One Cheer for Multiculturalism, con’t.

Fenster writes:

As Fenster wrote at 2Blowhards over 11 years ago now:

Words mean different things in different cultural contexts. Christianity means something different to an elderly Anglican than it does to a recently converted tribesman.

The same is true, I think, of another vaguely religious doctrine: multiculturalism. Because a lot of the controversies surrounding multicult are similar, I suppose I reflexively concluded that the term must mean the same thing at Duke as it does in Denmark, that the world was small enough for a common and uniform meaning. But I don’t think that’s true. There is a difference.

But first things first: multiculturalism is on its face a slippery term, and therefore quite easy to interpret in different ways. Is it a way of bringing people together, or a way of rationalizing keeping them apart? Even in this country, both impulses are evident in multicult doctrine. But there seems little doubt that, owing to the USA’s assimilationist history, the bringing together side of the doctrine (historically) played the dominant role, once some of the celebration-of-difference trappings are cut away.

Not so in Europe. . . . There, the dominant theme is: how shall we rationalize the Pakistanis keeping to themselves in Bradford, or the Turks in Hamburg, or the Moroccans in Rotterdam? The answers: let’s let them celebrate their own ways. Let’s not obligate ourselves to be influenced overly by their ways. And let’s not expect them to adopt our ways. Now we can all feel good about each other, happy that we can all live together, free of any pesky flies in ointment.

If only.

We see now the rotten fruit of that approach.

I did, however, give one cheer for multiculturalism in the United States.

The one cheer awarded to multiculturalism in this country is due to, and due only to, that idea’s adaptive value in managing the problem of difference.  And note the term: problem.

And by problem I do not mean “universally bad”.  I just mean problem.

When you introduce a little difference, the problem of difference is minimal and can be ignored.  When you introduce more, you need to enact measures (either formal by means of law and policy or informal by means of the spreading of values and ideas) that soften the growing impact.  When you introduce too much difference the system becomes unstable and eventually tips into something else entirely.

So if and when you opt to ramp up differences, the development of an accompanying ideology can be helpful, necessary even.  But context, please.

First, the yin of embracing difference must somehow meet the yang of minimizing it.  Hence the historic emphasis on assimilation in the United States–an emphasis that we’ve pretty much ignored for decades now, with the result that we’ve emphasized the yin and have eaten through a lot of the social seedcorn built up during eras of greater balance.

Second the questions must be asked: what warrants the introduction of difference in the first place, and what warrants escalating the levels to the point at which ideological or legal changes/contortions become necessary? Perhaps an invasion that cannot be resisted and must be managed.  Perhaps humanitarian or other related concerns. Most likely a growing economy that calls for more workers, pitting the demands of economic growth against the demands of social solidarity.    Those questions must always be asked, and answers not assumed.

This means that, just as a balance must be struck between the yin of difference and the yang of integration, a balance must be struck between the various costs and benefits of introducing large number of people with different talents, skills, backgrounds . . . and cultural values.

When people take multiculturalism to be a creed they are putting the cart of ideology in front of the horse of pragmatic usefulness.  But, as Steve Sailer has pointed out, people resist the concept of diminishing marginal utility since it is just not as intuitive as thinking in terms of black and white/good and bad.  That’s too bad.

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
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