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Multiculti and creativity

Steve Sailer has in interesting comment on a question I’ve thought about from time to time, why multicultural societies are less creative. Basically, he says that necessity is the mother of invention: if there had been a lot of black musicians in early-60s Liverpool, the Beatles wouldn’t have had to come up with their own rock ‘n roll. If you can go out and get multiethnic cuisine, you don’t bother developing your own cooking.

Here are some other reasons that have occurred to me:

  • High-level creativity needs a coherent setting and tradition to give it materials and possibilities. That’s why there is no Shakespeare of pidgin. As Sailer points out, ethnic cuisines developed in monocultural settings.
  • In multicultural society the only principles of order are arm’s length contract and top-down management. There’s not enough of a network of ties and common understandings for anything else to work. Neither allows for much creativity, because they’re too simple and single-minded.
  • Then there’s the obvious point, that if you have a multicultural society that has to pretend to be free, equal and democratic you have to control thought and expression in boring ways to keep the whole house of cards from collapsing. “Celebrating diversity” means refusal to deal with any important issue in an interesting way, because you might end up saying that something is better than something else.
  • Don’t evolutionary biologists talk about the importance of isolated niche situations for speciation? Whatever its status in biology, the reasoning suggests that cosmopolitan societies would be uncreative.


Sailer has an interesting view of creativity, which is basically that of an engineer, that is, creativity is a response to some demonstrable need. In Sailer’s view, cruise control in a modern automobile is on a par with Mozart, Bach, or France’s cathedrals.

More often than not, creativity is purely creative, without reference to any objective need. It is, most often, a response to transcendence rather than a response to immanence.

In his book “Human Accomplishment,” Charles Murray, an admitted agnostic, made this precise point.

Your second bullet implies this conclusion.

Then, there is simply the question of truth. Christianity served no demonstrable objective, immanent need. It wasn’t made necessary by any worldly circumstance. It was, in fact, highly counter-worldly, but it was also highly creative, and changed the world.

In our time, creativity is necessarily channeled within modernity, which reifies and commodifies everything into a product that is part of an established, rationalized system. If some “creation” does not serve the needs of this system, and has no immediate exchange value in the marketplace, then it is non-functional and irrelevant. Keep in mind that this system also reifies and commodifies “creativity” itself, which is now a marketing slogan. Because of the logic of this system, all “creations” soon begin to look the same, and become standardized and predictable; they are also limited and determined by a particular technology, which as a means of communication holds a form and meaning within itself.

All literature, music, art, architecture, drama, etc. soon begin to merge together into a numbing uniformity. Even postmodernism, which putatively is a rejection of modernity’s rationality, is also numbingly repetitive and standardized.

It is said we live in a time of rapid and active change, but we don’t. “Change” in this cliche means the destruction of the traditional in favor of the standardized productions of modernity. Very little changes in the modern world, and modernity is careful that it doesn’t.

One more point on the issue of creativity in a “multicultural” society.

The premise of Sailer’s post is that we live in a multicultural, diverse society, and he then attempts to relate this assumed premise to the question of creativity.

The only problem with this procedure is that the premises are wrong. As Mr. Kalb has made clear, and I think persuasively, the modern, multicultural society is governed by a monolithic ideology, that is, pluralism, which is comprehensive and totalizing; it permits no diversity.

Within pluralism, “diversity” is just one more commodity to be processed and sold to the masses, and apparently Sailer has purchased it.

In modernity, content is irrelevant, process and system is everything. Thus, it’s irrelevent whether the content of any particular cultural production is Jamaican, Chinese, or Italian, it will all be standardized within the constraints of the predetermined, rationalized systems of the totalizing systems of modernity. It will also obey (or be banished) all of the implicit dogmatics of pluralism.

Finally, within this system, particular human beings and particular human experience is also merely another “product,” treated and processed in the same rationalized manner as frozen chicken or a hamburger. Thus, human experience is not a transcendent truth to be apprehended, it is a product to be consumed.

