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Life Arts    H2'ed 10/7/17

Multiculturalism Is One Of The Greatest Successes Of All Time

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Message Bart Klein Ikink

A very successful ideology

One of the most successful ideas ever is multiculturalism. For thousands of years it has seen an endless sequence of victories. Indeed there were a lot of temporary setbacks, but the long term historic trend is unmistakable. Multiculturalism was initially thought of by kings who conquered an empire of different peoples and wanted to rule them all. These different peoples could keep their own customs and settle most of their own affairs as long as they didn't pose a threat to the social order. This brought peace and stability, which improved trade and prosperity. For example Cyrus the Great, who ruled around 550 BC, was one of the first to use multiculturalism to rule his vast empire. He respected the religions and traditions of the peoples he ruled. For instance, he helped the Jews to go back to Israel and rebuild their temple.

Of course multiculturalism has been imposed upon conquered peoples with force, but the alternative was often more wars. If the empire lasted long enough, the peoples in the empire together began to form a common culture and became one. Over time smaller cultures became integrated in larger cultures. This happened, for example, in the Roman empire. Many Roman emperors came from the provinces such as France, Africa or Arabia. When the Roman Empire finally collapsed, the conquered peoples didn't reappear as independent nations. They had become Romans. Initially the culture of Rome was dominant, but people in the rest of the empire took over customs from the Romans while the Romans took over customs from the provinces. The world is closely interconnected nowadays so a global culture may emerge without conquest.

Why do many people think multiculturalism is a failure? Most importantly, it is hard to believe that multiculturalism is great when your are faced with foreigners that act like tribes and threaten the social order. It has also a lot to do with immigration and the identity of society. If large numbers of immigrants keep coming, and if they don't adapt and get a lot of children, the nature of society can profoundly change over time. Many people in Europe and the United States fear that it will not be for the better. If Europe becomes more like Africa or the Middle East, then hardly anyone currently living in Europe will consider this to be an improvement, not even the people who came from Africa and the Middle East. Similarly, many people in the United States fear that the their country can become like Latin America, and hardly anyone would consider this progress either.

One cannot ignore history and proclaim that multiculturalism is a failure when it is on the brink of final victory, but it is hard to foresee how things will play out. If war can be avoided, and human civilisation doesn't collapse, all peoples of the world are going to be integrated into a single global culture. There will still be differences, but there will be a framework in place that allows for everyone to coexist relatively peacefully, and gradually integrate into the global culture. It requires a similar level of education, governance and democracy all over the globe, and the same rational approach to matters of importance. Currently this seems a bit of a stretch, but the more people become educated and can be made to agree on using rational debates to revolve differences, the less need there will be for an elite to guide them, or for the use of force to maintain the social order.

Setting matters straight

In the meantime there are people expressing ideas of cultural superiority. Every nation wants to feel a sense of pride about its cultural heritage but it is hard to come up with valid arguments why this or that nation, tribe or religion is superior to others. Yet, there is something that can't be ignored either. Many people desire to go to Europe or the United States. This has more to do with the poor living conditions elsewhere than anything else. One can surmise from this that if the rest of the world becomes more like Europe or the United States, this would generally be seen as an improvement. Cultural superiority thinkers are eager to point out that this is because of the superiority of Western culture. But what is this so called cultural superiority?

It can't be moral superiority for sure. Mr. Huntington was quite cynical about it when he wrote that the West didn't win the world by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organised violence. Mr. Huntington believed that the West is still hated because of this. But is the West really hated? Most people in developing nations realise that they are shaping their own future. They can't blame their former colonisers until eternity. For example, most people in Indonesia aren't hating the Dutch for being their former coloniser. They hardly think of the Dutch any more. Yet, people in Libya and Afghanistan might view things differently. The mess they find themselves in is partly due to interventions of the West because these interventions were recent. Yet, blaming the West doesn't help to improve things.

Is there no superiority in ideas whatsoever? It is about the precedence of reason and how you view it. Science has completely altered the way we live, and that happened because European scientists began to believe that when facts contradict religion, facts should take precedence. And it made the Europeans the masters of the world until other countries followed the same path. In other parts of the world tradition and religion held precedence. Science is going to end human existence as we know it so in the end it all comes down to how you view that. Is it a collective suicide of humanity or is it our final destination to become post-human and to live in virtual realities to entertain ourselves?

People in Europe weren't more rational than others. There were rational people all over the world but they didn't challenge existing wisdom and religion. Most Europeans remained religious, but when facts contradicted Christianity, they dealt with it. Christians in Europe began to separate religion from worldly affairs so that these became different realms. This is reflected, for example, in the separation of church and state. As the search for new knowledge began to take off in Europe, Europeans used their new knowledge to conquer the world. The quest for knowledge also resulted in the development of models for society called ideologies. Tens of millions of people were killed in wars of conquest and the clashes of the ideologies. But would things have been different if the Chinese or the Africans had developed science and conquered the world?

Mr. Hegel's scheme for historical progress can be helpful. Reason overcame religion in Europe and so many social, economical and political experiments have been tried out in Europe that have not taken place anywhere else. The Europeans made more historical errors than anyone else simply because they had so many ideas they could try. In this way the Europeans had more opportunity to learn from their mistakes than anyone else. You can call that cultural superiority if you like, but it is better to call it experience. And it would be a waste of time and tears to go through all these historical processes, including all the wars, again everywhere around the globe, only to discover what you could already have learnt from studying history. So in this sense Europe can guide the world.

Us and them

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Bart klein Ikink was born in a village in the East of the Netherlands and has lived in this region as a child. He studied Business and Information Technology and Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society in Enschede, which is also in the (more...)

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