23/02/2008

The Trouble with Multiculturalism

In Fever Pitch (pp. 155-56 in my edition), Nick Hornby comments on the Heysel disaster:
In the end, the surprise was that these deaths were caused by something as innocuous as running, the practice that half the juvenile fans in the country had indulged in, and which was intended to do nothing more than frighten the opposition and amuse the runners. The Juventus fans - many of them chic, middle-class men and women - weren't to know that, though, and why should they have done? They didn't have the intricate knowledge of English crowd behaviour that the rest of us had absorbed almost without noticing. When they saw a crowd of screaming English hooligans running towards them, they panicked, and ran to the edge of their compound. A wall collapsed and, in the chaos that ensued, people were crushed to death. (...)

Some of the Liverpool fans that were later arrested must have felt genuinely bewildered. In a sense, their crime was simply being English: it was just that the practices of their culture, taken out of its own context and transferred to somewhere that simply didn't understand them, killed people.
I've read somewhere else that mere public drunkenness - a staple of English popular culture, especially in connection to watching football and being abroad - is perceived as threatening in Southern European countries. Conversely, you might well get into trouble with the bartender in England when you try to signal "two more, please" if you unintentionally form what is known in Britain, but hardly anywhere else, as the "wanker sign".

And that, my friends, is why it's not a good idea to have a seriously multicultural society, i.e., one in which the multiculturalism goes beyond having restaurants that serve foreign cuisine.

15 comments:

Bill said...

Surely there would be a learning period with a multicultural society, just as people in all countries have had to learn new ways of meeting their needs via new technologies that have been and continue to be invented. Look at the tremendous changes in the past 50 years and how the world's people have assimilated these changes. Why would learning to live with people from different cultures be harder than learning to use a computer or a cell phone as a way of communication rather than mailing letters, and using a classic dial phone and having to go through an operator to make a simple long distance call within the same country? These are only two simple examples, there are thousands more. IMO it has more to do with the "emotional" barriers that people develop toward true integration, than and "real" or "concrete" barriers to this type of society.

Bill

pj said...

The V-sign isn't the 'wanker sign' - that involves forming a ring with the thumb and fingers, flexing the wrist, and rapidly pronating/supinating the forearm in a movement reminiscent of...

LemmusLemmus said...

pj,

you are the authority here, being a Brit (I've only lived in England for about 9 months), but I'm sure I have heard the V sign being referred to as the "wanker sign". It may not be common usage, though; I don't have an OED handy.

I am aware of the internaitional wanker sign. In fact, it has recently been shown to me (not referring to myself, thankfully) by a drunk Englishman.

Which lends this comment a nice circle structure.

LemmusLemmus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LemmusLemmus said...

bill,

first of all, let me say that I'm a radical liberal as far as migration is concerned: I think there should be no restrictions concerning people moving (and taking on jobs) around the globe whatsoever. You may have misunderstood me in this respect.

There is a difference, however, between cell phones (or other technical appliances) and people: Humans are going to ascribe intentions to other humans. We do it all of the time. Automatically.

Even if one would ascribe bad intentions to one's cell phone (which would be pretty daft), if one were to punch it, that wouldn't be so bad.

In contrast, it's not hard to see a punch-up just because someone from one culture misinterpreted the sign made by someone from another culture.

Yes, one would wish that people from different cultures quickly learn to live with each other, but the anecdotal evidence I've seen suggests otherwise.

No doubt there are strong pychological tendencies people have to favour "insiders".

Bill said...

Lemmus,

"Humans are going to ascribe intentions to other humans. We do it all of the time. Automatically."

I lived in Thailand nearly 4 years. It did not take me long to learn several cultural norms: e.g. do not pat a child on the head as a friendly gesture (the head is the most sacred part of the body); Do not step over any part of someone body (this is considered very disrespectful); Dogs are considered the lowest form of life on earth; don't ever call a Thai a "dog".....

My point is that in a short period of time I was able to learn and respect these differences. I guess what I am saying is that all it takes is "tolerance." If a person does not want to accept the differences of another human being, then you are right, Multiculturalism will be difficult.

Bill

LemmusLemmus said...

Bill,

tolerance alone won't do, you also need knowledge, such as on the taboos that apply in a different culture such as the ones you mention. Of course, you could envision a society in which everyone acquires such knowledge, but empirically this doesn't seem to happen.

Bill said...

Lemmus said: "Of course, you could envision a society in which everyone acquires such knowledge, but empirically this doesn't seem to happen."

I agree with you, and let's talk about the reasons.

You state that there is a difference between learning someone else's cultural "norms" and the learning that has taken place to keep up with technological changes. I don't see the difference, unless you are talking about the psycho/emotional "barriers" that people construct toward learning certain bits of knowledge vice knocking down the barriers toward learning other knowledge.

E.D. Hirsch, Jr. in his bestseller "Cultural Literacy"..lists what every American needs to know. Why not create a "multicultural Literacy" book "What every Person needs to know?"

LemmusLemmus said...

Bill,

sorry for responding so late; hope you still read it.

If you want to cover all of the world's cultures in that book, it would have multiple volumes. Seems rather impractical.

As I said above, the difference between misinterpreting a persons gesture, for example, and not knowing how to use your DVD recorder is that misinterpreting a person's gesture might lead to physical aggression towards that person.

