76. Multicultures – communities of familiar strangers

Thor May
Bris­bane, 2014


Pref­ace: This is a dis­cus­sion paper, not a researched aca­d­e­mic doc­u­ment. In par­tic­u­lar, it includes a fair amount of per­sonal com­ment. Where a topic is of broad gen­eral inter­est comes up with friends, I have adopted the prac­tice of post­ing dis­cus­sion starters like the present one on Academia.edu in the hope that oth­ers might also find them worth think­ing about. The base ref­er­ence points in this arti­cle relate to Aus­tralia, but the impli­ca­tions are much wider. The read­ing list at the end is mostly a col­lec­tion of con­tem­po­rary links from the Inter­net and pretty acci­den­tal, not edited for qual­ity.


A Start­ing Thought


In 1991 I for­mu­lated a kind of per­sonal tem­plate for deal­ing with the scary human world. Per­haps I should have had this sorted out by the tra­di­tional age of major­ity, twenty-one. I’m appar­ently a late devel­oper, so it took until forty-six. Any­way, that guid­ing leit­mo­tif has seemed par­tic­u­larly use­ful in deal­ing with the topic of this essay, mul­ti­cul­tures, or sticky clumps of human minds. There­fore I repeat it here, with apolo­gies to any who are aller­gic to intri­cate solil­o­quies.

I don’t care what you believe in, so long as you don’t believe in it too strongly. A belief is a weapon in the armory of your heart, and its razor edge will mur­der the inno­cent. The ice, the fire of your pas­sion will seduce mun­dane men and women. Your clar­ity will excite respect. And the first dem­a­gogue who comes along with a key to your heart’s armory will wrest the weapon from your moral grasp. The first cause which wears the colours of your belief will enlist you as a sol­dier in rav­aging cru­sades. Peace friend. Keep your pas­sion to doubt with. Our civ­i­liza­tion is a sim­ple mat­ter of live and let live, of giv­ing dreams a go, but step­ping back with a wry smile when we get it wrong. Let the fun­da­men­tal­ists per­ish in their own pil­lars of fire. Spare a dol­lar for the liv­ing, and have a nice day. Doubt well, do what you can, then let it be. Pres­i­dents, priests, wage slaves, hus­tlers, men and women, kids, we all live by the grace of those we love to despise…  Lei­den­schaft ist, was Lei­den schafft (pas­sion is what makes you suf­fer – Ger­man Proverb).
–  Thor May @1 Novem­ber 1991


  1. The state of our mul­ti­ple iden­ti­ties in a 21st Cen­tury world


multicultural1.jpgThis is the Wikipedia 2014 expla­na­tion (and entire entry) of what pluri­cul­tur­al­ism is:

Pluri­cul­tur­al­ism is an approach to the self and oth­ers as com­plex rich beings which act and react from the per­spec­tive of mul­ti­ple iden­ti­fi­ca­tions. In this case, iden­tity or iden­ti­ties are the by-prod­ucts of expe­ri­ences in dif­fer­ent cul­tures. As an effect, mul­ti­ple iden­ti­fi­ca­tions cre­ate a unique per­son­al­ity instead of or more than a sta­tic iden­tity. It is based on mul­ti­ple-iden­tity, wherein peo­ple have mul­ti­ple iden­ti­ties who belong to mul­ti­ple groups with dif­fer­ent degrees of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. The term pluri­cul­tural com­pe­tence is a con­se­quence of the idea of plurilin­gual­ism. There is a dis­tinc­tion between pluri­cul­tur­al­ism and mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism.

Although pluri­cul­tur­al­ism doesn’t get much shelf-space in the chat­ter annals of our day, Wikipedia seems to have summed up pretty well where I am at as a 69 year old Aus­tralian, though I am by no means a typ­i­cal Aus­tralian, even if such a crea­ture exists. It is not an ide­o­log­i­cal pos­ture, not an opin­ion, but sim­ply a descrip­tion of where I find my iden­tity (or iden­ti­ties) after a life­time of work­ing and liv­ing across cul­tures in seven coun­tries.

Even if I had not trav­elled, a quar­ter of my Aus­tralian com­pa­tri­ots were born in other coun­tries, and another quar­ter have par­ents who hailed from some­where else, so avoid­ing com­ing to terms with their many pat­terns of behav­iour would have been rather dif­fi­cult. Nor is it sim­ply a mat­ter of inter­ac­tion with peo­ples of var­i­ous national ori­gins.

I have been a dock­yard labourer and an office clerk, a uni­ver­sity lec­turer, a high school teacher, a sales­man, an air­port dis­patch offi­cer, a writer, an edi­tor, a taxi dri­ver, a poet, a researcher and heaven knows what between (nor in that order). I have been a cus­tomer and a rev­eller,  a hos­pi­tal patient and a con­sul­tant … and so it goes on. I have been a rich for­eigner in poor coun­tries and the despair of banks in my home­town. When a stranger asks “what do you do”, as he fishes for the right stereo­type to pin on my chest as a mark of admi­ra­tion or secret con­tempt, I am at a loss to answer. That is, I am a man of my age, a chameleon crea­ture accus­tomed to slip­ping amongst a kalei­do­scope of roles.

This plu­ral­ity of role plays does not mean that I am “val­ues free”. I have val­ues, but they are not a tribal col­lec­tion like “watches cricket” (actu­ally I dis­like cricket..), or “bar­racks for the national flag, right or wrong”. My val­ues are more in the nature of bound­ary mark­ers on behav­iour that I look for in myself and those I meet. I don’t care if you wear a hijab or burn incense in a Bud­dhist tem­ple. I do care for a marker such as “above all, do no harm” – not always achiev­able per­haps, but at least a nav­i­ga­tion bea­con.

It is of cen­tral impor­tance to the dis­cus­sion which fol­lows that my way is not everyone’s way. We all make sense of the world as best we can, then have a habit of pro­ject­ing our under­stand­ing as uni­ver­sal truths. The sense we make of things is partly an acci­dent of expe­ri­ence. It also has a lot to do with the kind of per­son we are. “Per­son­al­ity types” are a bit hard to pin down with any pre­ci­sion, but for daily sur­vival we have heuris­tics for fit­ting peo­ple into these men­tal boxes. The per­son­al­ity type men­tal boxes I use to sort peo­ple seem to more or less work across cul­tures, though I notice that var­i­ous cul­tures give par­tic­u­lar per­son­al­ity types more respect, or space to play out their poten­tials.

In every group­ing, there are indi­vid­u­als who cleave to a core iden­tity in their sub-cul­ture and oth­ers in a penum­bra who are hap­pier mov­ing across bound­aries in var­i­ous roles. From the begin­ning of time, there have been women who have been sold, traded or just jumped their cul­tural  bound­aries. There have been men who left way­ward sperm trails.


  1. About cul­tural bound­aries and their muta­tions


Cul­tural bound­aries have some­times been social or eco­nomic, and over the last few cen­turies the shift­ing social bar­ri­ers in Eng­land, for exam­ple, have caused much abra­sion. A part of that change has been that those empow­ered to enforce what they saw as “core val­ues” (e.g. the divine right of kings, or the divine right of elites to vio­lently oppress any chal­lenge) have come to yield more space to those who seek to move across bound­aries. The per­son­al­ity types who insist on “core val­ues” (i.e. theirs) and those per­son­al­ity types more amenable to cul­tural adap­ta­tion still jostle against each other. The arena how­ever has broad­ened, so that today the com­pet­ing sub­cul­tures in many coun­tries, includ­ing Eng­land, Aus­tralia and the United States, include large num­bers of immi­grants from hith­erto remote eth­nic and lin­guis­tic groups. Thus, although the con­test has sharp­ened and become more com­plex, the under­ly­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal fac­tors remain much the same as they were in ear­lier cen­turies.

