G. DiLeo, M.D. (OB/GYN)
LSU School of Medicine

Editor: J.M.

Government and art. These are two general things that separate human society from the lower animal world. We try to govern ourselves and we make art, both served by the currency of both, language.

Originally laws were established for harmony and order; enforcement was needed to safeguard the laws that establish such harmony and order. From the peace that harmony and order engenders come the ancillary perks of society—art, music, literature, creativity, entertainment, purpose and fulfillment, family life, and culture. Peace and harmony, however, cannot be overstated. (Celebrating one’s heritage with a communal meal is difficult when others are approaching with clubs raised, poised to strike.)

As societies matured, differing facets splintered them into different cultures. The geopolitical map evolved over the millennia and served to isolate many groups, but tipped the balance toward either survival or extinction, based on whether relationships were synergistic or antagonistic.

Government evolved for the good of the populace as a whole, but outliers under the bell curve of popularism have never fared well. The all-for-all—one-for-all of communism and socialism stifled advancement by the absence of a profit motive and a bit of a miscue over possessions, in spite of being designed to sidestep the pitfalls such things create; the all-for-one of monarchies, tyranny, and despotism portended poorly for both the top of the pyramid, i.e., the king, tyrant, or despot, and the downtrodden public who inevitably end such a relationship, usually abruptly. The experiments that have survived under the middle of the bell curve—democracies and republics—have fared better, but less domestic discord only underscores the international discord across borders.

Tangential to governments and other political categorizations are the intangibles of culture. While art, tradition, family values, language, and religion have the luxury of developing in the peace and harmony of stable governments, another us-vs-them dichotomy arises among them—not a political line of demarcation, but a gossamer trough that, like the weather, allows passage via which way the wind blows, be it fair or an ill wind.

The Twentieth Century brought something new to geocultural politics—mobility. Profit motives have always made strange bedfellows across borders, and travel—ultimately based on money/trade—added a layer of homogenized comradery to even diverse ethnic, racial, and religious factions, but is has moved slowly prior to air travel and wired/unwired communication. Yet, like two medications vying for the same biochemistry in the human body, different cultures may have no interrelation with each other, become synergistic and augmentative, or antagonistic. And nothing creates a more powerful us-vs-them antagonism than money.

The question of which is better for a society as a whole—monoculturalism or multiculturalism—seems academic, but it is really based on the size of the capsule (border). A small enclave of individuals sees no culture per se—they are the culture. When different enclaves coexist on a bigger patch of land—be it an island or a continent—the more the multiple cultures get along the better for that entire island or continent. Therefore, it behooves any collection of different cultures to share the same government, rules and laws, and their enforcement. Extrapolating this to an extreme, if an alien threat were to attack our planet, the people of Earth acting as one people, as a planet, would fare better than a piecemeal volley of sorties launched from a disorganized, fractured war machine. Since we have yet to face an extraterrestrial threat and are in no way moving forward as a planet (except toward the next season), it seems the only threat we have is each other—again relative, whether neighbor vs neighbor, city-state vs city-state, nation vs nation, or East vs West.

Assuming a large collection of different cultures is protected under an umbrella of similar government(s), then the medication metaphor applies. Some cultures will get along fine with others, while there are others which will—relatively speaking—alternately tolerate, undermine, or want to kill the others.

The downside to multiculturalism is this us-vs-them way of life. Differing cultural philosophies breed distrust and defensiveness and their big brother, xenophobia. Such one-upsmanship can stop the progress of an entire society when its laws always are busy putting out fires. The upside to multiculturalism is the art and creativity of the human mind—a higher purpose than just survival. Heritage is no less an art form than a sonnet, sonata, dance, drama, painting, or architecture. Yet, there has never been a bombing of a museum dedicated to cubism by an unruly mob of surrealists. The great poetic-prosaic war never happened. No assassinations of tango couples by foxtrotters. Why?

The reason the “art” of culture augments xenophobia is because it is based on fundamentalism—an original source of authority, continually threatened by multicultural interchanges (travel and money). Worse, any culture’s leaders are threatened by challenge to their authority, which in their case, is based on their interpretation of a fundamentalist authority—e.g., a “Holy Book,” the stars, the flag, or an original patriarch/matriarch.

The upside to monoculturalism is that there is no us-vs-them. But this is contrary to human nature, because there are no monopolizing painting styles or literature genres. Herein is where the insidious and debasing undercurrents of a monoculture reveal its downside. Mobility, profit, and trade make pure cultures impossible. A culture—a monoculture—can be primarily just us instead of us-vs-them, but this portends as poorly for the them in a monoculture as did for the tyrant on a collision course with karma. Add to the mix the one thing that blows as an ill wind from one culture to another, that is, money.

Originally laws were needed for harmony and order; enforcement was needed to safeguard the laws that establish such harmony and order. In a monocultural society, laws can be made to safeguard the interests of the us against the minority them. Enforcement can be used to make the them go away. A monocultural society easily becomes a breeder reactor of us-against-them: it is the tyrant of a different kind of bell curve—the racial/genocidal/ethnic purity bell curve. It is the reason why, in the Twentieth Century alone, Germany killed six million Jews and 3 million Russians, the Khmer Rouge killed 3 million Cambodian urbanites, intellectuals and foreigners, the Rwandan Hutus killed a million Tutsis, among many others examples.

monocultural society has no checks and balances.

A multicultural society, assuming the diverse cultures can all subscribe to the rules of whatever protective umbrellas they cloister under, is a living, breathing system of such checks and balances. When not worried about the approaching mob of club-raised malefactors, humans can do what they do best, creating and living their art—tradition, family values, language, and religion in the luxury of peace and harmony. It’s natural. It’s multicultural.