Friday, August 16, 2002

Lame Excuses

Sorry for the paucity of updates lately, I've been in summer school exams. So here are three entries on democracy in Japan, banning race-based clubs in universities, and German and Indonesian experiences with assimilating immigrants. More to come, because I have a rather large backlog of stuff that's been accumulating in the past week or so I've been studying instead of blogging.

The Culture of Democracy

Those who assert that Anglo-Saxons are the only inherently democratic people on earth and that all others are just closet fascists should take a look at this Time Asia article regarding the opposition to the implementation of a national identification card system in Japan:

Last week's launch of a computerized national ID system, which tags every citizen with a unique 11-digit number, triggered vehement protests throughout the country by those who fear Big Government is getting an efficient tool to invade their privacy. Some local prefectures refused to go along: Yokohama, the country's second-largest city, made participation voluntary, while three other municipalities opted out.

Even in a young democracy, people are willing to go against cultural norms and challenge authority when they perceive that authority as violating their liberty. Being non-Anglo-Saxon does not make your culture inimical to liberty and democracy, it just means you have to work at it a little harder to patch it into your cultural framework and help it find roots in pre-existing traditions.

Banning Race-based University Clubs

An article from The Star points out that Unimas (Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, in East Malaysia, AKA Malaysian Borneo) disallows race-based clubs of the type found in most American universities:

Probably the only university in the country to ban the setting up of clubs with such inclinations, Dr Yusuf said Unimas had been practising the policy since 10 years ago. "We have a policy that strictly disallows students to set up clubs that are based on race, religion, language or states because they may be used as a vehicle to polarise them," ... Dr Yusuf said the policy was also implemented in hostels where students of different races, religion and states were "mixed and matched" to be roommates.

Though the university is perfectly within its rights to deny funding to race-based clubs, and is probably making sensible use of its money by doing so (experience in the US suggests that such clubs turn into vehicles for using student activities funds to subsidize either political gatherings or drunkenness and debauchery, providing questionable benefit to the majority of the student body), it's just not likely to have that much effect on society. The clubs are just a symptom of a deep-rooted divide between the races in terms of their identification with each other as fellow citizens. Without the clubs, minority students will go on cliquing together and partying together if they want, they'll just do it in their own dorms rather than rooms at the student center, and entirely at their own expense rather than partly on the university's dime.

Update: Ethnic student clubs in universities provide one service which some might consider useful: throwing large parties open to the public, which attract partygoers of all races (as opposed to members-only parties, a practice which occurs more often than you'd expect, especially with the perverse incentives of the funding structure encouraging clubs to spend as much money as possible and not report profits). Much more mingling between Asians and non-Asians occurs at large "Asian Students Association"-sponsored parties held in a dance club, as opposed to the small, informal, and often illicit parties that spring up in dorms over the weekend and which, due to matters of private choice, tend to be very heavily segregated by race.

Many Asians who wouldn't show up at your average white frat party and who would otherwise spend their weekend drinking in their dorm with 50 of their closest friends will go to an Asian-sponsored party at a dance club. There, the profit motive pushes the doorman to let in pretty much anyone with a valid ID, a ten-dollar bill in his handshake, or pronounced secondary sexual characteristics. Turning away people based on their race would probably result in university sanctions as well as very poor word-of-mouth advertising. Non-Asians who go in will probably find someone to chat up and dance with, because this kind of thing is expected in the setting of a dance club. So members of separate ethnic groups get to know each other better, leading to improved relations.

At a private party in someone's dorm room, however, the "doorman" is the occupant of the room, who aims to get together with his friends and improve his own social standing by making sure everyone has a good time. Charging admission would be gauche, and so he'll pay the costs out of pocket, or "pass-the-hat" (which works a lot better when all the partygoers trust each other). The crowd is smaller and the atmosphere is not as conducive to making self-introductions --- it's better to get an introduction from a mutual friend, which means it's easier if you're Asian. Also, at such a privately-organized Asian party, many partygoers might have the expectation of finding an entirely Asian social space, in which they don't need to follow mainstream social standards. Basically, a whole lot of factors which lead to self-segregation.

Minority Populations and National Identity Around the World

Many immigration restrictionists would like to blame modern multiculturalism for encouraging children of immigrants to cling to their ancestral cultures and thus destroying the sense of nationhood and unity once held by the people of the United States. But two articles from Germany and Indonesia should give us all pause, because they point out that clinging to your ancestral culture is a natural human tendency, not necessarily a response to real or perceived grievances committed against an ethnic community by the mainstream. If you let immigrants into your country, this tendency will find power to express itself, regardless of whether the immigrants themselves are economically successful or not. The article in the Jakarta Post points out:

Bitterness over the state's oppression of the people and failure of the state to protect the rights of the people may explain why these young people do not see being an Indonesian as part of their identity

