Friday, October 20, 2006

The limits of diversity

Via The Immigration Blog comes this post about a new study done by well-regarded Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam.

Apparently Putnam delayed the release of his findings (more about them below) until he could find a suitable solution the problem. His solution?
“What we shouldn’t do is to say that they [immigrants] should be more like us. We should construct a new us.”

This definitely throws a bit of a wrench into the whole European unassimilated Muslim populations discussion. As a side note, I've recently re-started doing debate (Parli) and this is going to make for a great bomb to drop in general, with or without his solution.

The implications of this directly on the European assimilation question are that democratic and humanist traditions and social structures will have to be edited accommodate the beliefs of new populations, especially Muslims. And since there is strong extremist contingent, somehow Shari'a law must be integrated. I think that that is both misguided and a hard sell. In this case, the "new us" most likely needs to mean a strengthened resolved to promote the Western liberal tradition and culture, and an adaptation of our knee-jerk idolization of diversity'. Not that there is a particular problem with diversity, but the questions that are being posed of western culture demand that rather than just accepting different points as valid, they be subjected to the same scrutiny, and often rejection, which our own philosophers face.

Onto his actual research. Immigration Blog quotes The Financial Times as saying,

"The more diverse a community is, the less likely its inhabitants are to trust anyone, from their next-door neighbor to the mayor.
...
Adjusted for class, income and other factors, they showed that the more people of different races lived in the same community, the greater the loss of trust."

Quoting Putnam,
“The only thing there’s more of is protest marches and TV watching."
In a certain sense, the combination of the homogenizing cultural influence, and the active positive recognition and promotion of 'diverse' culture is incompatible. Cultural groups that have been propped together by society find themselves under assault when placed in contact with others, most notably, I would think, western humanism. It's one thing to describe a culture as valid and entirely another to accept its premises, yet our thinking tries to have it both ways.

In terms of the safe homogeneity, one need only look at urban communities to see this. Some of the most vibrant urban areas are those that retain a strong cultural identity. To retain that identity, one suspects that, at the least, there is a certain predominance of a distinct culture, which creates a positive bond between people, drawing them out into the streets and community, and creating an interest in their interaction with others. That is, it furthers their 'stake' because suddenly they gain an interest in the way the community interacts. Communities then become self-policing, which dramatically increases their safety and is self-perpetuating -- it reinforces their coherency. People can trust living in their neighborhood and so venture out of doors into that community, and away from their television sets.

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