There are a few lessons we can learn from his­tory, not that learn­ing from his­tory has ever found much favour. One lesson has been that the more rigid cul­tural, reli­gious and legal bar­ri­ers are made, the greater the poten­tial for con­flict and per­se­cu­tion, espe­cially in times of stress. In the case of immi­grant set­tle­ment, that is a recipe for pogroms.

Where a major­ity in some immi­grant groups insist on rigid bar­ri­ers against out­siders them­selves (e.g. against inter­mar­riage), or fol­low prac­tices which vio­late national laws (e.g. gen­i­tal muti­la­tion), there is a case for ques­tion­ing their best fit in an envi­ron­ment like Australia’s.  There will always be more flex­i­ble indi­vid­u­als within those groups.  Sim­i­larly some cul­tural pat­terns may entail bar­ri­ers to edu­ca­tion or income achieve­ment.  How­ever, regard­less of obsta­cles, par­tic­u­lar indi­vid­u­als start­ing from a low base achieve great things, given oppor­tu­nity. Some­times polit­i­cal deci­sions are made to reg­u­late the influx of whole immi­grant groups into a host soci­ety. To avoid tragedy and injus­tice in real per­sonal sit­u­a­tions, such cri­te­ria need to be applied intel­li­gently, which on past evi­dence is a big ask for harassed immi­gra­tion offi­cials. The process will always be imper­fect.


  1. The trans­for­ma­tional effects over time of inter­nal and exter­nal migra­tion


The huge inter­nal migra­tions which occur when nations indus­tri­al­ize force equally dra­matic changes in cul­tural mores. The widely accepted social val­ues (“core val­ues”) found in more or less homo­ge­neous tra­di­tional rural and fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties are thrown into flux and may take sev­eral gen­er­a­tions to find any kind of bal­ance. Even then the out­come is likely to be a pro­lif­er­a­tion of sub­cul­tures, some with widely diver­gent expec­ta­tions. This is exactly what hap­pened through­out the indus­trial rev­o­lu­tion in Europe, and what is hap­pen­ing in China at the moment as it strug­gles with the largest rural to urban migra­tion in human his­tory.

As with his­tor­i­cal inter­nal migra­tions, inter­na­tional migra­tion and 2nd lan­guage acqui­si­tion are processes whose effects evolve over time. There is ample evi­dence that some indi­vid­u­als in some cur­rent immi­grant groups have felt suf­fi­ciently alien­ated from new host cul­tures to reject them vio­lently. This can occur, espe­cially amongst young adults, even when the more vis­i­ble attrib­utes of a host cul­ture – lan­guage, cloth­ing, music etc – seem to have trans­ferred to incom­ers. In the break­ing news of 2014, we see “Islamic State” jihadists wreak­ing havoc in Iraq. Some grew up in Eng­land, sport a Lon­don accent and might well score highly on tests for Eng­lish lan­guage com­pe­tence.

Those seek­ing a con­tem­po­rary rea­son for this kind of vio­lent rejec­tion of an immi­grant host nation some­times attrib­ute it to over-tol­er­ant mul­ti­cul­tural poli­cies leav­ing too much space for cul­tural dif­fer­ences to fes­ter. The argu­ment seems dubi­ous as a causus belli. There have been numer­ous his­tor­i­cal exam­ples of force­ful (even mur­der­ous) assim­i­la­tion­ist poli­cies in ter­ri­to­ries of immi­gra­tion (over most of the planet at var­i­ous times) which have also resulted in vio­lent reac­tions from a pro­por­tion of the new­com­ers.

Ear­lier in this essay I pro­posed a per­sonal value nav­i­ga­tion point of “do no harm”, or more flex­i­bly, “do the least harm”. That is an eas­ier prin­ci­ple for an indi­vid­ual to abide by than for a gov­ern­ment which must always cater to numer­ous con­stituen­cies. In the very least its appli­ca­tion implies the need to adapt as we learn more and as sit­u­a­tions evolve.

When it comes to gen­er­a­tional processes like immi­gra­tion, gov­ern­ments need to be alert for signs of emerg­ing harm, both due to their own actions and from those cit­i­zens who are still find­ing a cul­tural niche. For immi­grants (inter­nal rural to migrant immi­grants as well as inter­na­tional immi­grants), the first gen­er­a­tion always have their hearts in two places. Usu­ally, but not always, the new host cul­ture steals the hearts of their chil­dren. Intel­li­gent gov­er­nance will make that tran­si­tion as effec­tive as pos­si­ble, while keep­ing in mind that pre­scrip­tive require­ments on human devel­op­ment have a way of back­fir­ing.


  1. A lit­tle (more or less) mono­cul­tural his­tory


If pluri­cul­tur­al­ism is mat­ter-of-fact descrip­tion, polit­i­cal mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism today is a gar­ish Multicultural2.jpgneon sign of many pos­si­ble colours, but fre­quently pow­ered with the non-speak of politi­cians and the bland assur­ances of offi­cials schooled in the blood­less con­tor­tions of legal “com­pli­ance”. Some­where in an Aus­tralian town hall meet­ing a gen­er­a­tion or so ago, there must have been good inten­tions to fash­ion offi­cial approval for the Ital­ian fruit shop across the road. There must have been an urgent need to bury mem­o­ries of Australia’s pos­ture in 1947, when its immi­gra­tion min­is­ter declared in ring­ing tones: “I can promise the Aus­tralian peo­ple that we will never have a choco­late coloured Aus­tralia”.  The Aus­tralian pub­lic  mind­set in 1947 was remark­ably close to what became insti­tu­tion­al­ized apartheid in white South Africa, and the Aus­tralian pop­u­la­tion at the time was per­haps 97% Anglo-Celtic. Indeed, Aus­tralians did not have their own pass­port until 1948 (although the coun­try was effec­tively an inde­pen­dent coun­try from the time of fed­er­a­tion in 1901, if not before). So given the more or less mono­cul­tural start­ing point of Aus­tralia in 1947, and given the tsunami of peo­ples from 200 cul­tures who were about to be inte­grated in the com­ing years, it was indeed a for­tu­nate neces­sity to give offi­cial impri­matur to the real sit­u­a­tion. Mas­sag­ing pub­lic opin­ion in a warm and fuzzy pro­pa­ganda bath of mul­ti­cul­tural nice­ness was espe­cially needed after the wartime blitz of racist pro­pa­ganda about the invad­ing yel­low peril (Japan­ese et al), and the treach­er­ous huns (Ger­mans) who wanted to destroy the Aus­tralian way of life. Yes it was nec­es­sary, but it would have been entirely out of char­ac­ter with sar­donic Aus­tralian humour on the street not to notice the con­tra­dic­tions.

As yesterday’s ene­mies began turn­ing up on local build­ing sites, in ‘dago’ del­i­catessens, and played ‘wog’ types of foot­ball (soc­cer), the local pubs rever­ber­ated with racist jokes which would have curled the toe­nails of a race rela­tions com­mis­sioner. The tone was some­times indig­nant, but usu­ally not vicious. My father, a car­pen­ter, would slan­der for­eign­ers with rel­ish, but make gen­er­ous con­ces­sions for those he hap­pened to know, Con the Ital­ian labourer, or Bruno who came from some­where in Rus­sia, or that poor bas­tard of a Ger­man who used a tim­ber cut­ting tool my father hadn’t seen before, a short adze, with such skill that he could almost shave with it.


