Multiculturalism

A very successful ideology

One of the most successful ideas ever is multiculturalism. For thousands of years it has seen an endless sequence of victories. There were a lot of temporary setbacks, but the long term historic trend is unmistakable. Multiculturalism was initially thought of by kings who conquered an empire of different peoples and wanted to rule them all. These different peoples could keep their own customs and settle most of their own affairs as long as they didn’t pose a threat to the social order. This brought peace and stability, which improved trade and prosperity. For example, Cyrus the Great, who ruled around 550 BC, was one of the first to use multiculturalism to rule his vast empire. He respected the religions and traditions of the peoples he ruled. He helped the Jews to go back to Israel and rebuild their temple.

Of course multiculturalism has been imposed upon conquered peoples with force, but the alternative was often more war. If the empire lasted long enough, the peoples in the empire together began to form a common culture and became one. Over time smaller cultures became integrated in larger cultures. This happened, for example, in the Roman empire. Many Roman emperors came from the provinces such as France, Africa or Arabia. When the Roman Empire finally collapsed, the conquered peoples didn’t reappear as independent nations. They had become Romans. Initially the culture of Rome was dominant, but people in the rest of the empire took over customs from the Romans while the Romans took over customs from the provinces. The world is closely interconnected nowadays so a global culture may emerge without conquest.

But why do many people think multiculturalism is a failure? Most importantly, it is hard to believe that multiculturalism is great when you are faced with foreigners that act like tribes and threaten the social order. It has also a lot to do with immigration and the identity of society. If large numbers of immigrants keep coming, and if they don’t adapt and get a lot of children, the nature of society can profoundly change over time. Many people in Europe and the United States fear that it will not be for the better. If Europe becomes more like Africa or the Middle East, then hardly anyone currently living in Europe will consider this to be an improvement, not even the people who came from Africa and the Middle East. Similarly, many people in the United States fear that the their country can become like Latin America, and hardly anyone would consider this progress either.

One cannot ignore history and proclaim that multiculturalism is a failure when it is on the brink of final victory, but it is hard to foresee how things will play out. If war can be avoided, and human civilisation doesn’t collapse, all peoples of the world are going to be integrated into a single global culture. There will still be differences, but there will be a framework in place that allows for everyone to coexist relatively peacefully, and gradually integrate into the global culture. It requires a similar level of education, governance and democracy all over the globe, and the same rational approach to matters of importance. Currently this seems a bit of a stretch, but the more people become educated and can be made to agree on using rational debates to revolve differences, the less need there will be for an elite to guide them, or for the use of force to maintain the social order.

multiculturalism

Setting matters straight

In the meantime people think their own culture is superior. Every nation wants to feel a sense of pride about its cultural heritage but it is hard to come up with valid arguments why this or that nation, tribe or religion is superior to others. Yet, there is something that can’t be ignored either. Many people desire to go to Europe or the United States. This has more to do with the poor living conditions elsewhere than anything else. Yet, one can surmise from this that if the rest of the world becomes more like Europe or the United States, this would generally be seen as an improvement. Cultural superiority thinkers are eager to point out that this is because of the superiority of Western culture. But what is this so called cultural superiority?

It can’t be moral superiority. Mr. Huntington was quite cynical about it when he wrote that the West didn’t win the world by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organised violence. Mr. Huntington believed that the West is still hated because of this. But is the West really hated? Most people in developing nations realise that they are shaping their own future. They can’t blame their former colonisers until eternity. For example, most people in Indonesia aren’t hating the Dutch for being their former coloniser. They hardly think of the Dutch any more. Yet, people in Libya and Afghanistan might view things differently. The mess they find themselves in is partly due to interventions of the West and these interventions were recent. Yet, blaming the West doesn’t help them in the end.

Is there no superiority in ideas whatsoever? It is all about the precedence of reason and how you view it. Science has completely altered the way we live, and that happened because European scientists began to believe that when facts contradict religion, facts should take precedence. In other parts of the world tradition and religion held precedence. This made Europeans the masters of the world for a while until other countries followed the same path. Science is going to end human existence as we know it so in the end it all comes down to how you view this. Is it a collective suicide of humanity or is it our final destination to become post-human and to live in virtual realities to entertain ourselves?

