The Myth of Cultural Homogeneity

May 11, 2012

Culture, Philosophy

Recent articles have focused on the economic consequences of declining birth rates and restrictive immigration policy, and on the more far-reaching changes in society caused by a distortion of the normal age distribution. However, they do not discuss the more fundamental issue underlying the persistent and increasingly xenophobic demands for cultural purity – the insistence on living in the past. France must still be Europe’s cultural and religious beacon. Japanese must preserve the ancient traditions of the Shoguns and Shinto and Buddhist principles.

There have been economic arguments against immigration – illegal immigrants here and in Europe will depress wages, add to welfare rolls, and increase public service costs – as well as social ones. The rapid influx of immigrants from vastly different cultures of North and Sub-Saharan Africa will cause social tensions and unrest. Because of radical Islam, the demands of these marginalized populations will become aggressive and dangerous.

Africans in France have been largely concentrated and isolated in the suburbs of Paris.  Unlike in the United States, where urban ghettos are close, visible, and frightening, these poor, dysfunctional communities are distant and ignored by old-school French families. The government ignored the simmering resentment and hostility until it was too late, and the suburbs erupted.  After a token expression of regret and conciliation, France has returned to measures which will only further isolate, enrage, and harden these communities.

A final argument is that immigration will destroy “traditional culture”. Even in America, where immigrants are easily and quickly assimilated, there is opposition to immigration.  The sons and daughters of Mexican immigrants want the same thing as the rest of us – to get ahead and to make money.   Most first or second-generation Americans speak English.  All are Christian.  Few practice barbarous rites.  Yet, the idea of a largely Hispanic population is still threatening.

France has always considered itself “The Elder Sister of the Catholic Church”, thanks to Charlemagne, who kept the Muslim hordes out of France.  Because of its strong intellectual traditions, it feels it has a certain intellectual and cultural supremacy. Because of the past elegance and luxury of the French courts, it is a leader in fashion and cuisine.   Workers in factories, ports, railroads, and post offices have a more modest view of culture, but still an attachment to a café-cognac at the neighborhood bar.

French leaders remind ordinary citizens that they are all French, equal in rights and opportunity. No boxes for race or ethnicity are checked on census forms.   Current policies forbid non-“French” cultural practices in public institutions. Despite this, racial and ethnic differences are increasing.

However, French cultural traditions will not disappear, for change is gradual and assimilating.  Many will incorporate non-European elements; others will simply co-exist with newcomers. Most importantly, countries all have certain fundamental principles, which immigrants quickly adopt. America always will be “The Land of Opportunity”.  Regardless of who comes or goes, what political party is in office, the business of America is business.  Germany will always be fundamentally Protestant in outlook.  France will always retain its high valuation of intellectualism and the high arts as important contributions to society.

The problem is made infinitely more difficult because of the demographic profile of the very countries which most defend conservative cultural values.

Ross Douthat wrote, recently, in the New York Times, about Japan, which continues to be hermetically sealed to immigration:

“THE Children of Men,” P. D. James’ 1992 novel, is set in a future where the world’s male population has become infertile, and an aging Britain is adapting to the human race’s gradual extinction. Women push dolls in baby carriages. Families baptize kittens…. The last children born on earth — the so-called “Omegas” — have grown up to be bored, arrogant, anti-social and destructive.

James’ book, like most effective dystopias, worked by exaggerating existing trends — the plunge in birthrates across the developed world; the spread of voluntary euthanasia in nations like the Netherlands and Switzerland; the European struggle to assimilate a growing immigrant population.

“Gradually, but relentlessly,” the demographer Nick Eberstadt wrote, “Japan is evolving into a type of society whose contours and workings have only been contemplated in science fiction.”

The expressions of this phenomenon are indeed scary:

Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world…. Rental “relatives” are available for sparsely attended wedding parties; so-called “babyloids” — furry dolls that mimic infant sounds — are being developed for lonely seniors; robots are being built that resemble human babies.  The younger generation includes millions of so-called “parasite singles” who still live with (and off) their parents and “hikikomori” — “young adults who shut themselves off by retreating into a friendless life of video games, the Internet and manga (comics).”

Japan is facing such swift demographic collapse because its culture combines liberalism and traditionalism in particularly disastrous ways. On the one hand, the old sexual culture, oriented around arranged marriage and family obligation, has largely collapsed. Japan is one of the world’s least religious nations; the marriage rate has plunged and the divorce rate is higher than in Northern Europe.

Even despite these frightening trends, Japan refuses to admit immigrants.  In other words, the dark, foreboding handwriting is on the wall, and no one is willing to even look at it, let alone read it.

Other countries, like Australia, have offered incentives to the native population to reproduce.  A recent article in the Manchester Guardian reports:

In 2002, perhaps in response to Australia’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) reaching an all-time low, the government introduced a baby bonus scheme, a reward of $5,000 paid to each baby born of an Australian citizen. Australia’s TFR, however, remains below replacement level.  As if the baby bonus wasn’t enough, the government is now introducing a jobs bonus, where employers will be offered $1,000 for each employee they hire and retain over 50 years of age. These are desperate measures, indeed.

In conclusion, the battle over immigration is superficially one about jobs, tax burdens, and social divisiveness; but it is really about preserving a romantic notion of the past. Yet, the greatest vitality of cultures comes from their inclusiveness.

Ron Parlato is a writer living in Washington, DC. He has close ties with Columbus, which he visits frequently.  His writings on literature, politics and culture, travel, and cooking can be found on his own blog,

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