Multiculturalism is a free idea

The free circulation of ideas in modern society has been responsible for virtually every major political and social movement in US history; it is a cornerstone of American democracy, and must not be infringed. Indeed, Americans of all political affiliations are united that free speech is a fundamental virtue, and that to infringe upon it is tyranny, usually the right more adamant than the left on the matter. Nonetheless, the right frequently cries of foreign invasion whenever ideas and values enter the country from abroad. We, as a nation, must learn to welcome foreign ideas in the same way we have learned to welcome domestic views we might find threatening.

Foreign ways of life are often seen as inferior to our own, and this article will not make any argument to the contrary of this view. All humans are trapped in some variety of cultural prison, and are likely to always say such things, blinding us to who is actually in the right on that issue. More importantly, however, it is not needed to come to a conclusion on the ethics of multiculturalism. History has shown that no culture is always in the right, and it is inevitable that people in the future will look back on us and call us barbaric; we must conclude that whether our culture is superior or inferior to others that it is nonetheless flawed and things can be learned from foreign cultures.

The tolerance in which contemporary Western culture takes pride is taking over the world. It would seem that every year a new country legalizes same-sex marriage, like last year with India, or makes some great stride in women’s rights, like Saudi Arabia finally allowing women to drive. Democratic values similarly spread, as we see currently in Hong Kong. The best aspects of western culture are spreading, and that trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, other aspects of Western culture are not spreading as prevalently, such as East Asia still valuing its elderly and the family unit seemingly just as much as they always have. This is evidence of the free marketplace of ideas at work, where the best ideas take over, and those issues that are less clear cut on ethics do not. 

It is likely that a similar process will take place here at home. Some alarmists foretell of, for example, Muslim immigrants discriminating against LGBT+ persons. Strangely, one survey reported by Newsweek found that a majority of American Muslims now support gay marriage, with 9 percent more Muslim-Americans supporting it than Republicans. We can see a similar process at work in the US historically—cultures with little exposure to democracy and its values have adopted that aspect of US culture with fervor. If you were to ask a Polish-American whose ancestors came from tsarist Russia, one might suspect that the person in question wouldn’t defend autocracy, now or a century ago. This is not to say that Polish-Americans a century ago or Muslim-Americans now have assimilated fully; it is clear that aspects of both Polish and Muslim culture continue to exist in America, merely more favorable varieties.

Yet we have grown richer because of immigrants. It took the many cultures of the US coexisting to create Western tolerance; first the US needed to accept Northwest Europeans that weren’t English, then Catholics, then Southern and Eastern Europeans. We would not pride tolerance if these people conformed to the preexisting culture strictly, for there would be no one to tolerate but ourselves. It is from immigrants that the American Dream was born, the idea that no matter your circumstances, through hard work and determination, the lowliest can make it in this world. The American Dream is a concept so core to our identity that it is taught as early as elementary school and so deeply ingrained in each of us that it is used to evoke emotion in presidential speeches, brought to you not by the cultures of white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants but rather by the cultures of immigrant groups after they had already arrived.

We must allow immigrant groups to exist and retain their cultures (should they choose) so that all parties may benefit, so that the best culture may win. We must allow the free marketplace of ideas to operate freely, and not shut out foreign ideas before they even arrive.

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