What Science Says About Diversity (Part II)
Part I described how humans, animals, and even plants behave in ways that benefit their close kin. The very structures of the brain appear to be designed to distinguish between genetically related and genetically distant groups, and this is reflected in strong preferences for one’s own race. In multi-racial societies, a clear racial identity appears to confer psychological advantages that mixed-race people do not enjoy.
Part II describes how ethnic preferences affect societies.
What are the implications of strong ethnic identity for multi-racial and multi-ethnic societies? Tatu Vanhanen of the University of Tampere, Finland, has probably researched the effects of ethnic diversity more systematically than anyone else. In a classic, book-length study, he ranked no fewer than 148 countries according to both ethnic diversity and levels of conflict. Not surprisingly, he found correlations in the 0.5 to 0.9 range for the two variables, with homogeneous countries like Japan and Iceland showing very low levels of conflict, while highly diverse countries like Lebanon and Sudan are wracked with strife.
Prof. Vanhanen found ethnic conflict in all diverse societies, and believes it reflects human nature: “Interest conflicts between ethnic groups are inevitable because ethnic groups are genetic kinship groups and because the struggle for existence concerns the survival of our own genes through our own and our relatives’ descendants.”
One of Prof. Vanhanen’s goals has been to discover what kind of economic or political institutions best defuse ethnic tensions, but he has concluded that they have little effect on conflict. Wealthy, democratic countries suffer from sectarian strife as much as poor, authoritarian ones. Oppressive regimes such as the Soviet Union or Tito’s Yugoslavia or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq can produce an appearance of harmony, but ethnic identification often grows stronger under attempts to eradicate it. Prof Vanhanen concludes:
In ethnic conflicts, people seem to follow a similar behavior pattern across all existing developmental, civilizational, and cultural boundaries. The more the population is divided into separate ethnic groups, the more they seem to become organized along ethnic lines in interest conflicts, and the more often they tend to resort to violence in ethnic conflicts.
And likewise: “Ethnic nepotism belongs to human nature and … it is independent from the level of socioeconomic development (modernization) and also from the degree of democratization.”
The United Nations has approached the question from a different angle. For the period 1989 to 1992, it found there were no fewer than 82 conflicts that had each resulted in at least 1,000 deaths. Of these, 79, or 96 percent, were ethnic or religious conflicts that took place within the borders of recognized states. Only three were cross-border conflicts. Wars between nations can be vastly bloodier, of course, but they are almost always ethnic conflicts as well. In our time, however, internal ethnic bloodshed is much more common than war between nations. Internal struggles of this kind are now the greatest threat to the survival of most nations. As J. Philippe Rushton has argued, “The politics of ethnic identity are increasingly replacing the politics of class as the major threat to the stability of nations.”
The United States is not exempt from the negative effects of diversity. Robert Putnam of Harvard did a large-scale study of 41 different American communities that ranged from the extreme homogeneity of rural South Dakota to the very mixed populations of such places as Los Angeles. He found a firm correlation between homogeneity and level of trust, with the greatest distrust in the most racially diverse areas. He was not happy with these results, and checked his findings by controlling for other variables that might affect levels of trust, such as poverty, age, crime rates, population densities, education, commuting time, home ownership, etc. He found that none of these had much effect on trust, and concluded that “diversity per se has a major effect.”
In extensive surveys in these 41 communities, Prof. Putnam found that as racial diversity increases, there is a consistent pattern of lower levels of happiness, withdrawal from community life, and less confidence in local leaders and news media.
Prof. Putnam cited other studies that have found people in “diverse” workgroups—not only of race but also age and professional background—are less loyal to the group, more likely to resign, and generally less satisfied than people who work with people like themselves. He also noted a study that found carpooling is less common in racially-mixed neighborhoods. Carpooling means counting on your neighbors, and people are more likely to trust people like themselves. Studies from Australia, Sweden, and Canada also show that ethnic diversity lowers levels of trust, and the same effect is found in non-Western countries.
