Oh my. This should rock the boat a bit:
Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, is very nervous about releasing his new research, and understandably so. His five-year study shows that immigration and ethnic diversity have a devastating short- and medium-term influence on the social capital, fabric of associations, trust, and neighborliness that create and sustain communities. He fears that his work on the surprisingly negative effects of diversity will become part of the immigration debate, even though he finds that in the long run, people do forge new communities and new ties.
Putnamâ€™s study reveals that immigration and diversity not only reduce social capital between ethnic groups, but also within the groups themselves. Trust, even for members of oneâ€™s own race, is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friendships fewer. The problem isnâ€™t ethnic conflict or troubled racial relations, but withdrawal and isolation. Putnam writes: â€œIn colloquial language, people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to â€˜hunker downâ€™â€”that is, to pull in like a turtle.â€
I don’t know what’s more interesting: Putnam’s findings or his fear in releasing them. Certainly his study fails to show diversity and multi-culturalism breeding happy, smiley-faced Americans walking down their neighborhood street hugging their ethnically or racially divergent brother and everyone dancing around the maypole in solidarity with the world revolution.
But we knew that. Any ten year old knows this from his experience on the real life playgrounds of the world. At a very young age, children are able to recognize differences and without being told or taught, tend to congregate in their own ethnically and racially similar groups. They will make alliances and initiate friendly relations with other groups made up of children from different backgrounds. But the ethnicity and race of their circle of friends will reflect what they see in the mirror every day.
Now don’t get me wrong. Being exposed to people of different cultures and races is a good thing. It breeds a tolerance and a respect for others that was probably missing from my rather sheltered childhood. In my time, one’s parents set the tone for how you treated others from different cultures, backgrounds, and races. If you had tolerant parents, the chances were very good that you would end up a fairly tolerant adult.
But the significance of Putnam’s study – a study he refuses to release because he’s afraid of either us evil right wingers making political hay of his findings (thanks, professor; we will) or he’s terrified of being skewered by the left for daring to publish anything against the multicultural orthodoxy – is that the old fashioned assimilation model for new arrivals might – just might – be a superior socialization strategy compared to the promotion of separate and distinct racial and ethnic groups in America.
Rather than look at the study, I am more intrigued with the Professor’s hand wringing over the fact that his work tends to knock the chocks from underneath a pillar of leftist thinking; that by pigeonholing Americans and recent arrivals into their own special group while encouraging a separateness based on culture and language, tolerance and acceptance will automatically follow in the country at large. This has been an article of faith on left for 30 years. It has affected school curricula for children as young as pre-schoolers on up through the speech codes and diversity mandates found in the finest institutions of higher learning in the land.
And rather than accomplish anything, it has made things worse.
Diversity does not produce â€œbad race relations,â€ Putnam says. Rather, people in diverse communities tend â€œto withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.â€ Putnam adds a crushing footnote: his findings â€œmay underestimate the real effect of diversity on social withdrawal.â€
Neither age nor disparities of wealth explain this result. â€œAmericans raised in the 1970s,â€ he writes, â€œseem fully as unnerved by diversity as those raised in the 1920s.â€ And the â€œhunkering downâ€ occurred no matter whether the communities were relatively egalitarian or showed great differences in personal income. Even when communities are equally poor or rich, equally safe or crime-ridden, diversity correlates with less trust of neighbors, lower confidence in local politicians and news media, less charitable giving and volunteering, fewer close friends, and less happiness.
What’s a conscientious liberal to do? The professor not only has political dynamite in his hands but .50 caliber ammunition for the enemies of multi-cultural thought. The professor’s solution is, shall we say, unique:
Putnam has long been aware that his findings could have a big effect on the immigration debate. Last October, he told the Financial Times that â€œhe had delayed publishing his research until he could develop proposals to compensate for the negative effects of diversity.â€ He said it â€œwould have been irresponsible to publish without that,â€ a quote that should raise eyebrows. Academics arenâ€™t supposed to withhold negative data until they can suggest antidotes to their findings.
No, they’re not. And if Putnam was a conservative he’d be lashed to the mouth of a very large cannon featuring a very short fuse. But I suspect the professor will be praised for his altruistic impulses in putting the needs of multiculturalism over his own academic reputation.
