Adaptation of David Goodhart’s essay ‘Too Diverse?’, Prospect Magazine, Feb 2004
Is solidarity better than diversity?
In Britain of the 1950s, despite differences in region, class and generation, there was a basic common culture. People held very similar, ‘national’ values. This common culture was the result of a shared experience of 300 years of industrialisation, urbanisation and war.
Today, we have a very diverse society. That means sharing things (NHS, football stadiums, public toilets, supermarkets) with ‘strangers’. The common culture therefore gets eroded. The problem is that the reason we have public services – and our willingness to contribute to them – is that they depend on us thinking that our taxes are going to ‘people who are like us’.
Why is it the case that I would spend more money on my child’s birthday party than on relief for the millions of children dying in Somalia? It is because the friends of my children are closer to me. The reason that Swedes are likely to pay 50% of their wages on taxes to a common health system is that they are homogenous – all Swedes – whereas in America they don’t because in a very diverse society Americans think they have fewer obligations to one another. Because 70% of the poor in America are non-White Hispanics or blacks, and the richer half of the population are mainly white, the prospects of creating a welfare state in America are small.
Humans naturally have in-groups – through their hobbies, jobs, places of worship, class, nation – and this implies out-groups. Naturally, they have more obligations to their in-groups. Paying taxes and redistributing wealth depends on these bonds of affection. That is why most of our money goes on NHS, social security and building infrastructure here, and only 0.7% of it to helping developing countries. Social psychologists say this impulse is innate.
The implication is found in our ‘liberal’ media. For example, why does the death of 2 Britons get the same...