Foreign Policy Blogs

Is Extremism the Sole Reason for the Collapsing Order of ‘Worldliness’?

Some ethnic organizations in multicultural Western societies frequently neglect to perform their bridging role between old comers and new comers. These organizations’ missions are often abused to shine the private glory of old comer board members’ social prestige, misrepresenting the political interests of new comer immigrants.

The ramming of identity-politics-based extremism disparately sprouting around the globe has reawakened the totalitarian madness of unrefined mass politics under which religiously or racially shared violent norms dangerously surface into repulsive ‘praxis’. The imminent threats of such hyper-rationalized political action lie in the fact that it could now potentially jeopardize the socially embedded concept of ‘pluralistic equality’ being an essential premise for securing the ‘level playing field’.

In many multicultural Western societies, the evaporation of pluralistic equality might not only imply the breakdown of democratic solidarity but also play an overture for the collapse of the Republican notion of the public sphere where privileged yet responsible civism is supposed to guard the constitution values through inter subjective reasoning.

Why is the order of ‘worldliness’ (borrowing Hannah Arendt’s term) falling? Why do citizens of secular republics distrust the freedom-unleashing works of glorious ‘craftsmen’ and rather violently claim for the quasi-totalitarian group values of a single religion or race instead of those of their cosmopolitan public sphere? In the meantime, why have glorious craftsmen failed to stop the rise of extremism?

Both White supremacists and Islamic extremists have in common that they renounce the crafted secular glories of the public sphere and ignore the social constructive nature of the public sphere. Especially, they reject critical race theories’ assumptions under the intersectionality theory that citizens have multiple social identities that are not mutually exclusive.

What has caused the extremist groups to turn skeptical towards such theoretical assumptions?

One does not dare question the contributions that Hannah Arendt’s political theories and interdisciplinary critical race theory have made to the progress of humanity since the end of the world wars but one must cautiously point out that the theories have some limits in redressing the reality of the 21st century multicultural public sphere.

First, they undermine the motivating role of secular self-realization and self-discipline that guide individuals, especially the masses, towards righteous praxis. Arendt, for example, depreciates the value of French bonheur in her book, The Human Condition, because she considers it a “modern enchantment with ‘small things’” that is “an extraordinary and infectious charm that a whole people may adopt as their way of life, without for that reason changing its essentially private character.” In other words, she sees French bonheur as a mass hyponastic propaganda disseminated by a private organization that dissipates citizens’ political willingness to perform praxis in the public sphere.

Yet, in 21st century reality, it is the unnatural rhythmic coolness of gangster hip-hop and the (George) Bataillean way of squandering social excess that have overwhelmingly brainwashed our young generations’ way of life, not the ‘small things’ emphasis of French bonheur. Such excessively liberally expressed ‘crafts’ are often too existentialist in that they are vaingloriously stimulating, anesthetizing our young generations’ sensitivity in finding intrinsically self-realizing or self-disciplining meanings out of the crafts. One does not mean to say that these crafts have no socially contributing values but the fabricated heroism (cultural elitism) within the crafts entices young generations to falsely interpret the intended ‘unnatural rhythms’ and instead to ironically naturalize the rhythms limitedly for their own existentialist purposes. In so doing, young generations lose their passion to remold the rhythms into a unique one and also to present the remolded rhythm representing their true individuality to the public.

Considering these dysfunctions, today’s ‘craftsmen’ should urgently innovate alternative ways of accommodating secular self-realization and self-discipline other than the above types of ‘crafts’.

The development of happiness, or subjective well-being, studies could shed some light on this future challenge when it is truly understood as a praxis-arousing craft that pro-activates individuals’ community-consciousness as well as self-consciousness.

Second, the theories pay little attention to intra-ethnic power relations in Western multicultural societies. For example, the scholarly frame of critical race theory is mostly in the mainstream institutions vs minority individual context that limits the scope of research into studying how institutionalized racism oppresses minority individuals. Such an approach rarely recognizes the fact that the rise of multicultural elites and the upper middle class in Western societies since the 1980s has deepened intra-ethnic inequality especially between old comer and new comer immigrants. Indeed, the inequality is increasingly observable as a significant portion of minority citizens in multicultural Western societies have cast their votes to extreme rightist candidates in the past few years.

The problem of intra-ethnic asymmetry of information between old comer and new comer immigrants is as important to note as that within mainstream society. The less the degree of the asymmetry of information between old comer and new comer immigrants, the higher the likelihood that new comer immigrants integrate into American society. And the higher the likelihood of such integration, the less the likelihood that conflicts between working class citizens and new comer immigrants arise.

Similar to the way civic organizations as social capitals can ameliorate the problem within mainstream society, ethnic civic organizations as intermediating agencies (e.g. Korean American Associations) can narrow down the aforementioned inequality gap. Unfortunately, in reality, many such organizations neglect to perform their bridging role between old comers and new comers. These organizations’ missions are often abused to shine the private glory of old comer board members’ social prestige, misrepresenting the political interests of new comer immigrants.

Nevertheless, many social clubs and trade associations of successful second-generation or old comer professionals barely pay attention to this kind of intra-ethnic affairs or to the welfare of new comer immigrants unless doing so embellishes their American ivory tower.

Often, it seems like the priorities of the organizations, supposedly the public goods of an ethnic group, are to advertise good pictures that they have taken with vote-seeking local politicians so that they can garner the public image of seating on the top of the intra-ethnic hierarchy. All these dysfunctional intra-ethnic power relations especially within ethnic groups with soaring numbers of immigrants since the 1980s make intra-ethnic institutions in multicultural Western societies nothing more than the reincarnation of the clientelist  political machines of the late 19th century America.

Social costs associated with the asymmetry of information between self-conceited old comer and misinformed new comer immigrants must be reduced. Western governments should therefore find ways to systematically evaluate how ethnic civic organizations substantially play their bridging role between old comer and new comer immigrants.

 

Author

Mark (Won Min) Seo
Mark (Won Min) Seo

Mark (Won Min) Seo is a freelance journalist who served as an editor for NYU’s Journal of Political Inquiry. He was also a former intern with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. He has an MA in Politics from New York University.

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