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Is multiculturalism good for society?

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The banners of "diversity" and "multiculturalism" have been held high for decades as goals to be assiduously striven for by right-thinking people everywhere. From the painfully ham-handed diversity of Star Trek: The Next Generation to the chirpy happiness of Sesame Street, we are fed a daily diet of messages saying diversity is in and of itself a good thing, with the implicit and unquestioned belief that those who question the relentless march of diversity are the worst kind of bigots.

Now comes this Belmont Club article, highlighting a Financial Times article discussing a new study by Harvard professor Robert Putnam, author of the popular book Bowling Alone. His new work casts doubt on the social desirability of diversity and multiculturalism.

From the Financial Times article:

The core message of the research was that, "in the presence of diversity, we hunker down", he said. "We act like turtles. The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it's not just that we don't trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don't trust people who do look like us."

Prof Putnam found trust was lowest in Los Angeles, "the most diverse human habitation in human history", but his findings also held for rural South Dakota, where "diversity means inviting Swedes to a Norwegians' picnic".

When the data were adjusted for class, income and other factors, they showed that the more people of different races lived in the same community, the greater the loss of trust. "They don't trust the local mayor, they don't trust the local paper, they don't trust other people and they don't trust institutions," said Prof Putnam. "The only thing there's more of is protest marches and TV watching."

Richard Fernandez (Wretchard) of the Belmont Club then comments:
But if Putnam is correct, then one of the central tenets of multiculturalism that it brings people together if they simply "respect" each others differences immediately requires qualification. In fact, it becomes entirely conceivable that the multiculti program is actually the driver behind many of the tensions which are now rising in places like France, the Netherlands and the UK.

Tribalism is programmed deep into the human animal. That's why it's World Problem #1.

Different political systems deal with this tribal urge in different ways. One reason why totalitarian governments keep springing up is that they are brutally effective in suppressing the tribal urge internally, in large part by directing the tribal urge outward toward external enemies.

This is also why pure democracies almost always collapse. Democracy is fundamentally unable to manage the tribal urge. The biggest tribe always winds up in power and then begins to impose its tribal customs and mores on the minorities. If the Majority decides it is undesirable for the minorities to ever regain power, a pure democracy can quickly devolve into a totalitarian state--we see it over and over and over again throughout history, from the Romans to the Third Reich.

We can try to pretend that humans don't have this tribal urge, or recognize the wisdom of the American Founding Fathers in promoting a federal republicanism and a careful separation of powers between a central government and soverign State governments. This provided a structure within which different self-selected "tribes" can interact. This I think is what Benjamin Franklin meant when he famously replied to the question "what have you given us?" with "A republic, madam, if you can keep it."