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Bowled over by diversity

Steve Sailer’s got a good article about bigshot Harvard social scientist Robert D. Putnam. Putnam’s the guy behind Bowling Alone, a famous article (and then book) that documented the decline of civc engagement in America. More recently, as Sailer details, he’s published a study showing that more ethnic diversity means less social trust, not only between but even within ethnic groups.

Since Putnam is a leading intellectual functionary, he naturally doesn’t leave the matter there but has put a lot of time and effort into lining up his research results with the social goals of his class. Greater diversity is still inevitable and strengthening, he now says, and any problems that come up can be managed by social managers and therapists: “we” (whoever that is) “should construct a new ‘us.’” Since that is so, he believes that emphasizing the problems diversity creates is “almost criminal.” It might even give ammo to right wingers.

So what kind of new “us” are “we” going to construct? Putnam notes that when he was in high school in the ’50s everyone knew everyone else’s religion. Now it doesn’t matter and nobody pays attention to the topic. “Why can’t we do the same thing with other types of diversity,” he asks? The plan, then, is to eliminate the problems caused by diversity by interventions designed to eliminate its significance. To the extent possible, every place in the world is going to include every type of person in the world, but none of the commitments and attachments by which they’ve always lived are to be allowed to matter. The global population will thus become an aggregate of interchangeable resources. We’ll all be happy members of the local bowling league, but won’t care about it enough to create problems for management. Sounds like a vision worthy of Harvard!

Putnam likes the military as a model for constructing his new “us.” Sailer points out an interesting point in that connection, that the success of the military and for that matter athletic teams in getting young men of different races to cooperate seems to have something to do with the growing influence of fundamentalist Christianity in such settings. That makes sense. A multicultural mixed-sex bowling league with special provision for mainstreaming the disabled is no doubt good fun, but it’s not enough to socialize people, especially (I would think) young men. The multinational Roman army kept going with the aid of various religious movements, Mithras, Sol Invictus, and eventually Christianity, and unsocialized black men in prison sometimes manage to pull themselves together with the aid of Islam. All in all, it seems that the ultimate effect of Putnam’s effort to abolish the significance of all religion and cultures, and thus do away with their ability to socialize anyone, will be the spread of simple and emotional but nonetheless highly disciplined forms of religion. Whatever may come, men need something to live by, and it seems to me they’ll find almost anything more bearable than life in the managed and denatured world of Robert D. Putnam.



I was struck by Putnam’s non-sensical analogy between knowing someone’s religion in the 50’s and knowing the values of other people today.

Does it not occur to Putnam that, in the 50’s, people were interested in the religion of others, precisely because they (Catholics, Protestants, and Jews) shared among themselves all basic values?

In Putnam’s vision of fungible humanity, that won’t be the case. You won’t know if your new neighbor values murder or altruism, but it would pay to find out.

Thus, some of the most valuable resources in Putnam’s world will be spying on others, personal dossiers, invasions of privacy, security services, non-trust transactions, and effective means to exclude and fence off outsiders (the unknown). The growth of private businesses that specialize in these kinds of services have exploded over the last 25 years.

Putnam is a typical modern. Like the rest of the material world, human beings (in the view of modernity) are interchangeable, fungible commodities that will be impressed into predictable, stereotyped transactions under the supervision of people like Putnam. Aren’t we lucky?

I don’t agree with Sailer’s interpretation of athletic team performance and the military. The key here, to my mind, are two-fold: 1. The interest of males, within a group, to accomplish a task, particularly in competition with other groups of males, so long as all groups agree upon a common set of rules and a criterion to establish a “winner” (the military, athletic teams, urban gangs, and crime families all operate on these premises); thus, WWII type conflicts are popular with these groups, and counter-insurgencies aren’t, and lead to dissonance, PTSS, and feral behaviors; and 2. With respect to the multi-race aspect, the willingness of minority races to adopt, or at least accept, the values of the majority. Once blacks and Hispanics lose interest in Western imperialism and colonial wars, the military will experience deep difficulties with morale, crime, and organization, just as it did in Vietnam (and, so, the military, catching on here, adopted 3 inter -related strategies: volunteer, much smaller, high-tech; this also leads to the pardoxical facts that, the smaller the military in personnel, the more expensive it becomes, and the more likely it is to resort to nuclear weapons). This is also true in athletics. As some athletic venues lose interest in the majority values, the more they come to represent tribal communities bound by honor codes and struggles for dominance; things such as “sportmanship” and “team” vanish, and retaliation, brawls, taunting, individual appearance, cults of personality, and personal aggrandizement emerge as central.

I also don’t buy the Roman analogy. The consciousness in the third world is entirely different today, and it’s unlikely an army raised (or purchased) in “the provinces” will be effective or very useful, although the dream of a foreign legion, thereby escaping all the complications of a citizen army, will continue to fascinate some.

Putnam’s plan I think is that Islam, animism and whatnot will go the way of mainstream Protestantism and Catholicism in America: they’ll be colonized and transformed by Putnam clones, so their content will become identical to politically correct careerist consumerism and will no longer have any distinct importance to anyone.

There are several ways to knit functional groups together in a morally chaotic environment. Bands of brigands can achieve some sort of unity as long as there’s plenty of loot available to make cooperation immediately rewarding. I suppose something similar applies to pro sport teams in which the players are personally undisciplined but there are big rewards for keeping it together enough to win games. Still, it seems to me that certain forms of religion can give you something more stable and productive. Ibn Khaldun comments that religion can substitute for the tribal loyalty that is the usual source of the social solidarity needed to establish a new dynasty. I think religion will have an edge in a lot of settings in the coming years.

As to foreign legions, why not? America is a nation of immigrants, and a proposition nation and so a nation based on standing orders. The military should represent America. It seems to me that if the American military became a foreign legion it would in fact come to constitute the true America, just as the legions become the true Romans as demonstrated by their right to create emperors. An American foreign legion would be diverse, universal, and totally devoted to the American Proposition and its global implications. What else would be needed? I don’t see any insuperable difficulty in giving them suitable incentives and promoting the necessary esprit de corps.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

“I think religion will have an edge in a lot of settings in the coming years.”

I think it already does.

Reinhold Neibuhr made the case that, in the social conditions described here (moral and social chaos), the greatest threat is secular fanaticisms. And that’s been the case for the last 200 years. Voegelin makes a similar case.

Putnam is implicitly confident that liberalism can securely moderate and tame secular fanaticisms. There’s little evidence for that in the historical record.