The Society for Descriptive Psychology
September 24-27, 1998
Estes Park, Colorado
© 1998 by Fernand Lubuguin, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
For my presidential address, I'd like to talk about a topic with which I have had some personal experience. As many of you may remember, I've been very interested in the subjects of culture, ethnic identity, and acculturation, among other related topics. I presented my dissertation on acculturation back in 1993 at Breckenridge, Colorado. Tonight, I'm going to talk about culture and society. The general question that I'll be asking is - "Is a real multicultural society actually possible?" This question seems especially pertinent nowadays in light of the continuing growth of ethnic minority communities in the United States; and the social, cultural, and political implications of this state of affairs.
As human nature goes, we tend to learn about and give presentations on those things that both interest us and have some personal significance. Having been born in the Philippines and raised there until I was nine years old, I lived in a country that is comprised of a vast archipelago. This geographical characteristic lends itself to a country where there are multiple societies and cultures (or at least subcultures). This fact is so clearly illustrated by the number of distinct languages across the country. There are eight major ethnolinguistic groups, made up of approx. 200 dialects. Despite this great diversity, they were all still considered Filipinos.
At the age of nine, I immigrated to the U.S. and my world expanded tremendously to include many other ethnic groups (although not a comparable number of new languages & dialects). Now I was faced with learning about an array of languages, races, and cultures - all within the American society. In addition, I had to adjust to a new way of life by acculturating to the American culture.
As I experienced the process of acculturation as a child, and later examined this process from a scholarly perspective as a graduate student, certain thoughts and questions arose - including the basic question of whether a real multicultural society was possible. As a child, I recall being told and reading in various textbooks that America was a "melting pot" culture. Initially, this notion had some appeal to me since I took it to imply that I would be transformed into someone who acquired the best qualities of all the cultures that comprised this diverse American society. In a sense, it seemed to me that I was to become a better person than I could ever have been had I stayed in the Philippines and remained a pure Filipino. Then sometime during my late adolescence and early adulthood, I learned that this became a dated and unpopular notion. It seemed that the sociopolitical climate had changed dramatically. The idea of blending and thereby losing the integrity of one's native way of life was unwise. Instead, a person ought to take pride in maintaining their native identity and integrate into American society by contributing their uniqueness and individuality, both as a person and as a member of a particular ethnic group. Accordingly, the metaphor of a "melting pot" evolved to become a "tossed salad", wherein each ingredient of a salad maintains its integrity yet contributes positively to the whole. Terms such as multiculturalism, pluralism, and cultural diversity became - shall we say - "politically correct". Parenthetically, since my family immigrated to California and not somewhere in the Midwest, I fancied myself as something along the lines of arugula, endive, or radicchio, rather than plain iceberg lettuce.
When one takes some time to examine some of the implications of this general perspective, a number of questions and concerns arise. These notions have more than academic significance and interest; they also have great personal and sociopolitical significance. Recently, for instance, the issue of affirmative action has been tossed about in the political arena. Questions regarding the historical success and current applicability of affirmative action have been raised. Different points of view regarding the actual meaning and purpose of affirmative action have also been deliberated.
I realize that from a sociopolitical perspective, these topics can be quite engaging and provocative. However, my intent tonight is not to discuss these topics from that perspective. I will not be taking any political positions or promoting any particular political agenda. Instead, I'd like to take a scholarly perspective to examine the concepts of culture and society in the abstract and explore the ways in which they interrelate. As tempting as it may be, I will not be discussing these concepts in the context of actual cultures and societies. One good reason for speaking in the abstract is time. In order to do the job well, I'd have to get into details about particular cultures and societies, and this will take more time than we have here tonight. I will, however, be referring to some actual cultures and societies simply to illustrate some of my points.
To broadly outline my presentation, I will proceed in the following sequence. Primarily, I will articulate the concepts of society and culture independently. Second, I will compare and contrast these concepts in several ways. Then, I will delineate the logical space created by the combination of these two concepts. Finally, I will survey some of the possibilities within that space.
