by Robert Maynard
Last week I published a commentary on a Burlington School District Report written with the following aim in mind: “The goal posited by this plan is to bridge opportunity gaps in the schools-gaps caused by racial and economic inequality.” The Reports seeks to achieve this goal by taking an “anti-racist stance against the conventional white, middle class, Judeo-Christian culture that invisibly permeates the current social environment that exists in the Burlington schools”.
Despite such an obviously bigoted focus, one of the report’s stated goals is to achieve “Cultural Competency”, which it defines as “the ability to work effectively across cultures”. How they intend to “work effectively across cultures” when they set out to explicitly take a stance against a particular culture, is a mystery to me. A small clue to what they are actually up to is in their analysis of the problem they face. That problem is labeled “Cultural Hegemony” and is defined as:
The philosophic and sociological concept, originated by the philosopher Antonio Gramsci, that a culturally diverse society can be ruled or dominated by one of its social classes. It is the dominance of one social group over another, e.g. the ruling class over all other classes. The theory claims that the ideas of the ruling class come to be seen as the norm; they are seen as universal ideologies, perceived to benefit everyone whilst really benefiting only the ruling class.
Gramsci was an Italian Communist who did not believe that Marx’s worker’s revolution could happen as long as the workers and the capitalists shared the same “universal ideology”. In Western Civilization the source of this universal ideology, was the Judeo-Christian tradition, which he saw has having cultural hegemony over Western Civilization. His proposed solution was to attack the dominant Judeo-Christian culture so that the workers and the capitalist would not be linked by a universal ideology. Such an attack is aimed not merely Judeo-Christian culture, but the very notion of universal values. All cultures see their culture as representing universal values, so an attack on the notion of universal values is an attack on culture itself. The left may pay lip service to “cultural diversity” but only in a superficial way so as to use these cultures as a convenient tool to push back against the Judeo-Christian culture.
Those on the left couch their argument in racial terms, and some may even believe that is where the battle lies, but the real battle going on is an ideological/religious one. The notion of transcendent moral values is not compatible with having the best and brightest socially engineer the perfect society according to their blueprint. This is especially so if that transcendent moral vision allows for the access of each individual soul to the source of that vision and recognizes that all of us are flawed. Other traditions present far less of a threat to the social engineering project than does the Judeo-Christian one, but most do hold notions that make it difficult. In his book “The Abolition of Man”, C.S. Lewis touched on some of these ideals and referred to them as expressions of the Tao, or Way. Lewis was not a cultural relativist and saw Christianity as the most complete expression of truth, but he did recognize an element of such truth in other cultures. Such a recognition was a key way that early Christians were able to convince non-Christians that Christianity represented the completion of their own tradition and was key to the concept of Natural Law. I would like to suggest that true cultural competency would take C.S. Lewis’ approach and seek out the element of universal truth in each culture without falling prey to cultural relativism.
Finally, there is some question as to whether the Judeo-Christian cultural still has anything resembling hegemony within our institutions of culture. Certainly within the area of academia, “Post Modernism” enjoys something far closer to hegemony than the Judeo-Christian world-view. The rejection of universal values and the assertion of relativism is a characteristic feature of this viewpoint and is one that they are seeking to impose on our institutions of culture. NO traditional culture accepts this viewpoint, yet they want to impose it. Where is the cultural tyranny coming from?
One of the stated objectives in obtaining cultural competency is “Being aware of one’s own assumptions about human behavior, values, biases, preconceived notions, personal limitations, and so forth”. Perhaps the recognition that the post-modern worldview that permeates academia has a bias toward cultural and moral relativism would go a long way toward achieving cultural competency.