I agree that the problem is less multicultural society than monolithic society, since on the most basic level multicultural society is altogether uniform. Its whole point is that all cultures are equally celebrated, which means that the various cultural themes people use to accessorize their humdrum lives as units of production and consumption aren’t allowed to make a difference. Still, it’s really true that you can get good ethnic food in NYC. It takes a while for the multicultural machine to flatten everything out perfectly, so it’s not all Tex-Mex and Oriental themed fast food yet.

Incidentally, didn’t Murray’s book also say that creativity took a dive after 1800, that is, after the Ancien Regime was destroyed in favor of Jeremy Bentham or whoever so talent was supposedly liberated?

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Murray did say that. In considering his conclusion, he then went on to speculate that one reason for this decline was the loss of transcendence.

That’s nice little piece of evidence then in support of the view that the issue as to creativity is less social diversity/nondiversity than the mechanization of thought and life generally. The overlap between the two views is that present-day “diversity” is simply a more advanced stage of mechanization in which e.g. religion and the relations between the sexes become just another consumer product and so part of the overall industrial system. Which I suppose is consistent with what you’ve said.

Murray’s a social scientist of course. I do think it can be useful in understanding things to make use of modern lines of thought and methods of investigation. The problem is not scientific method or its spinoffs but the view that such things capture the whole of reality.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

“The overlap between the two views is that present-day “diversity” is simply a more advanced stage of mechanization in which e.g. religion and the relations between the sexes become just another consumer product and so part of the overall industrial system. Which I suppose is consistent with what you’ve said.”

I don’t think I’ve said anything that significantly differs from your position. As I understand your position, religion and social relations are reduced to desires or preferences that are final goods in themselves and are therefore standardized within a system of equality, which then pretends to a detached neutrality. This approach trivializes the human experience and hides the sources of and exercise of political and social power.

My position is that this mode of thinking derives from the modern view of the world and reality, in which all objects, experiences, ideas, emotions, beliefs, etc.—even human beings—are reified and reduced to commodities within a comprehensive, rationalized system of classification and exchange. Moderns therefore live within a world of objects, none of which has any instrinsic value (this includes human beings).

As for diversity, modernity reifies the concept and reduces it to just another commodity which everyone is supposed to possess, and embody in some vague social sense. The supposed good of diversity derives from the premises of liberalism, as you have described: diversity affirms the liberal view that all human beings are the same, and the equality principle makes it impossible (or immoral) to distinguish between human beings on any grounds whatsoever, whether objective or subjective.

My objection to modernity is not that its procedures are not useful under some circumstances. My objection is its impact upon human character and personality. The modern person internalizes the modern view of things, and considers the world as a collection of unrelated objects, each a commodity to be classified, controlled, rationalized, and exchanged. This deformation runs so deep that it extends to the view of human beings themselves, which become just another commodity to be rationalized within a system. Perhaps the best example of a grotesque modern personality is Adolph Eichmann, who, while professing affection for and interest in Jews, and claiming to have many Jewish friends on whom he would wish no harm, supervised and organized the collection and transporation of millions of Jews to “the East.” Eichmann had no remorse, and could have no remorse, because Jews, like him, were merely objects within a larger rationalized system of objects, whose social relations were determined by impersonal and inevitable “laws.” I’m not saying every modern person is an Eichmann waiting to happen; I merely point to him as the extreme example of a deformed modern personality.