At the fundamental level, the concept of society refers to the structure of a group of people living together. Since we are referring to the social structure of statuses, roles are the basic building blocks of society. In turn, these roles are filled by individuals, and so without real people there can be no actual society. There are two essential notions in this description - namely, the individual and the group. Let us further examine these separately.
With respect to the individual, the concept of status refers to the different roles and activities involved within particular individuals and across sets of individuals. The interrelationships between the various statuses within a group of individuals comprise a social structure. This social structure taken as a whole forms a society.
However, a society does not refer to merely any group of people, but rather to a number of individuals who are living together. As a group of people living together, the relationships between them are not arbitrary or incidental. These relationships are meaningful in that the individuals rely on one another, and are interdependent in important functional ways. A viable society, therefore requires numerous roles and functions be fulfilled to maintain and promote the broad range of interactions involved in the practical affairs of a society.
Since a society has clear and specific roles and functions that must be met, there is an important distinguishing characteristic about society that I would like to point out. This feature is the requirement that this particular group of people be self-sufficient. That is, they have the ability to function and survive long-term independently from any other group of people. This group can collectively meet all of the necessary functions in having a viable way of life, and are successful in doing so in the long-term. This criteria is referred to as "stand alone viability". From a real world standpoint, societies are not generally segregated and do actually function interdependently. This criteria refers to the principle that "they could be self sufficient if they had to" as opposed to "they necessarily are".
In contrast, other instances of a group of people living together, such as a neighborhood or a dormitory both fail to meet this criteria of stand alone viability.
At this time, it is important to point out the differences that arise in talking about society in the abstract versus in the real world. In the abstract, society is simply one of the aspects of culture in the same way that status is an aspect of culture. This parallel relationship exists since society refers to the overall structure of statuses. As the way of life of a group of people, culture subsumes all aspects involved in living a particular way of life. However, in the real world as soon as one refers to an actual group of people, there can be different cultures within that group. In this instance, one is hard pressed to be able to actually say that culture is the overriding phenomenon. The city of Jerusalem is a good example of this case, wherein within one group of people (i.e. the residents of the city), there are several different cultures coexisting. Therefore, in the real world there is actually a symmetrical relationship between society and culture, and society is not simply subsumed by culture.
Another important distinction that I'd like to make at this point is the difference between real and actual. As I proceed in discussing both society and culture, this distinction will be critical. Real refers to something that is genuine, as opposed to being counterfeit or merely apparent. Actual refers to something that exists, as opposed to being imaginary, fictitious, or non-existent. For instance, a Beethoven sonata is still real even if it is not currently being performed. But, it is only actual at the time it is performed. A more relevant example involves the ancient Greek and Roman cultures. Both cultures are real, yet neither is actual.
Before I proceed to giving a parametric analysis of society, I'd like to clarify the sense in which I mean society. As a group gathering tonight to celebrate our twentieth anniversary, we are a real and actual society. However, the kind of society that I am referring to is a group of people living together with stand-alone viability in an historical and political context. You might think about it as the difference between society with a lower case "s", as in the former, versus a society with an upper case "s", as in the latter.
As most of you are familiar with, Descriptive Psychology provides a conceptual-notational device that can be used to formulate the possibilities of what a phenomenon could be and still be a thing of that kind. This device is called a parametric analysis. A parametric analysis of society would specify the relevant set of parameters for society.
A parametric analysis of society is given as follows:
where So = Society
M = Members
SS = Social Structure
These are the individuals who have participated or currently participate or will participate in a particular society. In general societies outlive individuals, thereby the membership of a society includes the historical totality of members and not merely the current participants.
This parameter refers to the statuses per se, and their interrelationships. This involves the concepts of social practices and behavior potential.
Particular societies (or groups or classes of societies) are characterized by specifying values for the parameters in greater or lesser detail. In turn, these parametric values are the basis for making explicit similarities and/or differences among societies.
