“Para continuar en espanol…” I don’t remember exactly how the rest of the phrase goes though I hear it often enough, and have been listening to it for more than thirty years now. It is becoming one of the most recognized phrases in the land. I almost said English language. But, of course, it isn’t English.
I work at a little place in a big mall not far from my home. Many people come and go there, lots of different kinds of folks wearing lots of different kinds of costumes and speaking lots of different kinds of languages. I come from New York City, so I’m well used to hearing Pashtun, Tagalog, Spanish and Urdu all in one block; not to mention Russian, Yiddish, German, French and, of course, English.
Some of them are visiting, but most of them are here to stay. I like to listen to the little ones and hear the language I speak coming clearly from their mouths while Mom or Dad, or even Grandma and Poppa stand by smiling, proudly. It’s as it should be if “E Pluribus Unum” means anything at all. The little ones are becoming what used to be called “assimilated”. They have joined the “main stream” though I do not have any real sense that there is much left to be assimilated into; that there is anything of depth or substance left in the “stream”.
Recently someone was speaking to me about the wisdom of diversity and the virtue of tolerance as those two things are currently described, defined and practiced. He explained how it was so very important to be open and welcoming, how crucial it was to receive the gifts of all cultures with equal measure of approval and affirmation, to be a person of an affirming and accepting nature, generous with praise and graceful and uncritical receptivity because we now live in a multi-cultural world. Perhaps, it occurs to me to wonder now, we have begun to live in a post-cultural world, but I am known to be facetious.
I wondered aloud for my part of the conversation if all of this openness, receptivity, grace and generosity meant I must welcome many wived-Muslims, and poly-amorous couples with tolerant manners, yielding smiles. Was it my duty to be kind to the voodoo priest and his animal sacrifice as well? Had I the obligation to provide equal approval and affirmation to the celebration of a Black Mass at midnight on Halloween in a public park as I might to the fireworks on the Fourth of July? Was it the better part of tolerance to allow and encourage nudity, same sex coupling and demonstrations of “healthy” perversions during annual so-called Gay-Pride parades? I wondered, finally about such things taking place outside of churches during periods of worship, and even inside of them…and begged to know if it was unfair for the trapped communicants to feel a sense of oppression and persecution, to feel a sense of intolerance for their way of living and their beliefs, to put not too fine a point on the matter.
My companion was upset to know that I was exhibiting what he thought was conservative, closed and reactionary responses to his more open and engaged, understanding and inclusive, point of view. I thought him silly. He thought me blind. In the end we agreed, as they say, to disagree, smiled and parted friends.
Later on that evening I found myself in front of this thing thinking about those two words so important to our lives today: Diversity and Tolerance, that they are the drivers in almost all of our public and educational interactions, no matter what we may truly believe. (And I do not doubt that a good deal of all of this is dissembling insincerity, though I have no proof.) Do you doubt? Let me offer the example of the Oakland public school which offers lessons on “gender diversity” ; or this one. They are only two of many links to articles and reports on the question of how to welcome “others” into your life.
Anyway, I went to an online Thesaurus driven by curiosity and an old English major’s fantasies about words. This is what I found under Diversity:
“a hundred, a million, a myriad, a thousand, a thousand and one, a world of, all kinds of, all manner of, all manners of, all sorts of, allogeneous, and heaven knows what not, and what not, anidian, briarean, characteristic, crowded, daedal, decuple, dedal, desultory, different, differing, dioristic, discriminating, discriminative, disparate, distinctive, distinguishable, divers, diverse, diversified, diversiform, eclectic, endless, epicene, ever so many, full many, half a dozen, half a hundred, heterogeneous, in profusion, indiscriminate, irregular, manifold, many, many, modified, more than one can tell, mosaic, motley, multifarious, multifold, multiform, multigenerous, multinominal, multiple, multiplied, multispiral, multitudinous, multiversant, multivious, myriad, nice, no end of, no end to, not a few, not the same, numberose, numerous, numerous as the hairs on the head, numerous as the sands on the seashore, numerous as the stars of the firmament, of all sorts and kinds, of every description, of various kinds, omnifarious, omniform, omnigenous, omnigruous, other, peopled, plenty as blackberries, pluripotent, polymorphic, populous, profuse, proletaneous, protean, rough, several, some forty or fifty, something else, studded, sundry, teeming, thick, thick as hops, thick coming, unequal, uneven, unmatched, varied, variform, various, very many, widely apart.”
These are the related adjectives. The entry goes on for a while.
The synonyms were interesting too, ominously so, I thought for a place whose motto is roughly translated as “From Many, One”:
“assortment, dissimilarity, distinction, distinctiveness, divergence, diverseness, diversification, heterogeneity, medley, mixed bag, multeity, multifariousness, multiformity, multiplicity, range, unlikeness, variance, variegation, variousness”
I next tried Tolerance. Here are the synonyms first offered; where tolerance is defined as open-mindedness, something with which no one would find fault, I suppose. After all, doesn’t everyone want to keep an open mind?:
“altruism, benevolence, broad-mindedness, charity, clemency, compassion, concession, endurance, forbearance, freedom, good will, grace, humanity, indulgence, kindness, lenience, leniency, lenity, liberalism, liberality, liberalness, license, magnanimity, mercifulness, mercy, patience, permission, permissiveness, sensitivity, sufferance, sympathy, toleration, understanding “
But they don’t stop there. They go on for another three pages. Further on I found this list for tolerance synonyms under its definition as “luxury, gratification”:
“allowance, appeasement, attention, babying, coddling, courtesy, endurance, excess, extravagance, favor, favoring, fondling, fondness, forbearance, fulfillment, goodwill, gratifying, hedonism, immoderation, intemperance, intemperateness, kindness, kowtowing, lenience, leniency, pampering, partiality, patience, permissiveness, petting, placating, pleasing, privilege, profligacy, profligateness, satiation, satisfaction, service, spoiling, toadying, tolerance , toleration, treating, understanding “
I’d like to suggest that this understanding of what tolerance means has become the dominant and controlling one regarding matters of diversity.
Was it from motives of altruism or appeasement , pampering or permissiveness that we have been prompted to allow the spectacles of Gay Pride parades all over the land? Was it kindness or kowtowing, patience or petting that led to “Para continuar…”? Perhaps it was merely profit, it occurs to me to ask. What then of teen pregnancy, abortion and all the many other cracks and craters in the culture that once was thought to be common among us?
Returning to Diversity and its adjectives, I was struck by two words I wasn’t familiar with at all. The first is allogeneous and the second is anidian. They mean something which is different in nature and kind and something which is shapeless. The latter, anidian refers to something in an embryonic state.
The words above, the title to this little trip through my brain, are Irish. Since only about 250,000 people speak it as their mother tongue you need have no fear of hearing it on the list of options when you call your electric company. They mean, roughly, “A Land Without Unity Is a Land Without A Soul”.
We are n the process of tolerating the death of this land through the atrophy of its soul, I believe. In its place we are diversifying into something entirely different, raising up from an as yet anidian mass, an allogeneous, a dangerous new thing which I think is something we will have cause to regret.