Friday, August 20, 2010

Nobody Reads Literature Anymore

The New York Times had a fascinating account over a townhall meeting designed to assuage concerns over a new mosque being built on Staten Island (which, as we know, is only 11 miles from the WTC site). The meeting was quite fiery, and tensions were running high. But then,
as Bill Finnegan stood at the microphone, came the meeting’s single moment of hushed silence. Mr. Finnegan said he was a Marine lance corporal, home from Afghanistan, where he had worked as a mediator with warring tribes.

After the sustained standing ovation that followed his introduction, he turned to the Muslims on the panel: “My question to you is, will you work to form a cohesive bond with the people of this community?” The men said yes.

Then he turned to the crowd. “And will you work to form a cohesive bond with these people — your new neighbors?”

And we all know how this story ends, right? We all know what happens next?
The crowd erupted in boos. “No!” someone shouted.



Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, if people don't fully accept multiculturalism I do believe I'll get the vapors! I don't know what the big shock is all about. The strife and dysfunction of truly multi-ethnic societies is well documented throughout history and most recently in the scientific research by Robert Putnam (a liberal social scientist stunned by his own research). More diversity equals less social capital. People become less happy and public altruism plummets. One ironic note is that all this will put an end to anymore "socialistic" impulses the country might have had and it will be the Left that did it!

David Schraub said...

It is unsurprising that you not only misrepresent the Putnam study (which found that the short- and mid-term losses from diversity are off-set by long-term gains), but also the broader literature on the topic (which finds that the very discomfort Putnam measured leads to concrete performance gains within diverse institutions).

In other words, much like getting a shot (and I hate shots), it stings for awhile, but it makes people work harder and ultimately makes for a more robust society.

Anonymous said...

The longer term "gains" are pure speculation and basically wishful thinking on Putnam's part. And you are misrepresenting the literature if are denying that most of the studies show a significant drop in public altruism as diversity increases.

joe said...

Not sure what the right wingers are whining about if diversity is the death knell of "socialism," but anyway...

I'm curious about the title of this post. Is there a particular book or story you're meaning to compare/contrast the crowd's response to?

David Schraub said...

That may be true, but most of the literature also documents significant performance gains as diversity increases. You're misrepresentative if you're denying that.

I think it's more than a little disingenuous to cite Putnam only for the conclusions you agree with. I'm willing to concede that diversity reduces social altruism in the short- to mid-term (at least for people who didn't grow up with it -- it was never clear to me whether Putnam controlled for that variable); but I also take Putnam seriously in his more positive conclusions about the long-term benefits of diversification. That's called academic honesty, and that's why I, as a very prominent cheerleader for diversity, wrote that post three years ago explaining that Putnam's research was eye-opening and important to take into account when crafting policy. You, on the other hand, seem to only travel with Putnam insofar as you can recruit him in support of a pre-existing ideology. When he strays from your path, you cut him loose like so much superfluous luggage.

N. Friedman said...

In the vain hope that this post will note be deleted, I agree with David about the desirability of diversity although, I note, it all depends on how diversity is managed by society and government. The European approach - both in its British and French models - has been pretty much an abject failure over the middle and long term, with very unhappy minority groups rioting, among other things.

My impression is that the European approach to diversity, wrongly called multiculturalism - and not necessarily the same as what Americans call multiculturalism -, basically tells minorities, whether or not intentionally, that all cultures are equal but some are more equal than others. Which is to say, all are equal in Europe so long as that equality involves food, not politics or social class.

The American approach has worked rather better for most groups and over a long period. Moreover, that approach has, thankfully, begun to undo the damage of the country's past racial idiocy.

If David is - and I have no idea his view on this - advocating that the US adopt a more European version of multiculturalism, I would inquire why he would expect a better outcome in the US than in Europe.

David Schraub said...

I think the European model of "multiculturalism", which from a legal perspective is essentially absolute color-blindness taken to an extreme degree (and sold as "respect for all cultures" -- you do your thing, we'll do ours, and everyone will be happy), is an abject failure and have said so publicly. The American pluralist model, which welcomes and cherishes difference, blending, mixture, and "the tossed salad", rather than viewing them as something politically "dirty" or "dangerous", has been considerably more successful.

Anonymous said...

This is a good up to date summation of the scholarship on ethnic diversity and lowered investment in public goods (as well as other related issues).

This is not by Putnam by the way. Of course, it is ironic that the Left is bringing about the demographic reality that will make their more "socialistic" dreams impossible. And while I like a free market, the general distrust created increases transactions costs thus stifling economic activity and the lack of concern for the common good seems likely to lead to all kinds of social upheavals as well as lowered standard of living. Well at least you and your children will live in interesting times!

N. Friedman said...


One of the things I have noted over years of reading is that political scientists and sociologists assert all sorts of things that, were they to read a bit of history, would make them more skeptical of their theories.

In any event, I would not put my money entirely on a bet that your ideology is correct, whether or not you have some statistics that support your view. What I think we can say, without using BS statistics and polling, is that Americans seem to have a better ability to deal with a diverse population than any country on Earth. We have several centuries of evidence that our approach is better, whether we adopt a slightly more or slightly less generous welfare state - or even no welfare approach. Perhaps, that is due to factors that are specific to the American situation - a country that defines itself as a land built by immigrants.

My bet is that thee historical forces at play tell you more about a society than any statistical snapshot will or any current policy that captures the current vogue.

I suppose that makes my views unfalsifiable. That tends to irk David. Be that as it may, you will almost always get a better sense of things by closely studying how things came to be the way they are than with statistical BS.