Multiculturalism

Clay Shirky clay@shirky.com
Sat, 20 Oct 2001 15:30:57 -0400 (EDT)


> > Culture is just the result of countless atomized behaviors, as is the
> > market. To whom do we give the right to interfere in those decisions?
> 
> Okay, it sounds like the opposition isn't so much to separate cultures as to
> artificial means to keep them separate. 

Well, kinda, though I can't imagine any real way of distinguising
'real' means from 'artificial' means in this arena. Lets say instead
that I am opposed to coercion.

> But what if it's the cultures themselves that are doing it, as
> opposed to imposing it on others?

I think culture is a second-order phenomenon (as is any macroeconomic
system), so I have a hard time thinking of cultures as having
'selves', exactly. 

In the case of the US laws regarding imigration, I disagree with many
of them, but the thing that makes them legitimate in my mind is that
they are the laws of a democratic government with strong protections
for minority races and religions embedded in the basic documents of
the legal system. (Whether we live up to those ideals often enough is
another story...)

Similar immigration restrictions on the part of the French stike me as
less legitimate, as they have fewer Constitutional protections for
minorities. The Kuwaiti system, where voting is based on relatedness
to Kuwaitis, strikes me as even less legitimate, and anything the
Vietnamese government might have to say about immigration strikes me
as least legitimate of all.

So for me it all comes back to cost -- in a cost-free world,
protecting a culture might be a fine thing to do, but in the real
world protecting a culture means forcing certain behaviors and
preventing others, and limiting who has a say in what constitutes
culture and how it should be protected. 

> Also, I'm not sure it's fair to say that economic theories translate to
> cultural theories. 

I'm not even saying 'translate'. I'm in the Amaryata Sen camp --
economic theories _are_ cultural theories. In my view, economics is
the study of how people spend their lives, not just their money.

-clay