Monday, March 9, 2015

Is There a Certain Futility to Pursuing Multiculturalism?

"Can't we all just get along?" The world would be a better place if everyone pursued peace and emphasized their similarities over their differences, but all the wars, conflicts, and ethnic nationalism and chauvinism throughout history show otherwise. Being more multicultural, whether in public policy, business protocol, or in our personal lives, has become more and more prevalent over the past century. I recently came across an article at the Council on Foreign Relations talking about the failures of multiculturalism. According to author Kenan Malik, "everywhere, the overarching consequences have been the same: fragmented societies, alienated minorities, and resentful citizens." Although most of what I am going to write here is just a stream of consciousness [that could very well use some fine-tuning down the road], it's going to be revolving around two questions: 1) Has multiculturalism been that much of a failure? 2) Is there a point in even pursuing multiculturalism?

The term "multiculturalism" can be quite nuanced. It can be as simple as the co-existence of individuals of diverse cultures within a given society, which is a good thing because a free society needs to be one in which can tolerate others' differences. The definition can be as complicated as various public policies that encourage a more ethnically and racially diverse society, such as immigration or labor policy. Governmental approaches to multiculturalism can vary, as Malik points out. The United Kingdom gives various ethnic communities an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. Germany encourages immigrants to live their separate lives without even pursuing citizenship or even attempting to integrate. France simply prefers assimilationist policies over multicultural ones because France has a strong sense of nationalism. The United States has a more open, integrative approach to multiculturalism, although if you look at its immigration history, it took a while to get there.

Having a multicultural frame of mind assumes that an individual's cultural background has the potential to frame one's identity and path. There is something to be said for someone to maintain a sense of cultural identity. Although not quite the same, I maintain my Jewish identity while being able to maintain my identity as a citizen of the United States of America. To be an American simply means to be a citizen of the USA, whether by being born here or going through the naturalization process. In France, the standards are much higher. You pretty much have to have Christian, French ancestry dating back centuries. Otherwise, you're not considered "truly French." Jews who have French ancestry aren't considered truly French, so why would Muslim émigrés? Regardless of the extent of nationalism in a country, nation-states have at least some cohesive element that forms a common identity, which is inevitable when people interact with one another in a society, particularly a nation-state.

Societal definitions of nationalism are also tied into the extent to which far-Right, anti-immigrant parties have clout in a given country. Ultra-nationalism never did any favors for pluralism, that much I can tell you. Race and religion play a role, but so does language. If you cannot speak the language, you already have a barrier to fully participating in society. Economic disparities and willingness to participate in society affect an immigrant's ability to integrate.

Also, there is a difference between integrate and assimilate. Assimilate means shedding one's previous culture in order to take on the culture of the country in which one currently resides. Integrate means maintaining some or all aspects of one's culture while still finding a way to function and participate in society. If you separate your immigrant or minority population, such as in Germany or Britain, then there is discontent and discord. For society to work at its most optimal, these individuals need to be integrated into society so they can be active members of society.

A big issue with multiculturalism is the assumption that all cultures are equally valid, which leads to cultural relativism. This is a problem when certain cultures thrive on intolerance or likes to infringe on others' lives. How could we object to honor killings, anti-Semitism, infant sacrifice if we went down the multiculturaist viewpoint? Plus, multiculturalism quashes individualism. Chinese culture, for instance, isn't monolithic. Europeans aren't all the same. Even within a certain nationality or group of people (e.g., women, homosexuals, libertarians, Jews) don't all think the same way.

I don't think having a pluralistic society in which individuals of different races, religions, sexual orientations, political views, and genders is a bad idea. It's actually a great idea. Diversity helps advance society. However, when certain government policies get in the way and pushes a view that all cultures and views are equally valid, I have a problem of that. That should take place in the marketplace of ideas, not be forced by government decree. You can try to legislate tolerance, but acceptance, that's a whole different issue, and you know what? Multiculturalism tends to breed even more resentment. Pluralism breeds goodwill. I know it's not politically correct to say that, but someone has to point out yet another example of "good intentions, bad results."

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