Diversity & Societal Distrust

Amidst their vast forest of stories about Hamilton, Trump, and transgendered bathrooms, the NYT has an op-ed by two sociologists titled “Don’t Blame Diversity for Distrust”. The authors, Maria Abascal & Delia Baldassarri, take issue with conventional interpretations of the ‘more diversity leads to more distrust’ empirical findings, most notably the infamous findings on the unintended consequences of diversity reluctantly published by Jewish liberal Robert D. Putnam. (The same findings obtain in places like England and elsewhere.)

Abascal & Baldassarri write that such studies:

…link such policies or diversity itself to undesirable outcomes, including lower levels of trust and civic and political participation. The most influential of these studies, by Robert D. Putnam, a political scientist at Harvard, argues that living in a racially diverse community leads to lower trust toward people in general, toward neighbors and toward members of other racial groups as well as one’s own racial group.

They then note Putnam’s own 20 year project to spin his dour findings into Pie-in-the-Sky liberal optimism… in the ‘long term’:

For his own part, Professor Putnam filed an amicus brief in the Fisher case objecting to the use of his findings in arguments against affirmative action. In the brief, he states his belief that diversity can be beneficial in the long term, despite its short-term drawbacks.

So, what bold new re-interpretation of Putnam’s data do Abascal & Baldassarri make?

Our research reveals that even in the short term, diversity is not to blame. We independently analyzed the same data set Professor Putnam used, and we demonstrate that disadvantage, not diversity, is responsible for distrust.

At first glance, our results resemble those of previous studies: People in more diverse communities report lower levels of trust. Scholars and columnists alike have taken this to mean that diversity reduces trust, but we argue that this interpretation is flawed.

They then proceed to base their entire argument on a most muddled line of thinking, which boils down to a gedankenexperiment:

A thought experiment sheds light on what is going on. Imagine two schools: a homogeneous school with all Dutch students and a diverse school with half Dutch students and half Bolivian students. If we are studying student height, we would most likely find that students in the diverse school are shorter, on average, than students in the homogeneous school. Hardly anyone would then argue that attending a diverse school makes students shorter. Dutch people are taller than Bolivians, on average, and this explains the difference between the schools. Substitute trust for height and communities for schools, and, based on a similar association between diversity and trust, scholars have concluded that living in a diverse community makes people less trusting.

If, however, the Dutch students in the diversity school actually began getting shorter, that would be another matter, no? When whites’ level of trust goes down as a result of increased diversity, something the authors acknowledge but don’t seem to plumb the depths of, a causal connection becomes more plausible.

They continue:

The analogy isn’t perfect, but it draws attention to an important possibility: Trust, like height, might be determined by pre-existing differences between groups, rather than exposure to diversity. In the United States, blacks and Latinos report lower levels of trust than whites, regardless of the communities where they live. The average homogeneous community (defined as a census tract) in the United States is 84 percent white, whereas the average diverse community is 54 percent white. Together, these patterns indicate that diverse communities do not make people less trusting. Rather, distrust is higher in diverse communities because blacks and Latinos, who are more likely than whites to live in one, are less trusting to begin with.

Yes, levels of distrust is higher in black and brown communities, the reinforcement of such distrust being the result of long histories of bad behavior (aka less reciprocal altruism and the like) in such communities.

Naturally, as liberal sociologists, the authors dare not venture into ‘genetic’ territory, wherein they might evaluate evidence that differing baseline norms of trust among races is now baked into our genes vis-à-vis a confluence of genetic predispositions. (See Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance.)

It’s not simply a matter of misunderstanding the law of averages here, or the regression toward the mean. In diverse communities, the bad behavior of non-whites (particularly blacks and browns) has a direct causal impact toward lowering whites’ levels of generalized trust.

The authors continue with their alternative explanation:

If diversity doesn’t reduce trust, what does? According to our analysis, disadvantage accounts for lower levels of trust. If you have a low income, or less schooling, or are unemployed or experiencing housing instability, you are likely to report lower trust. To make matters worse, if your neighbors experience similar disadvantages, this compounds your distrust. Taken together, this suggests that it is not the diversity of a community that undermines trust, but rather the disadvantages that people in diverse communities face.

This is why blacks and Latinos report lower trust than whites: Socioeconomic and neighborhood disadvantages are more common among these groups. We suspect that blacks and Latinos also report lower trust for other reasons, including continuing discrimination, victimization by the police and hostile political rhetoric.

By ‘disadvantages’, the authors presumably mean lower levels of income, concomitant lower levels of education, higher levels of crime, and the like. In typical liberal fashion, the authors ignore much more powerful arguments that, no matter where in the world they are or where they go, blacks and browns suffer such ‘disadvangtages’, which strengthens the notion that there is something intrinsic to these races (e.g., low IQ, etc.) that causes their ‘disadvantages’ relative to white or Asian populations.

No, the direction of causality for the two sociologists, like liberals in general, is to blame external forces (namely, white racism) as the explanation for black and brown dysfunctionality.

They continue:

Finally, our only finding related to diversity confirms a familiar story about white intolerance toward minorities. Whites who live among more blacks and Latinos report slightly lower trust than those who live in predominately white communities. This is a far cry from the claim that the minorities who are diversifying the nation are responsible for declining levels of trust.

I find this paragraph mystifying. I simply cannot ascertain what they are trying to argue here.

The one novel nugget in the piece, however, and one worth keeping in mind, is this candid admission of entailment:

If diversity is the problem, then policies should aim to protect or even promote homogeneity.

This is a profound admission. For a liberal to admit this – that if A is true, then A ought to lead to B – is something one rarely encounters.

As more empirical evidence accrues over time, disproving their above interpretation of Putnam’s data, will anyone hold them to their rhetorical statement above?

This entry was posted in Race, Sociology. Bookmark the permalink.