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Culture War Roundup for the week of July 17, 2023

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There's been a ton of bashing of immigrants and the idea of assimilation here recently. Lots of doom, not a lot of hope or true attempts at understanding. I'd like to briefly outline a positive case for immigration and assimilation, looking at three major groups throughout history.

First we have Rome. Famously Rome is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, empires an lights of civilization in the Western world. In many ways the Pax Romana and the heights the Romans achieved paved the way for the modern Western order. The United States' governmental system is in large part explicitly modeled on the Roman system.. How did Rome achieve so much success? Many scholars believe it was their ability to assimilate new peoples into their culture, and make them productive members of society. There's even a word for it: Romanization. (Or if you prefer, the less politically correct 'civilizing of barbarians.')

Going from their example, we have the many great and powerful Islamic empires. Now before everyone spouts off about how intolerent Muslims are, I agree. For many historic reasons Islamic states nowadays are the opposite of an immigrant loving place that's open to assimilation. Ironically, some scholars claim that:

How can the current state of political violence in Muslim countries be reconciled with the often-invoked tolerance of the past multicultural and multireligious Muslim Empires? One way to address this conundrum is to distinguish between toleration and tolerance. The former refers to the modern institutionalised protection of religious, ethnic, and gender differences through the rule of law, while the latter implies organic mechanisms specific to communities to accommodate differences.

From this perspective, Muslim Empires were tolerant, while modern-day Muslim states lack toleration. The past tolerance expressed itself in the regulation of the local religious diversity under the purview of the Islamic judges (qadis).

There's a lot of definitional games here, but Muslim empires were certainly notable for assimilated other 'People of the Book', i.e. Christians and Jews, which even their contemporary Christian states thought was insane. Many Muslim empires were much stronger than European nations at times, especially during the so-called Dark Ages.

Finally, we have America. I won't rehash this too much, as I think it's practically inarguable that America is a nation founded on the principle of immigration, religious freedom, and has levered it's ability to assimilate masses of immigrants to become the greatest nation in the history of the world.

The point of all these examples is to say that yes, immigration is difficult. And yes, modern Western nations may not be in a perfect spot to assimilate immigrants, there are many flaws with social programs and how immigration works currently. I'll concede all those points.

However, I think the reason immigration and assimilation is so attractive to so many intellectuals lies in the potential! If your culture can figure out a way to bridge gaps between different cultures, ethnicities, and groups, if you can truly make disparate peoples unite under one flag, one cause, one set of ideals, you can rule the world. The tail benefits of successful immigration policies are massive.

It's a major mistake to sneer at modern issues with immigration and say it's a doomed project when so much of our culture exists because of cultural plurality.

I think there's a fundamental difference in temperment between the kinds of people who support immigration and the kinds of people who oppose it. The former encompasses those who are excited by the idea of meeting new people from far off lands, trying new kinds of food, and uniting all of humanity in a shared civilizational project. The latter encompasses those who just want to be left alone, to live and die in the land of their ancestors, and to promulgate the traditions that were passed down to them without change being forced on them from the outside.

The issue (for us Americans at least) is that the United States by its nature is hostile to the latter sort of mindset. An offhand remark in this post by Bret Devereaux gets to the heart of the matter, to wit: "In a way, one may feel pity for the born-American who emotively longs for the comfort of the nation because it is something they cannot have, but then there ought to be a country for the people who would rather not be in a nation and here it is." Many of us here, including me, long for a nation. I don't want to rule the world, I don't care for American exceptionalism, I don’t care about having the most Nobel Prizes or the most innovative companies or being at the forefront of technology, I just want a home inhabited by my own people, though I've already accepted that I will never have one (being not only American but mixed-race as well).

The issue (for us Americans at least) is that the United States by its nature is hostile to the latter sort of mindset.

Not at all. In fact, the people who think this sentiment, generally know less about and are less invested in the American founding, and are less invested in America itself. The are, instead, ignorant of the founding ("and our posterity" being in our founding documents), and have little investment in America. If London, or Paris, or Bern, or Tokyo provides them a better opportunity they will take it. These people mostly stay in America and excise out sized influence in American discourse compared to their population and economic value. The real value is in the stayers who work or sell or whatever much more. And have been doing that for the better part of 3 centuries. Those people aren't hostile to the mindset you are calling out, instead they lightly embrace it (because they are constantly told it is bad to follow their instinct to strongly embrace it) or are neutral (same).

America was once a country of a people. That was intentionally unmade. There was a backlash. People melded into a different, but new, people. This new people was again intentionally unmade in an ongoing project.

The difference in temperaments you cite is not the only factor, nor not even necessarily the most salient.

The main assimilation I personally require for me to feel that an immigrant is now truly an American is that he follows the laws of this country. No assaults unprovoked, no working primarily for the interests of another government openly or secretly our enemy, no theft or casual trespass on others’ property. And the laws on immigration are to be included. If the first thing he does on our soil is break a law allowing him to be here, I want him gone.

To me, that's not assimilation, but just being a guest with good manners. Assimilation would be abandoning one's own native language, religion, and cultural practices, marrying a native so that your descendants would look like the majority of wherever you have chosen to live, and severing all but the most superficial emotional ties with your ancestral home.