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Many readers of this weblog are familiar with Robert Putnam’s research showing that communitarianism may be inversely correlated with diversity. In the American context we’re likely to view this through the prism of race and ethnicity. But Peter Turchin in his work tends to focus on religion and other ideologies as the group identities around which humans coalesce. Humans obviously have a need for conformity and solidarity; I recall as a child a Steelers fan getting into a fight with a Browns fan. So it should not be hard to observe the problems which ideological diversity produce even in an ethnically and racially homogeneous nation such as South Korea.

Last week there were mass demonstrations of Buddhists in South Korea against the religious parochialism of the current president, a Presbyterian elder. The president is already unpopular for other reasons, so I don’t personally believe that this unrest is a necessary outcome of religious tension. Rather, as documented in books such as The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, a social context where individuals feel under stress and insecure will often produce intergroup conflict. In an age of plenty there is elbow room between factions because of the growing pie, but when we smell the Malthusian trap in the air group level affinities come to the fore as you don’t want to become isolated as an individual without communal capital which you can leverage.

South Korea is I suspect a case where these dynamics might become more important in the coming years because of its religious diversity. Additionally, religious tension is not a new feature of the culture. It isn’t too hard to find instances of fundamentalist Christians attacking Buddhism. This is similar to cases in Brazil where evangelicals have destroyed statues of the Virgin Mary. There several recent incidents associated with the current head of state which precipitated the present crisis, but note this:

But tension has been building up since December, when newly elected president Lee began filling his first cabinet with Christians. At least a half of his new ministers were people professing to be Christians, with the prime minister, Han Seung Soo, said to be a Roman Catholic. Not a single cabinet minister professed to be Buddhist.

or

Of the 15 members of Lee’s Cabinet, 12 are Christian and one is Buddhist while the affiliation of two others was not immediately available.

So obviously there’s some disagreement, but one can assume here that though Christians are 1/3 of the population they are the substantial majority of the cabinet. Is this prejudice? Discrimination? Do Buddhists have grounds to be angry? As I have noted before in South Korea Christianity has a strong correlation with higher socioeconomic status. If one assumes that cabinet level positions sample from the social and educational elites, then they will naturally tend to preponderantly be Christians! Of course since the president is a zealous Christian one can always be suspicious of his motive and method, so as a precautionary principle one could argue that there should have been an affirmative action to reach out to Buddhists so that the cabinet “looked like the nation.”

In the United States we’re so hung up on racial and ethnic factions that we often don’t notice that the disparate representations of different religious groups in government. Check the religious affiliations of Congress and Governors. Thank God we live well below the Malthusian limit!

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: History, Science • Tags: Culture, History, Religion 
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  1. A few questions: 
     
    1. How far do low Gini coefficients correlate to low diversity? My impression is that they do. Japan’s monoculture seems to be connected to its relative equality. 
     
    In a more homogenous society, moderately well off taxpayers look at benefit claimants and think, “there but for the grace of God go I”. They have more empathy because they can more easily imagine how they could have wound up in the benefit claimant’s shoes. If the people on benefit feel like a completely alien social grouping the empathy may be lost, and therefore the willingness to vote for social programs for the poor. 
     
    2. When I read the religious affiliations of US politicians I suspect there is a very high degree of lying and deception going on. At least some of those politicians must be secret Atheists, don’t you think?

  2. At least some of those politicians must be secret Atheists, don’t you think? 
     
    yes. people who work in DC tell me this is so.

  3. We live *above* the Malthusian limit? You mean we have more people than we can feed? 
     
    Fortunately, we’re well below it (and it would help us to stay there if we stopped subsidizing the conversion of food for fuel in the form of ethanol).

  4. Define diversity. Somalia is mono-lingual, mono-religious, mono-ethnic, and has a diverse array of clans.  
     
    Every society is diverse along some metric — the question is whether the metric is salient for inter-group conflict (and distrust).

  5.  
    Every society is diverse along some metric — the question is whether the metric is salient for inter-group conflict (and distrust).
     
     
    right. did you read my post before you commented?

  6. Koreans are corrupt nepotists. Look at all the family business scandals that happen over there. It wouldn’t be surprising if the President is biased against Buddhists and non-Christians.