What a brainy and civilized discussion! My impression is that we all agree on the essentials. I’m hoping to toss in one little cluster of cilantro leaves, which concerns the question of transcendence. We seem to be assuming that Michelangelo delivered transcendence, where today’s fine artists and commercial artists don’t, and that (if I’m following well) that this is because the system (for lack of a better word) that Michelangelo was exalting made transcendence possible, where modernity doesn’t. But is this really true? (Incidentally, I’m sympathetic to the argument.) I think there may be one more element to take into account, which is the experience of transcendence. If someone “transcends” while watching a BMW ad, or at a heavy metal concert, or while touring a deconstructed office building, can we really say they didn’t? If we’re more likely to partake in transcendence while looking at a Michelangelo instead, then bully for us. But how can we (not as in “how do we have the right?” but as in “how can we possibly, practically speaking, know?”) deny that some people may find the art that’s made exalting modernity transcendent? I personally feel that the religion of modernity lacks a lot and isn’t seriously nourishing. But it seems to me that it does a lot for many people—that, practically speaking, it “works” for them.
Gives ‘em hope, sets a larger context, defines meaning, etc … I may think it’s bogus, and I may think I’m right. But if they really buy into it, then the art that’s made in praise of it is probably stuff they find genuinely moving, no?

An image I sometimes find myself thinking of: people 2000 years from now, looking back at art history. In one gallery, there’s the art of the Renaissance, when artists made art in praise of Catholicism and the rulers of city-states. Hey, a lot of it’s really beautiful! Here’s the art of Mughals - gorgeous, no? God only knows what they believed. And then over in this other gallery there’s the art of the people who lived under modernity—and isn’t it quite amazing too, in its own crazy way?

It’s not really that the system makes transcendence possible, although I suppose you might say that if you’re a social scientist, but that the system is oriented toward some understanding of things lying beyond it that give it value and point, and the arts like ritual make those things more vividly present to us.

I’d agree that modernity also has things beyond on which it’s based and which its arts and rituals express. In its liberal form, which I think its highest and best developed form, modernity is based morally on equal freedom, and equal freedom is indeed symbolized, enforced, made present etc. by various public rituals, observances, art forms and what not.

The problem though is that equal freedom is not a very good transcendent. It tells us that desires are what confer value, and all desires are equally desires, so all values are presumptively equal and should equally be furthered by all social practices and institutions within some system that insists they all respect each other and their mutual equality. That theory of the good works to some degree, but it really isn’t very satisfactory because it doesn’t tell us anything about life except “Go for it” and “Down with bigotry.” Also, you have to ask whether it’s what people really want. If it isn’t, the whole thing somewhat refutes itself.

I think that’ll affect how people look at the modern period and its productions, whether it can touch them, 2000 years from now. It seems to me other periods have been oriented toward understandings of things that dealt more adequately with more human concerns and so are better able to speak to people of other times and places.

Also, I’d add that a lot of modern art really doesn’t express anything transcendent, or else tries to make the transcendent this-worldly and so not really transcendent by treating something social as transcendent. Last time I want to MoMa (this was some time ago) it seemed to me that a lot of the stuff there wasn’t really art, it was experiments with new techniques or notations that at some point might have been used for some purpose but it never happened. Other things like Futurist paintings seemed to express an expectation that there was going to be an indefinite series of overwhelming this-worldly developments that by their overwhelming mindbogglingness were going to take on the function that the transcendent once served. That never happened either although I suppose the fascists gave it a whirl.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

The learned and devout Austin saith in his Confessions, “You have created us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” So there’s a need there.

I agree Sailer’s method on the whole is reductionist. I think that’s ok as a method, KISS brings things down to earth, but you have to keep in mind that it’s only a limited method. I think he does that. He’s criticized e.g. evolutionists for assuming their method can be used to explain everything. He’s happy if he can successfully explain something, which is a different attitude.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

I don’t know if this applies to Sailer, but to review the products of modernity within the frame and epistemology of modernity is to not only accommodate the pretensions of modernity but to risk a conformation of one’s intelligence and personality to the forms and demands of modernity itself. One begins to transform all the productions and experiences of the world into products, and evaluate and compare them as such. Soon, one considers one’s self, and the other people around him, as products as well. The world, and the people in it, become objectified.