Let us now switch to the other major concept, namely culture. Fundamentally, culture refers to a way of life. Since we are referring to the overall ways persons live their lives, social practices are the basic building blocks of culture. Accordingly, without social practices and members to enact them, there can be no actual culture. Social practices refer to the repertoire of behavior patterns which in a given culture, constitute what there is for members to do. Social practices also refer to the various ways in which a given behavior pattern can be done. As a phenomenon that has a part-whole relationship, social practices can have other social practices as components. Some instances of social practices are having dinner and attending a professional conference. A component of the broader social practice of attending a professional conference is the social practice of listening to a captivating presidential address.
As the more general concept, Community provides us the background and basis for understanding how persons live their lives. The parameters of Community include: members, statuses, concepts, locutions, social practices, and world. Culture, then is a particular community, rather than just any abstract community in that it refers to a particular set of people living a particular way of life, as compared to an arbitrary way of life. An actual culture requires a particular community. Community does not, per se, meet the criteria of stand alone viability. Culture, however, also fulfills the criteria of stand-alone viability, as society does.
Culture is a particular way of life that is generally coherent and meaningful, as opposed to random and trivial. The coherence of a culture is practically a natural quality since, a) a way of living would hardly qualify as such if it was inherently conflict-ridden, and b) it would be extraordinary if ways of living on the whole evolved toward internal inconsistency rather than toward internal consistency. The viability of a particular culture generally corresponds to the degree to which that culture satisfies Basic Human Needs (BHN's). The self perpetuation of a culture is generally contingent on its ability to actually satisfy the BHN's of its members. The survival of a culture follows a Darwinian approach, in that those cultures that generally satisfy the BHN's of its members survive and flourish, while those that do not eventually die off. Furthermore, this duration aspect is essential for the stand-alone-viability of a culture, in that a culture is real only if it persists across several generations. Adequate time is required to actually pass on the culture to next generations. A way of life that does not persists is hardly a real culture, although it may be something else - perhaps, a trend, a fad, or a movement.
The self-sufficiency aspect of the stand-alone viability of cultures implies that a culture does not require any other cultures to maintain itself. This self-sufficiency is derived from the comprehensiveness of the parameters of culture, as I will now elaborate through a parametric analysis of culture and the quality of the particular culture.
A parametric analysis of culture is given as follows:
where Cu = Culture
WOL = Way of Living
M = Members
W = World
S = Statuses
L = Language
SP = Social Practices
CP = Choice Principles
As in society, these are the individuals who have participated or currently participate or will participate in the particular culture. In general cultures outlive individuals, thereby the membership of a culture includes the historical totality of member and not merely the current participants.
This parameter refers to the context, structure, and principles of the world as it is understood. This includes (a) the place of the community in the world, (b) the history of the community, including its relations and interactions with other communities, and (c) the past, present, and (in principle) future history of the world.
This parameter reflects the social structure which involves the differentiation and meshing of activities, standards, and values among different sets of individuals. This social structure can be articulated in terms of statuses.
Social Practices -
As I mentioned earlier, this parameter essentially refers to the behavior patterns that constitute what there is for members to do.
Every culture has at least one language spoken by its members.
Choice Principles -
A social practice is a behavior pattern which has a hierarchical structure that reflects the multiplicity of stages and of options through which a person can engage in that social practice. Choices are inevitable since, on any given occasion, a social practice must be done in one of the ways it can be done. Cultural choice principles are more or less normative and provide guidelines for choosing social practices and behaviors in such a way as to express and preserve the coherence of human life as it is lived in that culture, and to preserve the stability of the social structure. Choice principles are commonly articulated in the form of value statements, or policies, or slogans, or maxims and mottos, or in scenarios such as myths and fables.
To draw the contrasts between these two concepts, I'd like to spend a few minutes discussing the similarities and differences between them.
An essential similarity between society and culture involves the core concept of status. In both cases, status is a central aspect. With respect to society, it is the interrelationships between statuses that comprises the social structure. With regard to culture, status is the position from which members engage in social practices.
