Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Multiculturalism and its discontents

To liberals, multiculturalism is considered a good thing, even an end in itself.  When it comes to, say, arts or food, then that is true.  When it comes to inter-personal communication, then there are problems.  If someone shouts and gesticulates wildly, is he out-of-control mad or is he merely being pleasantly animated?  The answer depends on his culture.  When you ask a favor and the other person says "that would be difficult," is he saying offer me a bigger incentive or is he giving you an absolute no?  The answer depends on his culture.  When someone addresses you by your first name, does it mean (a) he is swearing loyalty as your friend, or (b) he calls everyone, even enemies, by first names? The answers depends on culture. All of this makes inter-cultural communication extremely complex. In light of this, the findings of Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, as reported by the Financial Times, should not be surprising:
A bleak picture of the corrosive effects of ethnic diversity has been revealed in research by Harvard University’s Robert Putnam, one of the world’s most influential political scientists.

His research shows that the more diverse a community is, the less likely its inhabitants are to trust anyone – from their next-door neighbour to the mayor. ....

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”. [emphasis added]

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