, by some of the “weaknesses” and temptations of the human condition.


My thinking for the questions of this conference – and my own work on life’s living possibilities – have traveled instead toward the idea that we can continue to live in relative and developing peace. The globalization of the world can be openings toward a world of more mutual understanding and a developing love of life: ourselves…and everyone.


This paper shall pursue some of the questions, the changes and developments of a world that is and is to be. We are living, after all, in a time of amazing change. The questions and challenges involve the understanding of changes. Some changes have power both actually and conceptually to redo, expand, and offer some directions. Some similarities and differences may become more living opportunities than splintering and divisive self-righteous claims about fear and control.


So: to begin – I shall explore from my experiences extrapolated as much as possible to a global exploration and understanding. First, globalization posed by questions which may begin as simplistic, but hopefully can lead us to wider questionings.


Who owns the world? I use this question as a metaphor – and pledge not to wander into the world-as-economics. Rather I pose this as a way to help us to envision the entire world in a moment of rapid globalization.


I come to this as an anthropologist-of-the-ordinary, a person whose first venture away from the U.S., occurred as a graduate student. For two years, spouse – Janis – and our infant daughter, lived in southern Mexico among the ladinos and Mayan Highland Indians, who have been in some dispute over this question for over 400 years. Who owns Chiapas, or Mexico, or all of Central and South America – and the southwestern states of Texas, California, New Mexico, and…


Our experience provided some insight and oversight into the discovery of where one is – where I am ��������� at any of life’s moments. The largest lessons and questions which have raged in my thinking for many years, occurred upon our return home. Crossing the Texas border in a car, we refound English, and senses of our being, which had remained simmering in many directions below the surface…and the soon-to-emerge “Bay of Pigs” crisis, about which we had been essentially unaware for those two years lived with almost no sense of a larger world.


The largest cultural disconnect had to do with becoming reacquainted with a society which had lived two full years of history which were mostly blank in our awarenesses.


So. Who owns the world? A view from Minneapolis (why not?). An awareness, personal experience with some native Americans asking these questions – leads me to wonder on many days, where I am: where we are – and where is anyone else? I recently asked this question of my students in my course, “Cultural Pluralism?” Perhaps a “dumb” question: Where are we? At the U. of Minnesota, Minneapolis, in America – in the world. (Why this question? They looked perplexed, a bit distrustful.)


This is Lakota land! We’re sitting on Indian land. And it’s not in any of our “heads” as we are here, wander around. The largest urban population of Native Americans – hidden somewhere not very far from the university. And it’s only been about a hundred fifty years since Indians were removed from this land, and placed on “reservations.” Indeed, the U. of Minnesota – a lessening Land Grant institution – was developed upon the idea that the formerly native land would be given to mostly northern European people who could farm 160 acres for “free.” Indians? Ownership?


One hundred fifty years and no memory, no ongoing awareness. In Kosovo, not too many years ago, the Serbs killed some 65,000 persons in Srebenica, invoking the idea that they had arrived on this land some 625 years ago, thus owned Kosovo. And the claims in the middle east of some 2000 years, make deep sense to Israelis (and many/most Americans). But these claims seem inconceivable to most of those who have occupied these lands for time: seemingly immemorial. One hundred fifty years and we have no memory: yet 2000 years seems totally obvious to most Americans, currently engaged in a war whose reasons find little ground.


Who owns the world? To cast some ideas forward, to try to develop some visions of a globe which might be able to live in extended peace, it seems important just now to consider the ideas of global warming. Ironically – I guess – it is ideas, particularly from Northern Plains Indians, from northern Wisconsin and Minnesota that are gaining power, even becoming definitional of the future. (Google philosopher Baird Callicott) No one owns the world! Owning the world is not “conceivable!���


No one. The world, the earth is our Mother, and we must cast our lives forward for the next seven generations, to care for her and for us. In a rapidly warming world, it becomes clearer that we are all involved in and affected by…everyone. There are no boundaries, no countries, no nations, no differences beyond fairly “local” geographies, at least with respect to global climate and changes. We can fight and battle, but there are declining possibilities for solving or resolving questions of ownership.


Claims, yes. The ideas which seemed to have “gotten us here��� are increasingly in question. As the carbon detritus from a sweeping Chinese economy floats across the entire Pacific Ocean, and affects the daily weather on much of our West Coast, we begin to “see” where we are, increasingly globally.


Oil – which has driven much of our international interests since WWI – is approaching a new time: crisis…but crisis which will increase our sense of the geography of an interrelated, global world.


And, in some ways ironically, our sense of each local geography will expand in our thinking – as we educate ourselves and the rest of the world. The earth, our Mother, will take us Western thinkers back to the Delphic Oracle and other women sages, whose wisdom focuses more upon the future than upon the pasts and prophets on whom many depend for life’s meanings. And teachers…Do we seek for truth in the past of texts and prophets, or more attempt to inspire the future in which our children and students will attempt to fill-well expanding life experiences?


Who owns the world? – In these so changing times? The ideas of “nation,” of empire, which had seemed obvious and secure, are vacillating in these times of amazing change ��������� particularly of technology. And we have to think seriously and deeply about the sorts of conceptual changes which accompany technology.


Students, many – perhaps most young people – are quite different from earlier generations. Television – perhaps most strongly – the internet, the pill, videos, pill-popping, cell phones, MySpace, each-of-us.com: faster, brighter, what was fiction coming closer to daily reality.


Newspapers…passé; media… But the odd possibility of a truly democratic world is gaining some reality: each person able to vote on issues, representing oneself on “global.space.com.” How to invest all the people to capable and thoughtful in the senses of a globalized community?


Who owns the world? In the midst of a (fading?) money bubble ��������� a gilded age of hierarchy, oligarchy, celebrity. We have been yielding much of our being to a sense that the world belongs to the rich and powerful, the powerful thence the rich. Success – an external definition of our very being.


And – in these times of nano-post-human-engineered being – we need to explore seriously where and how we are…and are going…in the senses of integrity of the human.


Perhaps most strongly, the very concept of nation is weakening as a trillion or so dollars passes around the world each day. Who owns the world may not long possess much meaning.


Change drumming in our ears, enticing us to look for some notions of forever as life itself can seem very punctured. A meaningful life: can it become our search for a longest future?


Not who owns the world, but who may we then become?



About pluralism.


Pluralism seems clear to obvious – especially as we can conceptualize the entire globe in any given moment. This was much less possible before the “men on the moon” event in 1969, when we became capable of seeing the earth as a kind of actual and conceptual whole. We have become increasingly good at being able to place and imagine the entire world in our thinking at any moment. It helps to have many of the world’s food and cuisines in our stores and mouths.


When I conceptualize pluralism, I think first of ethnicity, cultures, but various sorts of things which both bring people together – and may as easily divide them. Divide: sometimes in interesting ways, often socially or politically divisive.


I extend this as I think about different traditions of thought which operate similarly: cultural or philosophical traditions which now come together, sometimes compete as in the temptations to use “good” (us) and ���evil” (usually them) as gathering terms. Here we are often thinking about seemingly vague terms or ideas which may have their histories, politics, and markets in which they are bought and sold.


Some personal history feeding my attempts to generalize. I grew up in Buffalo – the snowiest city in the U.S. Now living in the coldest city of the lower 48 states, I feel so rich to have experienced the extremes of weather, and their beauties of fall and spring.


But: geography and pluralism. Buffalo is one of only 4 large cities that sit on our Canadian and Mexican borders: Detroit, Seattle, San Diego. Most of us Americans have experienced little of the life of other countries in our daily experience. Cross the Peace Bridge from Buffalo and I was in Canada. Listened mostly to CBC in my teen years; all the good beaches were in Canada, so our summers were there. And Toronto, our closest major city: sending many persons to Buffalo to shop and see – and now they go the other way. My sensitivity to Canadian ���dialects����� – and their viewings of the U.S. remains constant and high.


Having taught a course “On America” to incoming Foreign Fulbright Graduate Fellows for a number of years, it became obvious that few Americans “know” other national cultures as part of our developmental experiences. Equally “odd,” most other cultures of the world experience Americans actually in very few contexts: CNN all day and night; movies, and TV; recently Al Jazeera…and more.


But: actually, the American people who go to stay and live for any period of time in other countries tend to be particular: primarily of 4 “types” – military, business, religious, and students. The experience of people from most of the world – of actual America and its people – is close to fictitious. Taking those Fulbright students to our summer downtown market ��� to �������experience” the American people more extensively than a 3-week stay at the University, was totally mind-boggling for them. The America of their imagination was more like the University than the city, by far.


