The Boston Globe recently had an interesting article on some possible downsides of societal diversity, which have been uncomfortably quantified by Robert Putnam, a political scientist at Harvard. Putnam 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.
The basic moral of the research is that diversity makes people uncomfortable, which isn’t exactly a shocking revelation. That said, the benefits of diversity certainly outweigh the negatives. This, at least, is one of the epic themes of Darwinian evolution. It’s a cliche to talk about the illiberal or politically incorrect truths of evolution (competition is brutal, not everybody is genetically equal, etc.), but we tend to pay less attention to one of Darwin’s most reassuring conjectures, which is that progress – at least in the Darwinian sense – is inevitably entwined with the preservation of our differences. As Darwin observed in The Origin of Species, “The more diversified the descendants from any one species become in structure, constitution and habits, by so much will they be better enabled to seize on many and widely diversified places in the polity of nature.”
I have a feeling Darwin would have celebrated the diversity of America.