The fall of communism hasn’t created a global community of democracies. It turns out the Russians don’t want to be like us. The Arabs don’t want help from infidels. The Iraqis’ democratic moment has turned into sectarian chaos. The Palestinians have turned theirs into a civil war. ~David Brooks
I am reminded of Sir Steven Runciman’s claim in his history of the Crusades that the the conflict in the late twelfth century leading up through 1204 between the Byzantines and Latins was a good example of how cultural tolerance was most successful when cultures relatively rarely interacted with one another. Proximity and conflict tend to coincide. The idea that increased communication, contact and awareness of other peoples would lead to greater integration, unity and acceptance is fantastical. Greater integration also involves increased pressures caused by close proximity; greater communication includes the possibility of fatal miscommunication.
I can understand why this idea is attractive and tempting, but that is no excuse for believing it to be true or finding it to be surprising. For instance, is anyone surprised by this:
The globalization of trade has sparked nationalistic backlashes.
Of course it has. Globalisation involves a certain loss of control, a loss of power and, yes, a loss of sovereignty. That is why a great many people very reasonably object to it. Those who are interested primarily in securing the interests of their nation are going to take a dim view of a process that inevitably deems the claims of the nation as secondary at best. Despite everything he has just said, Brooks adds:
It could be we just need to work harder to overcome racism and tribalism.
As if a lack of effort was the problem. It is in the compulsion to “overcome” boundaries and the hard-working efforts to “overcome” racism and tribalism that the origins of the reactions against these efforts are to be found. This overcoming, whatever its intent, appears to many people to be an attempt to obliterate their identity, their distinctiveness, their independence after a fashion. This “overcoming” appears to them to be a conquest by hostile forces. Nothing has so retarded the gradual change in attitudes of any one people towards other peoples as the concerted efforts of their elites to make them accept other people. It has in some formal ways hastened technical integration, but ensured that social integration, if it will ever happen, will be deferred for generations.
Brooks offers a more plausible alternative:
But it could be the dream of integration itself is the problem. It could be that it was like the dream of early communism — a nice dream, but not fit for the way people really are.
People say they want to live in diverse integrated communities, but what they really want to do is live in homogenous ones, filled with people like themselves.
My impression is that most people say this because they have been trained from the time they were old enough to believe that this was a basic moral truth. They do not actually see much value in diversity itself, but believe that to deny the value of diversity is to be a bad person. If they say that diversity is what they want, it is because they have been told that this is what they are supposed to want. The idea that there is something acceptable, indeed normal and understandable, about this disinterest in diversity is still fairly controversial. It will take another generation before it is once again entirely unsurprising.