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Cultural Diversity

Diversity as Self-Nullifying

Culture, in the anthropological sense, is a combination of language and traditions involving values, ideas about education, cooking, family life and public life. Culture represents a certain level of agreement about what’s important, what’s respectable, success and failure and about how one ought to conduct one’s life and treat each other.

Cultures attain their distinctive character by being somewhat cut off from other cultures. There is a parochial aspect to culture. Diversity is made possible by separation. If every culture becomes cosmopolitan, then every culture becomes the same. Diversity within all cultures would mean no diversity at all. So is cultural diversity a good thing? Not if it becomes a global phenomenon, because diversity would be self-nullifying.

Diversity: Intrinsically Good for Us, Not for Others

If cultural diversity is just in and of itself an intrinsic good, then every Amazonian rain forest tribe desperately trying to preserve its culture should have a random American (USA) inserted into their tribe because this would make them more “diverse.” Likewise, Swedes should be encouraged to join African tribes in the name of diversity and Christians should be encouraged to emigrate en masse to Muslim countries. Such cosmopolitanism would just undermine each culture’s distinctiveness and thrust incompatible groups together.

Diversity: Decreases Trust and Social Solidarity Even Within Ethnic Groups

Robert D. Putnam, a Harvard professor, published an article on the effects of cultural diversity in 2007 after sitting on the data from the original study since 2001. The study found that social solidarity and trust decreased as a community became more diverse. This decrease even occurred within ethnic groups.

“Ethnic diversity is increasing in most advanced countries, driven mostly by sharp increases in immigration. In the long run immigration and diversity are likely to have important cultural, economic, fiscal, and developmental benefits. In the short run, however, immigration and ethnic diversity tend to reduce social solidarity and social capital. New evidence from the US suggests that in ethnically diverse neighborhoods residents of all races tend to “hunker down.” Trust (even of one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer. In the long run, however, successful immigrant societies have overcome such fragmentation by creating new, cross-cutting forms of social solidarity and more encompassing identities. Illustrations of becoming comfortable with diversity are drawn from the US military, religious institutions, and earlier waves of American immigration.”

As one can see, Putnam is worried about the implications of his own study. By including the qualifier “successful,” Putnam is implicitly admitting the possibility of failure. By talking about “overcoming” fragmentation, he is conceding that cultural diversity is something that a society is likely to have to struggle with. It will matter which cultures are trying to merge with which.

When Putnam says “successful immigrant societies have overcome such fragmentation by creating new, cross-cutting forms of social solidarity and more encompassing identities,” he is describing the establishment of a new more encompassing culture, not multiculturalism.

The Long History of Islamic Cultures Attacking Europe

George Friedman, the author of Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe, worries about Muslim immigrants entering Europe from North Africa, and we might add, from elsewhere, and sees the idea of multiculturalism as a failure. “For 1500 years the question of Christianity and Islam roiled the Mediterranean.” (Listener, August 22-28, 2015, p. 27) The Balkans and Spain were notably affected by Turkish and Moorish invasions. Friedman says that “when you go to Spain . . . and you speak about Ukraine, they say, “What do we care about Ukraine? Our enemy’s in Morocco” (Ibid).

“The Europeans invited [Muslim immigrants] in. They needed cheap labor. But they didn’t want to make them citizens, so they invented this thing called multiculturalism. It basically meant, ‘You’re here, you can work, but you’re not one of us.’ They did what they did with Jews in the previous century – they ghettoized them. So having ghettoized the Muslims under the flag of liberalism and multiculturalism, they left them to be radicalized. Threats from Islam, he notes, are nothing new in Europe. ‘Spain has been invaded before and a Muslim army reached the gates of Vienna. This is a very ancient war'” (Ibid).

Multiculturalism is to Blame for Muslim’s Hating Christians? How do Muslim Countries Treat Their Christian Minorities – Countries Which Have Not Been Subjected to Multiculturalism?

Friedman is probably right that multiculturalism represents a failure. The term ‘assimilation’ may sound frighteningly Borg-like, but it just means becoming a member of the native culture indistinguishable from any other. New Zealand immigration, for instance, has tended to assimilate in this manner. New Zealanders do not hyphenate into Irish-New Zealanders, or Scottish New Zealanders or Dutch-New Zealanders. Second generation immigrants tend to become just “New Zealanders.” Ethnic origins are of no particular significance except where racial differences are noticeable. Australia, by contrast, has little Greeces, little Italies – groups of white immigrants who have not become full participants in mainstream Australian culture. It probably makes it fun for ‘regular’ Australians to visit these parts of town in say, Sydney, but something has gone wrong. Either the ethnic group has been rejected or they have rejected the native culture, i.e., multiculturalism here means either ostracism, or self-ostracism, or both.