Dora Costa of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Matthew Kahn of Tufts University analyzed 15 recent studies of the impact of diversity on social cohesion. They found that every study had “the same punch line: heterogeneity reduces civic engagement. In more diverse communities, people participate less as measured by how they allocate their time, their money, their voting and their willingness to take risks to help others.”
Similar research has uncovered what has come to be known as “the Florida effect,” or the unwillingness of taxpayers to fund public projects if the beneficiaries are of a different race. Maine, Vermont, and West Virginia are the most racially homogeneous states, and spend the highest proportion or gross state product on public education. “There does seem to be a correlation,” says Mark Mather of the Population Reference Bureau.
James Poterba of MIT has found that public spending on education falls as the percentage of elderly people without children rises. He notes, however, that the effect “is particularly large when the elderly residents and the school-age population are from different racial groups”—which is notably the case in Florida.
There is a widespread conviction that charity begins at home, that is to say, with one’s own people. A study of begging in Moscow, for example, found that Russians are more likely to give money to fellow Russians than to Central Asians or others who do not look like them. Likewise, it has long been theorized that welfare programs are more generous in Europe because European countries have traditionally been more homogeneous than the United States, and that people are less resistant to paying for welfare if the beneficiaries are racially and culturally like themselves. As a percentage of national wealth, all social transfers in the United States , including food stamps, pensions, medical care, etc. are about a third less than in Italy, France or Belgium, and even less generous than in Scandinavia. Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser have used statistical regression techniques to conclude that about half the difference is explained by greater American diversity, and the other half by weaker leftist political parties.
This is not to say Americans are stingy; they give more to charity than Europeans do. However, they prefer to give to specific groups. Many Jews and blacks give largely or even exclusively to ethnic charities. There are no specifically white charities, but much church giving is essentially ethnic. Church congregations are often homogeneous, which means that offerings for aid within the congregation stay within the ethnic group.
There is a field of study called “happiness research,” which tries to analyze what makes people happy. Prof. Michael Hagerty of the University of California at Davis surveyed decades of international happiness research and found that “for the most part, the top-rated countries are small and homogeneous.” The happiest people are the Danes. “People there have a similar world view and a similar religion, so that it’s easier for them to communicate and to understand each other’s motives,” he explains. “They don’t have race problems, they don’t have crime problems, and they have political freedom.”
A sense of kinship is an important source of harmony. In the conclusion of his 148-country survey Tatu Vanhanen wrote, “It is easier to establish harmonious social relations in ethnically homogeneous societies than in ethnically divided ones because people are more helpful towards each other in ethnically homogeneous societies.”
There can, of course, be many different kinds of division in a country: language, religion, race, class, etc. However, of all these, race seems to be the most difficult to bridge. Prof. Vanhanen explains that this is because racial divisions are tens of thousands of years old, and are immediately visible. “The more a population is ethnically divided and the more ethnic groups differ from each other genetically, the higher the probability and intensity of conflicts between ethnic groups,” he explains.
Milica Zarkovic Bookman, who is an expert on ethnic struggle, especially in the Balkans, also underlines the significance of race:
“Assimilation takes place in the spheres of religion and language most easily and is most successful among people who are culturally similar to the dominant group. When race is the distinguishing feature, assimilation efforts become irrelevant.”
Like many others, J. Philippe Rushton traces this tendency back far into the evolutionary past: “For millennia, racism was not a word,” he says, “it was a way of life.”
The conclusion that race is a serious and possibly permanent social fault line is not a popular one in the social sciences. Many scholars have downplayed its importance, and have insisted that class differences are the real cause of social conflict. Political scientist Walker Connor, who has taught at Harvard, Dartmouth, and Cambridge, criticized his colleagues for ignoring ethnic loyalty, for which he uses the term ethnonationalism. He wrote of “the school of thought called ‘nation-building’ that dominated the literature on political development, particularly in the United States after the Second World War:”
“The near total disregard of ethnonationalism that characterized the school, which numbered so many leading political scientists of the time, still astonishes. Again we encounter that divorce between intellectual theory and the real world.”
