Monday, December 17, 2007

The Other Side of Diversity

A few years back, Robert Putnam, one of the world’s most influential political scientists revealed some bleak side-effects of ethnic diversity on society. Putnam found that living in diverse communities makes us worse neighbours and citizens: “Immigration and ethnic diversity tend to reduce social solidarity and social capital...Trust (even of one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer,” he wrote.

Putnam's controversial book, Bowling Alone, details his research on diversity and American society; his subsequent work found similar patterns in European and Asian societies too. You can read some more about his work on Wiki.

Science is making other uncomfortable discoveries. As The New York Times warned in a front page story last month, the DNA era is raising “new worries about prejudice”. In the article, Marcus Feldman, a Stanford biologist, explained: “There are clear differences between people of different continental ancestries. And it has the potential to spark a new era of racism if we do not start explaining it better.”

All this, even as countries-- and business -- become increasingly multi-ethnic. I think our societies will be reshaped during the next few years as we learn to reconcile between the meterial benefits of diversity and the strain it creates in our (existing) social fabric.

Even as I (and many of my world traveller blog friends) hope we will learn to live in multi-ethnic societies, Putnam's research shows why immigration is such a hot issue for voters everywhere.


Anonymous said...

That's sad... Indeed, immigration is a touchy issue everywhere, but I don't think there's a choice anyway. Basically, let's make the most of it and enjoy a new multiracial and diverse society. Fine by me ;)

Anonymous said...

@zhu: Yes, it is. I guess some short term pain is inevitable as these changes occur. Farid Zakaria in one of his recent Newsweek columns speaks about the need for more foriegn-born Americans to better understand the world outside America. So, I guess there is an appreciation of the advantages diversity brings.

Anonymous said...

There have been multiple articles on the pros and cons of diversity since I wrote this post. You may want to check out Farid Zakaria's column in Newsweek arguing about the importance of foreign-born Americans to foreign policy and business leadership.

Also, check out WSJ's article from their editorial pages, The Death of Diversity.