Friedman’s position is confused. He apparently thinks that if it were not for multiculturalism, peaceful coexistence and the assimilation of Muslim minorities could be expected. The Christians are at fault for rejecting the Muslims, he thinks, but then he acknowledges the history of hostile Islamic invasion. Christians have been warding off hostile attempts to take over parts of Europe for centuries, as he himself acknowledges. On top of that, Muslim countries have a history not of “multiculturalism,” but active genocidal persecution of Christians, such as the Indonesian invasion of East Timor and the attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt. Which Christian countries have murdered their Muslim minorities in the twentieth or twenty-first centuries? Regardless of who is to blame, the ability of Muslim and Christian influenced cultures to get along or to turn into a more inclusive culture embodying both has not been demonstrated. From Friedman’s point of view, multiculturalism represents nothing good and is in fact anti-Muslim by its very nature – which would be news to liberals.

Liberal Confusion: Feeling Friendly Towards Members of Cultures Far More “Regressive” than One’s Enemies in One’s Own Culture

The extent of liberal confusion on the topic of multiculturalism is perplexing. Liberals who want to force cake makers to cater gay weddings and are outraged by a woman who does not want to sign gay wedding certificates do not seem to have anything to say about the hatred and treatment of gays in Syria and Iraq. The Syrian refugees, for instance, are likely to be far more literally violently anti-gay than people in the US.

Likewise the immigrants are likely to have strict ideas about women working outside the home, “in 2011 13.1% of Syrian women participated in the labour force, compared with 71.6% of Syrian men.” This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is not consistent with liberal attitudes.

And women in Syria can file for divorce only with great difficulty. “Women are in fact allowed to file for divorce except it is a long drawn out process and she must get consent from her husband. There are some circumstances in which the woman can apply for a divorce through the judicial system. In order to do this, she must prove that her husband has abused her or neglected his other duties as a husband. If a man wants to divorce a woman, all he has to do is go to court and orally demand a divorce three times, then the court will order him a divorce.

The education of women lags behind that of men. “The literacy rate for women is 74.2 percent and 91 percent for men.” All of which are far worse than their most hated conservative figures in the USA.

It is true that Western countries are capable of generating their own homegrown terrorists like the KKK. But, if we had the choice, we would not voluntarily welcome the KKK in as immigrants.

People who are skeptical about the wisdom of Angela Merkel welcoming eight hundred thousand Syrian refugees into Germany are seen as racist and right-wing xenophobes. In other words, are subjected to ad hominem attacks, not actual arguments. Of all the immigrant populations one could possibly welcome en masse, which one at this moment in time seems to be the most hostile to Western/Christian culture? And if one is concerned to promote a liberal agenda, friendly to gays and women, what are members of the immigrant culture likely to feel about such an agenda?

Cultural Diversity in Academia is Just Racial Diversity

In an academic context, “cultural diversity” is a politically correct phrase that tends just to refer to people looking different from each other – i.e., race. Those racially diverse people tend to be culturally the same or similar; to be liberals. In other words, no cultural diversity whatsoever; just racial diversity. The ideal seems to be a committee of college professors with different skin tones. It does not involve actual diversity of opinion, such as a belief that women should dress in burqhas, which would represent an actual significant cultural difference, nor does it include even a middle-of-the-road American conservatism.

The phrase “racial diversity,” the real goal, has the wrong connotation for the liberal multi-culti. Perhaps it’s because the notion of tolerance is diminished. Tolerating different levels of melanin in skin is a lot easier than tolerating diversity of opinion. A room full of tenured college professors of whatever skin color often means a frightening level of uniformity and conformity. Job interviews for academic positions can include questions about one’s attitude to “diversity,” which weeds out the nonconformists. In response, to state what should be an obvious truth, what’s important is what’s on the inside, not on the outside. You could have a room full of middle-aged white men who represent truly distinct and divergent viewpoints, or a rainbow of different races with more or less identical views.