  1. The mul­ti­cul­tural idea becomes embed­ded in offi­cial Aus­tralian dis­course and laws


All soci­eties go through cycles of action and reac­tion, not least in what is con­sid­ered civ­i­lized behav­iour. This has a lot to do with the revolt of each new gen­er­a­tion of teenagers against the dic­tates and val­ues of their par­ents. In two party major­ity demo­c­ra­tic states it is influ­enced by the elec­tion cycle as the for­tunes of con­ser­v­a­tive and pro­gres­sive gov­ern­ments see-saw in the elec­torate. It is influ­enced by world­wide social trends (behead­ing had a ho-hum famil­iar­ity about it 200 years ago in Europe, but now elic­its shock and hor­ror). It is influ­enced by the accu­mu­la­tion of leg­is­la­tion and reg­u­la­tions in a soci­ety, as well as the enforce­ment of the same. Not least, the eco­nomic for­tunes of the day have a marked influ­ence on the broad pub­lic tone of social tol­er­ance or intol­er­ance.

The gen­er­a­tion who rep­re­sented the norm in Aus­tralia after World War II were marked by short back and sides hair­cuts for the men, flo­ral knee length dresses for the women. Men in respectable office jobs wore ties & pol­ished shoes. Smok­ing was fash­ion­able, and claimed by some doc­tors in adver­tise­ments to be healthy. There was an accepted belief that shops should be closed on Sun­days (the resid­ual Chris­tian ethic). Vis­i­ble trends were the mass acqui­si­tion of motor cars and wash­ing machi­nes, util­i­tar­ian archi­tec­ture, a sunny belief in pro­gress, and not too much self-doubt about the mean­ing of life. This was the world of my child­hood, though I was always an out­sider on its mar­gins.

The Aus­tralia I came to matu­rity in from the 1960s to the 1980s was marked by a gen­eral advance of pro­gres­sive social forces, a reac­tion to what had pre­ceded. The rude exu­ber­ance of rock and roll turned pop­u­lar music on its head. Long hair, beards, jeans, became de rigueur.  To the hor­ror of office man­agers (and my delight) miniskirts became the daily work­ing norm for city girls. The heroes returned from the last World War were now gray­ing men drink­ing them­selves to obliv­ion in derided RSL clubs, while the young marched in their thou­sands against involve­ment in the Viet­nam war, and lam­basted the stu­pid­ity of shrill warn­ings from Wash­ing­ton about a com­mu­nist ‘domino effect’ that would engulf Aus­tralia in red rev­o­lu­tion if we did not stem the tide in Asian jun­gles.

The rev­o­lu­tion in Aus­tralian social norms reached a crescendo with the (brief) arrival of a national Labor gov­ern­ment in 1972. Social exper­i­ment of all kinds, not least in sex, seemed fresh and excit­ing. Ter­tiary edu­ca­tion was made free (alas, too brief a win­dow) and the gov­er­nance of uni­ver­si­ties increas­ingly made space for seri­ous input by stu­dents them­selves (I was directly involved as a found­ing mem­ber, then sec­re­tary of a post­grad­u­ate asso­ci­a­tion). The embar­rass­ing White Aus­tralia Act (circa 1901) had already become a dead let­ter and was for­mally con­signed to his­tory. Aus­tralians looked around and noticed that the place was no longer mono­cul­tural. There was for the first time a widely noticed need to make space for peo­ple from other cul­tural tra­di­tions, includ­ing the indige­nous Abo­rig­i­nals. The dom­i­nant Anglo-Irish them­selves had frac­tured across gen­er­a­tions, and in a dozen other direc­tions.

As the ‘hippy gen­er­a­tion’ of the 1970s them­selves matured, then acquired posi­tions of author­ity, the val­ues and prac­tices they had pio­neered as 20-some­things began to be embed­ded in legal codes and com­pany reg­u­la­tions. That is, offi­cial atti­tudes to national diver­sity became more for­mal­ized in many ways. Banks, hos­pi­tals and other pub­lic insti­tu­tions began to pub­lish mul­ti­lin­gual mate­rial and hire mul­ti­lin­gual staff. Reg­u­lar fes­ti­vals to cel­e­brate the pres­ence of var­i­ous cul­tural groups became an annual fea­ture in the major cities and were gen­er­ally wel­comed as an inter­est­ing day’s out­ing by every­body.


  1. The seeds of doubt – should there be hard­ened bound­aries around mul­ti­cul­tural dif­fer­ences?


Less widely accepted in Aus­tralia was the emer­gence in the major cities of sub­urbs which had a very vis­i­ble pres­ence of par­tic­u­lar eth­nic­i­ties. It was nat­u­ral for peo­ple from sim­i­lar back­grounds to seek out like com­pany, but there was some worry that such con­cen­tra­tions might be the har­bin­ger of eth­nic ghet­toes which had caused such grief in Europe, Asia and other parts of the world through pogroms over the cen­turies.

When the con­cen­tra­tion of such a group in one loca­tion reached a cer­tain tip­ping point it might become socially and eco­nom­i­cally self sus­tain­ing, with only lim­ited incen­tives to mix into the wider soci­ety, even lin­guis­ti­cally. The estab­lish­ment of spe­cial­ized eth­nic or reli­gious schools to serve such more or less self sus­tain­ing groups would fur­ther iso­late them across gen­er­a­tions. In fact immi­grants from some places, notably the Mid­dle East and South Asia, had tra­di­tions of com­mu­ni­ties sep­a­rated by cul­ture and reli­gion but liv­ing side by side, tra­di­tions which stretched back cen­turies. Many such immi­grants may have expected the pat­tern to trans­plant auto­mat­i­cally to New World des­ti­na­tions like Aus­tralia. Not sur­pris­ingly this was met with wider com­mu­nity resis­tance.

We can see then that there are at least three con­tra­dic­tory ten­den­cies influ­enc­ing con­tem­po­rary Aus­tralian atti­tudes towards mul­ti­cul­tural com­mu­nity liv­ing. On the one hand most Aus­tralian born indi­vid­u­als wel­come the diver­sity of expe­ri­ence which has become avail­able to them in shop­ping, din­ing, fes­ti­vals etc. On the other hand, many are dubi­ous about rigid “com­pli­ance” pat­terns in offi­cial reg­u­la­tions, forms and state­ments, which they often see as hyp­o­crit­i­cal. Many find “eth­nic sub­ur­ban shop­ping cen­tres” quite inter­est­ing to visit, but feel an under­ly­ing unease that some groups, espe­cially those with rules of reli­gious and mar­riage exclu­sion, might develop embed­ded val­ues which diverge seri­ously from main­stream Aus­tralian tol­er­ance.

For exam­ple, there seems to have been major alien­ation among some young men of Mid­dle East­ern eth­nic origin, who have grown up in Aus­tralia, Amer­ica or Europe but rejected core val­ues of those soci­eties, even to the point of vio­lence. The obverse of this coin of course is that if group bound­aries harden, indi­vid­u­als in the dom­i­nant cul­tural group (Anglo-Celtic in the Aus­tralian case) may reject what they see as core val­ues of cer­tain immi­grant groups, again to the point of vio­lence. There has been some evi­dence of this kind of polar­iza­tion in usual gen­der con­tests amongst young men in south­ern areas of Syd­ney (for exam­ple), and also in some school play­grounds. This kind of sec­tar­ian social abra­sion is by no means a dom­i­nant social or polit­i­cal theme in Aus­tralian soci­ety, but there is always a poten­tial for it to be inflamed by oppor­tunists.