Basically, people outside of the mainstream tend to be angry when the state violates their natural rights in the name of national unity, and as a result they disidentify with the mainstream. This suggests that non-libertarian methods of encouraging immigrants to assimilate could create severe grievances, which would be a threat to national unity. How long would those grievances last? They wouldn't be confined to a single generation, as experiences in both countries suggest:

Germany: Less than a fifth of all second-generation immigrants consider themselves German, a recent study carried out by Frankfurt's department of multicultural affairs revealed. "It was drummed into me from an early age that I wasn't German," Jasmin explains. "Not from my family, but from other Germans."
Indonesia: Robert Mulyarahardja, 17, an Indonesian of Chinese descent and chairman of a student body at Pangudi Luhur high school in South Jakarta, said, "I'm an Indonesian. I was born here and had my education here. And my family is rooted here. We no longer practice Chinese culture ... [however] if I had a choice, I would change my citizenship because as an ethnic Chinese, I am often a victim of discrimination."

The Indonesian experience is particularly instructive, since their methods of encouraging assimilation go entirely against the ideas of modern Western multiculturalism: they encouraged Chinese to take Indonesian names, discriminated against people who spoke Indonesian with foreign accents, outlawed public celebration of the Chinese New Year, beat up Chinese in riots, and prohibited everyone but a few newspapers from printing in Chinese language. Though they Indonesianized their immigrants in terms of language and culture, they still didn't succeed in instilling patriotism in them.

In Germany, they are taking some measures to address the problem of immigrant non-integration, but they appear to be aimed completely in the wrong direction:

The highly disputed immigration bill, passed earlier this year, aims to attract highly skilled foreign workers while putting more pressure on newcomers to integrate and tightening rules for asylum seekers. Foreign residents now have to take language and integration courses, presumably providing them with the basic knowledge they need to function in the country. While these courses should go a long way to help newcomers settle in Germany, most second-generation immigrants like Jasmin already appear perfectly integrated. They were born here, speak the language flawlessly and often work for traditional companies like Lufthansa and Siemens. Most hold German passports.

Even when descendents of immigrants can function in no other culture besides that of the nation in which they were born, and the majority culture strongly pushes immigrants to forget their ancestral languages and cultures, they still have trouble reconciling their status as visible minorities with a sense of identification with their country, regardless of whether the political environment is controlled by multiculturalists or assimilationists.

This strongly suggests we Americans are barking up the wrong tree: rather than encouraging immigrants to imitate Anglo-Saxons in all aspects of their lives and blindly assume patriotism will follow, we have to find other ways to encourage immigrants and their children to identify with their adopted homeland and its political traditions, regardless of their culture. National unity requires us to find some solution, because even if you cut off immigration, the immigrants already here aren't going to disappear.

Public Multilingualism Watch --- The view from the other side of the pond

Theodore Dalrymple in City Journal opines on the negative effects of government multilingualism in the UK. However (though I'm not sure whether it was he or his editor who chose the title "How Not To Encourage Assimilation"), he seems to think that it's all the government's (and specifically, the left's) fault that immigrants don't want to give up the chance to teach their children about their ancestral language and culture, rather than the fault of human nature. He discusses a proposal to teach (as foreign languages, not as the language of instruction) immigrant languages such as Punjabi and Swahili in the British public schools. I will get my rant out of the way first and then address his main point.

[School principals] want to turn Britain into New Guinea, where there are hundreds of mutually incomprehensible languages spoken in mutually inaccessible mountain valleys.

Not to mince words, but this is the most idiotic argument I have ever heard from a conservative. Mr. Dalrymple is not arguing against bilingual education which may hinder the less able students' efforts to learn English, he is arguing against 45 minutes a day of language lessons for second-generation children. The overwhelming majority of children of immigrants speak English. They can't help but not, growing up surrounded by English cartoons, English books, English conversations. When will conservatives realize that they have to find another way of ensuring that immigrants and their children integrate into the mainstream and are loyal to their adopted country, besides forcing them to abandon their ancestral languages and cultures? Faced with the false dilemma of giving up all their old ways in order to be considered a full American (or Englishman), or holding on to them and suffering charges that they are balkanizing the nation by speaking their old language even though they speak English quite well, many immigrants and their children will head straight for option #2, and develop a hostile attitude towards the mainstream. This is entirely unnecessary.

It is already possible for immigrant groups to live their lives enclosed in their own languages. Official forms are available in scores of such languages; large translation agencies act as intermediaries between immigrants and officialdom; and it is possible for people to take official tests in Albanian, Kurdish, Punjabi, Mandarin, Arabic, and a host of other languages.

Reductio ad absurdum, one might conclude that a certain group of 19 Arab men deceased in September, who spoke English well enough to take lessons in that language on how to operate a vehicle rather more complicated than a car, were already on their way to becoming upstanding citizens of our nation.

