Sunday, May 27, 2012

On why Multiculturalism usually doesn't work - Part 1

We kick off the next series of articles that explore the contrasting effects of the 'Synthetic Unity' that defines the west and the 'Integral Unity' that defines India, as discussed in Chapter 3 of the book 'Being Different' (BD) by Rajiv Malhotra. The first three posts in this series serve to motivate and provide contemporary real-world examples that highlight the importance of these concepts by building upon an article "A Working Model for Multiculturalism" that is linked in the articles section of 'Being Different' website.

The author of that post primarily analyzes multiculturalism in a localized office workspace scenario and presents two main arguments:

a. 'Zero' tolerance (or mere tolerance) policy of a company is at best a necessary condition for establishing a multicultural workplace, but one that in itself is insufficient.

b. Mutual respect is a necessary and sufficient condition for achieving a stable, working multicultural solution.

Our post attempts to use these two findings as a starting point and extend them as follows:

1. Apply the idea of 'mutual respect' to a more general setting that goes beyond a local workplace where everybody is typically bound legally by a strict corporate policy.

2. The paradox of sameness.

3. Examine alternative theories developed in the West and contrast it with BD's mutual respect

In the west, multiculturalism experiments have invariably failed because of the lack of mutual respect, which if present, actually encourages multiculturalism and diversity. The United States fares a little better due to the combination of the bill of rights, Abraham Lincoln's legacy, and crucially, the Dharmic Gandhi inspired civil rights movement of Dr. Martin Luther King, but it is not a done deal yet.

Multiculturalism Works When There is Mutual Respect
Rajiv Malhotra in his book 'Being Different' highlights the importance of mutual respect (MR). MR possesses what can be called a multi-layered meaning. The first level is pretty straight forward: you respect me, I respect you, and we get along. Even at this macro-level, MR is superior to tolerance that says: either one or both of us tolerate each other, and we somehow get along. However, MR does not just stop there. Tolerance implies either a single unidirectional relationship (I'm superior and tolerate you) or two one-way relationships filled with anxiety (I tolerate you, and you tolerate me). MR implies a single bi-directional bond based on permanent equality, i.e. our respect for each other must be mutual or not at all, unlike tolerance that is characterized by one or more one-way relationships based on the (seemingly paradoxical) centrifugal notion of sameness. Let's apply these implications of tolerance and MR to a multicultural situation:

Scenario1. In Europe, many leaders have accepted that multiculturalism has either failed or doomed to fail. Why? Our argument: because it is based on tolerance. Both parties want sameness, but the question then is which party must transform to achieve this objective? This requires that either Islamic immigrants adopt the Judeo-Christian/Atheist west's norm, or the West embraces dogmatic Islam. In other words, one of the parties must be digested by the other, but given the irreconcilable differences in the predominantly history-centric thought systems (Islam, Judeo-Christianity, Atheism: see previous blog posts for a detailed discussion of our history-centric modeling approach) neither of these options are really realizable. Instead, the Western governments have set up policies that aim to superficially placate Islam to an extent, and in response, the immigrants have likewise compromised cosmetically to tolerate Western 'decadence'. Not surprisingly, this has resulted in a stalemate characterized by a permanent state of difference anxiety, which can lead to occasional bouts of extreme violence from both parties. Our most recent post on the Virginia Tech and Oikos University shootings argues that the root cause was difference anxiety.

Scenario2. In contrast, look at India prior to Islamic invasions, a subcontinent where multiculturalism is not just an option, there is really no option but multiculturalism. It worked remarkably well for a couple of thousand years until about 800 years of barbaric foreign occupation that only ended 65 years ago. The key reason was that the prevailing Dharmic thought system strongly emphasized mutual respect. Every cultural variation was deemed equally valid, regardless of its geography (North v South or East v West), or it's sub-Dharmic category (Buddhism, Jainism, or Hinduism) and diversity was embraced as a manifestation of the divine (A beautiful article here explains that in a Dharmic thought system, the question was not whether there was one or many gods, because there is only god !!). In game theoretic terms, multiculturalism based on tolerance in Europe veers toward a zero-sum game with each party waiting to see who blinks first, whereas in ancient India, multiculturalism based on mutual respect resulted in a stable and peaceful non-zero sum outcome, where ideas were challenged extremely vociferously but scientifically and rationally via Purva-Paksha debates, obviating the need for state-sponsored bans or violent crusades. Incredibly, a large portion of that Dharma-generated mutual respect still remains intact in contemporary India, and is perhaps the only reason why a hugely diverse India has thrived whereas a monotheistic and apparently homogenous Pakistan has not. However, as non-Dharmic thought systems gain strength (fed by foreign-sponsors and their Indian supporters), we are beginning to see a breakdown of this stable multiculturalism in peacetime India, and one can discern a switch in the language that, increasingly like Europe, talks of compromise and tolerance rather than genuine mutual respect. The outcome of a continued breakdown is not hard to predict.

Why was the outcome of scenario-1, despite the unity via their common Abrahamic ancestry, an unstable stalemate, whereas the result in scenario-2, characterized by amazingly diverse groups of people, mutually beneficial stability? Why does the former produce and rely on mere tolerance and the latter, mutual respect? Part of the answer lies in the contrast between synthetic unity and integral unity, which we will explore in the next post by examining, what we propose and coin, the paradox of sameness.

As always, this blog is a work in progress and is intended to be used as a resource and reference. Updated text, corrections, and new links will show up as time progresses.