  1. Unity in diver­sity, or enclaves of dif­fer­ence, or some­thing more hybrid?


When Indone­sia achieved inde­pen­dence from the Nether­lands in 1947 its new rulers were faced with a dilemma. The new nation had no national iden­tity or national lan­guage. Javanese had tra­di­tion­ally con­trolled the arch­i­pel­ago, but Javanese are widely dis­liked in Indonesia’s 13,000 other islands, and over 200 lan­guages were spo­ken. It was real­ized that to forcibly impose Javanese cul­ture and lan­guage on the oth­ers would lead to end­less con­flict. The solu­tion was an ide­ol­ogy of “pan­casila” – unity in diver­sity. The idea was to respect local dif­fer­ences while fos­ter­ing the idea of belong­ing to a greater, encom­pass­ing fam­ily called Indone­sia. A widely spo­ken, low sta­tus mar­ket lan­guage (mar­ket Malay) was con­sciously devel­oped as a national lan­guage. It was a wise choice. Indone­sia is still more or less whole, and per­haps has lessons for the rest of us.

Abso­lutist solu­tions to cul­tural dif­fer­ences have a long, world­wide his­tory of cat­a­stro­phe. The worst case is so-called eth­nic cleans­ing, but ascen­dant reli­gions have an equally shame­ful his­tory of per­se­cut­ing those who don’t con­form to their view of the world. In most such cases the under­ly­ing drive comes from psy­cho­pathic indi­vid­u­als or asso­ci­a­tions in pur­suit of power at any cost. They mobi­lize and sway less crit­i­cal mem­bers of soci­ety and cre­ate an envi­ron­ment where extrem­ism pre­vails.

The poles between ide­o­log­i­cal polit­i­cal mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and ide­o­log­i­cal or reli­gious extrem­ism are not binary, they are not sim­ple switches. There is a gra­da­tion of tol­er­ance, both legal and pop­u­lar, within which we find most soci­eties. That gra­da­tion fluc­tu­ates over time, but usu­ally leaves suf­fi­cient space for most cul­tural diver­sity to be tol­er­ated. The tol­er­a­tion may be for­mally expressed, or it may just be com­mon prac­tice. In a coun­try like Aus­tralia, still three-quar­ters Anglo-Celtic in origin (though locally diverse in lifestyle), but with a huge diver­sity of for­eign born immi­grants, we need a con­stant process of adjust­ment and good judge­ment. Indeed, the Anglo-Celtic pro­por­tion of ori­gins is pro­jected to drop to 62% by 2025 (Wikipedia 2014). The process of change is never entirely seam­less, but it need not be antag­o­nis­tic. In my view, our judge­ments on diver­sity will func­tion best on a case by case assess­ment. It is all too com­pli­cated and dynamic to work with sim­ple stereo­types.


  1. The gate­way to a new Aus­tralian life – the immi­gra­tion pol­icy


The actual mech­a­nism for mod­u­lat­ing Australia’s cul­tural mix over time con­tin­ues to be its immi­gra­tion pol­icy. Australia’s immi­gra­tion intake is a mix of skilled immi­grants (skills the coun­try is said to need), with a capped addi­tion of refugees and fam­ily reunions. Sec­ondary immi­gra­tion paths have emerged with some over­seas ter­tiary stu­dents being allowed to set­tle after grad­u­a­tion, and (more con­tro­ver­sially) cat­e­gory 457 visa hold­ers obtain­ing per­mis­sion for per­ma­nent res­i­dence. Cat­e­gory 457 visa hold­ers are sup­posed to be skilled pro­fes­sion­als given tem­po­rary work access to the coun­try where equiv­a­lent local skills are not avail­able (there is evi­dence, and polit­i­cal dis­quiet, that the 457 pro­vi­sions have been abused). Bypass­ing all of these visa require­ments there is also a much smaller group of very wealthy immi­grants who are offered so-called busi­ness entry by invest­ing a large sum of money in the coun­try. This last cat­e­gory has recently been dom­i­nated by wealthy Chi­nese.

Sec­ond guess­ing the suc­cess­ful adap­ta­tion of immi­grants into Aus­tralia (or any other coun­try) is a very inex­act process. For nor­mal skilled immi­gra­tion, the gov­ern­ment employs a points sys­tem which cov­ers things like edu­ca­tion, employ­ment expe­ri­ence, age, Eng­lish lan­guage skills, and so on. In prac­tice, indi­vid­u­als vary hugely in their energy, open­ness to new expe­ri­ence, per­sis­tence in over­com­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, hon­esty, and many other met­rics. An immi­gra­tion appli­ca­tion or inter­view can hardly assess or pre­dict such effects con­sis­tently. In fact, any­one with an inside knowl­edge of how the immi­gra­tion process actu­ally works knows very well that it is often arbi­trary and unfair. Some immi­gra­tion offi­cers are help­ful, some are frankly hos­tile and prej­u­dice comes with the ter­ri­tory.

The bot­tom line is that the appli­ca­tion of immi­gra­tion rules world­wide is highly incon­sis­tent regard­less of elab­o­rate bureau­cratic reg­u­la­tions. At ground zero, the inter­pre­ta­tion of rules mainly comes from human (and some­times very unpleas­ant) immi­gra­tion offi­cers. Legal pro­vi­sions are evaded by some appli­cants who are dis­hon­est, and often inter­preted dis­hon­estly by polit­i­cal actors, includ­ing in Aus­tralia.

In Aus­tralia itself, inter­nal immi­gra­tion depart­men­tal processes involve a com­plex net­work of com­pli­ance require­ments, and the abil­ity to nav­i­gate these both by appli­cants and depart­men­tal offi­cers varies widely. As with the tax­a­tion sys­tem, a whole sub-class of agents has emerged to increase the suc­cess rate for immi­grant appli­cants, and not infre­quently to game the sys­tem.

In other words, the actual qual­ity and char­ac­ter of the over­all immi­grant intake only resem­bles very approx­i­mately what leg­is­la­tors had in mind when they framed the reg­u­la­tions. In many ways, immi­grant selec­tion resem­bles other human selec­tion processes. For exam­ple, there seems to be lit­tle evi­dence that fancy selec­tion pro­ce­dures by HR depart­ments in indus­try has led to any over­all improve­ment in the qual­ity of the work­force.


  1. Liv­ing with the Aus­tralian real­i­ties


Aus­tralia is already a salad bowl, and noth­ing is going to change that, even if there are indi­vid­u­als who wish to return to a pre-1947 “golden age” of rel­a­tive cul­tural homo­gene­ity. In the real world, Australia’s diver­sity today adds greatly to its poten­tial strength and resilience, if we can man­age to take a ‘glass half full’ (not half empty) view of our place in the world. Every­one here has links to other cul­tures and coun­tries, and a quar­ter of Aus­tralians were born over­seas. Used wisely, those links are of immense value to all of us. We can get by per­fectly well with core pan-human val­ues like “do no harm”, which we can insist every­one abide by. You can still go to your favourite Irish pub or mosque.


  1. Eng­lish lan­guage as a selec­tor for Aus­tralian res­i­dence


Since lan­guage is my trade, I will take a bit of space at this point to look at the role of lan­guage in the immi­gra­tion process. Quite often Eng­lish lan­guage com­pe­tence is pro­posed as an absolute gate-keep­ing pro­tec­tion against immi­grants who “won’t fit in”. Empir­i­cally this is a very dubi­ous argu­ment. Includ­ing Eng­lish lan­guage com­pe­tence in a points test for entry is rea­son­able as one con­di­tion amongst a num­ber. How­ever, Eng­lish lan­guage abil­ity is a tem­po­rary marker at the entry moment of immi­gra­tion.  Immi­gra­tion is a long term process over time dur­ing which lan­guage facil­ity improves, and becomes irrel­e­vant by the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion, or much sooner for most immi­grant chil­dren.

