Saturday, January 05, 2019


Having recently finished Jonathan Haidt's book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, I was reintroduced to the term "turtling".  Haidt's book was published in 2013, and doing an internet search for "turtling" brought up articles that were several years old.

Here's a broad explanation:
IT HAS BECOME increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity as a civic strength. From multicultural festivals to pronouncements from political leaders, the message is the same: our differences make us stronger.

But a massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam -- famous for "Bowling Alone," his 2000 book on declining civic engagement -- has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.

"The extent of the effect is shocking," says Scott Page, a University of Michigan political scientist...

Putnam claims the US has experienced a pronounced decline in "social capital," a term he helped popularize. Social capital refers to the social networks -- whether friendships or religious congregations or neighborhood associations -- that he says are key indicators of civic well-being. When social capital is high, says Putnam, communities are better places to live. Neighborhoods are safer; people are healthier; and more citizens vote...

Higher diversity meant lower social capital. In his findings, Putnam writes that those in more diverse communities tend to "distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television."

"People living in ethnically diverse settings appear to 'hunker down' -- that is, to pull in like a turtle," Putnam writes...

In more diverse communities, he says, there were neither great bonds formed across group lines nor heightened ethnic tensions, but a general civic malaise. And in perhaps the most surprising result of all, levels of trust were not only lower between groups in more diverse settings, but even among members of the same group.

"Diversity, at least in the short run," he writes, "seems to bring out the turtle in all of us."
Another article goes further:
There are lots of theories about diversity and trust, but little agreement. Some believe that ethnically diverse communities foster trust, while others argue the opposite, that diversity breeds conflict. Still others say that living side by side, majority with minority, diminishes not only out-group trust but also trust of one’s longtime friends and neighbors—and overall solidarity. Political scientist Robert Putnam, of Bowling Alone fame, has most notably staked out this position: Despite its many positive consequences, Putnam maintains, increased cultural diversity makes people hunker down and isolate themselves in general.

Putnam calls this “turtling.” The idea is well known and controversial in both academic and public policy arenas. But none of these theories, Putnam’s included, has been systematically tested or proven. So psychological scientist Katharina Schmid of the University of Oxford, UK, decided to puts these different theories to the test. She and her colleagues wanted to see not only if neighborhood diversity affects the level of trust in the community, but also how. Specifically, they wanted to see if simple everyday contact—being at the same social gathering, or exchanging a few polite words at the newsstand—might play a previously unrecognized role in enhancing trust...

They found an interesting pattern of results, which they describe in an article to appear in the journal Psychological Science. Perceived and actual diversity were associated with diminished out-group trust and diminished overall trust, but only among White British respondents. But here’s the most important part: That effect vanished when the scientists factored in actual day-to-day personal contact. That is, when majority and minority members had the opportunity to exchange pleasantries and chat a bit about their kids or sports, this deflated their sense that they were threatened, which boosted feelings of trust—trust of all kinds. So overall, diversity did lead to more trust, just indirectly.

So if these findings are correct, it does not appear that neighborhood diversity inevitably fosters a hunkering-down mentality. Diversity can also enable people—both established majority and newcomers—to open up to others. But it’s not enough just to live side-by-side in the same community. Only meaningful face-to-face interactions can trump the potentially destructive effects of diversity on trust and solidarity.
It's harder to dislike someone when you have to look them in the eye.  The internet and Antifa show this:  it's easier to be a troll or a barbarian when you can hide behind a mask of anonymity.  It's easier to dislike people in the abstract.

I won't say that I've not fallen victim to this; I have several posts (going back almost 14 years now!) wherein I savage liberals.  Still, though, while I despise their views, I'm on quite sociable terms with many liberals at work.  You don't have to agree with people to be friendly with them.

Years ago I had a gay friend who said that rather than marching and protesting and such, his idea was to change anti-gay sentiment one person at a time.  He would cause others to see a fellow human, and by doing this he felt their anti-gay feelings would be mitigated.  He would be friendly to people, and would discuss but not argue with them.  His idea seems straight out of the 2nd link above, "meaningful face-to-face interactions".

The topic of diversity, though, is one where the liberals make a crucial error.  Any leader will tell you that if you want to build a team, want to build trust, want to build cooperation, you play up similarities instead of differences.  Humans are tribal, they work well together in teams.  That can mean racial or ethnic teams, but it can also be sports teams or my group vs your group.  People need a way of identifying together.  We don't build a community, however that's defined, by emphasizing differences.  Sure, there are plenty of differences in people, and in many circumstances that's good, but if you want them to function in harmony, you don't emphasize the differences.  The differences can be recognized but should not be the priority, and that is one of the several mistakes liberals make regarding diversity--if, in fact, they want a harmonious American society.

One of the most efficient and effective "teams" in the history of the planet?  The US Army.  Hundreds of thousands of men and women of different races and different ethnicities and different regional origins and different socioeconomic statuses and different religions--and while all of those differences are recognized, they all wear the same uniform and get their hair cut the same way and play by the same rules.  The differences are there but are not emphasized, the team is emphasized.

The Army doesn't want any turtling.


Pseudotsuga said...

And this is why my course syllabus (about classroom manners) states that diversity is less important that the universality of being human.

lgm said...

I have three neighbors who are minor criminals in that they flagrantly violent laws concerning their property and one is violating drug laws. They all can look me in the eye, wave and be friendly, but I am not associating with them until restitution is done and they agree to play by the Rule of Law. Yep, I'm an evil hunker-downer. And until I get my money back for the swindling they are doing, I'll stay hunkered down.

Ellen K said...

The failure to celebrate assimilation to the same level that we celebrate diversity could be our undoing. We have students born here who have been in ELL programs since they were four who still do not speak English. That's absurd! You have to demonstrate knowledge of English to become a citizen, and you have to be a citizen to vote, yet we print ballots in 30+ languages. Has anyone bothered to ask why? When Farmers Branch, recognizing that background checks for renters would not catch predators who were in Texas illegally, tried to push for a law that would require all parties who were on a lease to have either a background check or proof of residency. They were crucified as racist in the media, especially by one particular lawyer who makes his money working in the Immigration Courts. So while it's lovely to think your street or neighborhood or suburb is safe, the reality is that we don't know our neighbors and they don't know us because so few people are willing to adapt and indulge in those commonalities we share because they are no longer valued. It used to be we could set up a grill in the front yard and throw some hotdogs on and have a local street party. Now we're just as likely to have the police called on us for not asking permission, offending vegans, making noise, or whatever outrage crops up this week.