Thursday, August 16, 2007

Another one bites the dust

I am backward enough to believe that American exceptionalism has a lot to do with a decent (not perfect, of course) history of assimilation. Immigrants like to come here and after they do, most aspire to the American Dream.

Well-meaning colleagues often correct me and the proper PC term is "acculturation." Beats me.

By now most people have heard of Robert Putnam's study on diversity. He finds that it is not an unmixed blessing. Of course. But assimilation offers a bridge whereby people can overcome phobias and fears.

I have Chinese relatives and Jewish relatives and some who are both. Each cherish their heritage as well as their Americanization (I have no idea whether that's a bad or a good word). We do not have fetishize ethnic differences. And they should not dominate our politics.

I like the lead in by Dan Henninger in today's WSJ:
Diversity was once just another word. Now it's a fighting
word. One of the biggest problems with diversity is that it won't let you alone.
Corporations everywhere have force-marched middle managers into training
sessions led by "diversity trainers." Most people already knew that the basic
idea beneath diversity emerged about 2,000 years ago under two rubrics: Love thy
neighbor as thyself, and Do unto others as they would do unto you. Then suddenly
this got rewritten as "appreciating differentness."

George Bernard Shaw is said to have demurred from the Golden
Rule. "Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you," Shaw advised.
"Their tastes may not be the same." No such voluntary opt-out is permissible in
our time. The parsons of the press made diversity into a secular commandment; do
a word-search of "diversity" in a broad database of newspapers and it might come
up 250 million times. In the Supreme Court term just ended, the Seattle schools
integration case led most of the justices into arcane discussions of diversity's
legal compulsions.

More recently it emerged that the University of Michigan, a
virtual Mecca of diversity, announced it would install Muslim footbaths in
bathrooms, causing a fight.

Now comes word that diversity as an ideology may be dead, or
not worth saving. Robert Putnam, the Harvard don who in the controversial
bestseller "Bowling Alone" announced the decline of communal-mindedness amid the
rise of home-alone couch potatoes, has completed a mammoth study of the effects
of ethnic diversity on communities. His researchers did 30,000 interviews in 41
U.S. communities. Short version: People in ethnically diverse settings don't
want to have much of anything to do with each other. "Social capital" erodes.
Diversity has a downside.