Ghettoization and the Cultural Mosaic

Updated: 21 May 2008, 23:09

Originally written: 06 October 2005

Canada’s new Governor General, Michaëlle Jean, is quoted as saying:
The narrow notion of ‘every person for himself’ does not belong in today’s world, which demands that we learn to see beyond our wounds, beyond our differences for the good of all. Quite the contrary: We must eliminate the spectre of all the solitudes and promote solidarity among all the citizens who make up the Canada of today.
Except for limiting her comments to the narrow confines of a single nation, socialists agree wholeheartedly with her statement.

We cannot build a world of cooperation, satisfying people’s needs, if we view ourselves and others as members of this or that ethnic or language group. The inconsequential differences between people are magnified when we “each stay in our own separate enclosure.” And when Jean spoke of “ghettoization” in April, she made a very good point. The reality of the supposed “multicultural mosaic” is that those in a “different” perceived group are considered (correctly or not) to be a force acting in the interests of that group, possibly at the expense of one’s own perceived group.

That builds a mosaic all right: a bunch of little squares which distrust each other. They can be arranged into a nice picture, but it is still a picture of “us and them.” As long as we accept the “us and them” picture, we cannot fully benefit from the seemingly unimaginable possibilities of real cooperation between social equals.

It might seem that this analysis is making a mountain out of a molehill, but as socialists, we hear the results of this “ghettoization” all the time. We are frequently told that a cooperative society cannot work because people just cannot cooperate. We live in a society in which we consciously separate ourselves from each other by erecting imaginary barriers of colour, nationality, ethnicity, linguistics, and hundreds of other perceived differences. When the government funds this differentiation, nobody should be surprised that we end up believing that there are huge differences between ourselves. Even the fact of such funding creates barriers and sets us against each other.

There are probably few Canadians who have not heard someone say something to the effect that “the government funnels the whole country’s taxes to the ‘frogs’ in Quebec.” Whether or not the government distributes a disproportionate amount of the federal budget to Quebec is a side issue. The real issue is the “two solitudes.” A huge effort builds walls to separate mostly Francophone Quebec from the mostly Anglophone remainder of Canada. There are political parties whose aim is advanced by helping to build those walls. People get away with name-calling. This is not a molehill.

The working class is sucked in to the vortex of “us versus them,” and always seems to pick the wrong “them.”

The supposed issues are stacked layer upon layer, which obscures the beneficiaries of varying degrees of friction between working people. The end result, for millenia, has been that the ruling class wins. Today most of us do not think about the practical solution, or even how ridiculous it is for working people to accept the walls the rulers trick us into building.

Socialist are told, almost every time we talk to people about socialism, that people just cannot cooperate, and therefore a cooperative society is impossible. For a moment, accept that if we could cooperate, we could build what to most seems to be an unimaginably better society. If somehow, we could build a cooperative society, the group which would lose — big time — is the capitalists. Currently society — capitalism — works in the interests of the capitalist class. That others may sometimes pick up some benefit does not change the fact that capitalism benefits the capitalists, as a class, far more.

The capitalist class has a tremendous interest in preventing the rest of us from believing that we can cooperate with each other on a continuing basis. Some accuse socialists of believing that there is a conspiracy out to get us. There does not have to be a conspiracy. All that is necessary is a common interest. Each capitalist, and each capitalist’s resources, will consciously and unconsciously promote beliefs which favour them, and they will attack beliefs which would harm their interests. In today’s society it is clear that self-interest is a very powerful force affecting our behaviour. Capitalists do not need a conspiracy to promote their interests, although sometimes they do “conspire” to serve their own interests.

If we did not continually denigrate our own abilities, we could establish a world for everyone. Capitalists live in a world which puts them on pedestals of wealth and power. They would lose that and suffer the terrifying fate of being a regular human being, in a world in which our needs are satisfied. Most of us would call such a society, “the good life,” but for today’s capitalists it is like going from an imaginary heaven into an imaginary hell.

The rich and powerful have a huge interest in maintaining the status quo (heaven for them).

It should not be very difficult to see who gains and who loses when people split themselves apart from each other. The actual myths, exaggerations, and lies, mask the beneficiaries. So does keeping alive hatreds from past atrocities which can never be undone. That is worth repeating to everyone who believes their group has been wronged: no matter how many of the various “them” groups of other workers, you disadvantage or kill, the massacres (for example) of the past can never be undone. You can move forward and solve the problems, or you can hate — and our class will remain poor, and the capitalists rich.

It is time to use enlightened self interest to cooperate for our own good, and solve the problems we face.

Michaëlle Jean said it very well:
The narrow notion of ‘every person for himself’ does not belong in today’s world, which demands that we learn to see beyond our wounds, beyond our differences for the good of all.

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