Native born Aus­tralians tend to be over­whelm­ingly Eng­lish mono­lin­guals (like native Eng­lish speak­ers world­wide). This nar­row lin­guis­tic expe­ri­ence does much to explain the view that native speaker com­pe­tence in Eng­lish should be an absolute require­ment for Aus­tralian set­tle­ment. The atti­tude is not as rigid as when I was a child in the 1950s. Then any­one speak­ing another lan­guage in pub­lic would be frankly stared at, and some­times crit­i­cized openly. Nowa­days it is com­mon enough to hear other voices. There is no doubt that effec­tive sur­vival in most cor­ners of Aus­tralian soci­ety requires a func­tional com­mand of spo­ken Eng­lish. In prac­tice imper­fec­tions (for­eign accent, gram­mat­i­cal errors etc) will be noticed but in the end suc­cess­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tion ensues unless the lis­tener is doggedly hos­tile. The odd thing is that, as in other ‘advanced’ OECD coun­tries, almost half of Aus­tralians are func­tion­ally illit­er­ate. Also, as in every lan­guage com­mu­nity world­wide, even spo­ken lan­guage com­pe­tence is hugely vari­able.

When inter­na­tional stu­dents are con­tem­plat­ing study in Aus­tralia, espe­cially at ter­tiary level, it is essen­tial that their Eng­lish lan­guage skills be assessed in some way. For aca­d­e­mic envi­ron­ments this kind of assess­ment is much more pre­dic­tive than it is for nor­mal life activ­i­ties. How­ever, even the best lan­guage level assess­ments are very crude instru­ments. Both amongst offi­cials and the gen­eral pub­lic, there is a gen­eral mis­un­der­stand­ing that lan­guage assess­ment tests like IELTS and TOEFL are pre­cise diag­nos­tic tools as well as accu­rate pre­dic­tors of later lan­guage accom­plish­ment. The com­pa­nies behind these tests are multi-mil­lion enter­prises, and work hard to fos­ter images of white lab­o­ra­tory coat sci­en­tific accu­racy. Well, I have taught for years on the front line of this stuff and know bet­ter. In any teach­ing envi­ron­ment, a closed cur­ricu­lum with test­ing that requires exactly mea­sur­able responses might have a fair chance of assess­ing stu­dent learn­ing. Assess­ments like IELTS have no seri­ous resem­blance to such cur­ricu­lums.

IELTS is an esti­ma­tion of global lan­guage achieve­ment (i.e. abil­ity in uncon­trolled and unpre­dictable envi­ron­ments). The test­ing per­son­nel have to make sub­jec­tive assess­ments of actual lan­guage pro­duc­tion. That is, mul­ti­ple choice tests etc. are not effec­tive indi­ca­tors for lan­guage flu­ency. Asses­sors try to achieve con­sis­tency by mod­er­at­ing each other, but in truth there are so many asses­sors with so many back­grounds, oper­at­ing in so many coun­tries, that the out­comes show a good deal of vari­abil­ity (the test­ing com­pa­nies will do their best to deny this). Nor is assess­ment con­sis­tent across skill lev­els in speak­ing, lis­ten­ing, read­ing and writ­ing. The closer a can­di­date is to Level 10 (sup­pos­edly edu­cated native speaker level), the flakier the assess­ment is likely to be. There are com­plex rea­sons for this which I won’t go into here.

Well, even if assess­ments like IELTS are vari­able at the mar­gins, how well do they pre­dict user suc­cess in Eng­lish lan­guage com­mu­ni­ties? Unfor­tu­nately not ter­ri­bly well. As already noted, they are more pre­dic­tive for suc­cess in ter­tiary aca­d­e­mic envi­ron­ments, but even there the cor­re­la­tions are not won­der­ful. They are poor pre­dic­tors for life suc­cess, or even lin­guis­tic suc­cess in daily Aus­tralian liv­ing. There are mul­ti­ple rea­sons for this. One of the most impor­tant rea­sons is that dif­fer­ent peo­ple learn sec­ond lan­guages suc­cess­fully in very dif­fer­ent ways. For exam­ple, at one time I taught Eng­lish to motor mechan­ics from all over the world. Some of these men were happy enough in a class­room envi­ron­ment (the kind of place where you would swat for IELTS), but the major­ity were uncom­fort­able there. I would take them to a work­shop to pull down an engine and the entire atmos­phere would change. There most would quickly pick up what­ever lan­guage was nec­es­sary for the task. Putting it roughly, you could say that there are class­room learn­ers and there are street learn­ers. The street learn­ers get a poor deal from for­mal immi­gra­tion eval­u­a­tions, but might very well be fast achiev­ers in a nor­mal Aus­tralian com­mu­nity.


  1. The restau­rant at the end of the uni­verse


In an ear­lier essay (May 2010) I explored the con­cept of cul­tures as con­scious and uncon­scious designs. I made the point that in a glob­al­ized, instantly con­nected world, the nature of cul­ture itself was chang­ing. This is of great rel­e­vance to the pre­ced­ing dis­cus­sion, so I will extract a lit­tle of that essay into the present con­text:



Open and closed sys­tems: I like to com­pare cul­tures to com­puter oper­at­ing sys­tems. Cul­tures, like nat­u­ral lan­guages, are gen­er­ally unplanned emer­gent phe­nom­ena, while com­puter oper­at­ing sys­tems are mostly con­sciously designed arte­facts. How­ever, con­scious atti­tudes towards chang­ing cul­tures have some sim­i­lar­i­ties with con­scious atti­tudes towards con­struct­ing com­puter oper­at­ing sys­tems.

In com­put­ing, you can have closed pro­pri­etary sys­tems, like the Apple Cor­po­ra­tion o/s. At their best, these closed sys­tems can achieve ele­gant solu­tions and be very attrac­tive. The other extreme is an Open Access o/s phi­los­o­phy, like Linux. Linux has end­less groups of enthu­si­asts. Many of the Linux dialects never achieve wide accep­tance. Some achieve com­mer­cial suc­cess and some become semi-pro­pri­etary. How­ever, while closed sys­tems like Apple’s can make money for a while, they are always at risk of going out of busi­ness. The open sys­tems are messy, but they have tremen­dous strength. In some form, they will con­tinue. The Open move­ment will never die. The ubiq­ui­tous Google is an astound­ing exam­ple of partly open sys­tem gen­eros­ity (together with some canny pro­pri­etary algo­rithms) suc­ceed­ing where its more closed pro­pri­etary com­peti­tors have faded.

New world cul­ture: Now let us con­sider so-called “West­ern cul­ture”. Recently I debated with a Korean friend who was dubi­ous about South Korea’s faux West­ern baubles, and expressed some envy of the Japan­ese capac­ity for adapt­ing to exter­nal mar­kets with­out los­ing the Japan­ese essence. As Laozi, the ancient Chi­nese philoso­pher put it so long ago, water is admirable because it can adapt to the shape of its con­tainer, but doesn’t change its nature. I was less taken than my friend by this argu­ment for cul­tural purity. It is true, I put it to him, that the clothes you wear, the fill­ings in your teeth, the build­ings you live in, and even increas­ingly the food you eat are not ‘native Korean’. The water in the Korean con­tainer is already laced with other dyes. Is this bad? Imports are often said to be “Amer­i­can”, but that is only partly the case (and I think less and less true).