Further similarities include both meeting the criteria of stand-alone viability, and both being timeless in nature. The criteria of stand-alone viability is met by society by being a case of a group of people living together in a self-sufficient manner. Analogously, culture meets this criteria by being a case of a community whose way of life is self sustaining and self perpetuating. The timelessness aspect of both refers to the absence of time limitations. In principle, both society and culture have indefinite life spans - much of this based on their stand-alone viability.
Another similarity is apparent in a parallel analogous relationship between them. That is, community is to culture as a group of people is to society, in that culture is a special case of community and society is a special case of a group of people.
In addition to these similarities, a logical symmetrical relationship between society and culture exists. That is, neither is actually viable without what the other provides. A society cannot be viable without at least one culture within it. And a culture cannot be viable without the social structure that society provides.
With respect to differences, the most obvious ones reflect the differences in the parameters as indicated by their respective parametric analyses. Society, as a comparatively less complex concept, is comprised of only the two parameters of member and social structure. In contrast, culture, as a more comprehensive concept that refers to an overall way of life, includes all the necessary parameters for living a way of life.
Among the differences in parameters, one of the more meaningful difference concerns the World parameter. This parameter applies only in culture and not society. As soon as you refer to the parameter of World in terms of a society, you are also referring to a particular culture within that particular society. Furthermore, the World parameter comes into play when you start talking about a specific society because this calls for referring to at least one culture within that society.
There are specific reasons and bases for Society lacking the World parameter. The essence of society as a social structure is the Member of that particular society. In contrast, the essence of culture as a way of life is Social Practice, which is a relatively more complex parameter that involves a network of other social practices and choice principles. Accordingly, it is the task of culture and not society to deal with others. This task requires the parameter of World to account for the notion of the other.
Another parametric difference involves social practices and choice principles. Regarding culture, these parameters specify the behavior patterns, options, and normative guidelines for selecting behaviors that provide the basis for coherence and stability of a way of life. These behavioral parameters are not aspects of society, yet behaviors also occur within a societal context. After all, we are fundamentally talking about people. Let us further examine the implications of the absence of social practices and choice principles as parameters of society.
Specifically, I am going to analyze behavior from a purely societal standpoint, and from a purely cultural standpoint. I intend to describe what behavior would look like in one context without reference to the other symmetrical context.
Behaviors within culture are more or less straightforward since the basic building block of culture is social practices. Thus, behaving in a culture fundamentally entails a Member enacting the Social Practices of that culture, in one or more of the Statuses available to him, guided by following the Choice Principles within that culture, all within the World of that culture.
A more interesting discussion involves behavior from a societal perspective. I will proceed with this discussion by posing the following questions: How would a person behave in a pure society - one without a culture? How would behavior occur in a pure society? What behaviors are possible given the specific statuses of a society and their interrelationships? Finally, when does a culture have to be involved in these behaviors?
In the simplest sense, behaviors from a purely societal standpoint are merely enactments of statuses; and as such, are not really social practices. In a more elaborate sense, behavior can be generated by a Member enacting roles and statuses, and by realizing the behavior potentials that correspond to those different statuses through the interactions and interrelationships of the statuses in that particular society. Keeping in mind that the two parameters of society are members and social structure, one can rely only on these two parameters to account for behavior in a strict societal sense. The aspects of this social structure are status, social practices, and behavior potential.
To elaborate further, behavior in a strict societal context entails enacting one of the possible statuses of that person, and realizing the behavior potential of that particular status, all within the context of the interrelationship between that particular status and the other relevant statuses of a given social structure. In a strict societal case, a person lacks choice principles with which to guide any social practice, because no social practices are needed. As such, the enacted behavior takes the form of a societal expression of the social practice, as opposed to an individual or personal expression. One can regard these enactments as "societal behavior" (as opposed to "cultural behavior"). An essential difference between "societal behavior" and "cultural behavior" is that "societal behavior" has no significance. There is no connection or relationship to a set or network of other behaviors as social practices have in a cultural framework. These sets of relationships between social practices is the basis for significance of these cultural behaviors. In brief, societal behavior amounts to the enactments of the statuses provided by the society, and acted on in ways that are limited by the formal relationships between those statuses. For instance, the social practice of going shopping amounts to a simple exchange of money between a person with the status of merchant and another with the status of customer.
