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Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Multiculturalism, human advancement, and computer games

I've never been a big fan of multiculturalism. I think a study of African or American Indian history would be interesting, but in the course of limited teaching time in elementary and secondary education, it is much more important for American students to study American history and the cultures that had the greatest impact on shaping the Americas: European history, then the Byzantines and Romans before that, then the Greeks, Egyptians, and Middle East cultures before that.

Too much of multiculturalism puts a major focus on a minor event. Worse, some offer suspect theory as demonstrable fact, theories that fit their world views.

In a 1998 column, Charley Reese made a bold statement to counter the multicultural focus: "The progress of the human race is entirely the result of Asian, Mediterranean and European people. Period." In the column, he detailed dozens of important discoveries from the dawn of recorded history to 1600, none of which came from the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, or Oceania.

The occasional article seen in the news reinforces the political aspect of multiculturalism. For example, for Columbus Day, a discussion on attempts to place an Islamic influence on Columbus' voyage. Suspect history.

But there's a unique way to demonstrate why these cultures didn't have an impact. Try playing Civilization II, the computer game by Sid Meier that simulates exploration, scientific discovery, and world domination. Use the Earth map, start in the Americas, then don't sail across the ocean. See how advanced your culture is compared to the first visitors from Eurasia.

Civilization II is one of my favorite games. I played extensively through college, and still find time for a game here and there. It doesn't perfectly model human history, naturally. Two key differences: units can walk through deserts just fine, apparently able to survive any climate, and caravels are the first boats that can safely cross the ocean, not frigates. In the early game, meeting the other nations and exchanging knowledge will likely get you six to twelve advances.

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