You could think of “Amer­i­can cul­ture” as one par­tic­u­lar dialect of a new “world cul­ture”, just as Ubuntu is a kind of dialect of Linux. The more oth­ers join in with gen­eral world cul­ture, the less influ­ence the Amer­i­can form will have.

This world cul­ture crosses the bar­rier of nat­u­ral lan­guages. You will find it amongst Ger­man speak­ers and Korean speak­ers, and Ara­bic speak­ers and Hindi speak­ers. You can now find this ‘world cul­ture’ from Lagos in Africa, to Moscow, to Syd­ney, to Buenos Aires, to New Delhi to Bangkok, and of course to Seoul. All of these places have their own dialects of the world cul­ture, but they also have a great deal in com­mon. The local pen­e­tra­tion of world cul­ture is also always var­ied amongst pop­u­la­tions (yet another bell curve). It is a more urban than rural phe­nom­e­non, but its pres­ence is inescapable.

Those things regions across the world have in com­mon make it pos­si­ble for a man like me to be a ‘cit­i­zen of the world’, and more or less at home in any of these places. I love the vari­ety that each of the ‘cul­tural dialects’ offers me, but I also see great hope for human­ity in their shared base.

Like the Open Sys­tems phi­los­o­phy of com­puter pro­gram­ming, I think this new world com­mon cul­ture has great strength and dynamism. Bet­ter, the very adap­ta­tions that enable it to cross old clan and cul­tural bar­ri­ers make it less sus­cep­ti­ble to the Ape-like pat­terns of male dom­i­nance bru­tal­ity and sex­ual aggres­sion (though not of course imper­vi­ous to them). I think the new par­a­digm can­not be eas­ily destroyed, although it may some­times be forced into tac­ti­cal retreats with the flux of world affairs.

To those who wish to keep their “cul­tural oper­at­ing sys­tems”, like the Korean or Rus­sian or Thai or French, “pure”, closed, pro­pri­etary, with­out out­side influ­ence, I say you are in great dan­ger. Maybe your closed cul­tural sys­tem was ele­gant and refined. Maybe it has a glo­ri­ous past his­tory. But it ulti­mately comes from an ear­lier human civ­i­liza­tion of small, sav­age tribal groups. Now we humans are many, crowded on a small planet, and com­mu­ni­cat­ing with every­one instantly. We need a dif­fer­ent design, and that has to be an Open Sys­tem.


 Ref­er­ences & Read­ing List(Note that the writ­ers in these links are express­ing their own views. We don’t nec­es­sar­ily share them). 

Agence France-Presse; Telegraph, Lon­don; Reuters (Sep­tem­ber 8, 2014) “Far-right National Front at ‘gates of power’ in France, says Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls”. Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald online @ http://www.smh.com.au/world/farright-national-front-at-gates-of-power-in-france-says-prime-minister-manuel-valls-20140908-10dsrl.html#ixzz3Cmk49Biu

AP, AFP (August 28, 2014) “”Immi­gra­tion: the Rother­ham sex abuse scan­dal con­sumes UK”. Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald online @ http://www.smh.com.au/world/race-religion-immigration-the-rotherham-sex-abuse-scandal-consumes-uk-20140828-109acs.html#ixzz3BdakIXjd

Arm­strong, Karen (25 Sep­tem­ber 2014) “The myth of reli­gious vio­lence – The pop­u­lar belief that reli­gion is the cause of the world’s blood­i­est con­flicts is cen­tral to our mod­ern con­vic­tion that faith and pol­i­tics should never mix. But the messy his­tory of their sep­a­ra­tion sug­gests it was never so sim­ple”. The Guardian online @ http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/25/-sp-karen-armstrong-religious-violence-myth-secularAus­tralian Government(2014) “What is mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism?”. Depart­ment of Social Ser­vices, online @ http://www.dss.gov.au/our-responsibilities/settlement-and-multicultural-affairs/programs-policy/a-multicultural-australia/national-agenda-for-a-multicultural-australia/what-is-multiculturalism

Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment (2014) “Mul­ti­cul­tural com­mu­ni­ties”. web­site of the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment, online @ http://australia.gov.au/topics/culture-history-and-sport/multicultural-communities

Bing­ham, John(29 Jun 2014) “”Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism in reverse as teenagers buck the trend towards inte­gra­tion”. The Telegraph, UK, online @ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/10931854/Multiculturalism-in-reverse-as-teenagers-buck-the-trend-towards-integration.html

Crooke, Alis­tair (08/27/2014 ) “You Can’t Under­stand ISIS If You Don’t Know the His­tory of Wah­habism in Saudi Ara­bia”. Huff­in­g­ton Post online @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alastair-crooke/isis-wahhabism-saudi-arabia_b_5717157.html

Crooke, Alis­tair [Fmr. MI-6 agent; Author, ‘Resis­tance: The Essence of Islamic Rev­o­lu­tion’] (09/02/2014) “Mid­dle East Time Bomb: The Real Aim of ISIS Is to Replace the Saud Fam­ily as the New Emirs of Ara­bia”. Huff­in­g­ton Post online @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alastair-crooke/isis-aim-saudi-arabia_b_5748744.html?utm_hp_ref=world

Duman­cic, Marko (09/08/2014) “Is Rus­sia a Block of Ice Float­ing Back Into the 16th Cen­tury?” Huff­in­g­ton Post online @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marko-dumanaeiae/russia-stuck-in-past_b_5782186.html?utm_hp_ref=world

Fair­fax Media (12 August 2014). Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald, online @ “Aus­tralian Islamic State sup­porter walks off the set of Insight”. http://www.smh.com.au/national/australian-islamic-state-supporter-walks-off-the-set-of-insight-20140813-103eex.html

FECCA (2014) Aus­tralian Mosaic. Jour­nal of the Fed­er­a­tion of Eth­nic Com­mu­ni­ties’ Coun­cil of Aus­tralia (funded by the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment); online @ http://www.fecca.org.au/resources/australian-mosaic

Gam­age, Siri (Autumn 2014) “Per­spec­tives on mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and mono­cul­tur­al­ism in Aus­tralia: Expe­ri­ences of immi­grant and Indige­nous Aus­tralians”. Aus­tralian Mosaic jour­nal, online @ http://www.fecca.org.au/mosaic/articles/item/543-perspectives-on-multiculturalism-and-monoculturalism-in-australia-experiences-of-immigrant-and-indigenous-australians

Jakubow­icz, Andrew (n.d.) “Mak­ing Mul­ti­cul­tural Aus­tralia”. [3000 pages of resource mate­ri­als for school stu­dents] Uni­ver­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, Syd­ney, online @ http://www.multiculturalaustralia.edu.au/

Jus­tice Laws Web­site (1988 – 2014) “Cana­dian Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism Act”. Jus­tice Laws Web­site online @ http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-18.7/page-1.html

Kaplan, Sarah (Sep­tem­ber 11, 2014) “‘Jihadi Brides’: British young women are among Islamic State’s newest recruits”. Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald, online @ http://www.smh.com.au/world/jihadi-brides-british-young-women-are-among-islamic-states-newest-recruits-20140911-10f7um.html#ixzz3CxSaojon

Kishore, Mohit (Octo­ber 13, 2008) “Organ­i­sa­tional cul­ture as an emer­gent phe­nom­e­non” The Hindu, online @ http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/todays-paper/tp-new-manager/organisational-culture-as-an-emergent-phenomenon/article1116183.ece

Kym­licka, Will (Feb­ru­ary 2012) “Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism: Suc­cess, Fail­ure, and the Future”. Migra­tion Pol­icy Insti­tute, online @ http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/TCM-multiculturalism-success-failure

