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Melting Pot Or Melting Down?

A new law taking effect in Belgium in October, and later in Flanders, highlights one of the fundamental problems with the concept of cultural melting pots and integration.  The fact of the matter is that most people want to be around others like themselves.  It is a primary instinct of the human condition and no amount of force will make oil and water bind to each other.

The law bans Kosher and Halal animal slaughter, which involves slitting the throats and bleeding out the animals.  The Belgium and Flanders laws require that the animals be electrocuted before killing, in a manner considered more humane.  This, however, violates the strict food codes of Judaism and Islam.

Throughout history, when two opposing philosophical systems (religions) come into direct contact, conflict always follows.  Primarily Catholic/Christian Europe has profound conflicts with both Judaism and Islam, regardless of how much happy talk one slathers over the situation.  The contact point between the two philosophies ultimately boils over into pogroms, with the indigenous group usually winning.  It is a fact that can not be erased by wishful thinking.  History is clear on the subject.

When it comes to examples of cultural blending, many commentators point to the US as an example of the "melting pot".  This ignores one of the most poorly hidden secrets of America, though.  As waves of immigrants came to North America, they settled into ghettos, towns and even entire regions of cultural identity.  In Texas alone, there are German (Groene, New Braunsfelds), Czech (Moulton, Moravia, Praha), Spanish (San Antonio, Laredo, El Paso), Scotch-Irish (New Dublin, Shannon), British (New London, Derry) areas that can be clearly defined by culture, architecture, and even climate (just like home).

Around the country, there are the Pennsylvania Dutch, the Irish cops of Boston and New York, the Welsh miners in West Virginia and Montana, the Minnesota and Dakota Swedes, the Louisiana Cajuns, and so on.  People tend to congregate in groups and in regions where they feel most comfortable, and where the ethnic, cultural and physical environment match their fundamental values.

There is a basic and profound reason why Chinatowns spring up, Jewish ghettos exist, New York City Burroughs were delineated, and so forth.  There is a gut-level reason why even those groups that successfully integrate with existing cultures tend to congregate around ethnic restaurants, bars, places of worship, and community centers.

Even in my hometown of Houston, a thoroughly modern American city, there are entire sections of town with signs in Vietnamese and Mandarin.  There are entire neighborhoods where nearly every house has a mezuzah nailed to the doorpost.

Historically, all efforts to force people to integrate will fail, and often violently.  Only when clear lines of demarcation are mutually established does peace and harmony reign once again.  Whether the forced integration is an invasion, or the result of political policy, eventually the two opposing groups will repel each other with a force commensurate with the amount of force pushing them together.

Prejudice, bias and racism are at the core of the human condition.  Over time, groups organically integrate out of necessity or relaxing standards.  This can be clearly seen in the US, where immigrants ultimately show their willingness to pitch in and build a better community.  The Irish invasion of the late 1800s brought strife and violence with it.  Over time, the Irish became accepted and integral parts of the community and now St. Patrick's Day is one of the most celebrated holidays in the country.

There are many voices who promote racial, ethnic and religious integration, and preach loudly of the ideal humanity living in well-mixed bliss.  This is a lofty goal and no one can deny making it a reality is a long-term target for the human race.  To be sure, modern cities are "melting pots" where ethnic, racial and philosophical groups slowly blend over time through intermarriage and cultural blending.  It is a slow and tedious process, and any attempt to force it is met with equal and opposite force, frequently breaking out in bloody conflict.

The Belgian and Flemmish laws, along with others that will likely follow, represent the bow shock of backlash.  Conflicitng religious, philosophical and ethnic needs between the predominantly Catholic/Christian Europe and the Islamic invasion over the past few years will inevitably lead to conflict.  The needs and sensibilities of the two groups are fundamentally at odds.  The resistance to Halal slaughter techniques must overflow into the long-established Kosher industry, since the two are basically the same thing. 

Though Jews have been established for centuries in Europe, the revulsion against Halal slaughter must perforce include Kosher, as these types of backlash inevitably try to return to a perceived starting or neutral position and the integration process resets.

Society after society, culture after culture, from Sumeria to the present day have seen this type of rejection.  When integration is gradual, cultures blend and create new ones.  When integration is overwhelming and rapid, the invading culture makes too many sudden demands, and the extant culture slams the door.

In my own experience, I emigrated to a country (Indonesia) that was wildly different from my own.  I was careful not to inject my sensibilities onto my adopted home.  Rather, I learned the lingua franca, as well as parts of three other dialects.  I observed and adopted cultural mores and habits.  One thing you will almost never heard from my lips is, "The way we do it back home..."  I am not home and I didn't come here as an invader.  I cam to learn.

For those reasons, I have been accepted into the extant culture, despite the fact that I look nothing like the inhabitants.  I am pale, with red hair and blue eyes, and stand head and shoulders above most of the locals.  I couldn't blend in if I tried.  But, I speak the language and even in my house we speak English, Indonesian and Javanese.  I am the only white person in my neighborhood.  I eat the food, observe the manners and rituals, and even sing the national anthem on demand.  I am accepted and people are not threatened or intimidated by me.  It took years of hard work to achieve.

Already, voices are howling in protest at the new laws in Belgium and Flanders.  They want everyone to make immediate concessions to an invading culture that refuses to integrate.  This is a recipe for disaster, and no amount of political correctness will ameliorate the situation.  The backlash is spilling over into a cultural reset that will include other groups that have long been established.  It is no different from the suspicion and distrust that followed German and Japanese Americans during World War 2.

Though great progress has been made, especially in the US, over the past 50 years towards racial, ethnic and philosophical harmony among disparate groups, there is still an innate reset trigger in each of us that is activated when we feel our sensibilities are offended.  Humans can no more change it than cats can stop hunting mice.  It is an integral part of our species.  We can chose to defuse it, but it is a slow and difficult process to submerge our instincts.

If our social and political leaders would stop forcing mass displacements of people for ideological purposes, the world would be a much quieter and harmonious place, where folks could chose the culture and environment in which they prefer to live.

Humanity always makes the biggest messes when it attempts to subvert Nature.