Is integration really such a good thing?

Why does everyone assume these days that integration is such a good thing, asks Giles Fraser in The Guardian. Louise Casey’s “community report”, published last week, simply took it for granted that it’s inherently unhealthy for communities to keep themselves to themselves. But why shouldn’t they preserve their distinct character? It’s precisely that which makes them a community in the first place. “What a miserably grey one­-dimensional place [the world] would be if the dominant model of middle-of-the-road liberal secular capitalism became the only acceptable way of living.” To hear Communities Secretary Sajid Javid berating people for not embracing Britain’s “shared values” is to be reminded of the Borg, those Star Trek villains who travel the universe forcibly subsuming other cultures. “We are the Borg,” they say. “Surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.” There we have it. For integrationists, “good community is little more than a dash of cultural colour at homeopathic levels: a calendar of exotic festivals, some religious fancy dress”. But having a different way of life, or seeing the world in a different way? Please God, no!  (Giles Fraser, The Guardian)

Well, Giles, thank you for your perspective, but, as a liberal Epicurean who is dedicated to human rights and the decent treatment of all people, wherever they come from, I have to disagree and vote for integration. I believe that cultural diversity is a bit over-sold.

Human beings feel comfortable in “tribes”. We no longer call them that, but this is an inescapable fact. A “tribe” is a group on people with shared values, outlooks, even the same politics.  You feel comfortable with your tribe, whether it is based on religion, education, language or skin colour.  People with shared values feel they can say what they think and know they will not be harshly judged.  Constantly being on edge, anxiously avoiding offense to some religionist or foreigner is not fun. In the long term it is stressful. There are areas in the UK where English isn’t the lingua franca after three generations. This is divisive and, I think, discourteous to the natives. If you desire to move to another country and it is hospitable enough to welcome you, good manners demand that you make an effort to fit in.  To adopt any other attitude is to be arrogant. “You’ve joined us; we haven’t joined you”.

Having said that, everyone of whatever race, colour or social position, should be treated with kindness, courtesy and good humour  They should have help with housing, schooling etc and encouraged to be a productive member of society.  If, like the young ladies who audited my old company’s books, you have educated yourself, thrown off the veil and joined the majority culture, you will be highly respected, not to mention esrn well. Why not? They would have had much less respect where their parents came from.

One Comment

  1. Well said Robert! Were Giles Fraser to get his way, society would be even more segregated and divided than it already is. There would be more racism and hostility between different groups. Extremely right wing parties would increase in popularity. More importantly, on Fraser’s logic, white British people shouldn’t mix with minorities because such integration would damage their culture.
    From an academic perspective, diversity is interesting. I like hearing what people from different backgrounds have to say on various issues. But academia isn’t the real world. You’re right: most people feel more comfortable in communities where other people are like them. This may not be entirely rational, but it remains true nonetheless.
    Having said that, I’m not sure what can be done to integrate people more. The most segregated parts of Britain tend to be the poorest, so measures to improve the economy would certainly help. But there are limits to this; the ultra-rich parts of London are extremely segregated. The most integrated parts of Britain are solidly middle class, where the newcomers live very similar lives on very similar incomes to the locals. Perhaps resolving income inequality would further integration.

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