McClean, Matthew (2014) “Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism is a flawed doc­trine”. Dis­cus­sion Top­ics online @ http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/DiscussionTopics/Multiculturalism-MattMclean.htm

May, Thor (2014) “How Can We Treat Refugees Humanely?”. Academia.edu web­site, online @ https://www.academia.edu/6051758/How_Can_We_Treat_Refugees_Humanely_-_An_Australian_Perspective

May, Thor (2014) “Mono­lin­gual­ism and How to Fix It (if it needs fix­ing)”. Academia.edu online @ http://www.academia.edu/2641229/Monolingualism_and_How_to_Fix_It_if_it_needs_fixing_

May, Thor (5 Sep­tem­ber 2010)”Cultural Oper­at­ing Sys­tems – Thoughts on Design­ing Cul­tures”. The Pas­sion­ate Skep­tic web­site, online @ http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/cultural-operating-systems.html

May, Thor (2005) “Lan­guage Main­te­nance and Lan­guage Shift – a Con­trar­ian View­point”. Academia.edu online @ https://www.academia.edu/1555956/Language_Maintenance_and_Language_Shift_-_a_Contrarian_Viewpoint

May, Thor (2004) “Sub­mis­sion to the Aus­tralian Par­lia­men­tary Sen­ate Inquiry on the Sta­tus of Aus­tralian Expa­tri­ates , 2004”. Online at https://www.academia.edu/1830250/Inquiry_into_the_Status_of_Australian_Expatriates This doc­u­ment has been tabled in the Aus­tralian Par­lia­ment andt can also be viewed on the web­site of that par­lia­ment at http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/legcon_ctte/expats03/submissions/sub437.pdf2

May, Thor (1993) “Learn­ing to be Aus­tralian”. [This was writ­ten as a let­ter to The Aus­tralian (news­pa­per), 17 Feb­ru­ary 1993. The news­pa­per declined to pub­lish it. It sets a scene which read­ers might like to com­pare with today ]. The Pas­sion­ate Skep­tic web­site, online at http://thormay.net/lxesl/teach3a.html

McLean, Math­hew (2014) “Notes on mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism”. Active Think­ing mee­tup @ http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/DiscussionTopics/Multiculturalism-MattMclean.htm

Matos, Angel Daniel (Decem­ber 3, 2013) “On the Devel­op­ment and Evo­lu­tion of Cul­ture – Ray­mond Williams’ The Soci­ol­ogy of Cul­ture”. The Ever & Ever That Fic­tion Allows blog, online @ http://angelmatos.net/2013/12/03/raymond-williams-the-sociology-of-culture/

Mayeda, David and Raagini Vijayku­mar (09 Aug 2014) “Neo­colo­nial­ism, mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and set­tler states”. AlJaz­erra online @ http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/08/neocolonialism-multiculturalism-s-2014898239712276.html

Meta­pe­dia (n.d.)”Diversity and Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism”. Meta­pe­dia online @ http://en.metapedia.org/wiki/Multiculturalism

Phillips, Trevor (5 April, 2004) “So what exactly is mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism?”. British Broad­cast­ing Com­mis­sion, online @ http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/3600791.stm

Pidd, Helen (Wednes­day 27 August) “Report says fail­ings in polit­i­cal and police lead­er­ship con­tributed to gang rape and traf­fick­ing in South York­shire”. [con­cerns a preda­tory cul­ture amongst young Anglo-Pak­istani men in Eng­land]. The Guardian online @ http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/aug/26/rotherham-sexual-abuse-children

Queens Uni­ver­sity (n.d.) “Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism Pol­icy Index”. Queens Uni­ver­sity, Ontario, Canada, online @ http://www.queensu.ca/mcp/index.html

Ratio­nal­Wiki (n.d.)”Multiculturalism”. Ratio­nal­Wiki web­site online @ http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Multiculturalism

Sawa­mura, Wataru (09/10/2014) “Why Japan Mis­reads China — And What To Do About It”. Huff­in­g­ton Post syn­di­cated from Asahi Shim­bun, online @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/10/why-japan-misreads-china_n_5788896.html?utm_hp_ref=world

Scru­ton, Roger (Decem­ber 2010 – Jan­u­ary 2011) “Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, R.I.P.”. The Amer­i­can Spec­ta­tor online @ http://spectator.org/articles/38473/multiculturalism-rip

Solare, Rohaan (2011) “Emer­gent Cul­ture as Regen­er­a­tive Dynamic of Cul­ture”. Emer­gent Cul­ture web­site, online @ http://emergent-culture.com/emergent-culture-as-regenerative-dynamic-of-culture/#sthash.lglp5pgp.dpuf

Song, Sarah (Sep 24, 2010) “Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism”. Stan­ford Ency­clo­pe­dia of Phi­los­o­phy online @ http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/multiculturalism/

Spe­cial Broad­cast­ing Ser­vice, Aus­tralia (2014) “Liv­ing With The Enemy”. [tagline: Liv­ing With The Enemy is a provoca­tive six-part doc­u­men­tary series explor­ing the fault lines of social cohe­sion in Aus­tralia. Each episode explores a dif­fer­ent topic divid­ing Aus­tralian opin­ion by ask­ing peo­ple to live with oth­ers whose lifestyles and beliefs directly con­tra­dict their own]. SBS videos, online @ http://www.sbs.com.au/programs/living-with-the-enemy

Vic­to­rian Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism Com­mis­sion (2014). [Aus­tralia] Web­site online @ http://www.multicultural.vic.gov.au/

Wikipedia (2014) “Inter­cul­tur­al­ism”. Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interculturalism

Wikipedia (2014) “ Inter­ra­cial mar­riage”. Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interracial_marriage

Wikipedia (2014) “Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism”. Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiculturalism

Wikipedia (2014) “Crit­i­cism of Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism”. Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_multiculturalism

Wikipedia (2014) “Cul­tural Assim­i­la­tion”. Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_assimilation

Wikipedia (2014) “Mono­cul­tur­al­ism”. Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monoculturalism

Wikipedia (2014) “Pluri­cul­tur­al­ism”. Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluriculturalism

Wikipedia (2014) “Taip­ing Rebel­lion”. Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiping_Rebellion

Wikipedia (2014) “Anglo-Celtic Aus­tralian”. Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Celtic_Australian



Sup­ple­men­tary Links 


The essay pub­lished here was sourced in a Bris­bane mee­tup dis­cus­sion on a topic pro­posed by Matthew McClean, “Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism is a flawed doc­trine” (see the ref­er­ence to his piece in the read­ing list). In fact I found myself dis­agree­ing with many of the explicit pro­pos­als put by Matthew in the dis­cus­sion, par­tic­u­larly rigid asser­tions of what mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism might imply, and the idea that giv­ing some cul­tural space to other world­views was some­how treach­er­ous. Nev­er­the­less Matthew did take the trou­ble to pre­pare some notes with an attached reading/viewing list. In the inter­est of offer­ing max­i­mum per­spec­tive, I have appended his ref­er­ences below (the for­mat and explana­tory com­ments are his).


  1. a) Videos of per­spec­tives against mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism


  1. i) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-eNXWtXRQI 8 mins 

Con­ser­v­a­tive critic Mark Steyn on mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism . Key themes:  Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ists don’t immi­grate to devel­op­ing coun­tries thus expos­ing a per­ceived hypocrisy, one way immi­grant flows to the west indi­cate dom­i­nant, valu­able cul­ture.   