One of the important implications of pure societal behavior is its relationship to the limits of a viable society. I'd like to pose two questions regarding these limits. What are the loosest boundary conditions under which a society can still be viable? What criteria does pure societal behavior have to meet in order to preserve the viability of a society?
There are two minimum criteria that set the boundaries for a viable society. The behaviors that correspond to the statuses of a given society must not be in conflict in two ways. First, the behaviors that correspond to the same status are not in conflict with each other. Second, the behaviors are not in conflict with other behaviors of other people, either of the same and/or different statuses. It is important to keep in mind the difference between the behavior itself (as enactments of status) and the status per se. In principle, the statuses themselves are not required to be free of conflict with one another. Statuses can be in conflict if the behavior that the particular status calls for cannot be successfully acted upon due to the conflicting behavior that another status calls for. For instance, two Colonels cannot successfully give orders to each other, but they can give orders to subordinate ranks. The critical factor for the preservation of a society is the absence of conflict between behaviors and statuses per se. Both criteria must be met in order for the society to remain viable. Intuitively speaking, it would be very difficult to imagine how a society could persist if these criteria were not met.
It is now clear that behavior from a pure societal standpoint is quite simple, as long as these critical criteria are met. The simplicity of this sort of behavior comes from the minimal constraints involved. Unlike cultural behavior, societal behavior does not depend on a structure of social practices and choice principles. The complexity of the relationships between status, behavior, social practices, and choice principles, that occur in a cultural context is absent. The only applicable relationship involves the corresponding relationship between status and behavior, since societal behavior are mere enactments of status, nothing more or less.
We can now derive how the loosest form of a society would appear. Based on this analysis, this kind of society would be a "cafeteria style" society where a member simply chooses behavior from the statuses that she has, and enacts these behaviors within the minimal restrictions that go with those statuses and behaviors.
In summary, the concept of pure societal behavior gives us a picture of the loosest way of behaving while remaining within the bounds of a particular society. In a sense, pure societal behavior is the case of "anything goes" as long as it does not violate the social structure, since there is no culture and its corresponding parameters to violate, or conversely, to guide behavior.
As a real world example, the city of Hong Kong is an instance of a successful loose society. This is a society where there is minimal governmental control over the lives of its residents. As a free-trade zone, the libertarian principles of government are applied.
Before discussing the possible combinations of society and culture, I'd like to first talk about the limiting cases of society and culture. My intent in this approach is to set the boundaries for the two concepts that I will later be combining. By setting the ultimate limits, the domain within which these two concepts can be combined becomes more clearly delineated.
The specific questions that I will be posing are:
Let's start by looking at the limits of what a society can be. We've already talked briefly about the limits to what a society can be from a behavioral point of view. Let's now talk about the limits from a cultural perspective. From this point of view, the loosest possible form of a society is one where any set of cultures could be represented and included.
This society could include any set, any type, and any number of cultures. Practically speaking, this state of affairs would call for some compatibility between the cultures. What might this compatibility be based on? Logically, this compatibility may rely on the presence of some significant degree of commonality between the cultures, or the absence of great incompatibility and conflict between the cultures. Note the differences between commonality and compatibility. Commonality calls for some sharing of attributes. Whereas, compatibility refers to being able to coexist and be mutually tolerant. In principle, two things can be compatible even if they have very little, if anything, in common. Just look at some of the interesting married couples we meet in our lives. Is the absence of conflict equivalent to the presence of compatibility? Not necessarily - again, look at some of the couples who come to our office who appear to have parallel and overtly non-conflictual individual lives, but are actually incompatible and disconnected as a couple. The most relevant question in this discussion is - can cultures be compatible if they have nothing in common? The answer is no; but, this is not obvious. The reasons for this will become clearer as I elaborate further.
