Multiculturalism and Social Capital
This is a mainly a note to myself. "Social capital" seems to be one of those trendy notions like "framing" that lots of us use without having in mind any clear definition but which are at least suggestive at the start for pointing toward a line of inquiry.
What strikes me looking at this Wikipedia article is the absence of any discussion of how social capital adds up--if indeed it does--and more fundamentally what the bearers of social capital are: individuals, groups or what? We can think of individuals as having social capital to the extent that they're "connected" but the connectedness of individuals within various subgroups doesn't necessarily enhance the social capital of a society as a whole, if we can talk about societies as bearers of social capital. In fact the opposite seems to be the case: multicultural societies that consist of lots of cohesive clans or tribes are low on trust and public-spiritedness and high on corruption.
I think something like what I'm after is captured by the distinction between "bonding" and "bridging" social capital--the street gang vs. the block association. Groups that are bonded compete against one another and to that extent diminish the social capital of the larger society in which they figure; groups that embody "bridging" social capital enhance the social capital of the wholes of which they're parts.
"Think globally--act locally" assumes that local groups typically generate bridging social capital: (1) that they'll cooperate with other groups rather than compete and (2) be inclusive rather than exclusive when it comes to membership. We think of civic organizations, whole food coops, and such. Anyone interested in the activities or goals of the group can get in, and the group cooperates with other groups. But clans, tribes and ethnic "communities" are exactly the opposite of that. They're by their nature exclusionary since membership is based on bloodlines, and maintain their cohesiveness by exclusion and competition. "We take care of our own." We compete for turf and other scarce resources with comparable groups to benefit our members, and in order to provide significant benefits we have to restrict membership--there's only so much stuff to go around.
Maybe the fundamental mistake of multiculturalists who advocate the salad bowl rather than the melting pot is thinking of ethnic groups on the model of civic organizations, coops and the like, as repositories of bridging rather than bonding social capital. Each group will operate its own ethnic restaurants and produce its own float for the Fourth of July parade. But this is precisely NOT how ethnic groups operate: if they did they wouldn't be ethnic groups but voluntary cultural preservation societies. There's nothing objectionable about cultural preservation societies if they admit anyone who has an interest in ethnic cookery, dance and costume and if their business is participating in "ethnic faires," reading and discussing the history of their chosen group, learning about the language and so on. But real "ethnic communities" are not voluntary associations and, even if they engage in cultural preservation as a side line their main business is to access political power and gain economic clout in order to get apprenticeships, jobs, contracts, grants and other scarce resources for their members. To this end they promote bloc voting and operate patronage systems.
I know what this system is like because I was brought up with it and I can't think of any arrangement that's more effective in undermining public-spiritedness, transparency and trust--social capital on the large scale.