Last week, the Strib reprinted a column by Los Angeles Times’ Gregory Rodriguez titled Diversity may not be the answer: Just existing together won’t erase mistrust; instead, we should work toward creating an identity that includes everyone. (The Strib used the headline and tagline: Together, apart: A dissection of diversity – People in the most diverse areas are the most likely to withdraw — even from those with whom they have much in common.)
Rodriquez cites the recent work by Harvard professor Robert Putnam, of Bowling Alone fame, in a research article titled E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century published in the June 2007 issue of Scandinavian Political Studies. The abstract:
Ethnic diversity is increasing in most advanced countries, driven mostly by sharp increases in immigration. In the long run immigration and diversity are likely to have important cultural, economic, fiscal, and developmental benefits. In the short run, however, immigration and ethnic diversity tend to reduce social solidarity and social capital.
New evidence from the US suggests that in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods residents of all races tend to ‘hunker down’. Trust (even of one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer. In the long run, however, successful immigrant societies have overcome such fragmentation by creating new, cross-cutting forms of social solidarity and more encompassing identities. Illustrations of becoming comfortable with diversity are drawn from the US military, religious institutions, and earlier waves of American immigration.
The Wikipedia entry on Putnam has this bulleted list of the downsides:
Low trust with high diversity not only affects ethnic groups, but is also associated with:
- Lower confidence in local government, local leaders and the local news media.
- Lower political efficacy – that is, confidence in one’s own influence.
- Lower frequency of registering to vote, but more interest and knowledge about politics and more participation in protest marches and social reform groups.
- Less expectation that others will cooperate to solve dilemmas of collective action (e.g., voluntary conservation to ease a water or energy shortage).
- Less likelihood of working on a community project.
- Less likelihood of giving to charity or volunteering.
- Fewer close friends and confidants.
- Less happiness and lower perceived quality of life.
- More time spent watching television and more agreement that “television is my most important form of entertainment”.
Putnam has a site called Better Together, designed to help counter these effects.
Putnam has 150 suggestions for what can be done to build social capital.
What should we be doing here in Northfield? Reginaldo, help!