There's something deeply unsettling – perhaps because I'm a Polack, or maybe this applies more broadly – about Germans talking about race, cultural differences, and how people of different nationalities can best get along. Sorry guys. I'm sure Germans hate hearing this with a passion, but…too soon. I know, I know. It was 60-plus years ago. But Germany may have permanently forfeited its right to lecture the rest of us on assimilating religious and ethnic minorities.

That said, I noted with great interest these comments from Chancellor Merkel over the weekend, echoing sentiments she has been expressing more often lately:

"The approach of saying, 'Well, let's just go for a multicultural society, let's coexist and enjoy each other,' this very approach has failed, absolutely failed," she said…"We've all understood now that immigrants are a part of our country, (but) they have to speak our language, they (to) have receive an education here," Merkel told CNN's "Connect the World" program September 27.

Has multiculturalism been a failure? Well, yes, inasmuch as tolerance of different cultures within the same borders is nonexistent outside of the western world and very, very poor within it. Sure, the U.S. or Germany probably do a better job of having diverse ethnicities get along than, say, Sudan or anywhere in Central Asia or the Middle East, but we still suck at it. The U.S. has a serious race problem and a level of xenophobia that looks tame only when compared to most of Europe.

But has multiculturalism failed so clearly that the idea itself is a failure?
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This is the difference between saying something hasn't worked and that it cannot work. In fifteen years of thinking about this question I haven't come to any useful conclusions. I understand why forced assimilation is both undesirable and infeasible. At the same time, I think I'm to the right of most of my ideological brethren in that I also readily admit the problems caused by too little assimilation. On the one end of the spectrum you have a concerted effort to erase the cultural identity from different groups of people and on the other you have a permanent, ghettoized underclass that is there-but-not-really-there, hidden away in the shadows of mainstream society.

The real problem as I see it is that I don't think many people – America certainly isn't exceptional on this point – have the cognitive capability to appreciate/respect marked cultural differences without seeing the members of those groups as "others." The average person in the U.S., for example, understands that immigration is a permanent feature of American society and will accept, perhaps grudgingly, that different people will celebrate "weird" ethnic holidays and eat different food and generally not be the same as white people in rural Kansas. But that same person struggles, I think, to see immigrants as fundamentally the same – every bit as American as you or I or apple pie – when they talk, look, dress, act, and live differently. Some people can handle that; I don't have faith that their numbers are very large relative to the size of our country.

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So even if it's Right and even if people approach the issue with good intentions, I think multiculturalism has failed, as the Chancellor points out, and will continue to fail as long as people remain incapable of seeing their neighbors as simultaneously very different and fundamentally the same. Adults should be able to handle that kind of higher-level thinking but it does not appear that they can. I guess that we will continue our futile, counterproductive practice in the West of lashing out at people who look, talk, and believe differently for refusing to assimilate, thereby making it substantially more difficult for them to do so…

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not to mention less likely.

It's a great system. It's working well for Germany's Muslims, not to mention Latinos in the U.S.

26 thoughts on “IN A PERFECT WORLD”

  • This is getting a lot of attention today, and in my opinion people have misunderstood Merkel's remarks. What I hear her saying is, "Our 50-year-long policy of 'foreigners in Germany are always foreigners, and we respect their choice to remain separate, unless or until they choose to integrate,' does not work, and we need to change it." That's what "side-by-side" was, and she's right, it didn't work. The translation to our understanding of multiculturalism makes it sound really terrible, and it just isn't.


  • I think the key phrase up there is, "Adults should be able to handle that kind of higher-level thinking but it does not appear that they can."

    Adults can, but what we have is a lack of adulthood on a mass level. Culturally, we're all still teenagers at best. I'm not sure if there are any fully "adult" societies on the planet at all.

  • I believe that the failure of multiculturalism has less to do with ideology or the intellectual maturity of a society's members, and a lot more to do with capitalism as an institution. Competition for finite resources and assets forces a society to adopt an Us/Them mentality on so many levels: sex, age, birthright, level of education, etc — national origin is only one parameter applied to the Capitalist's culling of the herd.

    If you doubt that, just look at the growing animosity between unemployed college grads and Baby Boomers. The Free Market is one of Homo Sapiens worst ideas to date.

  • So Bette Noir, the counterfactual is: the US without capitalism would be a multiculturalist dream world?

    I am not how your thesis that capitalism generates ethnic strife could
    1) explain the slaughter of Hazaras in Bamiyan, Afghanistan [only "capitalist" in the anarchic sense]
    2) The mass (ethnic/national) purges and forced migrations in the Soviet Union [not capitalist]
    3) persecution against Uyghurs, Hui, Tibetans and other minorities in China [these occurred both before and after Deng's reforms] .

    Resources are limited in this world. When resources are limited, "ethnicity" or other ordering schemas can be activated. All politico-economic systems operate under this reality, not just capitalist ones; the question is whether policies can/should be enacted to promote one set of mental schemas over another not whether they are caused by the evils of the invisible hand.

  • I'm guessing that as a total foodie, it's just easier for me to accept that people eat strange foods, and having parents from different ethnicities, it is easier for me to accept those differences. I'm also guessing that there's a significant number of Americans who are also mutts and can't necessarily find an 'us' group to completely submerge themselves in so they can demonize a 'them'. Although to be fair, there were plenty of Americans who lost their shit when the slaves were freed and when the civil rights act was passed.

    It's just easier to do this in Germany and most of Europe primarily because they are so monolithic to begin with. We make fun of stuff like this ( when America is on the brink of whites no longer being in the majority and a few of them lose their shit. It's going to be far uglier when Europe reaches that point.

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    Bette, it's sadly more simple than the free market system. People hate their neighbors because of tribalism. Why is it that Hutus are willing to brutally beat Tutsis (and vice versa). Why is it that Red Sox fans are willing to brutally beat Yankee's fans (and vice versa)? Why do children treat anyone who is different (with glasses, overweight, too short, etc.) so brutally?

    It certainly does boil down to limited resources; but the solution to handling those limited resources (whether Capitalism or Socialism) will always be stymied by tribalism.

  • "The average person in the U.S., for example, understands that immigration is a permanent feature of American society and will accept, perhaps grudgingly, that different people will celebrate "weird" ethnic holidays and eat different food and generally not be the same as white people in rural Kansas. But that same person struggles, I think, to see immigrants as fundamentally the same – every bit as American as you or I or apple pie – when they talk, look, dress, act, and live differently."

    Well you see, there's the problem.

    These other people, these people who eat and act and pray differently… they're not 'American' enough.

    I believe, Ed, that — although I have no proof of it — you will find that the people that *do* accept others as being fundamentally the same share a common trait of really not giving a damn whether they are as 'American' as you, I, and apple pie — but that they are just as *human* as you or I.

    Throughout my school years, others always asked me why I did not recite the pledge. I stood, but would not say the words. And my answer has always been the same — I do not give my loyalty to a peice of dirt with arbitrarily-defined lines separating it from other pieces of dirt. I pledge my loyalty to Humanity. To me, there are no such things as Americans, or Mexicans, or Englishmen, or Spaniards, or Germans, or Arabs, or any of the rest. There are only People. I do not believe that the happenstance of being born on some patch of dirt obligates you to base your identity around it.

    I do not believe that there is any patch of dirt worth dying over. I would fight to the death to protect my neighbors from direct aggression, but I will never raise a weapon against another person in the name of some preposterous notion such as 'The American Way'. Tell me to hate a man because he does evil against his fellow man, and I may consider your proposition. Tell me to hate a man because he is not as 'American' as you or I are and I will tell you to proceed straight to hell.

    I cannot speak for others, of course. But I imagine (again, without proof) that others that see all of their fellow humans as potential equals bear at least similar sentiments.

  • All I have to say is this: If America provided the level of welfare support for unemployed Muslim immigrants that Germany does, the right wing would be out in the streets with torched lynching them.

  • I'm Just a Bill says:

    I unfortunately have to agree with HoosierPoli – & to think 60 years ago, they had all of those (generalization coming) gainfully employed well educated Jews…

  • Aslan Maskhadov says:

    Maybe Eastern Europe should retaliate by ruthlessly hunting down Germany's sex tourists when they come to Poland or the Czech Republic.