Normatively, I don't think people from a host culture should be expected to learn about other cultures whose members immigrate. To take an example from your own society, why should Californians be expected to learn about Mexican culture? It should be the job of the Mexicans (who, after all, chose to live in the US) to learn about the American ways, just like you learned about Thai culture.

Bill said...

LemmusLemmus Said: “misinterpreting a person's gesture might lead to physical aggression towards that person.”

What you might be saying is that we live in a stimulus-response world.

IMO not all people react the same. A person for example with a strong internal frame of reference would not let such a gesture evoke an aggressive response. A fact is NOTHING that you could say or do (less a physical attack) can make me do anything, unless I allow myself to be externally controlled by your words or gestures.

Albert Ellis developed his Rational Emotive Theory (RET) of cognitive behavior, commonly called the A-B-C theory. I think his theory applies to the situation that you offer.

“When a highly charged emotional consequence (C) [aggressive behavior/physical violence], follows a significant activating event (A) [showing a Brit the “Wanker Sign”] , “A” my seem, but DOES NOT cause (C)…Instead, emotional consequences are largely created by (B): The individual’s belief system.

So with education and a willingness to “think” before I act upon a “Belief” that I may have internalized, “rational or irrational” I could learn to “D” Discriminate, i.e. show tolerance, and avoid an unnecessary or inappropriate response.

Look at the number of interracial marriages that have become common place, when less than 50 years ago there were laws, at least in the United States, against such marriages.

How many generations of children born of two races or two cultures have evolved since those laws were deemed outdated and against civil rights?

What do I call my grandson’s child if he marries a White Irish/German girl, when my grandson is already the product of a second generation of interracial marriage? If he and his wife have a girl, do we class her as White, Asian. or Other?

Would you even be able to tell the difference? Does it really matter? I think NOT.

I believe that biology. in a few centuries could make your “Wanker” premise seem null and void. But that is only my opinion.

LemmusLemmus said...

Bill,

I have no idea what you mean to say with your last paragraph.

Apart from that, it seems we're talking past each other. I was writing largely on what I think is going to happen; it seems to me you are writing largely on what people ought to do.

I am not saying that either you or I would punch someone in the head for showing a (supposedly) offensive gesture, nor am I saying one should.

In the rest of your post you're touching upon something I tried to avoid in the original post as well as my comments, because it unnecessarily complicates things. Yes, the lines between cultures (and races) are very, very blurry, yet they are useful concepts; the lines between the concepts of night and day are also blurry, yet we use them to great effect.

Bill said...

Lemmus,

My last paragraph is talking about my vision of the reality of it all... where centuries from now Racial and Cultural boundaries will have been crossed so many times that we may be as one race of Human Beings whose only difference would be our intrinsic characteristics, rather than color of skin, or ones country of origin and cultural norms.

I am not implying that you or I would react the same or anyone should act differently in the situation you described.

I was just quoting the facts that Albert Ellis so clearly demonstrates in his model of behavior. I was using this as a way of explaining that we can do or not do what ever we want to do, and that we all base how we react to certain "stimuli" in ways that coinsides with our belief system (irrational or rational). So, therefore, if the people of the world want a multiculturalistic world to be successful, then it will be successful.

And, If enough people are against it, then they will find ways for it not to be successful.

I agree that there will be some resistance and some people that lack the "tolerance" and willingness to learn the "Norms" of other people. I agree that you illustration could happen.

The lines between night and day, are only blurry for a short time during sunrise and sunset. This will not change. The lines between cultures and races are changing slowly but surely. Because of this,IMO in time they will not be as distinguishable as night and day is and will always be.

LemmusLemmus said...

I agree that the lines between the races are going to get more blurry - that's a biological necessity as long as people from different races have children with each other. The lines between cultures are also going to get more blurry, due to continuing globalization.

But the "superblurry" society that you seem to be envisioning simply wouldn't be a multicultural society anymore, at least not in the sense I was using the term in the original post.

Bill said...

Lemmus said: "But the "superblurry" society that you seem to be envisioning simply wouldn't be a multicultural society anymore, at least not in the sense I was using the term in the original post."

Yes, I agree....so in effect biology will overcome the psycho-emotional "barriers" that currently prevent the existence of the integrated and harmonious multicultural society that you speak of.

Desmond Jones said...

What do I call my grandson’s child if he marries a White Irish/German girl, when my grandson is already the product of a second generation of interracial marriage? If he and his wife have a girl, do we class her as White, Asian. or Other?

DNA testing will provide the answer.

"If you have completed Ethnicity DNA Testing (AncestrybyDNA 2.5/DNA Identity Profile) and your results show over 50% European less than 15% Sub-Saharan African, less than 15% Native American, and less than 40% East Asian; we can further refine your European ancestry with with Euro-Ethnicity 1.0 or 2.0.

The Euro-Ethnicity1.0 service analyzes 320 genetic markers that will predict your European heritage among the following groups:

· Northern European
· Mediterranean
· Middle Eastern
· South Asian

The Euro-Ethnicity 2.0 service analyzes 1349 genetic markers that will predict your European heritage among the following groups:

*
Southeastern Europe (SEE - Armenian, Jewish, Italian and Greek)
*
Iberian (IB -Spanish, Portuguese)
*
Basque (BAS - Spanish/French Pyrenees border)
*
Continental European (CE - German, Irish, English, Netherlands, French, Swiss and some Italian)
*
North Eastern European (NEE - Polish, Baltic, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Russian)"