Friday, April 21, 2017

No, Stefan Molyneux, Ethnic Diversity in a Neighborhood Doesn't Necessarily Cause Social Distrust

Stuart K. Hayashi

The man, the myth, the Molyneux:

Stefan Molyneux and other critics of liberalized immigration policies are fond of citing Australian anthropologist Frank Salter and Bowling Alone author Robert D. Putnam in proclaiming that immigration should be restricted. It is on the grounds, they say, that when immigrants pour into a neighborhood that had previously been ethnically homogeneous, the new heterogeneity fosters more social distrust among everyone in the long run. Molyneux and other opponents of immigration even go on to say that Robert Putnam and Frank Salter prove that if you live in a diverse neighborhood, such a circumstance even reduces your trust in people of your own ethnicity.

The argument is: if I, a man of Japanese ancestry, dwell in a neighborhood where everyone is of pure Japanese ancestry, we will all get along fine. However, if we live in a mixed neighborhood, with blacks and whites and Latinos and Pacific Islanders living near me, I am going to mistrust all of them. Worse, this diversity will cause me to distrust other people of Japanese ancestry.

Molyneux quotes Putnam as saying that "it's not just that we don't trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don't trust people who do look like us."

Although both Salter and Putnam make similar arguments, I should clarify that their political positions should be distinguished from one another. Putnam is quite mainstream and comes across as being more politically center-Left. By contrast, Salter is an unreconstructed ideologue for the alt-right. Citing the famously racist Murray N. Rothbard, Frank Salter proclaims,
Unrestricted migration would harm Australia’s national interests in ways documented by scholars in economics, sociology and related disciplines. Much of the harm is predictable from what is known about the dysfunctions of diversity. can add to Rothbard’s excellent reason for defending the cultural integrity of nations. All the benefits of relative homogeneity (and thus of assimilation and prudent immigration) documented above belong to nations, not to multi-ethnic states. . . . This is what Rothbard was getting at.

But, as Kenan Malik notes, data contradict Putnam, Salter, and those who cite them to vilify liberalized immigration, such as Molyneux.

More recent research has...questioned [Robert Putnam's] conclusions. The latest such study, led by Patrick Sturgis, director of Britain’s National Centre for Research Methods, investigated the relationship between diversity and trust within London. It discovered the opposite relationship to Putnam. Once the researchers had allowed for social and economic deprivation, they found that “ethnic diversity is ... positively related to social cohesion, with significantly higher levels of cohesion evident as ethnic heterogeneity increases.”

The paper Malik cites is Patrick Sturgis, et al., "Ethnic Diversity, Segregation, and the Social Cohesion of Neighbourhoods in London," Ethnic and Racial Studies vol. 37 (no. 8, 2014): 1286-1309.

A helpful explanation of this matter was written by Shikha Dalmia, which appeared in The Week and also in Reason.

My friend Pablo Wegesend summarized to me the likely explanation for what is going on:  when people in a neighborhood have grown accustomed to ethnic homogeneity within it, an influx of ethnically different people can easily disturb them. Even in their own community, they feel culture shock, and their general level of trust in others happens to wane.  However, the children in the neighborhood aren't as set and rigid in their idea of what is normal or abnormal for the neighborhood, and therefore have an easier time adjusting to the increasing level of diversity.  Once those children are grown up, the relatively new diversity -- regarded as so alien and threatening by the older generation -- is considered normal by the younger generation.  And among this younger generation, neighborly trust is maintained.

My island home is definitely not free of any or every form of ethnic tension, but the growing normalization of diversity would plausibly explain what is still a relatively high level of mutual trust among people in ethnically diverse Hawaii.

At the end of my first major blog post about Stefan Molyneux's fanaticism, on November 29, 2015, I wrote, "I am familiar with the argument that people have an easier time getting along when they're all the same ethnicity; I think there might be an empirical basis for that descriptive evaluation." Today I retract that; there was not even an adequate basis for making any concessions to Molyneux's demagoguery on this count. On this conclusion, Putnam was erring at best, while Salter and Molyneux have put forth this falsehood as part of their attempt to rationalize their bigotry.

On January 20, 2018, I added the links to Shikha Dalmia's essay and I mentioned the idea that even if the older people in a neighborhood, accustomed to the waning homogeneity, grow more distrustful, the younger generation can be more accustomed to the relatively new diversity and therefore continue to feel trust in other people in the community.