“Diversity” has become an ever more prevalent word in many countries across the world. “Multiculturalism” has become the epitome of the liberal ideal of a tolerant, enlightened, and sophisticated society, where every variant of human culture is welcomed. In such a society, diversity is the ultimate goal, while calls to limit or control the level of multiculturalism are derided as a product of the ultimate taboo – “xenophobia.” The irony is that some xenophobia has been one of the key factors in preserving human cultural diversity over thousands of years.
The ideology of multiculturalism has both enriched and impoverished us. On one level, it adds variety and interest to our immediate surroundings, but where does cross-cultural exchange end and homogenization begin? Rather than encouraging diversity, mass migration of populations and other globalizing forces, such as corporate expansion, are actually co-opting the rich multiplicity of human cultural practices into fewer standardized practices.
Multiculturalism has two real outcomes: assimilation or the formation of cultural enclaves. Assimilation can primarily be read as “dilution” of the migrant (and sometimes host) culture. Cultural and ethnic enclaves have typically resulted in division rather than inclusiveness. Though a happy middle ground can exist when well executed, the ideology is being carried well past that point, as evidenced by increasing tensions over the matter.
The number of cultures, languages, modes of artistic expression, and small businesses are sadly diminishing all over the world in the face of globalization. Historically, hegemony through empire-building has destroyed cultures, but today that method is being replaced by the “soft” approach of “demographic shift” and corporate expansion. Thanks to Starbucks, you can visit 63 countries around the world and get the same cup of coffee. H&M supplies clothing in over 4,000 stores worldwide. With multinational corporations looking to integrate into every market they can find, where is the room for local ideas and practices?
Noted anthropologist and scientist Jared Diamond discussed humanity’s ever decreasing global diversity in his 1993 book The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal. Having spent many years studying in New Guinea, site of the last first-contacts between Europeans and “native” peoples in the 1930s, he was all too aware of how “contact between distant peoples gradually obliterated much of the human cultural diversity that had arisen during millennia of isolation.” He observed how many of the local musical, artistic, and language traditions had been lost over mere decades since contact. New Guinean tribes lived in isolation from each other and the outside world due to a mix of xenophobia and virtually impenetrable jungle terrain, leading to the development of possibly the world’s most genetically, culturally, and linguistically diverse area within a tiny geographical region. Yet, those days are gone. “Alternative models of human society are rapidly disappearing, and the time has passed when humans could try out new models in isolation,” says Diamond. He finishes the chapter on a pessimistic, but perhaps not inaccurate note, by adding that xenophobia is only beneficial as long as humans are limited in their ability to kill each other, citing concern over mankind’s genocidal tendencies and increasing nuclear capability. “Loss of cultural diversity may be the price we have to pay for survival,” he concludes.
The idea of bringing together the nations of Europe into one bloc called the European Union did indeed spring out of the aftermath of the horrors of World War II. Once a home to hundreds of various tribes, systematic efforts have been made over the centuries to eradicate the vast diversity of language and culture. Now, the number of languages spoken on the continent has been reduced to about 50, still a vast amount compared the single Esperanto standard aspired to by the European Union. While supporters of the EU tout its open border migration policy in the name of diversity, the irony is that the entire purpose of the institution is to homogenize all of Europe’s current cultures into a single supranational monoculture that follows all the same laws, speaks the same language, and lives the same lifestyle. The EU is using migration as a tool to achieve cultural homogenization, not diversity.
With the election of President Donald Trump, the issue of undocumented migration into America has come to the forefront of national politics. As a new country, the U.S. has a past of successful integration of migrants and the subsequent creation of a unique national culture (leaving aside the hundreds of Native American languages and customs we’re lost in the process). However, with a significant demographic shift underway in North and South America, one wonders what is in store for particularly U.S. and Mexican national identities.
While many self-professed liberals are in favor of open-borders that promote a multicultural society and may profess to be “world citizens,” in reality this ideal only focuses on the benefits for countries to which immigrants are moving, ignoring the consequences faced by those people who remained in their home countries. It also has a narrow focus on “developed” countries (nobody is choosing to mass migrate into African nations, for instance). Looked at in this light, a supposedly “worldly” ideal appears parochial. Such a “liberal” open-border policy has overtones of cultural superiority and even racism of which we are in complete denial. We have gone from the 19th-century colonialism where Europeans paternalistically sought to “civilize” the natives for their “own good” by taking over their countries, to instead welcoming them into the maternal bosom of Western nations who will provide economically in the name of virtue-signaling our own “tolerance.” This time, we are both the perpetrators and the victims, but at what cost to our rich and endlessly varied human cultural heritage?