Restricting government operations to a single language has plenty of benefits. However, it's not going to make immigrants who otherwise haven't learned English suddenly see the benefits of learning it, especially as long as the most important parts of their lives --- interaction with private sector businesses, and social life --- don't require English. The government has (or at least it should have) rather less influence over those, as they are the result of private choices. I doubt, for example, that companies would close down their Spanish customer service hotlines even if the EEOC and related bureaucracies disappeared from the face of the planet tomorrow, because it attracts consumers (though some might try to raise the cost of providing services to non-English speaking consumers). Imagine a Hispanic immigrant, faced with the prospect of buying a toaster or a life insurance policy from Company A which requires him to use English with all their sales representatives, and Company B which has Spanish-speaking sales assistants to help him if he has any problems as long as he is using their product. He is going to go with Company B, unless their cost is so much higher than that of Company A that it exceeds the benefit he gets out of efficient communication in Spanish rather than halting communication in English.

Government monolingualism will shift the costs of immigrants not learning English from taxpayers to immigrants. However, the immigrants have a tendency to then take that cost and shift it on to their American-born children --- dragging their oldest child, niece, or nephew along with them to government offices to translate. This does have the beneficial effect of enhancing family cohesion among immigrants, which should then mean better educational results and less gang activity (time spent at the DMV with your uncle is time not spent on the street getting into trouble). However, as Steve Sailer pointed out recently, family cohesion is simply ethnic group cohesion writ small --- enhancing family cohesion will make kids feel a stronger affinity for their ethnic group. Not to mention that translating the legalese on government forms for your uncle who doesn't speak English offers great language practice for teenagers whose grasp on their ancestral language is slipping. This probably isn't the outcome Mr. Dalrymple is hoping for.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Japanese as a Global Language

The Daily Yomiuri publishes an article about the new president of the Nagoya University of Foreign Studies, a scholar of Japanese who has been teaching since 1956, and the trend his appointment represents towards an increasing awareness among Japanese people of the internationalization of their language.

The report of the Council on the National Language, meanwhile, found the Japanese language to have increased its prominence in the Pacific Rim region. Cited as an example was the fact that a number of works of Chinese and Western literature had been translated into Japanese and that some overseas students in the region now use textbooks written in Japanese to study core subjects.

At some point in the future we may very well see a linguistic turf war between the two largest economies in the region: Japan and China. Will either succeed in promoting its language as a regional lingua franca, or will both lose out completely to English?

Minorities Show Christian Love for Each Other

Asian-Americans often speak of the natural alliance we have with other minorities because we all face oppression from the mainstream society. Well, to advance that thesis, the Washington Post writes about a new candidate for mayor in the District of Columbia:

During demonstrations he led against a Chinese American store owner who allegedly threatened a black customer with a gun in 1986, Wilson was quoted as saying: "They say, 'Reverend Wilson, you are not forgiving.' But we did forgive him. If we didn't forgive him, we would have cut his head off and rolled it down the street."

Many Asian-Americans honestly believe the idea that minorities, especially blacks, can't be racist because racism requires power in addition to prejudice. However, not everyone agrees. And regardless of whether you believe that prejudice between blacks and Asians is a less serious problem than white racism, it is disturbing to see so many alleged servants of God who advocate and condone violence against people they don't like, including Asian-Americans. A coherent political agenda for Asian-Americans requires that, like other groups in our society, we at times examine what is best for our Asian-American community, rather than letting our voices be lost among other minorities who have different interests than us.

Monday, August 12, 2002

Public Bilingualism Watch --- The view from the north

This National Post op-ed discusses the negative effects of government-enforced French-English bilingualism in Canada. The author focuses mainly on the negative effects to the language majority population (Anglophone Canadians). However, that argument rests on tax burden and discrimination - certainly nothing which will hold up to vast legions of well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning persons worried about the alleged unfairness of government monolingualism. She misses a valuable opportunity to develop what I see as her most convincing point: the negative effects of bilingualism on the language minority population:

All of this has damaged the country because it has contributed to the inordinate preoccupation with, and favouritism toward Quebec affairs, businesses and problems at the expense of the rest of the country, mostly western Canada ... "In [officially bilingual New Brunswick] you would find that all top level positions, and particularly key positions, are filled by French speakers. They then have the right to determine who gets jobs, government contracts, advancement, etc. This has just been extended to municipal governments," wrote a francophone, asking to remain anonymous.

Basically, bright young Francophones who would otherwise be out in the real world and the real marketplace doing great things, instead get sidetracked either into government service and a lifetime of skimming off the top, or regional companies which survive only because of official favoritism from the government and which will can never become international players because they're unused to the rigors of competition without quotas and have no incentive to grow beyond their protected domestic market.

This favoritism may even increase the discrimination against Francophones. When you demand help from the government, people, whether rightly or wrongly, begin to doubt your innate abilities and talents, and assume that any success you achieve is only a result of quotas and affirmative action. People forced to deal with Francophone companies and government agencies inefficient not due to lack of talent but due to lack of necessity for efficiency come to assume that Francophones survive in business only due to official favoritism.

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