The critical factor involved in allowing a society to accommodate any number of cultures is not commonality or compatibility among cultures, but rather the absence of conflict between cultures. What might this state of affairs call for? One possibility is the segregation of cultures as the basis for the absence of conflict. That is, the cultures function independently but coexist within the same general location. The degree of functional independence between cultures is of the extent required to have clear segregation between cultures. Of course, there is some limit to this situation in order to still be one society. Let us refer back to the metaphors of a melting pot and tossed salad. In this sense, there is some limit to the notion of a tossed salad. A tomato and an onion in two separate dishes on the same table is not equivalent to one salad with tomatoes and onions as ingredients.
Another possibility calls for a society with a social structure that is so loose as to have no real restrictions to the number of cultures that it can accommodate. In this case, it is practically impossible to imagine how such a group of people could actually live together in some reasonable way, much less be actually considered as one society. There could really be no coherence to such a loose social structure. This situation would call for the members of the society to engage in purely "societal behaviors", which would necessarily restrict any "cultural behaviors".
To summarize this extreme limit, practically speaking a society that can accommodate any number of cultures simply isn't possible because cultures would inevitably conflict, and the degree of looseness required in that society would prohibit it from still being one society.
Let's now look at the limits of what a culture can be. From a societal perspective, the loosest possible culture is one where any set of societies could be accommodated and included. This culture could include any society or combination of societies. Fundamentally, this state of affairs would call for the compatibility between cultural behaviors and societal statuses. How might this compatibility occur?
One possible condition would call for a culture that has a very loose structure based on the indefiniteness of the values of its parameters. That is, the social practices, choice principles, world, statuses, and even language are all quite loose in degree of specificity and restrictiveness. The social practices and choice principles could have minimal restrictions, and as such be quite loose, flexible and permissive. The more you try to accommodate other societies, each with their own societal behaviors, the more you have to broaden the set of social practices and choice principles of that culture to accommodate those societies. As you broaden the values for these cultural parameters, you lose the integration and unity that makes it a culture to begin with.
As you move from the middle cases to the extreme cases, you run into more and more problems. The middle cases are characterized by the fundamental compatibility between cultural behaviors and societal statuses. This state of affairs easily allows the integration of multiple societies into one culture. In contrast, the extreme cases are characterized by a number of diverse societies, each with their own set of statuses and societal behaviors, all being integrated into one culture. This state of affairs calls for the broadening of social practices and choice principles, which in turn, leads to the loss of internal cultural consistency.
Let's summarize both analyses. In either extreme instance, there can only be one loosest kind of society and one loosest kind of culture, with both cases being strictly in the abstract sense. After all, can you actually have a culture or society whose components are entirely unrelated? That is, can you have a society whose members and statuses be so unrelated, in order to accommodate any number of cultures, and still be called one society? Can you have a culture with parameters that are so inconsistent and unrelated, in order to accommodate any number of societies, and still be called one culture? The short answer is no; because that fundamental consistency and coherence between parameters is what is required to be able to call it a society or a culture in the first place. Either limiting case is therefore a practical impossibility.
Now that we've examined either extreme case, let's move to discussing the middle ground. As you move toward the middle from either extreme, you can then generate actual possibilities.
Let us now respond to the question - "What are the possibilities of society and culture taken jointly?" As a reminder, the central question to my presentation is "Is a real multicultural society actually possible?"
Logically, there are three possible cases of society and culture taken jointly. The paradigm case involves simply one culture in one society. The second case involves one culture and multiple societies (e.g., as a very loose example, the American way of life as one culture, with regional differences representing different societies - the West Coast society, the Southerners, and the East Coast society - each region can be referred to as a distinct society in that they are a geographically separate groups of people living together, yet all are still part of the greater American society). The third case involves one society and multiple cultures (e.g., American society where there are many different ways of life in one society). Let us examine each of these cases in further detail.
