If for no other reason, I enjoy checking in at the Ochlophobist because it keeps me abreast of all those books that I should have already read. One case in point is Faded Mosaic: The Emergence of Post-Cultural America, referenced by Owen a few posts back. This volume was published by Christopher Clausen back in 2000. The only thing that dates the book is the author's persistent capitalization of "Internet." It's funny to think back to what a relatively new thing that was at that time.
I certainly know better than to do so, but I waste considerable time fretting about the sorry state of American culture. I would recommend the book to those similarly afflicted. But the first thing the author teaches is that the usage of the term "American culture" has no real meaning. I am guiltier than most in the sloppy usage of the phrase (but no longer.) Clausen contends not just that we are past all that, but rather we never really had it to begin with. We have always been a place that shredded cultures, seeking a "mass individualism," that he describes as being "an individualism without much individuality."
Nor are we in any way "multicultural," that is, if one defines multiculturalism as a society where differing cultures flourish and coexist with one another. The peculiarly American take on the concept is that the sharp edges of cultures get worn down, and then bits and pieces of varying cultures are cherry-picked as an individual's choice. In so doing, the true culture which once was determinative, loses all real meaning. In a telling example, he chronicles the Schandler-Wong family of Hawaii. The Jewish-American Schandler bride marries the Chinese-American Wong groom. The newlyweds construct a life with carefully selected bits of each heritage. When the Chinese groom eventually converted to Judaism, his mother was ecstatic, concluding that now he was truly American. The couple had woven Jewish, Chinese and Hawaiian cultures into their home like a bird building a nest from twigs, mud and foil....Any influence that Jewish, Chinese or Hawaiian cultures have on this family is purely residual, a matter of individual preference, and individual preference is the opposite of culture as traditionally understood. [As an aside, one wonders how Clausen would analyze a similar Hawaiian family of the same era, combining the heritage of Kansas with Kenya.]
Clausen posits that multiculturalism is, and has always been, an agenda or a program, and never a condition or state of affairs. He labels our real condition as "post-cultural." The best line in the book, in my opinion is this: Post-culturalism turns everything, whether sacred or profane, into twigs and foil from which any breed of bird can try to build a nest. The real meat of our cultures has been ground down to mush, from which emerges not a "multicultural" society, but one in which for all our vaunted "diversity," we are all very much the same. No other country has so undermined through its founding ideals and actual ways of life, the identities of those who lived there. By gradually turning more and more categories of outsiders into insiders, a process without logical limit, America began to solve some of the oldest problems of humanity while systematically dismantling the whole basis of traditional cultures.
Clausen finds similarities between the diversity Leftists and Right-wing groups. In the contest suburbs of social ideology, multiculturalism on the left and monoculturalism on the right flourish deceptively as expressions of longing for a past--differently interpreted, of course-- that has drifted beyond recovery. At bottom they both mean living in a museum.
In conclusion, Clausen asks:
Now that most of the old guide posts have rotted away, will individuals who have been emancipated from every authority but their own personalities start to rediscover some stronger basis for harmony and mutual respect than a bland refusal to judge.?"
...the negative qualities of the post-cultural condition are a deformed version of the good ones--the sentimental narcissism of those who recognize no demand but self-satisfaction, emotional exhibitionism, a substitute religion of products and celebrities, a smug indifference to the cause of conflict in the world.
In his concluding paragraph, Clausen tacks-on a hopeful note--something of a well, this is just who we are, and as shallow as it is, it sure beats the alternative rationalization. Personally, I find this to be unconvincing--he did too good a job convincing me otherwise.