And the professor’s stated reasons for the delay in publishing raises some interesting questions; just what “proposals” could “counter” the negative effects of diversity? Let’s give that one some thought. Perhaps we could change the entire intellectual framework by which we approach the problem? How about treating people as individuals rather than lumping them into defined, monolithic groups and encouraging what Goldstein refers to as “the other” – a mindset that breeds a separateness from society and positing its superiority over the dominant culture?
But that would be relatively easy. The problem is we’d have to throw out The Diversity and Multi-Cultural Handbook in order to mitigate these effects on society. The fact that the professor has now taken 9 months to come up with other “solutions” probably means he doesn’t have a clue how to rescue the diversity baby without destroying at least parts of it. And if there is anything that would tick off the left more than producing a study giving the lie to one of their cherished beliefs it would be publishing solutions that would bury that belief for good.
To be fair, the professor’s study showed some improvement in these attitudes in the long term:
Putnamâ€™s study does make two positive points: in the long run, increased immigration and diversity are inevitable and desirable, and successful immigrant societies â€œdampen the negative effects of diversityâ€ by constructing new identities. Social psychologists have long favored the optimistic hypothesis that contact between different ethnic and racial groups increases tolerance and social solidarity. For instance, white soldiers assigned to units with black soldiers after World War II were more relaxed about desegregation of the army than were soldiers in all-white units. But Putnam acknowledges that most empirical studies do not support the â€œcontact hypothesis.â€ In general, they find that the more people are brought into contact with those of another race or ethnicity, the more they stick to their own, and the less they trust others. Putnam writes: â€œAcross local areas in the United States, Australia, Sweden Canada and Britain, greater ethnic diversity is associated with lower social trust and, at least in some cases, lower investment in public goods.â€
Though Putnam is wary of what right-wing politicians might do with his findings, the data might give pause to those on the left, and in the center as well. If heâ€™s right, heavy immigration will inflict social deterioration for decades to come, harming immigrants as well as the native-born. Putnam is hopeful that eventually America will forge a new solidarity based on a â€œnew, broader sense of we.â€ The problem is how to do that in an era of multiculturalism and disdain for assimilation.
Does this sound familiar? “...[S]uccessful immigrant societies â€œdampen the negative effects of diversityâ€ by constructing new identities…”
We used to call them “hyphenated Americans,” these immigrants with “new identities.” It was special to be an “Irish-American” or “Italian-American.” The terms themselves defined a way of looking at America and the world as well as how you interacted with your “Polish-American” or “Russian-American” neighbors. Diversity then wasn’t some artificial construct. It was given life by assimilating oneself into the larger American culture through a wide variety of portals. Churches, social clubs, sports leagues, even local watering holes. And finally, a school system that cared more about children as human beings than dots on a graph.
It wasn’t perfect by any means. But in its creaky, uneven way, it served its purpose well. America successfully assimilated more than 150 million immigrants in less than 150 years – a feat unmatched by any other society in the history of human civilization. Whatever we did, however it was accomplished, it worked.
The fact that the multi-cultural model has turned out less well won’t matter to its advocates and high priests. Blame for its failure will fall elsewhere; oppressive white society, undiversified media, bad parenting, even evil right wing influences.
But perhaps following
Hamlet’s Cassius’ advice in Julius Caesar would speed understanding by the left into what is truly a seminal moment in the history of our culture; “”The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…”
I predict this research will have absolutely zero impact on the immigration debate. Why? Because Diversity is a dogmatic secular religion. To dissent from its dogmas is to declare oneself to be a heathen. Seriously, to question its premises is to be thought of as a closet hater by the Establishment. You would get about as far questioning Creationism at a backwoods Bible college as you would questioning Diversity at a US university, corporation or whatnot.
While the reference to “backwoods Bible college” is a pretty gratuitous slap of Christians – especially since not all Bible colleges teach creationism or even intelligent design – the point is valid. There’s too much emotional investment (not to mention financial windfalls for some campus groups) in diversity for the academic community to do anything with these conclusions except dismiss them out of hand or ignore them.