Multiculturalism and social trust

If the headline’s assertion is not already familiar to you, read this first.


I was once flying back to Sydney from Bangladesh and the flight was delayed by twelve hours – a common occurrence in those parts. The airline put us up in a nice hotel by the airport, twin-share. I was travelling alone.

An Aussie guy spotted me and suggested we share because he didn’t want to spend the night with ‘some random Bangladeshi.’ I looked him up and down, decided he was alright and agreed.

The night passed without incident.

I was younger and more pious then, so I thought we’d been a bit racist. Now that I’m older, I can see why it made sense.

When I see an Aussie, I can sum him up at a glance with a very high degree of accuracy. Toffy Poms sometimes complain that they can’t ‘place’ Australians in terms of class because we all speak the same, but we can tell who’s who.

This is true for all nations. Having grown up together, we become adept at instantly spotting who’s cool, who’s a bogan, who’s a wanker, who’s a top bloke to have a drink with but not someone to lend money, etc. We have to learn this. It’s a basic social skill.

Across cultures, it becomes more difficult. If you’ve never met a Bangladeshi before, how can you tell one from another without spending a long time getting to know them? How can they judge us?

This becomes a bit of a joke when romance is involved. Infamously, Western men can’t tell which Asian women are beautiful because all they see is ‘Asian’, and they receive the same ignorant mercy in return. Once white guys have been in Asia for a while or Asian women become more Western-savvy, they each become more discerning.

I met a guy from Hong Kong in a Singapore youth hostel and we decided to go out on the town for a beer. Pretty normal, right? No. We’d both missed culture-specific gay/straight cues and I soon had to make an escape.

If you live overseas for a long time or among another ethnic group in your own country, you can figure them out. I can differentiate the peoples of many Asian nations from a hundred paces. I can’t always tell a Kiwi from an Irishman until they open their mouths.

Learning about foreigners takes effort. That’s why living in another culture is stressful until you get used to it, and why the term ‘culture shock’ exists.

It’s certainly worthwhile if this is your goal, along with learning another language. It’s a whole new perspective on the world.

The trouble comes when those who have not signed up for the experience are suddenly inundated with many cultures within their own neighbourhood and have to figure each of them out. How to do business with Indians, how to avoid offending Chinese, how to invite Muslims over for dinner without breaking all their rules, how to befriend an African teammate, how to get along with a Malaysian boss, how to give instructions to Filipino employees.

It’s stressful.

Much easier to keep to yourself and avoid communal activities as far as possible. Most people can’t avoid work but they can step back from volunteer organizations, team sports, mixed churches and various clubs. Research suggests that they often do.

Despite some counter-narratives, this is not a purely white sin. Everyone does it. We just notice it more because we have to live in mixed societies more than anyone else. Most Japanese, for example, avoid foreigners to the point of not sitting next to them on the train in order to avoid awkward misunderstandings.

I grew up in a very multicultural suburb and I could handle it, but as a kid I knew it was easier to go over to Aussie friends’ houses than other homes. With Aussies, you know the rules. With immigrants, you never know what to expect. Shoes off, no forks, not allowed to play football, etc. etc. There’s always a bit of eggshell-walking until you get to know the family, and you can’t get to know everyone. There’s not enough time.

As foreigners become more assimilated, these problems ease. This mitigating factor is itself mitigated by (a) policies encouraging newcomers not to assimilate, (b) a dominant culture that encourages immigrants to see the heritage population as their implacable foe, and (c) immigration in such numbers that rapid assimilation is impossible.

This is why multiculturalism leads to lowered social trust. We are evolved to understand our own people on a deep level. We can adapt to learn about another group if need be. Having all the nations of Babel inhabit every house in your street within a few years is too much. And if the local immigrants are all of the same culture, we become the minority that they don’t trust. Or respect, in some cases. Unlike us, they have not been trained from childhood to bend over backwards to accommodate foreigners.

Quite the opposite.

14 comments

  1. dickycone · January 4

    This should all be considered stating the obvious and would be outside of WEIRD countries. On the other hand, WEIRD people always agree with the statement that cultural differences are important but rarely have any idea what that actually means or of its implications given the current situation with mass immigration into western countries.

    I was going to say that this is because they rarely learn languages other than English or live outside of the West, but then I remembered continental Europeans. Those from northern Europe, at least, do often speak two or three languages, and yet they seem just as bad about not understanding the implications of cultural differences as Anglo-Saxons. Maybe it’s because they’re not much more likely than Brits, Aussies, and North Americans to ever actually live in non-western countries? Not sure. Maybe luisman has an opinion on this.

    Liked by 2 people

    • luisman · January 4

      Opinions? At your service, harhar… 😉

      Let me start with this. If you’d have told me 20 years ago, that most of my Chinese employees would follow me and stay in contact with me for 10 years after I have left, I wouldn’t have believed you. Despite I never learned to properly speak their language or getting into their culture too much, nor having any power over them after I left. I don’t really understand it to this day. But many of them became general managers using the skills I taught them.

      I had business and scientific interactions with most nations, except the Africans and most of the south Americans. My first principle was always to make the interaction fun or enjoyable, even though the issues were usually tough and serious. And I was always perturbed that this approach rarely worked in Germany, my home country. Anyways, I’m more interested to dig into new cultures than to dig deep into 200 year old BS ‘we’ tell ourselves to be true.

      I’ve come to accept, that most non-european immigrants to the West come for purely economic reasons. Either they want to indulge in our social systems, or they want to grab at any chance for a little economic success. None of that is positive for the West. But the West in general cannot even imagine what these people do. You’re right that most in the West have never lived in non-western countries, and have a false impression when they visited for a 2 week vacation in a tourist resort in Tunisia, Mexico, Indonesia etc. Some have this ‘noble savage’ illusion.

      Most in the West don’t understand that meritocracy is quite specific to the West and that corruption and nepotism is rather the norm in the rest of the world. People don’t understand how special the West is, and what the reasons are they achieved so much, because the people who achieved it are such a low percentage of the West.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. KJ · January 4

    The Tower of Babel has been the “Elite’s” goal for millennia. Looks like they’ve finally reached their endgame.

    Liked by 1 person

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  4. jewamongyou · January 4

    Good points. I’ll add the obvious: When the the rulers of your country import high-crime Diversity, and then defend them at every turn, even prosecuting people for pointing this out – it will contribute to a lack of trust.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. india_romeo_kilo · January 4

    “I was younger and more pious then, so I thought we’d been a bit racist. Now that I’m older, I can see why it made sense.”

    > I was brainwashed by my upbringing and thus more pious… now that I am wiser…

    It is amazing to me, in that, the longer I live and experience the truth of this world through hard-won wisdom, just how extensive the brainwashing is, and how far back into my upbringing it pervades.

    On topic: when you have different water tables, it always settles at the lowest. Water seeks the lowest ground.

    Off topic: I have long considered the purchase of your book, but I want a physical copy, while not supporting The Big Smile (TM), as they are the devil. Is there any alternative method for procurement

    Like

  6. luisman · January 4

    Reblogged this on Nicht-Linke Blogs.

    Like

  7. Frank K · January 5

    You don’t even have to cross national borders. Living in California is a VERY different experience than say living in Idaho or Montana. Many Clownifornians who move to places like those end up moving back, as the culture shock is too great. In Clownifornia most of your neighbors will not be heritage Americans.

    Liked by 1 person

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  9. Kentucky Gent · January 6

    Good post.

    Liked by 1 person

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