But, then, explaining American weather, especially winter (the course always took place in late summer) to such bright students, many from the tropics or more temperate climates, was always an intellectual adventure. Or that most of us got our foreign experience in brief trips, often guided – did not help most of us to “get into” the actual lives of others.


Pluralism: at the least, to explain who and what America is, both to others…and to ourselves. I have suggested teaching ���America” both to new entering foreign students – in the company of American students, so that they can begin to see us, to study us more as we actually live and are. And we can begin to explore the questions others have about us – in actual terms.


In this moment of rising immigration ��� as well ��� the chance of others to �����know������� us, increases: but in terms complicated by their native experience, what generation they are, and much more.


Pluralism: Buffalo – during the times of my growing-up – was a very “ethnic” city. The power and money was clearly in the hands of certain Protestants (WASPS). But the actuality was split and splintered into Catholic (mostly Irish, but also Italian, and lots of Poles – who controlled the politics and the police and much of the education).


The European languages were fading, but still there residually: I was brought up in a combined Jewish-Irish Catholic-Protestant neighborhood ����� where everyone did pretty well together. But many differences remained clear and everyday; large African-American populations moved north after the National Freeways were completed. And there was a time of “white flight” from the city for the suburbs – which are, now – ironically – becoming more “mixed”- perhaps global. (My secular Jewish self has ������� by the way – been married with very-small-town Janis for over 50 years ��� and we watch all this, from inside-and-outsides, with continuing interest.)


All to say that cultural-ethnic differences and similarities – boundaries and gatherings ��������������� remain afloat in our being. So many lessons (I think) to be studied and learned from the facts of our all being “immigrants” to the “great” land (and increasingly aware of the native Americans). This is a land where different cultures have come – and have been able, at various times and circumstances – gradually to assimilate and/or to rise to become…well…”Americans.”


The immigrations of the late 19th and early 20th century – and the reactions to them – the gradual, but difficult and very tense reactions – will, I hope, help us to take American experience to the globe. The movie, “Gangs of New York,” reminds us of the huge tensions in urban settings between Protestants and Catholics from about 1850 and continuing perhaps until the killing of President Jack Kennedy. This feels, to me, so much like the current Sunni-Shiite conflicts that I think we should find them more understandable than we do.


The levels of anti-Semitism (Minneapolis was the most), and anti-other Catholics set-off, in effect the exploration of eugenics/Social Darwinism – and led to the ideas taken over by Hitler and put into the reality of the Holocaust. How, why? How, when, did it go away. (The U. of Minnesota was, by the way, a most active participant in the study of Eugenics: google the Dight Institute.)


The level of anti-immigrants got so high that the Reed-Nelson law of 1924 controlled and limited immigration to America until 1945 – 41 years during which only Anglo-Saxons were permitted in, in any numbers. And had a powerful effect on the creation of Israel, since we refused to accept the large number of displaced Jews (and others) who came here after WWII.


Then most of these anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic feelings and movements declined and seemed to drift away after the 1950s. How? Why? What will happen to the current influx of immigrants – especially if we face anything like a recession? How can we work with all this, and forestall the sorts of reactions which flamed in the last period of large immigration?


How can we understand all of this – attempt to note patterns of thought and reaction, and move “past” them in our attempts to accept new immigrants, and re-imagine America (and the globe) as its “new” and developing populations, languages…and understanding?



Pluralism: some directions for more global thinking!?


In studying Mayan languages and culture, I learned many years ago, that the relation between each of us and the rest of the earth, is much closer and more intimate than I had ever thought or even imagined. We each share aspects of our being – our “spirits” with other inhabitants of the world: particularly other animals.


At least as important for attempting to understand the peoples and cultures of the global world, was the morning when one of our native “informants” (anthropologists sometimes use “funny” words) woke up screaming. As I was “in charge” of the study ���house” for several informants, and occasional anthropologists-linguists dropping in from their various towns, I sought to explore what was going on.


After lots of talk, and a number of conceptual jumps on my part, I “heard” that our worker/friend was screaming because his spirit/”Nahual” hadn’t returned by the time he woke up. Naïve as I was (and am) I explored further. Only gradually did I begin to realize that the Mayan (and many Amerindian) idea of sleep is quite different from our American/Western notions.


