The Price of Change

Simon Barnes agrees that there is something rather deterministic about multiculturalism:

Multifaith, multicultural, multicoloured, multilingual England: the times they are a-changing, because that’s what times do. The failure of the England team is part of a larger pattern, one in which the whole business of nationality gets more fuzzy every year and England no longer means the things that it once did. All change comes at a cost, and perhaps one of those costs is the effectiveness of the England football team – and with it, the sad loss of those biennial, heady, foolish, glorious weeks of unity.

Multiculturalism is the recognition that change happens. It is the necessary process by which we turn that change into something positive. It is the enemy of conservatism, that misguided notion that we should be satisfied with the way things are. But this also means that multiculturalism is the antagonist of tradition, the foil of nostalgia, and thus an easy target for those who want to declaim any change.
As Barnes points out, change is sometimes negative, but we would do well to remember that we cannot stop it happening. The question is no longer “should we let it happen?” but “how do we manage it in a way which is beneficial to all?” Multiculturalism is the dialogue by which we try to answer this question.

3 Replies to “The Price of Change”

  1. What bothers me about these sorts of arguments is that they are only ever applied to England – how much nostalgia is foiled by the Scots, the Welsh or the Irish ? Had scotland fans all swapped kilts for saris when they played Italy ? Why does this idea that multiculturalism is the past/the present and the future only ever seem to be directed at English identity, as if the current state of the Nation is something shameful, a tiresome inconvenience in the business of reshaping the country into er something else that no one can describe but will be jolly good with lots of enrichemnent and diversity, which are of course defacto good things ?
    I think you are falling into the “liberal left” trap of confusing change with progress. Hitler was change, Stalin was change, Pol Pot was change, Margaretr Thatcher was change. Were people who resited them small minded conservative traditionalists ?
    It’s not a question of being satisfied with the way things are, anything can be improved, the doubt about multi-culturalism is whether it is, or can ever be an improvement.

  2. Actually, I think such changes are more pronounced in smaller countries like Scotland. The arrival of immigrants from the sub-continent and Eastern Europe is very noticable up here.
    I’m not sure the kilts vs saris isn’t a red herring. Its easy to reduce cultural change to exhibitions of dress, pattern and food, whereas I think national unity, character and values can be expressed in other ways which are perhaps more subtle, and where the influence of the existing culture far outweighs the influence of the immigrant cultures. I think this was amply demonstrated in the Sex, Lies and Culture documentary we did, for example, where the change took place – for the better – within those immigrant families, at the expense of their traditions. Nostalgia for a motherland long since gone was something they had to overcome too. That change is multiculturalism too. The door swings both ways.
    England is a special case in the Union. Comparisons with the other nations is always going to be problematic, because they have historically been marginalized in favour of the most populous, influential and powerful neighbour – England. As I said in my essay “A Most Respectful Letter”, part of national identity is defining yourself against some oppressor. Not easy for England in the same way as it is for Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. But look under Scotland’s tartan hood, and (I believe) the values and customs are very similar indeed. Its for this reason I’m in favour of the union, by the way.
    Ultimately, I think the worries about loss of English (or British identity) are often superficial in nature, especially ehn made with reference to a flag or national dress. The ‘celebration’ of other other cultures does not redress the imbalance. Britain remains massively influential over new immigrants. England remains massively influential over the Union. And indeed, the South remains massively influential over the Regions. But each of the “lesser” partners in the equation exerts an influence, just as the small moon exerts a gravitational pull over the larger planet earth!
    Finally, it is neither Barnes intention, or mine, to argue here that the inevitability of change automatically equals a positive progress. Its up to us to steer that change into something positive. That’s the task, whatever name you give it.

  3. Good points, well made. In terms of imapact it depends where you are, which I think explains the marked and widening difference in attitudes between London, which is visibly and culturally different to 20 years ago, and provincial cities, which have not changed to the same extent. For example you can still here the Bristolian accent here, and the Geordie accent in Newcastle, whereas a cockney accent in London is becoming a a rarity.
    I’m not completely convinced that there isn’t something qualitatively different anout recent migrants, in terms of their expectations about rights, religious expression and economic equality. When my dad arrived here in the 1950s he had to report regularly to a police station, as did all migrants, and he was aware that if he so much as parked on a double yellow line he’d be out. Integration wasn’t optional, nor was it a matter of degree. That realtionship with the host country – you could call it a cultural cringe – has gone. But, the history of countries which lose their identities is not entirely a good one, is the point I was trying to make. Have to say that defining yourself in terms of a real or imagined opressor is psychologically unhealthy on any level.

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