Sunday, August 05, 2007

Diversity As A Disaster? This is something we need to start working on now.

Posted by olvlzl

In the Boston Globe’s Idea section today is an article about some seemingly disturbing and discouraging findings from extensive studies of cities with diverse and less diverse populations. The upshot is that the study done by Robert Putnam (author of “Bowling Alone”) shows that cities with greater diversity have less community involvement by individuals, more suspicion of their neighbors and even lower voting rates.

You just know that this study, done by a pretty solid liberal, is sweet to the ears of conservatives, from the near right to David Duke. Duke is already featuring the study on his website, to Putnam's distress. Before long it will be making its way into the writings of pop-social science writers and from there the call for , in effect, segregation will become mainstream in what passes as the liberal media from the NYT to The News Hour.

Some conservatives are snorting and huffing because Putnam thinks this is something that we should be looking at in terms of cause and remedy

"You're just supposed to tell your peers what you found," says John Leo, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. "I don't expect academics to fret about these matters."

Conservatives apparently value civic well-being less than they do having the political issue of ethnic resentment and division. Are they are looking at how to use this study to promote the closed boarder policy that seems their great white hope in the coming election? I suspect that so. This is the "Southern strategy" with kid gloves.

Since we are a diverse country and every indication seems to show that we are going to become more so, a reputable study showing that:

"People living in ethnically diverse settings appear to 'hunker down' -- that is, to pull in like a turtle," (Putnam)

... is pretty alarming. Anyone interested in having a civil civic life should be looking for ways to promote social and community life across ethnic barriers.

Odd, in the article, that the role of TV as a possible factor in this situation isn’t mentioned. Considering Putnam’s most famous work to date, that seems doubly odd. The role of TV in setting the national attitudes about ethnicity, risk from diversity, the climate of danger and similar vectors that would certainly impinge on the habit of fearful cocooning is, I believe, more pervasive than education or personal experience. The image of non-whites on TV has certainly been studied and been found to promote negative stereotypes. The amount of time Americans watch and absorb the messages of TV has to make it one of the most influential teaching methods today. To ignore the role played by it, and, perhaps, to some extent, radio, in an article like this is a fatal flaw to understanding the full range of explanations.

TV is mentioned once but as the end of the problem, not a source of it:

"distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, 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."

People more interested in livable cities than promoting racial strife for political gain had better take the role of the mass media into account.

Perhaps it would be good to have some replication of Putnam’s study, though in a sample of the size he took it’s likely to be a long time coming. Until it is, possibly, discounted I’m afraid that the “disaster of diversity” is likely to be the predominant line in any discussion. The conservative-Republican bias of the media almost assures us it will remain in currency for many years to come. But anyone who is more interested in civic peace than in radio-talk show division will have to take seriously the need to pressure the electronic media to stop promoting racism through fear.