Diversity Breeds Contempt
Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, of Bowling Alone fame, finds 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.” John Leo:
In the 41 sites Putnam studied in the U.S., he found that the more diverse the neighborhood, the less residents trust neighbors. This proved true in communities large and small, from big cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Boston to tiny Yakima, Washington, rural South Dakota, and the mountains of West Virginia. In diverse San Francisco and Los Angeles, about 30 percent of people say that they trust neighbors a lot. In ethnically homogeneous communities in the Dakotas, the figure is 70 percent to 80 percent.
Diversity does not produce “bad race relations,” Putnam says. Rather, people in diverse communities tend “to 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.” Putnam adds a crushing footnote: his findings “may underestimate the real effect of diversity on social withdrawal.”
Putnam’s study does make two positive points: in the long run, increased immigration and diversity are inevitable and desirable, and successful immigrant societies “dampen the negative effects of diversity” 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 “contact hypothesis.” 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: “Across 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.”
It stands to reason, really, that people are more likely to feel comfortable associating with people with similar experiences. Presumably, British and Canadian immigrants to the United States have an easier time assimilating than those from Mexico, let alone Ethiopia. Shared language and cultural norms make trust and social interaction easier.
It’s not just race and language, either. As a young Army officer stationed overseas, not only did I spend my off-duty time associating almost exclusively with other American officers, but mostly those from the South and Southwest, where I had grown up. This, despite never having really considered myself a “Southerner” up until that point, having moved around regularly as a soldier’s son.
In terms of politics and the provision of “public goods,” there is more likely to be sympathy for the plight of the poor if they are people one can relate to. If the underclass is disproportionately comprised of an easily identifiable “other” group, it’s much more easy to resent “those people” for their failure to get with the program.
And, again, it’s not just about race or ethnicity. The reaction to a clean-cut fellow in a business suit telling you that he’s lost his wallet and needs $10 for cab fare will likely be quite different than a similar approach by an unkempt fellow who looks like he’s slept in the same clothes for a month.
Elsewhere, Daniel Larison wonders why Putnam’s conscience bothers him so: “if the evidence shows that the short to middle-term effects on all these things are indeed “devastating,” as Leo puts it, doesn’t a scientist or a scholar have the ethical obligation to report it and make it known as soon as possible?”
Further, he’s not sure the beneficial long-term effects are all that beneficial.
Human nature presents us with certain non-negotiable realities that we can either attempt to ignore at our peril or address promptly. In the end, Putnam’s findings purportedly show net benefits because “successful immigrant societies “dampen the negative effects of diversity” by constructing new identities,” but then this is precisely the problem the people with existing identities have with immigration. They know that immigrant societies construct new identities. This is why they oppose mass immigration itself, and not simply its excesses. This is not a consolation or a reason to become less concerned about the increase of diversity, but rather makes it all the more urgent to challenge and oppose the increase in diversity as much as possible.
Rod Dreher doesn’t think Putnam need worry, anyway:
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.
Steve Sailor, commenting months ago on an earlier leak of Putnam’s research, reflected on his own experiences trying to engage in community activism in Chicago.
This kind of Robert D. Putnam-endorsed good citizenship proved difficult in Uptown, however, precisely because of its remarkable diversity. The most obvious stumbling block was that it’s hard to talk neighbors into donating money or time if they don’t speak the same language as you. Then there’s the fundamental difficulty of making multiculturalism work—namely, multiple cultures. Getting Koreans, Russians, Mexicans, Nigerians, and Assyrians (Christian Iraqis) to agree on how to landscape a park is harder than fostering consensus among people who all grew up with the same mental picture of what a park should look like.
Indeed. We can’t cope with the very real social impact of immigration without acknowledging that it exists. Ultimately, absorbing people ambitious enough to leave their own societies to make a better life here is, I think, worth the short-term price. But we shouldn’t pretend there is no price.