  1. ii) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNjHayK3C-o 12 mins 

Right wing can­di­date Paul Weston on Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. Key themes:  Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism is equiv­a­lent to inva­sion, ter­ri­to­rial aggres­sion. The West has responded with appease­ment.

 iii) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ESlS2jrhXY 15mins 

Con­ser­v­a­tive econ­o­mist Thomas Sow­ell on Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. Key themes: Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism means under­per­form­ing groups are not excused from blame on cul­tural grounds for under­per­for­mance; Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism has been insti­tuted with­out evi­dence as to its ben­e­fits or risks 

  1. iv) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzkmxJlS5yk 18 mins 

Reli­gious polit­i­cal can­di­date and Chris­tian min­istry leader Daniel Nal­liah on mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. Key themes: Hypocrisy for immi­grants to value their own cul­ture while choos­ing to live in another, Leav­ing a coun­try implies an infe­ri­or­ity of that sys­tem; Free speech is cur­tailed nec­es­sar­ily under mul­ti­cul­tural regimes. Dis­cus­sion of anti-offence laws in Vic­to­ria.  

  1. v) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SReDcW0fokE 7mins 

Come­dian and you tube critic Pat Con­dell on Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism.  Key themes: Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism cedes way to the strongest minor­ity pref­er­en­tially, i.e., Islam. 


  1. b) More bal­anced


The Guardian’s Jonathan Freed­land and Matthias Matussek of Der Spiegel talk about the def­i­n­i­tion and sup­port for mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism after the com­ments of “The fail­ure of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism” by Angela Merkel and David Cameron 17 mins 

  1. i) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddQo-KQnyj4
  2. c) Videos on other ele­ments of the mul­ti­cul­tural debate 
  3. i) Insight – I’m Not Racist, But… 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfTUMc7yS54 1hr 

Key themes: Assim­i­lated Aus­tralians eg. 2nd gen­er­a­tion immi­grants feel ham­pered by eth­nic stereo­types, stereo­types and dis­crim­i­na­tion


  1. d) An attempt at some evi­dence on the effects of Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism vs. Mono­cul­tur­al­ism  


  1. i) http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/05/16/a-revealing-map-of-the-worlds-most-and-least-ethnically-diverse-countries/
  •          Strong democ­racy cor­re­lates with eth­nic homo­gene­ity.
  •          Diver­sity cor­re­lates with lat­i­tude and low GDP per cap­ita.
  •          Diver­sity cor­re­lates with inter­nal con­flicts.


  1. ii) “Frac­tion­al­iza­tion”. Alberto Alesina, Arnaud Devleeschauwer, William East­erly, Ser­gio Kurlat and Romain Wacziarg. Har­vard Insti­tute of Eco­nomic Research Dis­cus­sion Paper Num­ber 1959 


  •          Eth­nic frac­tion­al­i­sa­tion low­ers

o    GDP growth, 

o    Pro­vi­sion of pub­lic goods, 

o    Good gov­er­nance

o    City growth rates grow less quickly, 

o    Par­tic­i­pa­tion in social activ­i­ties and trust 


iii) “Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and Eco­nomic Growth”. Ger­ald W. Scully N CPA Pol­icy Report No. 196 August 1995 

  •          Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism retards eco­nomic growth inde­pen­dent of other fac­tors. Sev­eral mech­a­nisms are dis­cussed. Dated paper. 


  1. e) Inter­est­ing read­ing


Barry, Brian (2001) “ Cul­ture & Equal­ity: An Egal­i­tar­ian Cri­tique of Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism”. 

Klymicka, Will. 1995, “ Mul­ti­cul­tural Cit­i­zen­ship: A Lib­eral The­ory of Minor­ity Rights ” . Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­sity Press. 

Mansur, Salim (2011) “ Delec­table Lie: a lib­eral repu­di­a­tion of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism”.  

Put­nam, Robert “Diver­sity and trust within com­mu­ni­ties”. [Robert Putnam’s points on trust in highly diverse areas] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_D._Putnam#Diversity_and_trust_within_communities  

Schelling, Thomas C. (1969) “Mod­els of seg­re­ga­tion”, Amer­i­can Eco­nomic Review, 1969, 59(2), 488–493 .

Schelling, Thomas C. (1971). “Dynamic Mod­els of Seg­re­ga­tion,” Jour­nal of Math­e­mat­i­cal Soci­ol­ogy, 1(2), pp. 143–186 .

The Stan­ford Ency­clo­pe­dia of Phi­los­o­phy: – many links to argu­ments and ref­er­ences in the aca­d­e­mic lit­er­a­ture dis­cus­sion of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/multiculturalism/   

War­raq, Ibn (2011) “ Why the West is Best: A Mus­lim Apostate’s Defense of Lib­eral Democ­racy” .

Zhang, Junfu (2009) “Tip­ping and Res­i­den­tial Seg­re­ga­tion”.  A Uni­fied Schelling Model IZA DP No. 4413 


  1. f) Ref­er­ences and a good dis­cus­sion  are avail­able here regard­ing cul­ture in gen­eral:  

Baber, H. E. Uni­ver­sity of San Diego, Pro­fes­sor of Phi­los­o­phy. [An online essay dis­cussing how “eth­nic scripts” for minor­ity indi­vid­u­als are ulti­mately lim­it­ing.] www.csus.edu/org/pswip/Papers/ Plu­ral %20 Mono­cul­tur­al­ism .doc 

Kurti, Peter (2013) Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and the fetish of diver­sity”. CIS [Good crit­i­cal analy­sis of Aus­tralian mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism].  

Spencer-Oatey, H. (2012) “What is cul­ture A com­pi­la­tion of quo­ta­tions”. Glob­al­PAD Core Con­cepts. 



Source of this essay 

mee­tup group: Bris­bane Active Think­ing Mee­tup http://www.meetup.com/Brisbane-Active-Thinking-Meetup/

top­ics already dis­cussed: http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/DiscussionTopics/DiscussionIndex.htm

com­ments: Thor May – thormay@yahoo.com



Pro­fes­sional bio: Thor May has a core pro­fes­sional inter­est in cog­ni­tive lin­guis­tics, at which he has rarely suc­ceeded in mak­ing a liv­ing. He has also, per­haps fatally in a career sense, cul­ti­vated an inter­est in how things work – peo­ple, brains, sys­tems, coun­tries, machi­nes, what­ever… In the world of daily employ­ment he has mostly taught Eng­lish as a for­eign lan­guage, a stim­u­lat­ing activ­ity though rarely regarded as a pro­fes­sion by the world at large. His PhD dis­ser­ta­tion, Lan­guage Tan­gle, dealt with lan­guage teach­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity. Thor has been teach­ing Eng­lish to non-native speak­ers, train­ing teach­ers and lec­tur­ing lin­guis­tics, since 1976. This work has taken him to seven coun­tries in Ocea­nia and East Asia, mostly with ter­tiary stu­dents, but with a cou­ple of detours to teach sec­ondary stu­dents and young chil­dren. He has trained teach­ers in Aus­tralia, Fiji and South Korea. In an ear­lier life, prior to becom­ing a teacher, he had a decade of find­ing his way out of work­ing class ori­gins, through unskilled jobs in Aus­tralia, New Zealand and finally Eng­land (after back­pack­ing across Asia in 1972).

con­tact: http://thormay.net thormay@yahoo.com

aca­d­e­mic repos­i­tory: Academia.edu at http://independent.academia.edu/ThorMay

dis­cus­sion: Thor’s Unwise Ideas at http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/unwisendx.html


Mul­ti­cul­tures – com­mu­ni­ties of famil­iar strangers © Thor May 2014

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