He explained further:
“To the degree that ethnic identity is given recognition, it is apt to be as a somewhat unimportant and ephemeral nuisance that will unquestionably give way to a common identity uniting all inhabitants of the state, regardless of ethnic heritage, as modern communication and transportation networks link the state’s various parts more closely.”
He argued, instead, that when ethnic groups come into closer contact it tends to intensify group consciousness: “There is little evidence of modern communications destroying ethnic consciousness, and much evidence of their augmenting it.” Prof. Connor came close to saying that any scholar who ignores ethnic loyalty is dishonest:
“[H]e perceives those trends that he deems desirable as actually occurring, regardless of the factual situation. If the fact of ethnic nationalism is not compatible with his vision, it can thus be willed away. … [T]he treatment calls for total disregard or cavalier dismissal of the undesired facts.”
This harsh judgment may not be entirely unwarranted. Robert Putnam, mentioned above for his research on how racial diversity decreases trust in American neighborhoods, waited five years to publish his data. It may have been an interview with the Financial Times of London that finally forced his hand. The paper quoted him as saying he was studying ways to show how the bad effects of diversity could be overcome, and that it “would have been irresponsible to publish without that.” Prof. Putnam was displeased with his findings, and worked very hard to find something other than racial diversity to explain why people in Lewiston, Maine trusted each other more than people in Los Angeles.
Setting aside the reluctance academics may have for publishing data that conflict with current political fantasies, Prof. Connor wrote that scholars discount racial or ethnic loyalty because of “the inherent limitations of rational inquiry into the realm of group identity.” Social scientists like to analyze political and economic interests because they are clear and rational, but Prof. Connor argues that “explanations of behavior in terms of pressure groups, elite ambitions, and rational choice theory hint not at all at the passions that motivate Kurdish, Tamil, and Tigre guerrillas or Basque, Corsican, Irish, and Palestinian terrorists.”
Prof. Connor quotes Chateaubriand, writing in the 18th century: “Men don’t allow themselves to be killed for their interests; they allow themselves to be killed for their passions.” Prof. Connor adds that group loyalty is evoked “not through appeals to reason but through appeals to the emotions (appeals not to the mind but to the blood).” Academics do not like the unquantifiable, the emotional, the primitive, even if these things drive men harder than the practical and the rational.
Sigmund Freud founded virtually all of psychotherapy on introspection and self-analysis, so one would expect him to be able to explain his own feelings, no matter how unquantifiable or primitive. In one area, however, he baffled himself; he could not explain group loyalty. He wrote that he was “irresistibly” bonded to Jews and Jewishness, by “many obscure and emotional forces, which were the more powerful the less they could be expressed in words, as well as by a clear consciousness of inner identity, a deep realization of sharing the same psychic structure.” Freud was writing before the days of genetic similarity theory, but he was describing what would now be called kinship bonds.
Perhaps he was right to say that the more powerful these bonds are the less they can be expressed in words. They are the feelings of artists and fanatics—and of ordinary people—but they do not lend themselves to precise analysis. By refusing to take seriously that which they cannot analyze, social scientists misread how real societies function.
Prof. Connor defined a nation as “the largest group that can command a person’s loyalty because of felt kinship ties; it is, from this perspective, the fully extended family.” Families are built on the most primitive emotions; genetic bonds tie them together. By likening race, nation, or ethnicity to “the fully extended family,” Prof. Connor captured some of its power. As Richard Lynn of the University of Ulster at Coleraine has noted, “[ethnic] conflicts have defied explanation by the disciplines of sociology, psychology, and economics . … [G]enetic similarity theory represents a major advance in the understanding of these conflicts.”
It also helps explain changes in international borders. The Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia all split into ethnic nations. Cyprus has been essentially divided into Greek and Turkish enclaves. The Flemings want independence from the Walloons of Belgium as do the French-speaking Quebeckers from English-speaking Canada. There are innumerable conflicts—in Sri Lanka, Chechnya, Tibet, Iraq, Sudan—that reflect the desires of people to govern themselves, to celebrate their own heritage and culture, to live within smaller boundaries where they can remain among their own people.