If one wishes to indulge modernity, and evaluate competing products and practices within modernity according to the pre-existing standards of modernity, this project will certainly be comprehensible to modern people. This is, after all, the way they view the world. But, the very evaluation is itself a product or commodity, and will be used and evaluated itself on those terms. It is one object among many, which others may choose to consume or not. If the consumption proves a pleasurable experience, the evaluator will be valued as a provider of pleasure; if not, he will be shunned. Truth, value, reality, goodness, intelligence, are wholly irrelevant in this process.

Thus, ideas become commodities, and have no intrinsic worth. It is not the content of an idea that is valuable, it is the experience it provokes, no matter how fleeting.

Interesting thoughts and conversation! Speaking with zero on-the-grounds scholarly experience, though, I wonder … Maybe it’s more a mix than a matter of one or the other. Total multiculturalism turns everything into a gray soup. But total homogeneity, while sometimes charming, can get very provincial. It seems to me (again, without expertise beyond what you get as a culture-vulture) that the best results come from societies that maintain their own identities while being open (at the margins, as in port cities, bohemian neighborhoods, etc) to stimulating outside influences. Which, if you make the analogy to an individual, would make sense. Live completely unto yourself, and that might be fine, but little would provoke you to action, no matter how serene your inner life. On the other hand, let everything affect you, and you’d turn into nothing but a blur of reactivity. Maybe a nice mean is 1) “not losing track of yourself” but also 2) being somewhat open and responsive to outside influence.

BTW, I’ll take issue a bit with MD’s assertion that most worthwhile culture-matter came about as a result of something purely transcendent. In fact, most culture-matter has been produced for money. Michelangelo wasn’t sitting in an attic, brooding on metaphysics. He ran a workshop and usually worked on commission. The modern-day equivalent wouldn’t be a self-expressive poet, it would be more likely (IMHO anyway) to be more like the genius at the top of a creative and dynamic ad agency. Which isn’t to deny that much culture-matter is super-fine or has spiritual/transcendent qualities, just to situate it in the real world.

My own feeling is that the culture-works of today aren’t bereft, because of a collapse of religion. I think they’re actually made in praise of a religious ethic: globalism, consumerism, self-expression and self-gratification. Renaissance artists worked in praise of their cultural ethic, and today’s artists are mostly working in praise of ours. Seen as such, the works produced are often pretty impressive. My problem with them is less whether or not they’re impressive, it’s that the ethic they sing the praises of strikes me as a bad one.

I agree that total homogeneity is at odds with cultural health. You need class, regional etc. distinctions and also a few foreign ideas filtering in. Didn’t Eliot go into that kind of stuff in Notes toward the Definition of Culture? In the modern world, with the internet and all, it’s hard to be altogether isolated from foreign inflences though. You have that automatically. The big problem is mechanical uniformity, and “diversity” is just a higher form of that because it makes sex, ethnic culture and loyalties etc. irrelevant to the actual functioning of society. All the stuff Eliot thought necessary to give culture internal diversity is supposed to be abolished. I grow repetitious though.

I also agree that there is a cultural ethic that amounts to a religion that today’s art mostly expresses and praises. The problem is that it’s so perverse and empty. Moralistic nihilism? Uniform compulsory diversity? Institutionalized academic rebellion? Still, I think MD talked about transcendence and those things don’t seem to function very well as transcendence.

This discussion puts me in mind of the William Wegman exhibition I just saw over at the Brooklyn Museum. He has loads of talent and industry, he seems like a perfectly normal guy, and his stuff is very amusing, but I wish he had something to do with his gifts other than screw around. Michelangelo had a profitmaking business. Still, what he was paid for wasn’t moneymaking but making pictures and statues that expressed things that transcend the quotidian.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Dear Mr. Kalb and Fellow Readers,

Wow! The Michael Blowhard contributing to this Site. Comparing an adman to a brilliant painter is qualitatively similar to comparing a copy editor to a writer. Considering the source, I must be confused.

