Lawrence Harrison, director of The Fletcher School's Cultural Change Institute, discusses the idea of multiculturalism and its negative effect on cultural progress.
Medford/Somerville, Mass. [03.13.08] If you think the idea of preserving cultural identity in a multicultural society sounds too good to be true, that may just be because it is, argues The Fletcher School's Lawrence Harrison.
In a recent opinion piece in The Christian Science Monitor, the director of Tufts' Cultural Change Institute disputes the idea that all cultures are equal, noting that this utopian concept is harmful to societal progress.
Looking at policy initiatives made by the Bush administration, including those revolving around Iraq and immigration, Harrison sees such proposals to be rooted in a multicultural view of the world; a view which he feels is mythical and impractical.
The idea of multiculturalism, according to Harrison, was picked up by Western culture in the 1960s and has continued to prevail. Built on the foundation of cultural relativism, or the notion that cultures are simply different, not better, the adoption of multiculturalism is detrimental to both progressive and underdeveloped countries, Harrison said.
"Culture isn't about genes or race; it is about values, beliefs and attitudes," Harrison wrote in the Monitor. "Culture matters because it influences a society's receptivity to democracy, justice, entrepreneurship and free-market institutions."
Using immigration as an example, Harrison discusses how the Hispanic population, now forming the largest U.S. minority, is impeding any chances they may have of achieving upward mobility by continuing to hold strong to the values set forth by "Latin America's culturally shaped underdevelopment."
"The progress of Hispanic immigrants, not to mention harmony in the broader society, depends on their acculturation to mainstream U.S. values," Harrison wrote in the opinion piece, which was adapted from an essay in the January-February 2008 issue of The National Interest. "Efforts-for example, long-term bilingual education-to perpetuate 'old country' values in a multicultural salad bowl undermine acculturation to the mainstream and are likely to result in continuing underachievement, poverty, resentment, and divisiveness.
"So, too, does the willy-nilly emergence of bilingualism in the U.S. No language in American history has ever before competed with English to the point where one daily hears, on the telephone, 'If you want to speak English, press one; Si quiere hablar en español, oprima el botón número dos.'"
In Harrison's view, what is best for the country is to "assure acculturation", the process in which one culture adopts the traits and social patterns of another. In the Monitor, Harrison made recommendations such as mounting "an extensive program of activities... including mastery of English" as well as "declaring English to be the national language," helpful steps towards acculturation.
"The costs of multiculturalism-in terms of disunity, the clash of classes, and declining trust-are likely to be huge in the long run," he wrote. "All cultures are not equal when it comes to promoting progress, and very few can match Anglo-Protestantism in this respect. We should be promoting acculturation to the national mainstream, not a mythical, utopian multiculturalism. And we should take care that the Anglo-Protestant virtues that have brought us so far do not fall into disrepair, let alone disrepute."