  • On local NPR station KPCC's "Off Ramp" last night, the host interviewed a (clearly German) employee of Mercedes about their upcoming release of a hydrogen fuel cell/electric hybrid vehicle here in SoCal. It was an interesting piece about how the car worked and performed, and how the folks at Mercedes were excited to have the opportunity to test the car in the real world with LA drivers because we have hydrogen fuel with sufficient availability that obtaining it will not be overly difficult for normal (Mercedes) drivers.

    Unfortunately, part of that excitement is due to the fact that Mercedes views the use of hydrogen fuel in conjunction with a battery hybrid system as the (and I kid you not) "final solution" for ridding drivers of petroleum dependence.

  • Approaching my seventh decade, I lay claim to a perspective some of you lack. I think the perception here of the US majority population's reaction to multiculturalism is analogous to a conclusion about the tides: you see waves washing the beach, then retreating, but fail to see that each time the water moves a little further in. Thus with tolerance. I can remember when all professional basketball teams were white, when TV ads featured only white actors, when non-Anglo actors in Hollywood were under pressure to change their names (unless they were playing ethnic stereotypes). Fifty years ago I witnessed blacks picketing a supermarket in Berkeley, CA (!) because management refused to hire them as a matter of policy. Who could have foreseen Obama?

    Don't be distracted by the current political and cultural climate, which has been heated up by 9/11, several years of reactionary fear-mongering, and topped off by a disastrous economy. The current scapegoating and rage were predicted by a lot of historically aware pundits, and they were more than right. It may be important for some people to scapegoat "them" even while finding the ethnic who works next to them or lives next to them as, of course, not "them" but Fareed or Willem or Sufia or Juan. You know, a person. Those folks weren't around 50 years ago–at least not in such numbers.

    From a whitebread small town, I'm enough of a hick in Noo Yawk never to have lost my wonderment at all the dazzling variety here. I have to cut this short to get ready to dine out at a new Korean restaurant a few blocks away, where food is spicy and much, much more interesting than Mother used to make.

  • As someone who's parents packed up their things and emigrated, and as someone who then packed up his stuff and emigrated I can speak volumes.

    When I moved here I left many of my thoughts and ways at the door as I came in. This is how things are done here and that's that. The issue can be that many people don't get "you're not in the old country anymore". So try to carry on as if they are and fight against the culture that is here. Worse is when they drag their conflicts here and pass on the grudges of things that were laid to rest 30yrs ago to their kids.

    Effectively there's a difference between a govt giving assistance to those who've just gotten off the boat get on their feet (interpretive/translation services) and out right pandering to things that create societies within societies. Eg only teaching in their ethnic language or allowing things that are repugnant to our society child marriage or the burqa/niqab (sp?).

    It's along these lines that there's conflict. It's the failure of the immigrants to remember that they act differently here, and those thing from the old country just don't fly.

  • Well, let's see how we're doing in the good old US of A.

    Black slaves released ca 1860
    Blacks, Irish, Catholics, Jews need not apply ca 1925
    Random lynching of blacks still occurring ca 1950 (Holy shit – this is in my lifetime)
    Civil Rights legislation turns the South Repugnicant forever ca 1965
    Nixon's So Strategy ca 1970
    Reagan's Philadelphia, Miss speech ca 1980
    Fast forward 30 years, and the reaction to a black president is rabid right-wing nativist populism in horror at his OTHERNESS.

    Well, now the hate killing victims are TEH GAYS, so I guess that's progress.


  • Heh heh. Ed's post + eetmee's comment…

    Anyone else thinking of that Simpson's bit when the Ruskies suddenly spring back into full Cold War Mode?

    "The Third Reich will be pleased to offer amnesty to your wayward vessel."
    "Third Reich? I thought you guys were back to being just 'Germany' again…"
    "Nien! That's what we wanted you to think, hahahahahaha!"