Those rare cases of merger rather than division are driven by the same ethnic passions. Reunification of the two Germanys and Vietnams demonstrated the power of common blood. Within the two Koreas, there is a similarly deep yearning for union that will no doubt be satisfied when the aberrant regime in the north collapses.
Many people profess to believe that diversity—whether of race, language, or ethnicity—is a great advantage for a country. So many people say they believe this that one would expect this view to be buttressed by extensive social science research. It is not. The preceding summary (including Part I, which appeared in the previous issue) is not a selective account only of research that discredits diversity. There simply is no research that suggests diversity increases community cohesiveness, that the brain ignores race, or that diverse countries are happier and more peaceful than homogeneous ones. Praise for diversity is often nothing more than an unsupported assertion of its benefits.
As we have seen, in the United States both businesses and universities insist that a mix of races, religions, ethnicities, etc., is a huge boost to productivity and learning, but there is little evidence for this.
Thomas A. Kochan, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, has probably studied corporate diversity more extensively than anyone. His conclusion after a five-year study? “The diversity industry is built on sand.” Prof. Kochan initially contacted 20 major companies that have publicly committed themselves to diversity, and was astonished to find that not one had done a serious study of how diversity increased profits. He learned that managers are afraid that race-related research could bring on lawsuits, but that another reason they do not look for results is “because people simply want to believe that diversity works.”
Like other researchers, he noted “the negative consequences of diversity, such as higher turnover and greater conflict in the workplace,” and concluded that even if the best managers were able to overcome these problems there was no evidence diversity leads to greater profits. “The business case rhetoric for diversity is simply naive and overdone,” he says, noting that the estimated $8 billion a year spent on diversity training does not even protect businesses from discrimination suits, much less boost profits.
What about campus diversity? Attempts to measure its advantages are few and disappointing. Stanley Rothman, Seymour Martin Lipset, and Neil Nevitte used data from the National Center for Education Statistics to determine the correlation between student satisfaction with their education and the number of blacks on campus. Their findings: “As the proportion of black students rose, student satisfaction with their university experience dropped, as did their assessments of the quality of their education and the work ethic of their peers. In addition, the higher the enrollment diversity, the more likely students were to say that they personally experienced discrimination.” A greater mix of minorities is at least believed to make black students feel more comfortable, but the authors found that even this is uncertain: “Diversity appears to increase complaints of unfair treatment among white students without reducing them among black students.”
When scholars do not merely assert that diversity is an advantage but try to explain why it is so, their arguments are surprisingly weak. Let us return to Robert Putnam of Harvard. His main argument in favor of diversity was to say that large numbers of ethnic Europeans immigrated to a largely-WASP United States around the turn of the 20th century, and assimilated successfully. This is not a defense or a celebration of diversity. After several generations, Poles, Irishmen, and Italians became largely indistinguishable from WASPs, not just in language, but in earnings, education, and likelihood of marrying outside their ancestral group (Jews retained greater distinctiveness, but moved in the same direction). The newcomers became like the majority, and diversity largely disappeared. It disappeared because it was a source of tension and conflict, not a source of strength.
The experience of the European ethnics highlights the importance of race, which several studies cited above have found to be the most difficult social barrier to overcome. While whites were becoming essentially indistinguishable from each other, two non-white racial groups that had been in America far longer than the immigrants—Indians and blacks—were not assimilating. To this day, they maintain distinct identities.
The scientific evidence is clear: Human beings have deep-rooted tribal instincts. They prefer to live in homogeneous communities. Societies with distinct racial and ethnic populations suffer from conflicts from which homogenous ones are spared. There are intellectuals and bohemians who defy these instincts and enjoy diversity, but they are a minority. Why do Americans (and others) persist in claiming that diversity is a great advantage?
Why Deny the Obvious?
