In our increasingly global and diverse society, multiculturalism seems to have taken an almost inevitable hold on many western nations. In order to operate in a society, I believe, we need a shared sense of identity, shared goals, shared social language and social practices.
Without these, we fall to tribalism, segregation, chaos and social conflict. It’s not just values, but the social manner in which we conduct ourselves. If multiple groups have multiple social rules, then other people will not be following the rules you expect them to.
Switzerland lies at the crossroads of several cultures, has different many languages, customs, and religions. There have been, despite being generally successful as a cultural plurality, a few hundred years of simmering tensions. So to what can we attribute its relative success in recent times?
Two factors have been proposed.
One is the existence of a resilient separation between the distinct cultures, as discussed in the following paper: “Good Fences: The Importance of Setting Boundaries for Peaceful Coexistence”. It’s quite possible that some degree of physical separation actually helps foster peaceful relations between distinct cultural groups.
In that, perhaps we should not be actively fighting self-segregation.
The second factor is an active, long-term project by the Swiss governance to encourage a unified culture, to bind the others together. Active efforts to build customs, holidays, have over time lessened the gap between the social languages of these distinct groups. Rather than enlarge and pay homage to differences in values, instead to try and diminish them in the interest of some commonality.
For a sense of a shared national identity, and shared cultural values.
Both of these factors are firstly, not at all like the approach of the majority of the west , and secondly, potentially instructional as to how to create more unified societies.
Of course, this does not factor in cultures that may be antithetical and antagonistic to the majority or shared culture. Which is an added layer of complication.
Don’t just take my word on the issues surrounding multiculturalism, there are numerous studies on the topic. First up there’s the well-studied impact on social cohesion and trust, which you will find an example of here: "Ethnic diversity and it’s impact on social cohesion and neighborly exchange". There are also a few examples of this at the end of this article.
Several papers have looked at this from an evolutionary, and game theory perspective. In this study we find that Ethnocentrism as a strategy wins out in computer modelling over other strategies. If this is true, tribalism could be hard wired into us, and something that will always exist in society. Something to accept, and work with, rather than suppress and deny.
While this study found that plurality was a minor factor in violence, it still found a link:
Again, obviously the extent to which this is true should depend on the level of cultural difference, something the study did not account for. Something that could be hard to measure, however. But any increase in violence should be concerning, particularly when certain circumstances elevate that link.
We can be sure that the causes of social conflict are complex. That there is no one to one relationship between cultural plurality and problems with trust, cohesion, and violence. Sometimes it is more, sometimes less. It varies with difference, and with circumstances.
But a connection is there, it’s been found repeatedly in studies and in the history of war.
It benefits us as a society, indeed as a global community, to examine and measure these issues and come up with appropriate responses. We can look to the example of the Swiss in nations that are already multi-cultures, and in countries that are still monocultural, they might consider the example emerging in broader Europe.
We should all want to avoid the prediction of the quote:
“Proximity and Diversity Equals War”
Please note, this article is NOT about ethnicity, but about cultural differences. It is also not intended to exaggerate or promote any conflict between groups. I'm a strong believer in empathy and communication as an approach to life, and I discuss this difficult topic in order to reduce suffering.
Whilst the study on this topic is extensive, here is a handful of other studies as references: