What if Multiculturalism Were Important for Civilization?

Star Wars rebels. From Ralph MacQuarrie concept art.

I. The Way We Never Were

]There’s a narrative making the rounds now about the good old days, when societies had homogeneous cultures and races and traditions. Then, we feel, things were simpler — neighbors trusted each other because they grew up together and attended the same church. We celebrated holidays together. Our kids married each other. Nobody fought about which god to worship or how to educate children because we shared those things in common. Societies didn’t have to deal with multiculturalism.

Puritans. Unified. From ImageHost.Vendio.com
Ancient Athens. From ORFFEAS.

II. The Intellectual Argument Against Multiculturalism

Making an argument for homogeneity requires, at very least, research on the downsides of multiculturalism. Since, at least in the modern West, much the scholarly community is liberal, there is not a great deal on this subject. But some scholars are willing to take it on, even — like Robert Putnam — if they think multiculturalism is ultimately good.

Putnam on diversity. Level of trust on left, level of homogeneity on bottom. From http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9477.2007.00176.x/full

III. The Paradox of Multiculturalism

The problem, I believe, is that there is truth on both sides. Psychologically, sociologically, anthropologically, and by common sense, human beings need to feel they belong to a group or they become isolated and unhappy. In a tight-knit, homogeneous community, individuals are unlikely to be different from their neighbors, while in a multicultural society they are very likely to be different. Thus a diverse community drives some of the very individualism and isolation which plagues modern life. There is no denying that homogeneous villages foster fewer differences and easier interpersonal connection than diverse cities on average. Homogeneity is more comfortable.

Bruegel’s ‘Peasant’s Dance’
City street. By Jim61 on pxleyes.com

IV. A New Hope

Let’s not stray too far from Star Wars here. If you saw the most recent Star Wars movie, ‘Rogue One’, you will remember that the rebels are hardly the model of military discipline or friendly cooperation. The various factions bicker, disagree, split apart, and come together too late to save a brilliant new heroine and her comrades. But their very weakness is their strength — they strive to rule themselves by persuasion rather than force, a tactic which will fail if we’re looking for short-term efficiency but which over time has the potential to unlock greater human potential.

Rogue One. From bustle.com

V. Implications

I wasn’t planning to add this section, but I something struck me while writing and thought it would fit best at the end. Multiculturalism could be beneficially applied in a variety of modern contexts. For example, developing democracies are often fragile due in part to racial or tribal conflict, but perhaps a generous dose of tolerance and multicultural policy would bring those factions together and make them more successful in the long run than less diverse societies. Or perhaps nations facing internal independence movements (UK with Scotland, Spain with Catalonia) could to devolve more power to the regions, supporting a diverse multicultural societies while preserving union.

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Abe Collier

Abe Collier

“I do not understand one thing in this world. Not one.” — Marilynne Robinson, ‘Gilead’