And now, for your reading pleasure, the next installment of the debate competition for the ages! Vote for the winner here.
Question as asked:
Given the existence of a nation-state and some form of Western representative government (think bicameral, parliamentary or some variation thereof), is multiculturalism or assimilationism preferable for the health of the nation and its people?
Expansion: What “preferable” means will largely be left up to the debater to establish. It could mean material prosperity, stability, personal or cultural identity; just argue convincingly to your point.
Multiculturalism – numerous populations from disparate cultures living alongside one another within the nation while retaining much of their cultural distinctiveness. The proverbial “salad bowl”. Assimilationism – numerous populations from disparate cultures shedding or deemphasizing most of their cultural distinctiveness to adapt to the prevailing “majority culture”. The proverbial “melting pot”.
Biff defends multiculturalism, Ozy defends assimilationism.
America has been multicultural since its inception. The very idea of freedom of speech, freedom of religious practice, and freedom of association are all foundational components of the United States, and all clearly support the idea of a multicultural nation. The cultural practices of colonial Georgians differed widely from colonial Virginians, much less the residents of the New England colonies. Concepts of individual liberty and freedom require multiculturalism. Demanding that all citizens adhere to a limited set of cultural ideas is the exact opposite of the type of freedom the United States sought (and still attempts, though often poorly) to provide its citizenry.
Think of your favorite style of food – French, Italian, Thai, Indian. Now imagine how bland life would be if you could only ever get one of those. Multiculturalism means you can walk down the street and pick up a set of tacos on one corner and sushi at the next. No matter how much you like burgers and fries, after a while it gets boring. Variety is the spice of life.
Multiculturalism means you get to celebrate (or just as importantly NOT celebrate) Diwali, or Yom Kippur, or Christmas, or Ivana Kupula, on any other Holiday you wish. It means (((They))) can get Chinese food and go to the movies on December 24th and 25th every year. It means you can even celebrate a made up Holiday like Kwanza (and really, aren’t they all made up?).
Many have claimed Multiculturalism has its drawbacks – clashing ideas from different cultures have been the root of many conflicts over history, but it’s not multiculturalism’s fault – quite the opposite. True multiculturalism has an ingrained respect for other cultures where supremacy of one culture over another isn’t needed. It also demonstrates a true faith in your own culture in that your support of your own culture (born into or adopted) is sufficient that it can withstand differing opinions, viewpoints and traditions without feeling the need to suppress them or attempt to ban them outright. Much like the closely related theory of free speech, the best response to objectionable cultural practices is exposure to alternate viewpoints and practices.
Assimilation is for Star Trek villains – or for Bernie fans trying to streamline deodorant options.
Multiculturalism is an ideology doomed to failure because it is by its very nature antithetical to the concepts that undergird a nation-state. In short: the ‘salad bowl’ riposte to the ‘melting pot’ analogy ignores the fact that both need a container of some kind, be it ‘a bowl’ or ‘a pot.’ In either case, that vessel constitutes the extant culture into which the ingredients must be mixed and without which you merely have a mess of ingredients on the floor.
To quote a Glib regarding language: “meanings have words” – and not the other way around, as it is commonly expressed. The same idea applies in the context of the nation-state. Nations don’t get created and then decide to pick and choose which cultures they’ll let in: nation-states are the byproduct of an extant culture. Through most of history those cultures that rose to sufficient heights or grew to sufficient size were almost always tied to an ethnicity and/or a dominant religion and a particular patch of dirt on the Earth.
It was the United States that changed this conception with the creation of a nation-state steeped in Enlightenment ideas, founded explicitly against the notion of the European, ethnocentric model, to wit: France is where French people live; Italy is for Italians and Spain is for Spanish peoples, etc. The U.S. was founded by various European cultures, each in enclaves sufficient to allow them to grow, up against the pressures of raw nature with an indigenous culture, in which the “melting pot” concept could begin to take hold. Ideas such as rugged individualism inhered in the very nature of the undertaking to come to the New Land and “find one’s fortune.’ The ‘pot’ of the melting pot was already cast before the U.S. was even a political entity.
By contrast, the evidence of the failed experiment of multiculturalism is everywhere in Europe. This is because the idea that immigrant culture can be imported, yet retain all of its own antecedents, misses the mark for a host of reasons, all related to the “bowl” into which these new cultures must be poured.
1. Cultures – i.e. collections of relatively homogenous groups of human beings – are deeply influenced by their environment, including weather, mountains, plains, desert, etc. We seem to have lost touch with this simple, ineluctable fact of life, especially in urban centers, where food magically appears, now that only 2-3% of our population help feed the other 97%.
2. Cultures always, always, include ways of solving disputes; there are objectively – measurably – better ways to resolve disputes. In Afghanistan, for example, honor culture demands the killing of the eldest son in response to certain offenses. This is decidedly NOT a good way of resolving disputes if we place any value on human life. Courts are a better way, for just one example.
3. No culture can expect to survive, to maintain the “pot” or “bowl,” if the ingredients themselves are allowed to alter the bowl, or destroy it at their whim.
4. In a bowl with different ingredients, the radishes shouldn’t get to enslave the avocado because that’s what ‘radish’ culture demands.
5. The US explicitly chose assimilation, even with people with a very similar common heritage, namely, Mormons. Statehood was explicitly conditioned upon giving up bigamy. One may argue about whether that specific choice was necessary, but the fact is that the US made historical choices to preserve the distinct characteristics of culture over the “salad” approach.
None of this even begins to address issues such as language, which includes means of commerce and currency that must be fairly constant for the nation-state to survive. The ascendancy of American English as the lingua franca for the world is not a historical birthright. It is a result of deserved U.S. cultural ascendancy across a range of important areas of human relations, from international aviation, to computers, commerce, science and other technology, including medicine, and on and on. If those gains in civilization mean anything, they certainly indicate the need to preserve the underlying character of the culture that produced those gains.