Despite this concern, let's look at what this state of affairs might actually look like. The resulting situation is a case of different subcultures of one broader culture across different societies. A subculture is characterized by a subset of all the possibilities within a broader culture. For example, American culture can be regarded as a subculture of the greater Indo-European culture. Similarly, Hispanic culture can be regarded as a subculture of the greater Iberian culture. The basis of a particular culture being a general, broader, and greater culture stems from historical continuity and similarity. Western civilization is rooted in Greek and Roman cultures and societies. For example, American, Australian, and English cultures share a common history and have more in common with each other than they do with Asian cultures. The similarity between cultures and their historical continuity provides the basis for generating the various possibilities of subcultures. Essentially, subcultures are variations of a broader general culture. It is important to note that it is not the case that there needs to be a superordinate culture in a hierarchical sense.
Another important consideration is how one determines where to draw the line between different and separate subcultures. This procedure all depends on what reasons and purpose you are trying to accomplish at the time. There is no absolute and singular means or place to draw this line. For instance, with respect to the Iberian culture, if your intent is to divide this culture into the Portuguese and Hispanic cultures, you would draw the line differently than if your intent was to divide the Hispanic culture by itself. From this point of view, you can have the case of different Indo-European subcultures across different societies in the world.
I will be using American society as an example of this case of one society with multiple cultures. Please keep in mind that this discussion is strictly in the abstract sense. Referring to the American society is a concrete, familiar, and convenient way to illustrate these abstract concepts. It is not meant to represent a literal description of American culture and society; nor is it meant as an appraisal of American culture and society. Rather, American society is a concrete example of how a multicultural society might look and work.
There are a number of interesting problems and issues that arise in discussing this third possibility. Let us discuss these matters by referring to the original "melting pot" notion and examining this further.
Essentially, the melting pot model states that the assimilation of immigrating groups from many different races, nationalities, and religions is a process wherein these different groups ultimately combine to form one culture. In order to form one culture, a logical implication is that the immigrant's native culture is given up to some great degree, if not entirely. But, did the blending process implied in this notion require the individual to actually give up the old culture? Did it require an Italian or German, for instance, to give up his culture in order to become an American? If this is what really happened, then what did the early immigrants actually give up? They could not have really given up their entire identity as an Italian or a German, since after many generations there are still individuals who call themselves Italian-Americans and German-Americans, as opposed to simply being Americans. What did they give up, and what didn't they? In the abstract, the notion of giving up one's culture and identity is not absolutely necessary, nor is it actually possible or practical. However, for the sake of adapting and acculturating to a new way of life, some changes have to occur. What do these changes entail? What is given up of the original way of life?
What was given up was not the native culture per se, but rather the primacy of those native practices (including laws) and choice principles. In practice, an Filipino-American doesn't give up entirely her native choice principles; instead, she acts on those Filipino choice principles as an American would. Giving up the primacy of the native culture means that you identify first as an American, which calls for acting on your native choice principles in American ways. You act on your native values primarily within the American cultural and societal framework, and choice principles. You act and identify as an American in a Filipino sort of way. You identify as an American first, but exercise your individuality by doing so in a Filipino manner. As an illustration, one of the ways that the Filipino choice principles of respect, deference, and obedience are acted upon in the Philippines is by customarily addressing anyone of a higher social standing by using the equivalent of sir or madam. In the United States, acting on these native choice principles in such a manner is generally considered too formal for everyday discourse. Instead, a Filipino-American could act on this native choice principle by being deferent without the use of formal titles when relating with someone of higher social standing.
Other ways that choice principles are adapted involve limitations that are inherent in moving and living in another country. Practically speaking, a person often requires concrete props in order to act on certain choice principles. For instance, a person cannot climb the holy mountain to pay homage if easy access to the holy mountain is no longer possible.
In America, one of the reasons that this particular way of adaptation works is that a central choice principle in American culture is to be an individual. The American culture is fundamentally based on the paramount values of individualism and liberty. An immigrant is free to choose and free to be himself not because the American culture has a soft spot for foreign cultures and people per se, but because the freedom to choose and to be an individual is central to being an American. Part of that freedom includes the freedom to not act as an Italian, for example. In fact, some immigrants have chosen to do just that, and thereby fully assimilate into the American culture.
