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Major Canadian newspaper exposes the dark side of ethnic diversity


From Vancouver Sun…

Are you engaged with your community? Or are you “hunkering down?”

Are you connecting with friends, volunteering or involved in politics? Or are you drawing into yourself, “like a turtle?”

Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam has completed an important study of more than 30,000 North Americans and concluded that – especially if you live in ethnically diverse cities such as Toronto, Vancouver or Los Angeles – it’s likely you are “hunkering down.”

That’s the colloquial phrase that Putnam, who has been an adviser to everyone from Bill Clinton and Tony Blair to the U.S. State Department and the World Bank, uses to describe the lack of trust he discovered among most North Americans in diverse urban settings.

Since geographers rank Greater Toronto and Metro Vancouver respectively the third and fourth most “hyper-diverse” cities in the world – more than 45 per cent of the residents of each metropolis are born outside the country – Putnam’s findings are more than relevant to these regions.

Indeed, when the Vancouver Foundation recently conducted a massive survey of Metro Vancouver residents, researchers discovered most people in this West Coast city feel unusually high levels of loneliness and lack of friends.

Even though Putnam realized the results of his own research into diversity challenged his promulticultural values, he still holds hope that immigration may have long-term benefits in North America if handled responsibly by politicians. Some Canadian politicians are starting to respond.

Still, the author of the classic book Bowling Alone, which chronicles the decline in civil engagement in North America since the 1950s, has felt contradictory feelings as his findings have been confirmed by researchers in Canada, Sweden, Peru, Pakistan, Kenya and beyond.

He has realized neither of the two dominant North American myths about multiculturalism are accurate.

In contrast to conservatives’ beliefs, Putnam says multicultural diversity doesn’t necessarily lead to open “conflict” among people of different ethnic groups. “Race riots” and violence do not often break out.

On the other hand, contrary to liberals’ dreams, Putnam did not find people of different ethnicities inevitably discover “harmony” or enjoy “fusion.”

Putnam’s survey of 41 American cities and towns found people in ethnically diverse regions tend to be polite – but also disengaged and wary.

While Putnam believes there may be long-term benefits for some from immigration (including enhanced scientific and intellectual innovation), he’s become convinced the short-term effect on most cities is a drop in “social capital.”

People in diverse urban regions tend to seek shelter in their own little worlds. “Diversity, at least in the short run, seems to bring out the turtle in all of us. … The more ethnically diverse the people we live around, the less we trust them.“

Putnam adds an additional disturbing discovery – that “in-group trust, too, is lower in more diverse settings.” In other words, people also become more distrustful even of members of their own ethnic group.