Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Culturism Versus Multiculturalism

Multiculturalism holds that we should celebrate our differences. Culturism suggests that we celebrate our unity. In the history of the world every tribe, nation and group has thought it wise to emphasize their unity. But multiculturalists have the strategy "celebrate diversity" as a radical new idea. Robert Putnam has recently put the two sides to a test.

Robert Putnam is the author of the wonderful book Bowling Alone. In this work this Harvard political scientist employs sociology to investigate the concept of "social capital." Social capital is a measure of cultural connectedness. This would include networks with other people as well as access to understanding the language and skills involved in getting ahead. Those without social capital are not woven into the social fabric of society.

In Bowling Alone he finds that social capital is rapidly dwindling amongst Americans. This means that they trust less and have less in common with their fellow citizens. They volunteer less, vote less, and are generally less involved in their communities than ever. Bowling is up, bowling leagues are down. Americans are increasingly bowling alone. Putnam found social capital to be associated with health, wealth, and low crime rates. In his earlier study of Italy he found that social capital even explained the ability for democracy to emerge.

Putnam's recent study on diversity involved nearly 30,000 people in 41 communities. He found that the more diverse neighborhoods are the less social capital they create. People in diverse communities volunteer less, give to charity less, vote less and work on less community projects. The simple fact is that people do not trust people they share little in common with. As President Clinton's Secretary of Labor Robert Reich pointed out, the rich do not want pay taxes to help the poor when they do not see any commonality with them.

Putnam said, "It would be unfortunate if a politically correct progressivism were to deny the reality of the challenge to social solidarity posed by diversity." These findings were not racial. Putnam said those in diverse communities "distrust their neighbors, regadless of the color of their skin." Ethnic tensions did not arise so much as a general civic malaise. Some have argued that diversity helps economically, many have argued against that conclusion. But all agree, as Putnam says, when it comes to social connections between people, diversity "brings out the turtle in all of us" he said.

Culturism does not hope or expect diversity to be eliminated. Anyone who does is silly; diversity will always be a welcome part of America. But if we do not stress our unity, we may lose our conntection to our fellow Americans altogether. This may undermine our sense of connection, political action, and sense of trust we might otherwise feel with our neighbors and those less fortunate. In the end, Putnam's Italian studies show that emphasizing multiculturalism over culturism may even undermine our ability to have a sustainable democracy.
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