In any event, I must bone up on the articles at 2Blowards. I have been very busy with my day job.

Paul Henri

Creativity is a difficult topic, and would probably require a lot of thought and historical research to get some kind of grip on it. So, I’m not going to invest too much defense into any suggestions I might make.

The original question was whether creativity declines in a multicultural society. I assume this was directed at the West, or perhaps limited to the United States.

Because I don’t believe the United States is a multicultural society, I think a better question would be whether creativity declines in an ideological society (which is a better description of the state of affairs in the United States today).

Mr. Kalb notes that creativity requires some sort of historical setting or tradition out of which it can express itself. If the US is an ideological society, then that ideology would provide the boundaries and horizon for creativity within that tradition, in other words the ideology would provide the defined space in which any creativity might appear.

Any creativity outside that space would either be ignored or demonized.

This also helps to explain how an ideological society would define the term “creativity.” Any statement or production that conformed to the ideology would qualify as “creative,” and any that failed to conform would be labelled “reactionary,” “divisive,” “trivial,” etc. Thus, if an artist within our ideological milieu attacks or parodies an established tradition (like the family, or biblical religion), such a work is deemed “creative,” no matter how banal or conventional the work actually is. The play “A Handmaid’s Tale” (Margret Atwood) is a good example of this. Also, any production that arguably expresses the “authentic voice” of the oppressed, such as Rigaberta Menchu’s supposed autobiography, is singled out for qualification (Toni Morrison’s books also fall into this category), regardless of how utterly predictable and conventional they are. The conventions are so predictable that Menchu could write a fictional “autobiography” without the benefit of any facts; she merely repeated the conventions of the ruling ideology.

When asked what contemporary work would be remembered as truly creative, Murray answered: “Groundhog Day,” which if you think about it is profoundly counter-cultural.

Dear Mr. Kalb and Fellow Readers,

Multiculturalism is the homogenization of human behavior, a liberal idea. A fundamental premise of evolutionary biologists is diversity, as opposed to homogenization, increases the chance the species will survive and propagate. Yet liberals dominate evolutionary biology. For example, Steven J. Gould, a man of great import among evolutionary biologists (who has passed on) was a Leftist. And liberals believe in multiculturalism.

Paul Henri

Gould had his debates with other scientists over these points. To defend his position, Gould had to deny 1. the existence of race as genetically grounded; 2. the existence of Q, the intelligence factor; 3. any genetic basis for differences in Q; and on and on. I think you can find some essays on these topics at VDare or Steve Sailer’s site. But you’re quite right, there are glaring discrepancies between genetic and evolutionary science and liberal ideology.

As for multiculturalism, on its face it’s obviously true, there are multiple cultures around the globe. But liberals go further, and claim that all cultures are equal, that various cultures have no real impact on individuals and all individuals are therefore essentially the same, and therefore all cultures can be amalgamated and reside together in an utopian universe known as the “multicultural society,” under the benevolent auspices of liberal democracy, which if necessary will enforce the autocratic equality through state coercion.

In other words, to a liberal, the very real differences between cultures are no barrier to the liberal ideal of absolute equality under a single monolithic ideology of pluralism. Multiculturalism is therefore a cover story for comprehensive statism, which denies nationhood and culture to any indigenous population, and rules under the benevolent cover story of an inclusive multiculturalism. The liberal statists then find themselves ruling over a collection of unconnected, detached individuals, who lack any solidarity, common history, or natural affection, and who then compete among themselves for preferences or entitlements handed out and apportioned by the liberal statists themselves, who encourage and abet this competition. All the while, the liberal statists tell the population how fortunate they are to be living in a true multicultural paradise, where we can all celebrate our differences (which under autocratic pluralistic rule, aren’t differences at all).

In the end, multiculturalism dilutes and destroys all cultures, in favor of the prevailing cultural norm: monolithic pluralism.