With so much discussion and rhetoric revolving around immigration and the foreign-born these days, it is instructive to look at more than just the emotional aspects of the topic. If we view the societal and economic effects of immigration on the United States over the years, it becomes apparent that innovation and imagination (long considered “hallmarks” of so-called “American ingenuity”) are based in and arise out of the diversity of our society – a diversity created by immigration. (In this article, Cultural Crossroads does not take a position on so-called “illegal” immigration or the government’s response to “undocumented” immigrants. It is the position of this article that immigration has historically been a strength of American society as well as a founding principle of our system. Considering recent threats against “legal” as well as “illegal” immigration, these are points that must be remembered.)
In society, as in agriculture, diversity is a strength. We need look no further than the Irish potato famine to see the potential for disaster with monoculture – the fact that we have not seen more recent examples is not due to any “strength” of monoculture, but to the fact that today’s agribusiness uses herbicides and other “poisons” to counter the natural result of monoculture.
Modern agribusiness uses monoculture plantings on an unprecedented scale, along with unprecedented use of herbicides – necessary because of the monoculture system, which is unnatural. (Similarly, our society’s method of livestock management is unnatural – livestock producers move cattle from natural pasture to “feed lots” to fatten them before market with a corn-based fodder, which is itself unnatural for cattle, causing the necessity of using vast amounts of antibiotics to combat infections caused by the unnatural diet.) In every instance, save one, the unnatural method is inferior to the natural method – the one exception is short-term profits. The Overseas Development Institute made the following findings in a July, 1998 online article:
“The greater the simplification of the genetic base, the greater the risk from pathogens. The likelihood of a pathogen eliminating the resource base and thereby causing major food insecurity is hard to quantify, although it demonstrably occurs, for example in the case of potato blight. The political pressure for food in the present is likely to outweigh the potential for famine in the future. “ Short-sighted, but true.
Similarly, the strength of a society lies in diversity. In an online discussion about diversity on www.quora.com, one Angelo Ferrer states “Research has found that in business, diverse groups outperform homogeneous groups. The reason is that diverse groups bring in several different perspectives to solve a problem. Having a diverse group can bring in people that have different types of intelligence that can help complete a task.” 1
“Social ecology” is the system of society where all segments of a society work together to form a harmonious whole. Just as diversity of life benefits the ecosystem, so does diversity of population benefit a society.
Society Diversity is Strength because, to form a strong society, we need people who have many skills, talents, and history. We need people who can build business, but we also need people who can work the land. We need people with the work ethic (borne from family tradition) to start small grocery stores – but we also need poets. We need people who can cook a meal (perhaps digging into family recipes), those who can run the restaurant and those who can act as servers. We need people who work with wood and those who sing about the trees.
We enjoy a genuine uniqueness that is only possible in America – when we see an amusing juxtaposition of culture (like an ad for a Hawaiian pizza or, as I saw at a concert, a Greek man playing as a member of a Native American band), we laugh and say “only in America!” … but, instead of amusement, let’s look at the wondrousness of what we have here…
Regardless of what a blood test may reveal about my DNA, as an American of the 21st Century, my life is enriched by Italian food, Jewish klezmer music, German literature, English common law, Hungarian dance, silks from India and the spiritual philosophy of Japan. In short, my birthright – OUR birthright – is the world and is rooted in every time, every place…from Stone Age to Space Age….from Africa, Asia, Europe and the New World — all thanks to our immigrant predecessors.
Monoculture, in agriculture allows total crop destruction from one virus. Gardeners know that diversity provides safety. In the same way, a society is safer from pedagogy when people have different viewpoints. Compromise results in strength, not weakness. Splicing a beam, for example, provides strength and durability without destruction of the original beam. Although it is easy to break a single stick or twig, a bundle of sticks bound together is difficult to break. Discoveries being made even today find that the blending of Neanderthal with homo sapien and Denisovan parents resulted in a stronger and more resilient genome.
As the poet-farmer and philosopher Wendell Berry has written: “(Nature) is forcing us to believe what the great teachers and prophets have always told us and the ecologists are telling us again: All things are connected; the context of everything is everything else.”
In society as in Nature, we are all connected, we are all stronger together. Let us continue to celebrate the uniqueness of America and its history of connection; let us continue to BE the America Dream and let us continue to welcome the stranger to our shores!
1 What about the strengths exhibited by homogenous societies? That was also a topic of discussion on quora.com with some interesting and insightful comments made by one Jaime Tatsubana, who postulates that diversity is not the only strength and that cohesion (citing Japan and Norway) is also a strength. Mr. Tatsubana gives examples of this type of strength, but also comments that, while diversity can lead to increased cultural friction, cohesion and homogeny “tends to discourage risk-taking behavior…(and) is less likely to produce big innovators like Facebook, Apple, Tesla, etc.”
* Wonder where this title comes from? It’s the US motto, direct from our Founding Fathers, and appears on the Great Seal of the United States and our currency. E pluribus unum means “from many, one.”