Better and Worse Cultural Habits

In Conquests and Cultures: An International History, Thomas Sowell, an African-American scholar, describes certain cultural stereotypes that, as generalizations, happen to be true. These cultural stereotypes involve cultural habits that are often recognized to be true by members of those cultures. Some cultural habits turn out to encourage economic and social success, while others do not. For instance, Chinese and Germans tend to be very hard working and to emphasize saving their money, whereas Americans and New Zealanders tend to live beyond their means, while also tending to be fairly hard working.

Are cultural differences within a culture a good thing? It depends whether those cultural practices are compatible or not and whether those cultural practices are actually a good thing or not. Highland Scots in the historical period to which Sowell refers tended to be undereducated, not to value education, and to have rough manners such as dumping their untreated sewerage in the streets. Historically, they would conduct raids on the peaceful, farming Lowland Scots, who, thanks to English incursions, tended to value education and be economically successful. Wherever Highland Scots went, they tended to be unwelcome and to be economic failures. People in Boston found them to be pretty horrible neighbors. Obviously, if one lived in a culture where dumping raw sewerage in the street was the norm, such as Shakespearean England, then there would be no problem. The Appalachian hill people tended to be Highland Scots and they managed to be as economically unsuccessful there as they had been in Scotland.

Chinese people and Indians tend to be economically successful wherever they emigrate, thanks to their care with money and their strong work ethic. They also tend to value education and will invest their money in their children’s educational future.

Sowell suggests that cultures emerging from warm climates; places where food and shelter were provided largely by nature, requiring no particular effort to acquire, tend to have a lower work ethic with no particular interest in education. One could get by with minimal effort with enough to eat and minimal housing. Thus, such groups have no particular history of being thriving immigrants. It might be comparable to being the offspring of a billionaire. Why struggle when the necessities of life can be taken for granted? In fact the Indian migrants to Fiji, for instance, have been spectacularly successful, outcompeting the local population and largely making up the professional class. Several coups have been instituted by the Fijian army when Indians were elected to head the government.

Cultural Habits Beat Discrimination

One thing Sowell points out is that with the right cultural habits, cultural minorities can out-perform and out-compete the local population even with official racist discrimination by the government; even while being officially classified as second or third-class citizens. This has historically been the situation of Chinese immigrants in Indonesia. Thus, a failure to thrive economically or educationally cannot simply be attributed to racism on the part of the host culture.

Alternatively, with the wrong cultural habits, laws against discrimination, government assistance and affirmative action will not be enough to help a minority population succeed. Conversely, Chinese workers on rubber plantations in Malaysia get paid more than ethnic Malaysians because on average the Chinese are twice as productive and therefore there is a greater demand for their services. Local Malaysian employers will pay more for the Chinese workers because they are more valuable as workers.

Islands of Development

A Star Trek future where everyone is rational, educated and reasonable is unlikely. We are born egocentric and ignorant, even ‘racist’ – babies react negatively to members of races to which they have not been exposed. Moral and intellectual progress in individuals is a tricky and delicate affair. Lots of things can go wrong. Even in the most advanced societies only between ten and twenty percent make it to formal operational cognitively and worldcentric morally. America’s founding fathers were formal operational (rational) and educated. With the help of cultural inertia and traditions we still struggle to preserve institutions embodying these constitutional ideals. Most Americans would be incapable of generating these ideas and institutions in the first place. I would not like to have to try myself. The best we can do is to try to preserve what we have already. Free speech, for instance, originally recommended for rational reasons, then becomes traditional and institutionalized. However, college campuses are curtailing this rational and traditional right a great deal. If public education, the main route to development, gets seriously compromised, the whole thing can unravel.

We often struggle with what to do with undereducated and underemployed groups born and raised here. Much more difficult would be large influxes of second or third world immigrants to a first-world country; likely to be destructive just as colonial interference was destructive of aboriginal and local societies in the Third World during the age of empires.  If the immigrant group cannot succeed educationally or in getting employment and/or embraces an ideology fundamentally opposed to Western culture and democracy, the group will remain unassimilated and be a problem. In such a situation resentment is likely to accrue towards the host culture and one is likely to encounter things like the riots in France some years ago or terrorist murders.

If the culture of origin is tribal or illiterate or at a stage of cultural and political development which the host culture surpassed several hundred years ago or more, incompatibilities are highly likely. Comparing modern religiously driven conflicts with religious wars in Europe hundreds of years ago glosses over the temporal separation. By analogy, all our ancestors engaged in human sacrifice at some point in the past, but that does not mean we are currently morally the same as a modern practitioner.

