Multiculturalism

Clay Shirky clay@shirky.com
Sun, 21 Oct 2001 15:44:24 -0400 (EDT)


> It's not clear to me how to distinguish between education and
> coercion.

Up to 18, you can't, of course. 

After 18, if I decide, say, that Tibetan culture is better than
American culture, forcing me to abjure my new opinion is coercion.

> I haven't heard of this camp. Is this a good summation?

I should say that by the Sen camp, I meant simply that economics can't
be thought of as existing in a separate sphere than culture. 

>     It's futile to pursue global principals such as "world free
>     trade" or "multiculturalism". The only thing you can do is
>     allow each person to act in their own best interests, give
>     them freedom to do so, and step back and see what happens.

Yep.

>     If people combine to build walls, so be it. If it bothers
>     other people, they can break them down. This is the only way
>     to evolve a stable system. If world free trade doesn't result,
>     then it's not worth pursuing.

Basically yes, though I have two minor quibbles with this. First, the
important thing is to evolve homeostasis. Stability itself as a goal
tends to produce brittleness. Its self-correcting and self-adjusting
systems that do best in the long haul.

Second, there isn't anyone in such a system who can say whether
something like world free trade is worth pursuing or not. It will
either happen or not happen (or, almost assuredly, happen in part and
not happen in part), but no judgement about whether it "should" have
happened or not really matters.

>     Individuals should all have absolute freedom, except of
>     course that they should all agree that individual freedom
>     is paramount. And they will come to realize this, with
>     sufficient logical reasoning, once all barriers to
>     understanding are removed. Therefore we should act directly
>     to remove all barriers, instruct everyone in logical reasoning
>     and the importance of such, and require each individual to
>     assess and consider all sources of information equitably.

I don't believe almost any of this, and I'm not sure how you got from
the summary above to this.

First of all, there is no such thing as absolute liberty -- there are
always tradeoffs, and the real question is what is to be traded for
what. I am uncomfortable with any system which trades individual
liberty in order to preserve cultural homogeneity.

Second of all, economics works because indivuduals _do_ maximize, not
because someone decided they _should_ maximize. Good economics is
descriptive, in other words, not prescriptive.

Third, any system which requires its participants to be instructed in
logical reasoning will fail because administering such education is a
practical impossibility and because emotion is a vital tool in human
decision making that cannot be overridden by any technique short of
brainwashing.

If I had to put something I believe in place of this paragraph, I
would say "Enforcing the will of the group on the individual should be
avoided wherever possible" or perhaps "A large sphere of negative
liberty should be safeguarded for every citizen."

-clay