The Mayan-Indian spirit is “shared” with other living creatures. During sleep, the spirit leaves the body, and moves into the world of its kindred animal spirits. It joins them, becomes them – words don’t get us all that far into the conceptual being and selves of other thinkers.


Very gradually – still resonating today – I began to note that there are several of what I came to call ���life-paradoxes��������� in the worlds of different peoples and traditions. The screaming at awakening invoked the idea not only that the spirit leaves the body during sleep: but, more, that sleep is more…real, powerful than the waking experience.


Growing up in a Freudian era, I was pretty heavily into the idea of dreams being “interpretations” of our waking being. But they were considered more to be “commentary” on waking life. Wakefulness was “where we were at.” Seemingly very abstract notions like what’s ���real” – seemed quite obvious ��������� at least “inside” our Western tradition. But where are others: how do they construct, imagine, make the world? And do some life-paradoxes get us into seemingly insoluble differences?


(I�����m raising these observations here, because I think they may assist us in probing the thinking of other world-traditions, and may help us to find where our grounds are more in-common, and we may begin to probe who and how we are at somewhat “deeper��������� levels of being and thinking. Eventually, I will attempt to move us to “give-back” and ���������take-back��� our own senses of being: who we are.)


Other “life-paradoxes” seem to include some seemingly more basic ideas, even to inform us more deeply about what I’ll simply call “reality.” They seem to differ, sometimes “seriously,” between different ways of thinking and being. As important, some world traditions seem to find some paradoxes “complementary,” while others find them very difficult to ���resolve.”


Some Life-Paradoxes: men/women; change/permanence; one/many…the list goes on – and may include good/evil, and more.


Having experienced first hand, the paradox of sleep and wakefulness, my thinking wandered into a currently most powerful paradox, which is taking “strong” religion – especially Western religion – into a position where the question of change or permanence is �����the real.����� Heaven and God are permanent, while our lives are in constant change.


My longer story or analysis of why this is happening ����� right now – is that in these so changing times, many people are driven to seek for permanence. (In the Confucian tradition, importantly, change and permanence are “complementary” – study the “I Ching” to help determine whether this is a moment to remain as you are, or to change!)


In some ways, life-paradoxes become a framework or bedrock which “harden��� the positions of some cultures, and push them toward the sense that they must be right: and others must “not-be.”


In the West, the paradoxes of change-permanence have come into some conflict during these times of great change. How do we enter the thinking of those who are attracted or driven to think that life, itself, is some kind of illusion or dream? How do we help to provide other modes or ways of thought? As a teacher, I tell myself, that it is gift to be able to �����inspire” the future: teaching as a dialogue between the teacher-I-am, and the future thinking and being of my students.


Pluralism: How to attempt to keep us in the present, and to help inspire the future? As in the attempts of “strong” religion and of the neo-conservatives (Leo Strauss et al) to look for truth and being in the distant past – the prophets and philosophers who tried to “freeze” time – it is important for us to help create a sense of the wonder of our “longest lives.”


Global possibilities would seem to depend on being able to share our ideas of the ongoing present, and to focus on life���s actualities and possibilities. If not, we are directed toward the search for meaning in cultures, languages, traditions or philosophies, histories – whose prophetic and textual power can overtake the present of our actual experience.


In the potential global comings-together, we are engaging in deep questions, where ideas of being, of reality, of meaning – must attempt to frame a living future. Else we will be easily splintered into stories about life, rather then focusing on life…itself.


Which of these traditions or modes of thinking will keep us at odds in the attempts at globalization? How can we understand, attempt to solve/resolve differences which may divide or splinter us? (How to help make peace more “interesting” than “war?” Again: how to come to love life, and the future rather than direct ourselves to the past?)


Lastly, here, but not least: is the paradox of future and past – with the question of the present seemingly being fought over. I have been wondering – having watched and participated especially in the civil rights movements of the 60’s-plus, and the feminist movements of the 70’s to today, why women seem to be faring less well in these moments.


Is this a time of reaction to victories won, or is this another aspect of the paradox of change and permanence?


Looking for permanence it is very tempting to look back in history: strong religion, but also the neo-Conservative students of Leo Strauss who now run much of our country. If we seek truth, look to history: great (mostly) Men, the informing texts and ideas of Plato et al.


