John, a tiler from Hackney, doesn’t know. But he knows exactly what’s bad about it. A Londoner born and bred, John finds himself in a minority in his native city.
He often spends his holidays in Ibiza, which he pronounces ‘Ibiffa’. But while there, John wears Union Jack shorts and a T-shirt saying: “Two World Wars One World Cup So Fuck Off”. He means no harm by it, just one of those things you do in Ibiffa. He quite likes Spaniards.
Back home John doesn’t mind people who look or sound unlike him either. In fact, he often goes down the pub with Andrzej the plumber and Anand the roofer. They’re good blokes. It’s just…
Well, John knows he isn’t supposed to say it, Andrzej and Anand being his mates and all, but London just doesn’t feel English anymore. That doesn’t seem right, although he may be hard-pressed to explain why in any depth. So perhaps those who have spent a lifetime putting thoughts into words can give John a helping hand.
A nation or, my preferred term, society is a collective entity uniting individuals on the basis of some common elements. Language is the most obvious one, though it can divide as well as unite. G.B. Shaw pointed this out in the preface to Pygmalion: “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.”
Language can be divisive because it acts as a badge by instantly betraying the speaker’s class, education, culture, geographical origin and other potentially problematic characteristics. In fact, people like John often refer to toffs as very English, implying that Englishness comes in class-sensitive degrees.
Hence language, English more than any other, can encourage some deadly sins, and not just those of the misdemeanour variety. The same goes for culture in general. For it to function as a social and national adhesive, a country has to have the kind of educational system Britain hasn’t possessed for at least several decades.
In the absence of education that truly educates, rather than instructs, trains or indoctrinates, culture becomes even more stratified and fractured than language. When half the school leavers (a conservative estimate) don’t know in what century the Battle of Britain took place, can’t quite place Wellington’s name or understand a single joke in 1066 and All That, it’s hard to hail the unifying potential of culture.
A society worthy of its name will always have more or less educated people, but there will still exist some corpus of knowledge they can all be confidently presumed to share, some well from which they draw their commonality. Britain doesn’t seem to have anything of the sort.
In fact, the only reliable social adhesive for any Western country has been proved to be the national Church. It alone lacks the divisive potential of language or culture. When the priest offers communion wafers to his parishioners, he doesn’t reserve the better morsels for the rich or well-spoken.
Everyone is equal at the altar – and only at the altar. Communion isn’t just between the people and God; it’s between the people themselves.
However, this great adhesive has been for all intents and purposes dissolved. The Church has lost its power to unify a national community. It’s now tolerated, at best, as strictly an individual idiosyncrasy. You go to church, I go to pop concerts, he goes to football matches, they go to raves – it’s all a matter of personal choice.
Yet personal choices are two a penny; their number is roughly coextensive with the country’s population. Take the Church out, and the atoms of every social molecule spin out of control. Society becomes atomised, which is to say it stops being a society.
So what can hold a nation together at a time of rampant ignorance, egoism, solipsism, materialism and deracination? Here someone who knows how to put thoughts together holds no advantage over my fictitious friend John. We become like children who have a first mystical experience. We don’t know what it is, but we know it’s something.
All we can do is guess. It could be some genetic memory. Or a tribal instinct. Or love of the land. Or pride in being different from foreigners. Or some shared, subliminally perceived historical experience. Or ethnic commonality working in mysterious ways. Or a combination of them all – I just don’t know.
But I do know that, unlike faith, language, culture and a shared body of knowledge, all such imperceptible things are vulnerable to a huge influx of outlanders, accompanied by an ideological commitment to increasing the flow rate.
A colonial administrator of the Raj could spend decades in India without becoming one jot or tittle any less English. He had his language, culture and the local Anglican church to fall back on – those acted as his sources of strength, the earth to his Antaeus.
John the tiler is short in those departments, and he feels his Englishness is being diluted by the rapidly changing demographics. And people he considers, with typical English diffidence, to be cleverer than he is are telling him there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s diversity, innit?
That brings back the question in the title: what’s good about multiculturalism? I’ve argued what’s bad about it, and my argument may or may not be persuasive. But at least I’d like to think it’s intrinsically cogent.
So what’s the intrinsically cogent argument in favour of multiculturalism? If it exists, I have yet to hear it. All I do hear is rabid ideological waffle. John would call it a load of bollocks.
P.S. The freshly made lord, Evgeny Lebedev, is everywhere described as a “newspaper proprietor and son of a former Russian KGB spy turned multi-millionaire oligarch”. That description is false on several counts.
First, “There’s no such thing as former KGB. This is for life.” Thus spoke Col. Putin, and in this area at least he knows his onions. Second, the word ‘oligarch’ is misleading. Since no Russian billionaire made his fortune legitimately, ‘gangster’ would be more to the point. Third, since Evgeny bought his newspapers still in his twenties, without ever having earned any serious money, it’s Lebedev père who’s the real owner.
Thus the freshly made lord ought to be described, accurately, as “the quasi-legit front for his KGB gangster father and therefore his sponsoring organisation”. Hope this clarifies matters.