People in Europe weren’t more rational than others. There were rational people all over the world but they didn’t challenge existing wisdom and religion. Most Europeans remained religious, but when facts contradicted Christianity, they dealt with it. Christians in Europe began to separate religion from worldly affairs so that these became different realms. This is reflected, for example, in the separation of church and state. As the search for new knowledge began to take off in Europe, Europeans used their new knowledge to conquer the world. The quest for knowledge also resulted in the development of models for society called ideologies. Tens of millions of people were killed in wars of conquest and the clashes of the ideologies. But would things have been different if the Chinese or the Africans had developed science and conquered the world?

Mr. Hegel’s scheme for historical progress can be helpful. Reason overcame religion in Europe and so many social, economical and political experiments have been tried out in Europe that have not taken place anywhere else. The Europeans made more historical errors than anyone else simply because they had so many ideas they could try. In this way the Europeans had more opportunity to learn from their mistakes than anyone else. You can call that cultural superiority if you like, but it is better to call it experience. And it would be a waste of time and tears to go through all these historical processes, including all the wars, again everywhere around the globe, only to discover what you could already have learnt from studying history. So in this sense Europe can guide the world.

Us and them

Us and them
And after all we’re only ordinary men
Me and you

Humans are group animals. We divide humanity between us and them. Us is the good people and them is the evil others that act differently, look differently, have funny accents and wear peculiar outfits. Welcome to human nature. This is who we are. In modern times it becomes harder to identify who are us and who are them. People differ in skin colour, religion, political preference, or some other quality, so that it is still possible to make distinctions. And that helps people to feel good about themselves because us is the good part of humanity. Even if you think you’re open minded you are likely to consider the narrow minded others as the evil them. When you are an outsider, and subject to exclusion and regular bullying, life isn’t so great. The us and them question is often narrowed down to racism and discrimination.

There is on reaonable basis for racism but discrimination is a more difficult issue. People have the right to associate with the people they prefer. Yet, this often leads to exclusion and bullying and making certain groups of people feel inferior. Should that be allowed? And what about the problems caused by cultural differences? A lot of people from specific ethnic groups have difficulties in finding a place in society. Is it because they are discriminated or because they don’t adapt very well? The answer is often both. The causes are complicated, but it helps when everyone agrees that this issue should be resolved. There is a good chance that this will happen over time, and it helps if everyone is willing to work on it. Multiculturalism has turned them so many times into us in the past that this trend may continue until there’s no real them any more. That may be of little solace to those who are discriminated or suffer from the misconduct of people from certain ethnic groups, but we shouldn’t lose perspective.

To a hippie flowers and love can do wonders. Indeed, bringing people together can do miracles. A nationalist can think that everyone should stay in his or her own country. And indeed that could have saved us from some trouble, but in the end nations will disappear, and the world will become one. Immigration can revitalise a nation but it can also destabilise it. Most immigrants seek a better life and want to work hard. They are on the move because they don’t see opportunities in their home countries. But many immigrants aren’t successful and cause trouble. Ignoring the facts or distorting them isn’t helpful. Bigotry and political correctness don’t contribute to solutions. In a rational debate all genuine concerns must be brought into the open. This requires both honesty and respect, which can be very difficult indeed. People have different definitions of honesty and respect to begin with.

Multiculturalism is on its way to final victory. It helps when people agree on some basic norms and values as well as the existence of a dominant culture. There is little doubt that the modern world is shaped by Europe, and most notably rational debate and scientific progress. A tacit acknowledgement of this fact, and acting accordingly, should suffice. There’s no reason to shout it from the rooftops in order to humiliate other people. It is also not helpful to think European culture is evil because of all the bad things that happened in the past. And there must be room for an acknowledgement of the benefits of other cultures. It’s not an achievement to be born with a specific cultural heritage nor can you be blamed for that. Yet, it can be an achievement to overcome the limits of your own culture and contribute to a better future, and you might be blamed if you don’t.

See also: Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind. Yuval Noah Harari (2014). Harvil Secker.