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Multi-pluri-inter-ism

Thursday 10 August 2017

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I lay claim to the coinage of the above new word. OED, please take note. OK, it’s not a particular elegant or beautiful word, but I reckon it will prove to be useful. Let me explain...

These suffixes are much used in the sphere of cultural politics, which in turn comes down to the politics of identity – a turbulent issue which is likely to impinge on all of us at the moment. Brexit is about who the British think they are. Trump promised to make America great again, and so make Americans feel good about themselves. And from my own personal perspective here in Catalonia, we are coming up to the Great Independence Referendum, which is designed to make Catalans (or at least some of them) feel special.

You note, of course, that all these political projects are about rejecting Multi-pluri-inter-ism. They all supposedly help people to feel special and different and separate – to have a stronger sense of identity (as opposed to everyone else).

The Multi-pluri-inter-ist approach is different. It is based on the view that all of us are made up of a blend of many different elements and influences. And yes, loyalties as well. Identity is not simple or monolithic, no matter what nationalists and racists like to tell us. All of us are mongrels, from our basic DNA mix through to which teams we support. This is a source of healthy richness ... so why is there no global Mongrel Pride Day?

Now, the suffixes which make up my newly-minted word indicate different components of mongrel reality. Thus...

Multi – as in ‘multi-cultural’ ... but this is currently used as opposed to ‘cultural integration’: the former implies that cultures co-exist but don’t mix, while the latter implies that cultures are absorbed (usually by the dominant culture).

Pluri – as in ‘pluri-cultural’ ... not a normal English formulation, but a recent article in El Pais suggested an interesting implication, in Spanish at least: that individuals can be described as ‘pluri-cultural’ since they contain various influences of multiple different cultures. Sounds accurate?

Inter – as in ‘inter-cultural’... which necessarily implies the idea of interaction or negotiation. In other words, it suggests a dynamic situation of interchange, not a static fixed reality. The problem here is how exactly such interchange is to be conducted.

Words, in themselves, do not change reality, of course – what matters is how you act on the concepts that the words express. The instinct to belong to the tribe, and to form identity based on such belonging, is ancient and deep-rooted – but so too is the survival instinct of adapting to change. It would be nice to think that humans could give a bit more attention to adapting, and a bit less to belonging. Let’s all accept the Multi-pluri-inter-ist view that identity evolves

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