ALTERNATIVES Exploring Options in Policy and Practice

4Feb/12100

Multiculturalism in America and Europe: success vs failure?

All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure. -- Mark Twain

President Sarkozy of France has declared the country’s policy of multiculturalism a failure. His judgment is supported for their respective countries by British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Australia's ex-prime minister John Howard and Spanish ex-premier Jose Maria Aznar.

How has America presumably “succeeded” when, by the admission of their own leaders, so many European countries have failed? There are possibly three factors that explain it: space&time, hypocrisy and lack of taste.

Space&Time: -- Compaction vs Dispersion; Election-to-election vs Centuries. Sarkozy complains about Muslims praying outside on the street of their overcrowded mosques. But where do French Catholic children line up for holy day and First Communion processions? Or the bulls run in Pamplona (Spain)? Or crowds gather to hear the Pope?

It is no accident that the leaders who have pronounced multiculturalism a failure are elected officials who confuse their need to win the next election with the time needed to make real accommodations among different peoples.

Sarkozy dislikes unassimilated communities co-existing next to each other. In the U.S. ghettoes served communal and nurturant purposes until economic success within different groups enabled moving out to more ample housing, protected by isolation or law from bigoted ethnic restrictions.

Hypocrisy: Elite vs Democratic. Through their public schools Americans inculcate the practice of speaking out of both sides of the mouth which, at least eleven score and fifteen years ago, our patrician, forked-tongue forefathers brought forth upon this nation. (Slavery and aboriginal annihilation with freedom and justice for all.)

Everyday events bear this practice out. In the U.S., pornography and religion can both be big sales -- always a sign of Divine Providence. Distributors of “adult” entertainment in the U.S. not infrequently begin their efforts by “provoking” resistance from local church leaders. There is a symbiotic relationship between the clergy’s desire to stoke religious fervor and the pornography sales manager’s need to maximize the impact of his advertising budget.

Finally, “Lack of Taste” -- Patrician vs Plebian. Taste is socially accepted bigotry. It is supported by presumed entitlements to taking umbrage, declaring as whim demands, “I find that offensive.” (We’ve all learned from Thumper’s mother that “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.") Peoples in Europe -- but by no means exclusively there -- who choose their leaders from among their “social betters” find it easier to ape those betters by adapting their tastes, since their intellect or wealth is harder to come by. (Americans like to ape them, too. Vide fashion.)

Struggles between those who have or don’t have “taste” is what powers no small part of the US economy, e.g. “talk shows” abound while public television drama starves. Reconciling with your wife and daughter on the Jerry Springer show, after confessing that you fathered your own grandchildren, is a quick ticket to back-home, down-home celebrity.

European leaders, faced with massive immigrations stoppable only by adopting politically risky exclusion laws, made rational decisions to adopt multicultural policies. James G. March (Ambiguity and Choice, 1976) has suggested that we would be better off with less rationality; that we might be well served by a concept of "sensible foolishness". (I suspect our more classically trained European leaders would find this advice hard to take.) We become sensibly foolish, writes March, by treating goals as hypotheses, intuition as real, hypocrisy as a transition, memory as an enemy and experience as theory. We become really, really pragmatic Americans.

For references and to examine these issues further, see Productivity, Politics and Hypocrisy in American Public Education: school organization as instrument and expression

Cordially
--- EGR

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