Sunday, August 05, 2007

The myth of the melting pot

A Harvard professor discovers an "inconvenient truth": no matter how much we'd like to believe in the rainbow mosaic of America, we're just not fond of each other. From the Boston Globe "The Downside of Diversity":

It has become increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity as a civic strength. From multicultural festivals to pronouncements from political leaders, the message is the same: our differences make us stronger.

But a massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam -- famous for "Bowling Alone," his 2000 book on declining civic engagement -- has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.

"The extent of the effect is shocking," says Scott Page, a University of Michigan political scientist.
There's a bit of humor as the "liberal academic" Putnam (from Harvard? No!) in the pro-diversity camp has to contend with the results of his own research. And there's some good news in that Putnam believes that diversity in the workplace has a positive effect on team dynamics and problem-solving capabilities. But after the whistle blows, we'd prefer to just stay home, watch TV, and let the neighbors do the same.

5 comments:

Dave said...

Oddly enough, a kind of generic xenophobia would appear to be biologically determined. That is, we are much more likely to interact voluntarily with strangers who resemble us. Those who live nearby and look like us are more likely to be relatives.

Of course, this was much more true for the first 4,000,000 years or so of human evolution than it is today, but the genetic predisposition is still with us.

Those who ignore the power of evolution will always be at least slightly wrong in their theorizing. As my lovely wife (the biology major) says, "It's not that genetic programmed drives is so strong, because they frequently are not. It's that the damn things just don't quit."

Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, a kind of generic xenophobia would appear to be biologically determined. That is, we are much more likely to interact voluntarily with strangers who resemble us.

It's not whether or not our neighbours look like us that matters. It's whether they share our language, cultural framework etc.

Bram said...

It makes me happy to hear about an academic publishing findings even though they are disagreeable.

Mr. Smarterthanyou said...

It isn't that we reject the melting pot, we reject the "Tossed Salad" view of optimum intigration that Liberal prefer. You know, the "divide and conquer" model.

Liberal leaders know darn well that they use diversity to try to disrupt national unity and cohesiveness, this professor apparently was never cc'd on that particular memo.

Jerub-Baal said...

Of course, my first question would be, how does the study account for other variables?

"the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings." but the greatest diversity seems to exist in metro/city regions. (maybe I'm wrong, I'm not with the census bureau). How does the study account for income groups, levels of education, et cetera?

So many of these "Here-Is-The-Absolute-Final-Truth" studies have come out over the years, that I automatically doubt anything they say.