Paradoxically (I guess), women are the future. Is this a/the major issue of these times? – at the least in Western thought?


In the contexts of global warming, the earth is our Mother. How do we reconcile these views, place more emphasis on the future? Life? – from love – or from fear of death?


On Multiculturalism:


I’ve been teaching a course I call �������Issues in Cultural Pluralism” for many years – including this semester at Minnesota. The course attempts to bridge, to deal with, to respond to differences in different peoples, groups, cultures, ethnicities, languages, ���racial” and other physical differences (including gender) and (of course) our rapidly growing aging population.


The course pays attention to the politics and economies of difference; as well as claims about “human nature,” which are just now seeming more fixed or set by our “biology” than at any time since WWII. It attempts to situate the present in the various contexts of our lives: historical and ideas – a battle between Aristotle who said that “some men are destined by nature to be kings, and others to be slaves” vs. Jefferson who said that all (hu)men are “created equal” in the Declaration of Independence.


I remind my students (and myself) that America was essentially born in slavery, that we are now participating in the third wave of slavery as we continue to jail almost half of young African-American males – mostly for “drug possession.” While the 13th to 15th Amendments to the Constitution legally ���ended” slavery after the Civil War, it was virtually reset in 1896 as “separate but equal����� – which was declared over in 1954…but continues in various contexts, thinking, and practices.


I invoke Aristotle to help the students note that history – 2400 years or so – continues to be at work in our thinking; hopefully so they recognize and attempt to become aware that histories about cultures, language, the human, are alive in our thinking and in many of our actual social practices.


The ideas and realities of multiculturalism developed through the 1960s– and became an actuality which continues fairly much from then until the present moment. I was associated in the 1960s with a group in Washington, D.C. which was primarily interested in teaching African-American kids to read English well, quickly, efficiently. But the idea was more general, and led to many current ideas in multiculturalism.


The model, as I recall, was borrowed from the Soviet Union, which had decided to teach reading in different native languages – rather than directly in Russian – their ultimate goal. And it was apparently quite successful in getting most of the Soviet populations to read and speak Russian.


The sense of strength and independence of culture and language rose powerfully in the 1970���s in Canada. After years of argument, Quebec was able to declare its “actual” language to be French – the grounds for the argument were that the schools had been treating native speakers of French as if they were “deficient” speakers of English.


A part of this discussion has had enormous impact on people whose physical attributes are “different” from those of us who seem to be “normal” – not quite able to speak well or properly. Here I refer to “deaf” persons: who used to be referred to as “deaf and dumb.” And, until 1972, American schools for the deaf were literally and legally forbidden to allow their students to use sign language.


The person who organized all this (colleague, Wm Stokoe), wrote the dictionary of American Sign Language, and changed the world of the deaf. Sign language is now everywhere, and has changed the world of the deaf. A few of us got the U. of Minnesota – for example ��� to teach Sign Language, using the argument that deaf persons constitute a culture. Before this movement, many of the physically handicapped were thought of and called “freaks,” and treated as incompetents. A much different time, we���re in.


The ideas gradually spread to the various sub-cultures of America and other places. Each “culture��� is considered to be unique, independent, having its own ways of being, language (often – especially in immigrant populations). Multiculturalism was/is opposed to the ideas which had been the (mostly liberal) ideas in America that members of different cultures would and should “assimilate” to a general American norm, and that they would eventually not only learn English, but come to be native speakers of English (and abandon their former languages and cultures.)


Here���there continue to be issues and discussions about what is a language, what is a dialect. What is a culture: who says so? How long – in generations do they continue to �����endure” (opponents would use this term)?


The idea tries to create a sense of getting past our prejudices ����������������� granting various kinds of independence and integrity to all cultures – as much as possible in the “terms” of each culture. They are who they are – and deserve to be – and to determine their own identities and practices.


In the current moment of massive immigration to America – and around much of the world – these issues arise interestingly and poignantly. Where to begin: first to recognize the rapidly changing nature of the American population. Second: to see that most of this is going fairly well – at least right now – with the looming possibilities of reaction, especially if there is any economic downturn. Third: these events help or cause us to place multiculturalism in the contexts of globalization.


