Saturday, August 3, 2019

Hunkering Down in the Multicultural Paradise

A sad story, with an especially astute analysis from Carolyn Hax… for your Saturday morning.

A woman’s sister has committed suicide. The victim was depressed and was suffering from a medical problem that would have required long term treatment, and maybe an organ transplant. We do not know how old the sister was, whether she had family or much of anything else. Such is the case with advice columns.

The problem, writes Heartsick and Hurt, lies with her personal friends. They have not been supporting her in her time of grief.

With that brief introduction, here is the letter:

My sister killed herself two months ago. She had been suffering from depression and was diagnosed with a medical issue that would have entailed long-term treatment and/or an organ transplant.

I am devastated beyond belief. The shock and horror of her death and the circumstances surrounding it have been overwhelming. I'm getting therapy, and it is helping. I have many close friends who have been incredibly supportive and caring.

However, I'm very hurt by the lack of support of any kind from a number of people I had thought of as friends. Some are members of a club; some are neighbors; some are colleagues. Some are people I've known for decades. I know they're aware of my loss, and yet they haven't lifted a finger to text, email or call me.

If I continue to participate in my usual social circles when I feel up to it, I will see some of these "friends." What do I say to them? I simply cannot imagine sitting down to dinner with them or discussing a book or anything else in their presence. Do I simply stop participating in these activities? If not, how do I handle seeing those who have ignored me?

— Heartsick and Hurt

Now, Hax does not excoriate the friends for being insensitive and unfeeling. She takes the occasion to remark on a cultural deformities. The fault is in our culture:

You’re not alone in seeing some of your people vanish just as you need them most. Not by a long shot; such vanishing is a common, and cruel, byproduct of death in a culture where the rituals aren’t universal, established and clear.

This is not to excuse anyone’s silence, merely to explain it: It’s actually a question I get fairly often, from people who don’t know how to respond to someone’s grief, then hesitate out of indecision and fear of missteps, then realize their silence has now lasted an unseemly amount of time, then are moved to ask me or others, “Is it too late to say something?”

I boldfaced the most important point. Mourning is a social activity. It is ritualized. It is most often conducted by clergy. This is the way it should be. It allows everyone to commiserate with the aggrieved and to do so according to formal rules of polite engagement. 

If the rituals are not established, something goes awry. If the rituals are not clearly defined, people are left to their own devices. Most often they hesitate, they do not know what to say or how to say it. They do not want to intrude. They do not want to provoke bad memories. This is especially risky outside of a defined ritual. Obviously, this is compounded when the deceased has committed suicide. 

The fault does not lie with the people themselves, Hax argues correctly, but with a culture that has gone to seed. It lies with a culture that has overcome formal rituals and has left everyone to make up their own. If you wish to blame anyone, you should blame multiculturalism.

Culture defines rituals. It defines them uniformly for communities. But this requires a monoculture. When people belong to different cultures they do not know what might offend someone from a different culture. As Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam wrote in a report entitled, E Pluribus Unum, when people live in a diverse community, they tend to withdraw from contact and, as Putnam says, to hunker down.

This is what the woman’s friends have done. This is what Hax describes.

We can extend the argument to cover another set of rituals that we have largely overcome. Take the example of dating and courtship. We have, for whatever reason, overcome the traditional rituals that have allowed young people to find mates. So, fewer and fewer young people date. They hook up. They go bump in the night and do not know why they have not made a connection. They exchange a few vapid texts and think that they are ready for consummation.

Evidently, in the absence of defined rituals, young people no longer know how to get along. It’s a sad state of affairs. It’s not merely our punishment for making a fetish of multiculturalism. It's our punishment for trying to liberate ourselves from social constraints and for seeking authentic self-actualization. But, it's all cut from the same cloth. We should take Hax's excellent analysis: societies cohere when people follow the same rituals, when they set off a time and a place and a ritual to mourn the dead. 

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