Historically, there may have actually been strong arguments and practical reasons to give up so much of one's native culture. These reasons include: a) political and economic concerns; b) responses to and means of coping with discrimination and oppression, and c) in the interest of convenience and acceptance.
In societal terms (as opposed to cultural terms), what are the requirements for being a member of American society? Essentially, the requirements do not involve giving up acting in their native ways to the absolute degree, but instead giving up the primacy that these social practices and choice principles had in their native country. In other words, the requirements essentially involve a person's endorsement and participation in certain (but not necessarily all) central and fundamental American institutions. These institutions amount to the lowest common denominator in the culture. Some examples of these are a) the enforceability of contracts, b) abiding by the laws in general, c) exercising freedom of speech, and d) exercising the right to have private property. It is important to note that some of these institutions are strategic from a societal perspective. That is, societal harmony calls for some meaningful participation and endorsement of these institutions, or minimally non-violation of these institutions.
Furthermore, the strategic significance of these essential and fundamental institutions is reflected by the fact that they represent the essence of American society. These basic institutions of American society reflect the moral principles of American culture. As fundamental institutions that maintain societal integrity, one can consider them as analogous to traffic signals, in that they direct the flow of interactions and interrelationships among the members of a society. These "traffic signals" are the practical and concrete extensions of the basic moral principles. The questions that arises are "what sorts of traffic signals does it take for people to live with each other?" and "how can it go wrong?".
Let's look at the first question. For instance, one type of traffic signal might call for a minimum level of guidance and restrictiveness that everybody obeys. This is the sort of situation that would occur in a libertarian society.
Another situation might call for different values for different sets of cultural groups. For example, group Y drives on the right side of the road, and group X drives on the left side. If these different cultural groups had nothing but that as their relation with each other, then the only thing that they would actually share is location. In this type of a culturally segregated society, one problem that arises is what happens when a member of group X murders a member of group Y? Whose rules apply? Which rules do you enforce and how? This last problem is one possible answer to the second question of "how can it go wrong?"
Returning to the metaphor of the melting pot, a different formulation of this model of a multicultural society emerges from this perspective. That is, the contrast between the "melting pot" model and the "tossed salad" model of multiculturalism begins to disappear. Officially, the fundamental principle of being an American is to be an individual. The basic construct is individuality, and not whether a person blends into the new host culture (as in the melting pot model), or whether a person remains culturally distinct and separate (as in the tossed salad model).
Let's develop the "tossed salad" model a bit further. Essentially, this notion describes the process of cultural adaptation as one where the various groups remain distinct and different from one another while living in the same country. However, if you push this notion too far, you end up with a situation where there is no evolution of a culture. If cultures truly remain separate and distinct, there can be no evolution that occurs from the exposure and exchange with other different cultures. Instead, as time passes, all that you really have is a conglomeration of old cultures, with no blending or development. If you applied this model to a social anthropology perspective, and examined the development of Western civilization, you would end up with variations of Cro-Magnon man in an absurd sort of way. When taken to this degree, the viability of this model is entirely problematic. Our primary reaction is "It's absurd".
Let me wrap up my presentation by restating the original question - "Is a real multicultural society actually possible?" We come to the answer yes, but not for reasons that refer to the original notions of the "melting pot" model of assimilation or the "tossed salad" model of multiculturalism. After developing the models of a "melting pot" and "tossed salad" by applying the Descriptive Psychology approach, we come to the conclusion that the melting pot model is the only viable model for multiculturalism. However, the modified melting pot model does not call for giving up so much of your native culture, and eventually becoming one culture, as the original model proposes. Rather, individuals need to give up only the primacy of their native culture, and thereby primarily identify and act as a legitimate and eligible member of their new society.
When you really think about it, how could you and why would you really give all of that up anyway? And if you really are a member of the new culture, how could you not give it primacy?
I'd like to end my address by asking you this question. Since Descriptive Psychology utilizes images so well, what metaphor would a Descriptive Psychologist use to describe a real multicultural society?