    Cue unfurling swastika regalia, thumping jackboots, tanks, re-animated Hitler – "Must… crush… the… Juden…"

    ah… and so on, and so forth…

  • I came here to say what Bette Noir said. In times of increased competition for scarce resources (artificial scarcity or not), societies tend to divide themselves into competing groups on largely arbitrary lines like race, religion, gender, etc. The perception of difference is not in itself a bad thing. Society's divisions simply happen upon those lines, so they appear malignant.

    I would say that the issue is not so much 'multiculturalism' or 'assimilation' as it is an economic, political, and social system that forces people to fight for resources that should not be scarce.

  • Multiculturalism is more lively than monoculturalism, but monoculturalism is usually more efficient. There may be more friction, particularly among tribalists, but allows a wonderful convivencia among the broadminded.

    A polyglot society enriches languages as they cross pollinate, but it helps to have a common tongue — to understand the laws, to be sure you are getting what you need from the doctor, and to take care of yourself generally. My great-grandparents relied on their kids to translate for them, but along with some English, picked up some Greek, Polish, Italian, and Yiddish. A "live and let live" mentality may be learned. It's better than the ignorance that comes with regionalism, isolation, and lack of exposure.

    I think some lines may be drawn (no to animal sacrifice and child brides) and some laws can be reconsidered (polygamy among consenting adults? Why not?) But I don't know that the government should be involved in culture, or have an opinion on it generally.

  • Although I'm in the middle of the old man cadre age-wise, I have to agree with Anotherbozo and Jazzbumpa. Despite all of our other serious flaws, the progeress made in race and gay relations are more than I ever thought would ever happen in my lifetime. If you talk to people under thirty, even in the heart of the bible belt, they simply don't think much about race, sexual orientation, or gender. The nativism you hear screaming all around you is from the older folks. It's the 55+ crowd that can't imagine a world that isn't a majority WASP and is totally batshit crazy about a black man being president.

    Other than that, race relations are moving at a faster pace than has ever occurred in any place probably in the history of the world. I complain constantly about the economy, politics, unfair trade practices, globalization and any other topic you care to discuss but I look in awe and with pride in the strides we've made in America against racism and towards inclusion.

    Europe is entering 1950's America as far as race relations go. They have known nothing but homogeneaity for most of their history and are going to have to work through their own cycle. There are few things about America that I continue to have pride in but the rapid decline of racism, sexism and homophobia is one.

  • I'm with the SilverTops (No? Elders? ChromeDomes? Fogies? Chronologically Well-Endowed?).

    To a certain extent, I think the fact that racist old white guys and religious nutbars worldwide are on some kind of round-the-clock, no-weekends-or-holidays, synchronised pant-shitting marathon at the moment is a really good indication we're on the right track.

    Stalled, sure. But on the track.

  • Eau,

    If you don't mind, I'd like to add "chronologically well-endowed" to my repertoire.

    That being said and for the whipper-snappers reading this – I can assure you that there has been progress so monumental in the area of race and gay acceptance that it makes this mid-level geezer gasp at just how quickly it has happened.

    Rrally, as a guy who grew up hearing every manner of racial epithet and homosexual taunt, we really do live in amazingly progressive times.

    As for the economy, well, we moved back to 1890 but that is all of our crosses to bear.

  • I'm from San Francisco. I think white people from Kansas are exotic and strange, and I cringe thinking about the unregulated immigration that California must endure–from the other 49 states.

    Mexico and Central America? China? Russia? Bring 'em on–they work hard and know how to get along with the people who are already here. Kansas? Not so much. We tolerate 'em anyway, but they don't make it easy.

  • Paul W. Luscher says:

    Think it's too late to bitch about a multicultural society in America. We HAVE been a multicultural society for at least 100 years, if not longer. And out here in California, where we've got just ab0ut every race and nationality under the sun, it'w way too late to go back to any idea of racial or cultural purity.

    Hey, where else can a Chinese guy pick up a guitar to play the blues, and go out for Mexican food afterwards?

  • Certainly is great to hear decidedly liberal folks say nice things about the US of A. Runs against the norm…Thank you.


    Polyamory. From a purely utilitarian standpoint, are we up to the challenge of that sack of snakes? Who did what with whom and who supports whom and who gets the children and how do we divide the stuff when the hip fits the sham? It's tough enough when there's just two plus children and property involved.


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