Friday, 29 May 2009

Pluralism - A Response

Many thanks to everyone for their perceptive and challenging responses to my original posting regarding national events having 'too much English' or 'too much Welsh'. Just a few thoughts in response.

Perhaps I should explain some of the background to my comments. They flow mainly from the experience, over many years, of drafting local and national events or celebrations. For some, such events will always have too much Welsh: for others, such events will always have too much English. Wales continues, on the polarities of our bilingual conversations, to have such views. Thankfully, they are not held by the majority.

Inevitably, bringing people together for celebrations requires meeting the aspirations of diverse communities or groups that define and express themselves, at such points of contact, through the complex prism of the identities of faith, language, politics or sometimes a sense - wherever they find themselves in the pecking order of our diverse asymmetries of power - of being vulnerable to change, susceptible to injustices or even elimination.

Be assured, I do not question the reality or the legitimacy of any vulnerability. I have my own in loads. Being a first language Welsh speaker I am acutely aware of how vulnerable linguistic minorities can be.

Throughout my working life, I have also been embroiled professionally in the responses of faith communities that are acutely aware of their own decline. It seems to me that churches that have learnt how to evolve core values in newer environments have a great capacity to grow. Faith communities determined to shape themselves as condensed versions of what they used to be seem to struggle.

In the area of equality strands such as sexual orientation or disability, I have also encountered resourceful individuals who have striven bravely - despite the horrific odds stacked against them in terms of prejudice, bullying or a lack of reasonable access to goods and services -to enjoy the diverse and complex entirety of who they wish to be. They continue to need distinctive spaces as inequality continues.

Be assured therefore, my issue is not with legitimate expressions of cultural identity and exchange such as the Urdd Eisteddfod or Hay book festival or the gathering together of gay groups. My issue is with those who find them either 'too Welsh' or 'too English' to the extent that they are not prepared to experience anything that is beyond their cultural 'comfort zone.' Wales still has a dearth of places where discursive contacts with 'the other' are enjoyed.

This year I believe that the Hay festival and the Urdd Eisteddfod made significant progress in making sure that Wales' diverse cultures do not exist in a mutually excluding bubble. I do believe however that more could be done.

In response to Simon, I spring to the defence of pluralism. Earlier this week, while preparing for a questiontime type session for the Urdd around multiculturalism, I returned to my favourite episode of The West Wing. In the Isaac and Ismael episode which was produced after '9:11' there is a discerning conversation around themes of difference, the asymmetry of power, injustice and terrorism. One of the leading characters, Josh Lyman, is asked by a group of young diverse Americans locked in an imaginary White House to provide an answer to terrorism. I marked the Josh Lyman response "Remember pluralism....keep accepting more than one idea.'

My response concerning the philosophy of pluralism is simple. No expression of pluralism -if it is pluralism - will disregard the legitimate concerns of any minority. Pluralism will also discern the diversity of more than one idea and experience within linguistic minorities. That which can do so much harm to linguistic minorities is not the liberal thinking associated with pluralism but the illusion of it. Pluralism will always be comfortable with 'distinctive spaces'. Pluralism abhors monolithic melting pots.

I would also want to push the 'observer status' thing a bit further. National events have a 'moral requirement' which goes beyond their 'own constituency'. Even those who are there to observe have a moral right to feel that what they observe belongs to them. Both English and Welsh - as languages - belong to all the people of Wales.

I'm with Szczeb to the extent that individuals can belong to more than one community. That's obvious. I would also underline again that I am comfortable with distinct 'spaces' in any human experience. What I remain uncomfortable with is with those who actually crave the safe certainties of isolation and I remain of the view that indulging such cravings leads inevitably to stagnation.

Such cultures, like laboratory experiments, will only remain ultimately as in aspic.

Finally, to Stonemason...I may have ripped your comfort zone to shreds. You should see what I have done to mine!

1 comment:

Szczeb said...

Diolch am eich ymateb, Aled.

I'll continue in the language of the blog.

While we share much common ground here, I wonder whether you might be willing to say a bit more about how you see the implications of the following paragraph:

"I would also want to push the 'observer status' thing a bit further. National events have a 'moral requirement' which goes beyond their 'own constituency'. Even those who are there to observe have a moral right to feel that what they observe belongs to them. Both English and Welsh - as languages - belong to all the people of Wales."

It does indeed seem very important that there be cultivated a sense of "belonging" (or even 'stewardship') concerning the languages and cultures of Wales - at least as long as we stay within the framework of the 'nation' (which I'll do here, for the sake of the discussion).

Might I ask you how you think this would be best achieved? Would this be:

a) by movement internal to Welsh-language cultural events (e.g. increased bilingualism), or

b) would it be more useful to attempt to effect a change in the surrounding cultural attitudes (e.g. by improved cultural education, increased exposure to the Welsh language and its culture in the popular media, etc.)?

My concern is that you seem to be advocating a position tantamount to the first option, where the minority culture must change to satisfy the whim of the majority; your concept of the 'moral right' of the observer seems to me rather dangerous, and a principle which would likely lead to cultural dilution, weakness and the exact opposite of a vital multiculturalism.

Diolch ymlaen llaw am eich sylwadau.