I can't help but react to this claim sceptically. When I was growing up in the 1970s, the "monoculture" was still a living presence. I experienced it as anything but boring. It was for me an enriching aspect of life.
I'm sceptical too for another reason. When we travel overseas and experience other national cultures - other monocultures - we don't react with boredom. We don't arrive in Japan, for instance, and complain that the culture there is too Japanese and therefore uninteresting. In fact, it's likely to be the "monoculture" that strikes us most as distinctive and fascinating.
Which leads me to wonder if the claim about monocultures being boring is generated from abstract political beliefs rather than real life experience.
If you hold to liberal autonomy theory you are likely to believe that individuals, as a condition of their humanity, ought to be self-determining. We ought to be, according to this theory, unimpeded in creating our own identity, writing our own life script, setting our own values and so on.
The problem is that there are important aspects of life which are pre-determined rather than self-determined. For instance, we don't get to determine our gender, as we are born either male or female. Nor do we get to choose our ethnicity, as we inherit such traditions.
Therefore, in a liberal society qualities such as gender and ethnicity come to have negative associations as restrictions on the free, self-creating, autonomous individual.
It is logical, then, for a liberal to assume that in a society in which there were traditional gender roles and a traditional ethnic nationalism that the free self-creating autonomous individual was repressed - and that the society itself must therefore have been repressed, dull, grey and boring. When individuals were released from such gender roles and from a "monoculture", a liberal might well assume that society must become more creative, interesting and colourful.
In this way, political ideas unfold into assumptions about reality.
Robert Bosler is one such liberal who seems to think along the lines I described above. This is how Bosler describes Australia in the 1940s:
... the year is 1944. The country is at war. See all the people. Look at what they are wearing. It’s grey, it’s all grey. There’s no colour. They’re all doing what they’re doing but they seem like they are all boxed in. They’re all sort of trapped within themselves.
And there now we see the great leader of the time, Mr Menzies.
He’s talking to the people. What’s he saying? He’s saying he wants to give everyone there “more personal choice, more personal freedom”... Well, these people here in 1944 certainly need more personal choice, and more personal freedom, that’s for sure. It looks like every man has set jobs to do, as the breadwinner. That’s all. It looks like every woman has to have a baby and clean the house. That's all. This is no joke; it’s not much better than that for man or woman. That’s not life as we know, from where we come; but there it is, all grey and boxed in, in 1944.
Let’s consider Mr Menzies’ task for a moment. The Australian people we see here are vastly different from us. Mr Menzies has a seriously big ask here. “To provide people with more individual choice and freedom.” Can he do it?
Inspirationally, he establishes in this year a political party for that very purpose, and it’s called the Liberal Party of Australia.
The 1950s, in Bosler's account, are little better. It's still grey and colourless, because the self-creating individual is still restricted by gender roles and ethnicity:
The 1950's and it’s still grey. The men and women of Australia are still all trapped and caught up in the roles life has set for them. It’s like they are living life on traintracks. It’s a stilted existence, this. What is it gonna take for them to be free?
In the 1960s colour finally arrives:
There we see it, as time moved forward into the sixties. Huge. Boundaries break and boxed in lives burst, exploded. Colour!
By the 80s the revolution is well-secured. The self-creating individual is ascendant:
Ideas from each and every individual can take root and they can grow. And look at the colour! Look at the vibrancy and richness of life. There’s a woman excelling in a professional career, heading up a boardroom. There’s a man staying home looking after his children. The people are, individually, free. If only Mr Menzies could see this. These people have individual choice. Look, they can do what they want, be what they want ...
We saw that freedom and choice had arrived, secure, in the eighties ... We knew it had arrived when we saw on our TV screens the news item telling us that a black woman had been made a judge. That signaled the full arrival of the individual of freedom and choice ... That it would be a black woman who could now sit in judgement over whites and decide impartially upon their fate ... signaled the end of the ball game for the liberal vision. The world over: liberal fulfillment had been sought for so long, the evidence was clear that now it had come.
