Learning to Live Together in Culturally Diverse Societies

Image: Thai Pai playing cards from Wikimedia Commons. By Outlookxp – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

I made a presentation on some work I’ve been doing on intercultural futures at a recent workshop on Learning to Live Together in Culturally Diverse Societies.

Yet, really? Learning? Learning what, and who from? Also, who’s the student?

Such debates are pitched at too low a level and usually involve only “multiculturalists” from across the Anglosphere, where predominantly white societies have to “learn” to adapt to their own increasing diversity. Migrants, too, are presumed to need to “learn” to fit in.

These debates also tend to assume the responsibility for imparting such learning lies entirely with schools, while adult public discussion deals in fear and racial stereotypes on the one hand, and on the other, the idea that inclusion is based on costumes and cooking, or holding summits with “leaders” who may attract little support. Add competition for government grants and political party fundraising to that mix, along with a faltering economy reliant on Asian trade and immigration, and we end up with a cluster of triggers for toxic political debates that can do real damage to social cohesion.

Australia is a diverse society, located in an exceedingly diverse region, Asia. This region, in turn, is increasingly important in the context of a multipolar world. If Australia and its institutions still need to learn this, then they need to radically improve their capacity for understanding Asia and Asians as a means of understanding themselves, their prospects and their place in the world, not limit their focus to managing discomfort with diversity behind Australia’s own borders.

It’s time for adult institutions to step up their learning as well.

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