NYT closing gap with American Conservative: In the New York Times Magazine, Erica Goode, science editor of the NYT, writes about Robert D. Putnam’s research on diversity and trust (which was the subject of my January 15, 2007 cover story “Fragmented Future” in AmCon):
For decades, students of American society have offered dueling theories about how encountering racial and ethnic diversity affects the way we live. One says that simple contact — being tossed into a stew of different cultures, values, languages and styles of dress — is likely to nourish tolerance and trust. Familiarity, in this view, trumps insularity. Others argue that just throwing people together is rarely enough to breed solidarity: when diversity increases, they assert, people tend to stick to their own groups and distrust those who are different from them.
But what if diversity had an even more complex and pervasive effect? What if, at least in the short term, living in a highly diverse city or town led residents to distrust pretty much everybody, even people who looked like them? What if it made people withdraw into themselves, form fewer close friendships, feel unhappy and powerless and stay home watching television in the evening instead of attending a neighborhood barbecue or joining a community project?
This is the unsettling picture that emerges from a huge nationwide telephone survey by the famed Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam and his colleagues. “Diversity seems to trigger not in-group/out-group division, but anomie or social isolation,” Putnam writes in the June issue of the journal Scandinavian Political Studies. “In colloquial language, people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’ — that is, to pull in like a turtle.”
In highly diverse cities and towns like Los Angeles, Houston and Yakima, Wash., the survey found, the residents were about half as likely to trust people of other races as in homogenous places like Fremont, Mich., or rural South Dakota, where, Putnam noted, “diversity means inviting a few Norwegians to the annual Swedish picnic.”
Goode’s article reflects a lot of the usual class prejudices:
The public discourse on diversity runs at a high temperature. Told by one side, the narrative of how different ethnic and racial groups come together in schools, workplaces, churches and shopping centers can sound as if it was lifted from “Sesame Street.” Told by the other, it often carries the shrill tones of a recent caller to a radio talk show on immigration reform: “The school my kid goes to is 45 percent Mexican,” he said, “and I don’t see this as being a good thing for this country. Do we want to turn into a Latin American country?”
Obviously, anyone who would worry about this is the kind of radio talk show-listening racist loser who has to send his kid to a school that is 45 percent Mexican. The right sort of New York Times-reading person supports the minority outreach program at his child’s school whose long term goal is to double the Mexican enrollment … from two percent to four percent.
Diversity has clear benefits, [Putnam] says, among them economic growth and enhanced creativity — more top-flight scientists, more entrepreneurs, more artists.
As we can see from the way the 30 million Mexican-Americans have been sweeping the Nobel Prizes! Thank God lots of Mexicans have moved to New York City recently, or the place would have remained bereft of scientists, entrepreneurs, and artists, unlike vibrant creative communities like El Paso.
Aren’t social scientists supposed to understand that correlation is not proof of causation? Clearly, the illegal immigrants (as well as the artists) follow the wealth-creating scientists and entrepreneurs, not the other way around.
But the diversity finding was so surprising that Putnam said his first thought was that maybe something was wrong with the data. He and his research team spent five years testing other explanations. Maybe people in more diverse areas had less political clout and thus fewer amenities, like playgrounds and pothole-free streets, putting them in a misanthropic mood; or maybe diversity caused “hunkering down” only in people who were older or richer or white or female. But the effect did not go away. When colleagues who heard about the results protested, “I bet you haven’t thought about X” — a frequent occurrence, Putnam said — the researchers went back and looked at X.
The idea that it is diversity (the researchers used the census’s standard racial categories to define diversity) that drives social capital down has its critics. Among them is Steven Durlauf, an economist at the University of Wisconsin and a critic of Putnam’s past work, who said he thinks some other characteristic, as yet unidentified, explains the lowered trust and social withdrawal of people living in diverse areas. But without clear evidence to the contrary, Putnam says, he has to believe the conclusion is solid.
Many decades ago, I used to run into Steve Durlauf of Burbank H.S. all the time at high school speech and debate tournaments, where he would beat me like a drum. I wasn’t terribly good at forensics because I’m not that orally fluent, but even at what I was good at, Durlauf was much better. I don’t know if he was the most successful debater in Southern California of his era, but he’s the one who most deserved to be. He’s just a lot smarter than me. And he’s a nice guy, too.
So, why does Prof. Durlauf come out sounding kind of dim on this topic compared to me? Because political correctness lowers your effective IQ. Truths are connected to other truths, so if you are willing to follow the truth wherever it goes, you’ll make a lot more progress than if you put up big “Can’t Go There” signs in your own head.
(Republished from iSteve
by permission of author or representative)