The UK has major problems with immigrant populations with poor educational levels and job skills due to liberal immigration policies. Countries like New Zealand have been conducting their own cultural experiments with Chinese immigrants with unknowable consequences. No effort was made to prepare either indigenous New Zealanders for the cultural change nor even the Chinese immigrants.

However, New Zealand is likely to be in much better shape than the UK because it tends to carefully restrict immigration to well-educated and wealthy people with needed skills. Since the Chinese are doing well economically in New Zealand, I can’t imagine anything like the French riots of 2005 taking place. So far, difficulties have tended to be in areas where Chinese differ from New Zealanders in terms of their tolerance for corruption. It is well known that Chinese expect reciprocity with regard to financial contributions to political campaigns. Quid pro quos of this kind are not tolerated in New Zealand, while its absence in the USA would mark a major cultural and political revolution where ‘lobbying’ and rewards for donations to political campaigns are standard practice..

New Zealand has been voted the least corrupt country on Earth several times. How a country develops an ethos of general law-abidingness and anti-bribery is not really known. Clearly, it is rare. Mass migrations from countries where corruption is expected is thus a threat. So long as New Zealand manages to hang on to the cultural habits and institutions it got from the U.K., corruption will probably be held in check. “Cultural diversity” is likely to undermine this.

Cultural Diversity Can Indeed be Interesting

In a book about immigrants living in Queens, New York, that was turned into a stage show, the emphasis was definitely on exoticism; a little zoo-like actually. Notably omitted were Serbs because Americans and Europeans have decided that being Serbian is politically incorrect. Also absent from both the book about Queens and show were nationalities like Australians and New Zealanders because they would not be exotic enough. One is reminded of the career of Josephine Baker who wore leopard print costumes to play up her interestingness. This kind of cultural diversity has a definite element of “Oo, look at them. Aren’t they weird?”

Eating another culture’s cuisine is often delightful and adds variety. Likewise, one can see the exotic looking people in Adams Morgan in Washington D.C. in sometimes especially colorful clothing. But surely this last is irrelevant. The question is whether immigration is good for the immigrants and the local culture, and that can differ from one immigrant to the next and one immigrant group to the next.

Falsely Attributing Similar Levels of Development to All Cultures Has Led to War

Arguably, many of America’s recent wars of invasion could have been avoided if cultural and developmental differences had been recognized. Afghanistan or Iraq have not turned into modern democracies simply by removing oppressive dictators and the like. Being blind to such things has been seen as a mark of political correctness but the consequences have been most unfortunate.

Immigration would not Take Place, or Make Sense, if All Cultures were Equal

If all people shared exactly the same cultures and cultural habits then each culture would be compatible with the next. Thus mass emigration would not be a problem. However, the desire to emigrate would also not exist. There would be no point. The new country would be identical to the old. The new country could be expected to have similar levels of economic opportunity as the previous one. The same cultural habits and cultural context will lead to the same results. As Thomas Sowell argues, we know from countries like Japan, that access to natural resources for instance, of which they have almost none, are irrelevant to economic success. Additionally, if we are imagining a world where people are culturally identical, then people aren’t going to be very similar if economic conditions are radically different. You can’t be a college professor in a culture without colleges or a hunter gatherer in modern America.

Thomas Sowell points out the many geographical accidents that have conspired to prevent sub-Saharan Africa from developing very far economically and culturally. There have been oppressive attempts to colonize countries there, but it is things like the lack of natural harbors around the whole coast of sub-Saharan Africa, the lack of navigable rivers, the tse-tse fly killing large animals that could be used to transport goods, the cultural isolation caused by the lack of sea and river access, and the like that have limited Africa’s advancement. We have no reason to think that all those countries would be rivaling Japan if it were not for European aggressive interventions.

Since cultures differ, as do the people coming from those cultures, it will remain an open question as to whether emigration from one culture to another will turn out to be a good idea for the individuals and cultures involved.

Richard Cocks

Richard Cocks is an Associate Editor of VoegelinView and has been a faculty member of the Philosophy Department at SUNY Oswego since 2001. Dr. Cocks is an editor and regular contributor at the Orthosphere and has been published at The Brussels Journal, The Sydney Traditionalist Forum, People of Shambhala, The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal and the University Bookman.

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