Last, but not least, it asks us to look for patterns and possibilities from the past toward opening futures. As discussed earlier, the reactions to immigrations – especially the Catholics of various backgrounds, the Jews mostly from eastern Europe – were not always well received. Note, as well that the levels of immigrants in America in the teens of last century were not very different from the numbers of persons who speak another language than English in their homes in 2007.


In these contexts of unwelcome immigration, Social Darwinism received a hearty welcome – especially in America. Herbert Spencer’s notion of the survival of the fittest – socially – gained great interest here. The idea that our abilities are mostly “inborn” – genetically determined – spread easily from the physical body to behavior. Questions ranging from IQ to broad social policies– shaped much of educational thought and practice. They even led to the forced hysterectomy of many women considered “lesser,����� during this era of reaction to immigration.


(I note that these ideas still float about ��� a three piece editorial in the Wall St. Journal just a year ago by Charles Murray, author of �����The Bell Curve” – keeps these issues hopping, as do some of the ideas in evolutionary psychology, about what is currently claimed to be “prewired��� in the brain, the question of Pinker’s recent book, “The Blank Slate” whose subtitle is ���The Modern Denial of Human Nature.��� Why Larry Summers got fired from the presidency of Harvard for wondering if women were less capable, thus fewer were in science and engineering. An abiding sense of racism rises periodically, but especially in the contexts of large immigration.)


While multiculturalism seems fairly well accepted in the current era, the historical patterns float ominously. The questions of who is an �����illegal” immigrant – has not really been addressed yet. To watch the major agitator in this rising reaction, tune into CNN’s Lou Dobbs, and hear his rants most evenings on the early evening NEWS. And remember that why we seem to have avoided this question, has to do with an ebullient economy where there is plenty of work in areas which most American citizens find unappealing: agriculture, slaughtering, cleaning, maintenance, and so on.


The Twin Cities and Minnesota have many more than 100,000 recent Latino immigrants, the largest Somali population in America, and close to 150,00 Hmong immigrants. There have been several unannounced raids on immigrants, particularly in rural areas working mainly in meat-packing.


On the positive side, many of the kids – particularly of Somali’s – are in college. The 100+ languages spoken in Minneapolis schools don’t seem to be overwhelming to teachers, who help them move them into English fairly quickly. The economy remains pretty good.


The pattern, however, is if or when the economy moves down, those who consider themselves to really “own” America – become quickly reactive when they or people they know are “out of work��� – as is currently happening in the home construction industry. Again, the pattern, following the 1924 law was to severely limit immigration – to remain in patterns of looking down upon recent immigrants and their families.


So, as much as I love the ways in which we have been handling immigration in the contexts of multiculturalism the past few decades, this may change. How do we help to continue the senses of positive reception of (most) immigrants, and to accept them as part and parcel of our nation? Do we all learn Spanish?


Do we get into a deep debate about what is America – really, truly? An English-only nation ��� or more relaxed and open to these questions?


In the contexts of multiculturalism, the emphasis has been more on receiving peoples from different countries and cultures, pretty much in their ���own terms.” Understanding and respecting differences, we have had fairly strong presumptions that different cultures would somehow “become” American – given sufficient time and patience over…generations.


Where, earlier, the emphasis had been upon assimilation – a pattern which was lived-out by my parents who were 2nd generation Americans ��� multiculturalism does not seem very clear on what might happen over the long haul. My assimilative parents’ assumption was, that all this immigrant stuff would simply, somehow, “go away.��� And they would be full-fledged Americans, someday soon. Nobody would “spot” them (or their children) as different in any interesting or important ways.


Astonishingly (in my experience) much of this actually did occur, particularly after WWII and through the 1950’s and since. (See: “Crashing the Gates: The De-WASPing of America�����s Power – R. Christopher.) Anti-Catholicism and Anti-Semitism diminished rapidly and radically. Formerly restricted private and country clubs, law firms, major corporations (prestigious Universities) mostly quit being open only to the WASPS. (And the formerly mostly ethnics switched in great numbers from the Democratic to Republican parties. (See: “Making It” – N. Podhoretz.) And most of their descendants appear as ordinary American persons to most people who grew up not learning how to distinguish people by their appearances – and, of course, appearances change over the generations! – Boas reference and the development of Cultural Anthropology).


