Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Ethnicity and Voluntary Associations

H.E. at The Enlightenment Project offers some interesting thoughts on multiculturalism and social capital:
Maybe the fundamental mistake of multiculturalists who advocate the salad bowl rather than the melting pot is thinking of ethnic groups on the model of civic organizations, coops and the like, as repositories of bridging rather than bonding social capital. Each group will operate its own ethnic restaurants and produce its own float for the Fourth of July parade. But this is precisely NOT how ethnic groups operate: if they did they wouldn't be ethnic groups but voluntary cultural preservation societies. There's nothing objectionable about cultural preservation societies if they admit anyone who has an interest in ethnic cookery, dance and costume and if their business is participating in "ethnic faires," reading and discussing the history of their chosen group, learning about the language and so on. But real "ethnic communities" are not voluntary associations and, even if they engage in cultural preservation as a side line their main business is to access political power and gain economic clout in order to get apprenticeships, jobs, contracts, grants and other scarce resources for their members. To this end they promote bloc voting and operate patronage systems.

I know what this system is like because I was brought up with it and I can't think of any arrangement that's more effective in undermining public-spiritedness, transparency and trust--social capital on the large scale.

What do you think?


  1. advocate the salad bowl rather than the melting pot

    Many of us that advocate the "Salad Bowl" (or mosaic, as we Canadians call it) rather than the melting pot, object to the forced conversion of immigrants to the melting pot viewpoint. It goes against notions of liberty and freedom.

    That being said, a social group encourages some melting together, but that is more likely a passive result rather than an active melding. (The point may be raised, do social groups cause individuals to conform, or do they just attract the like minded in the first place?).

    The logic of "the melting pot" approach breaks down for me on several fronts.
    A) One has to define the parameters of said pot, what makes it unique from other pots. A very difficult task, especially at a national level. What is a prototypical American, Canadian, Australian? If you don't meet the definitions, does that mean you don't belong?
    B) Once the parameters have been defined, policies have to be put in place to co-opt new citizens to change to fit the mold. Goes against notions of liberty, and freedom of expression.
    C) The parameters, once defined, are static, and ignore the evolution of any society. Treats it as a closed system. The America of today is the the America of the 50s. So how does one account for that in a melting pot mindset?

    A "salad bowl" or mosaic approach is a more natural understanding of the interactions of individuals. It lets them define their own "pots" through their own forms of self-expression.

  2. Who said anything about "forced conversion"? The mere recognition that assimiliation is desirable in no way implies that it should be forced!

    Also, I don't think one needs to strictly define the pot's "parameters", or anything like that. The melting pot is a procedural ideal, rather than one with a fixed outcome. We naturally influence each other, intermarry and (in due time) converge, rather than trying to isolate and retain the cultural "purity" of one's traditional ethnic sub-group. Others need not be "outsiders" - they're part of your society too.

    See also my post on (H.E. Baber's book) The Multicultural Mystique: the liberal case against diversity.

  3. Also, I don't think one needs to strictly define the pot's "parameters", or anything like that. The melting pot is a procedural ideal, rather than one with a fixed outcome.

    That is what a melting pot should be.
    I'm concerned when its adopted as policy (a la America). There's a push to co-opt the immigrant and it becomes more active than passive.

    Even some in America are realizing that a melting pot is a myth. See here and here.

    Melting pot, vs. salad bowl or tomato soup are fine as cultural definitions within the purview of debate. Its when they become foundation of immigration policy that can cause the problem. The racist hides behind the melting pot argument (not that all melting pot advocates are racist).

    And thanks for replying to my comment, I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog since I found it earlier this year.

  4. In support of my argument, I give you the other side


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