The Bosler example is clear enough. For him, gender and ethnicity are the key impediments to free, self-creating, autonomous individuals. He thinks traditional Australia restricted the self-creating individual and was therefore grey, boxed in and stilted. When gender and ethnicity were overthrown, you suddenly and finally get creative individuality and vibrancy, richness and colour.
This is where the abstract theory leads you. It's logical, but divorced from reality. It can be cast aside if you are willing to ask awkward questions. Am I as a man, for instance, really going to feel liberated and enriched by living a less masculine life? And do people really celebrate the loss of their traditional national culture as an enriching freedom?
If the theory is wrong, then so is the account of reality.
There's another example of this kind of liberal thinking that's worth looking at, namely the film Pleasantville. In Pleasantville a teenage boy and his sister are transported into new lives as characters in a wholesome 1950s TV show. Everything is pleasant, but their new world is literally grey.
Why is it grey? Because the characters are following a script. They are not writing their own life scripts as liberal autonomy theory requires them to do.
It is only when the characters begin, under the influence of the newcomers, to break from the script that they start to gain colour.
At this point, Pleasantville really takes autonomy theory to a logical conclusion. If what matters is breaking from the script, then a whole series of behaviours can be considered morally justified.
For instance, one of the female characters gains colour when she commits adultery. This is portrayed as a courageous act because she stops to consider her commitments instead of simply going along with fidelity.
There is no sense of adultery being in its nature a wrong act. How could it be a wrong act, when the first rule of this autonomous world is that there is no script?
That's why when the teenage boy eventually returns home to find his mother grieving about the loss of her marriage the following conversation takes place:
Mother: Oh God. It's not supposed to be like this. I'm forty-four ...
Son: It's not supposed to be anything.
If there is no obvious way for things to be, then it's difficult to categorise choices as either morally good or bad. What is left to matter is that I'm asserting my individual will in things.
So when the Pleasantville teenagers begin to engage wildly in casual sex they turn from grey to colour, as they are acting counter-culturally, in other words, against the prevailing social norms. When, though, the sister from the 1990s does the same thing, she remains grey, as she has grown up in a culture of casual sex. She only earns her colour when she begins to act more independently by questioning her promiscuity and developing an interest in literature.
The message of Pleasantville is that the worst setting of life is one which is settled and straightforward, and in which there are given values. Such a life setting doesn't provide the best conditions for asserting meaning through individual choice making.
A better life setting for an autonomist is one in which we must negotiate complex, difficult choices in a world characterised by change and uncertainty. This world might be "louder, scarier, more dangerous" than traditional societies, and create all kinds of social dysfunction, but because it fits better with an ideal of autonomy, it is thought to be more vibrant and colourful.
So this is the context within which traditional societies are categorised as grey. It's a context which goes with a wider set of assumptions, which most people I expect would find unpalatable. Do we really accept that acts must be considered morally neutral, and that the good resides primarily in an independent assertion of our will? Do we really accept that more dangerous, difficult and dysfunctional social conditions are ultimately of positive benefit in breaking up settled patterns of life and providing a challenging context for our life choices?
Finally, there are many cultural references in Pleasantville. The most significant of these is to the writer D.H.Lawrence, who is held to be on the side of the "coloureds" in their march to autonomy. I doubt very much if Lawrence himself would have accepted the role. Lawrence, as the following quote makes clear, did not equate freedom with liberal autonomy and would not have appreciated the politics of Pleasantville:
Men are free when they are in a living homeland, not when they are straying and breaking away. Men are free when they are obeying some deep, inward voice of religious belief ... Men are free when they belong to a living, organic, believing community, active in fulfilling some unfulfilled, perhaps unrealized purpose ...
Men are not free when they are doing just what they like. The moment you can do just what you like, there is nothing you care about doing ...