How might we extrapolate from these experiences to the future? What appeared like pretty complete assimilation by the 3rd generation in some ethnic groups has moved in 4th, 5th and beyond, as some children of various lineages have sought for their identities in their histories. Questions of pluralism are deeply intertwined with issues of “identity.���


Our neighbors, for example, are in love with Norway and Sweden, their relatives, and ancestries. It doesn’t seem to overwhelm their being, but is on their minds with continuing elaborations. The complicated Israel situation is – well, very complicated in terms of who is who – and who is not – as religion, politics, money, identity float all about. Questions of being Christian or Muslim arise and re-arise as we have been tempted to recast religious and national issues into oppositional ones of “good and evil.” How do we get “past” all this toward an era of a, say, �������receptive” globalization?”


To attempt a conclusion…


Where will multiculturalism go and take us in the future in America – and globally? Are there ways in which to conceptualize a world which is more accepting of differences of cultures. How can the American experiences provide maps of where we have been and come, and will be in the foreseeable futures?


The negatives ring loud, and I will not follow them. They need exploration, understanding, occasional intervention, and this is part of why I teach “Cultural Pluralism” every year.


On the positive side, it seems very important to remember that English has become the “language of the world.” We are singular – one world, also in other ways. Food is moving almost everywhere: McDonald’s, but also the many Asian cuisines expand; Latino, hot peppers. Pizza, after all, was unknown in America until the mid-1950s.


Essentially, �����all” the world�������s people appear on television in various venues, and the internet spreads its wings in every direction most days. What was clearly “foreign” a generation or so ago, has become increasingly “ordinary.”


I hope we can study our history, to see how the various wounds have healed or have been healed – and virtually disappeared in various times. Catholic vs. Protestant was similarly divisive to current Islamic factions – for many centuries. How do we combat – better “move around” – those who invoke histories in any moments of opposition or the desire for more-to-universal power? We need to keep asking: what is this period in history – and begin to envision, literally to develop visions toward the future. (If we don’t, someone else likely will be doing so!)


We need to continue to help develop the ideas of meaningful lives in any and every future. As teachers – we can help “inspire” the future, and help our students to be able to critically study the (mostly changing) times through which they are living, and have the strength, endurance, and extended visions to look for and to act to help create and maintain a world in which differences are complementary rather than divisive.


Thank you!





  1. Karl Rogers’s avatar

    This is very interesting and I find myself nodding in general agreement with what you say.

    Of course much of the potential for universal inclusion in developing visions towards the future requires looking backwards — historically — to how “ownership” arose and persisted, how it orginated, how it was accepted, and was passed on from generation to generation. How was it possible? How does it continue?

    We need to understand how ownership relates to political power and the control-over (possesson-of) the means of violence. We also need to examine how racism has arisen as a self-deceiving historical pretext or moral justification allowing one group of people to self-assert the right to inflict violence upon another group of people: racism acting as a mask for theft, exploitation, dispossession, and murder.

    In this respect, it is difficult to see how we can examine the question of ownership without examining “the world-as-economics”. Of course we need to understand what this means… the extent that ownership is over the means to divide between those who envision the future and those who are set the task of providing the resources and physically realising that vision through their labour. The extent that ownership is over the means to divide and differentiate humanity into alloted roles and tasks.

    The question of ownership is inherently a question of systems and means of domination and enforcement of the right to envision and direct the future.

  2. Karl Rogers’s avatar

    This is very interesting and I find myself nodding in general agreement with what you say.

    Of course much of the potential for universal inclusion in developing visions towards the future requires looking backwards — historically — to how “ownership” arose and persisted, how it orginated, how it was accepted, and was passed on from generation to generation. How was it possible? How does it continue?

    We need to understand how ownership relates to political power and the control-over (possesson-of) the means of violence. We also need to examine how racism has arisen as a self-deceiving historical pretext or moral justification allowing one group of people to self-assert the right to inflict violence upon another group of people: racism acting as a mask for theft, exploitation, dispossession, and murder.

    In this respect, it is difficult to see how we can examine the question of ownership without examining “the world-as-economics”. Of course we need to understand what this means… the extent that ownership is over the means to divide between those who envision the future and those who are set the task of providing the resources and physically realising that vision through their labour. The extent that ownership is over the means to divide and differentiate humanity into alloted roles and tasks.

    The question of ownership is inherently a question of systems and means of domination and enforcement of the right to envision and direct the future.

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