  7. Koreans are corrupt nepotists 
     
    !finns are corrupt nepotists 🙂 very little value add to this comment.

  8. South Koreans like to Work Hard, Riot Hard.

  9. Yes. But I never understand what you’re talking about.  
     
    (Actually, I was responding mostly to comment #1.)

  10. Is there research on how effective having a defined outsider lower-class is in reducing other religious or ethnic tensions? 
     
    For example, how important was it to white unification in America to have blacks be the designated bottom of the barrel? Did this help European immigrants get over their Old World ethnic and religious differences? 
     
    And now that anti-black attitudes are no longer a unifying belief among whites, are the political culture wars the result of intra-white religious differences becoming more important and definitional? 
     
    I get the impression that many white evangelicals feel that secular upper income whites look down on them as the dregs of society. Obviously nobody likes thinking of themselves as the bottom of the barrel and that spurs a backlash. 
     
    Human nature being what it is, some sub-group will always be considered the dregs of society. But if that group is a large percentage of society that seems a recipe for instability. 
     
    Is it perversely good for a society as a whole if there is some 5% minority group that everybody else hates? 
     
    (To be clear, I think it’d be ideal if everybody got along with everybody. I just don’t think that is how human nature works.)

  11. Besides ethnicity and religion, there’s nationality as such. Switzerland has been diverse in language and religion for centuries — the unity of the country is, as far as I can tell, purely political and historical. (It’s not geographical either, most mountainous areas are terribly fractured).  
     
    I’ll just repeat that in the historical sciences, exceptions and outliers can be as important as, or more important than, the typical cases. According to most theories, Switzerland shouldn’t exist.

  12. Besides ethnicity and religion, there’s nationality as such. Switzerland has been diverse in language and religion for centuries — the unity of the country is, as far as I can tell, purely political and historical. (It’s not geographical either, most mountainous areas are terribly fractured).  
     
    switzerland is also one of the most politically decentralized countries in the world. coincidence?

  13. Hi Razib 
     
    As far as I can tell, without the system of Cantons, the Swiss Germans would be an immoveable permanent majority; which would in turn lead to secession by the non-German regions. I couldn’t find any statistics showing whether Swiss-German, -French, -Italian or -Roman regions tend to be richer. 
     
    The Swiss I know always tend to say, “oh Basel – that’s a German town”, or “oh Geneva, that’s a French town”. So there isn’t a sense of, say, wealthy Swiss-French with poor German-Swiss gardeners tending their lawns. Ethnic diversity doesn’t correlate with class or income separation – at least not among the traditional inhabitants of Switzerland. Switzerland has imported both an underclass of poor non-Swiss and an overclass of international billionaires. Even with this, Switzerland’s Gini coefficient is lower than both the UK and the US.

  14. I think it is important that the religious difference in Switzerland (Catholic v. Protestant) cuts across the linguistic ones. In particular, Geneva is traditionally Protestant, and received a lot of Huguenot refugees from France in the 16th and 17th centuries. If Geneva had been Catholic I suspect it would have merged with France long ago.

  15. Switzerland is a deliberately, systematically multicultural nation that functions pretty well. You can call it “decentralization”, but it’s the equivalent of having a Spanish-language state in the U.S. It seems to be a counterexample for several different arguments.

  16. . You can call it “decentralization”, but it’s the equivalent of having a Spanish-language state in the U.S. It seems to be a counterexample for several different arguments. 
     
    equivalent if there was A LOT more federalism. remember, the swiss have traditions on *towns* voting on *individual* citizenship applications. the quotes around decentralization are totally unwarranted. it’s easy to get along with another group if they have your back (repel enemies) but don’t want too much collaboration on domestic issues. ask the belgians….

  17. Historically Switzerland was very decentralized, but it’s increasingly less so. A pretty loose confederation has developed into a nation. In any case, my point is that “decentralization” is a weak way of describing what is really a non-national, pluralistic state, even more decentralized than federalist states.  
     
    It’s quite impressive that Nazi Germany was not able to subvert Switzerland by recruiting Swiss Germans the way it recruited Czech Germans, or as far as that goes, Austrians. 
     
    I looked at the stats in your other post and it seems that majority populations in each canton mostly are from 76% to 85%, with four of the 16 cantons larger than 100,000 having majority populations of less than 76% and five greater than than 85%.

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