There are several reasons. In the 1950s and 1960s, when segregation was being dismantled, many people believed integration would be achieved within a generation. At that time, there were few Hispanics or Asians but with a population of blacks and whites, the United States could be described as “diverse.” It seemed vastly more forward-looking to think of this as an advantage to be cultivated rather than a defect to be endured. Americans hoped that race relations were entering a new era, in which people of different races would learn from and cooperate with each other.
It was appealing to think our country was embarking on a morally superior course. Human history is the history of warfare—between nations, tribes, religions, and empires. Many Americans firmly believed that reconciliation between blacks and whites would lead to a higher realm of human possibility.
After the immigration reforms of 1965 opened the United States to vast numbers of non-Europeans, our country became more diverse than anyone in the 1950s could have imagined. Diversity lead to conflict more often than to harmony, but it would have been a repudiation not only of our new immigration policy but of the civil rights ideals of the 1950s and 1960s to state the obvious: that diversity causes serious problems.
Americans are proud of their country and do not like to think it has made a grave mistake. As examples of ethnic and racial tension continued to accumulate, and as the civil rights vision of effortless integration faded, some people began to deny what was happening, or at least to hope that with enough exhortations to “celebrate diversity,” an increasingly serious disadvantage could be transformed into a benefit.
At the same time, in a society in which “racism” was becoming a virtually unforgivable crime, to draw unfavorable conclusions about diversity was sure to lead to charges of “racism.” It became common to say not only that diversity was our strength but that it was our greatest strength—something that was obviously not true and that would have astonished any American from the colonial era through the 1950s.
Some groups had an obvious interest in claiming that diversity was a strength: immigrants and non-whites. It was they, after all, who provided the diversity, and they took immediately to the idea that their presence was a priceless gift to the country. There is breath-taking arrogance in this view—that the United States was lifeless and incomplete before Hispanics or Asians came—but it is not unusual for recent immigrants to explain to the descendants of old stock Americans that diversity is central to our identity.
At the same time, it became nearly impossible for the presumed beneficiaries of diversity to decline the gift. To admit that diversity is a source of tension was, in effect, to look a black man or an immigrant in the face and say, “The country would be better off with fewer people like you.” Even if our society did not “celebrate diversity,” this would be appalling manners. In a country in which every pillar of society agreed that diversity was a great gift, it came to be seen as reprehensible.
By the turn of the 21st century, therefore, something that was very doubtful and certainly unproven had become unassailable doctrine. The mantra of diversity was so widely repeated that professors and business executives repeated it in the teeth of the evidence. Robert Putnam at first disbelieved his findings and then feared to publish them. Xerox and Chrysler, who otherwise do their sums with very sharp pencils, poured resources and moral energy into fruitless programs they dared not even evaluate. This is the kind of behavior we associate with divination and astrology.
The national commitment to diversity is now so great that to point out its weaknesses is an act of subversion. Many people are incapable even of facing the evidence, much less of making a psychological break with orthodoxy and accepting it. In all fairness, it is not hard to understand why. To renounce what has become virtually the state religion is to face a hideous possibility: that the United States has been hurtling down the wrong path for half a century.
Humans have a deep yearning to believe that their leaders act wisely, that the institutions of their society are good, that their country has a bright future. Many are unable to believe that so many leaders and prominent figures can have been mistaken.
J.B.S. Haldane noted with a smile that there are four stages new ideas go through before they are accepted: 1. This is worthless nonsense. 2. This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view. 3. This is true, but quite unimportant. 4. I always said so. The realization that diversity is not a strength is somewhere between stages one and two, but the evidence for it is so overwhelming that it will eventually reach stage four.
When that happens, all Western societies will have to answer questions that many now find too terrifying to face: If diversity is a weakness, and all our efforts to increase it have been a mistake, what do we do now? Can diversity be reversed? If so, how? Can it be reversed humanely? Or must we simply carry on, but more humbly and with fewer illusions?
The longer we wait before dealing sensibly with these questions, the fewer choices we will have.
[Read Part I here.]