A small anecdote and some reflections on race and culture
Posted by Guest Blogger on Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 08:24 AM
by John Ray
A few days ago I went in to a private hospital to get my hearing tested and a hearing-aid prescribed. I’ve already got one plastic eye lens so a computerized ear comes next. That’s ageing for you.
Greenslopes private hospital, impressive though it is, does however have one of those murderous automated car-parks. You have to deal with a machine to get in and out. And it is not easy. I got so frazzled trying to get the machine to let me out that I left all the documentation from the audiologist on top of it when I could finally drive away - a fact I did not realise until I arrived home.
So what to do? One thing I was NOT going to do was negotiate that accursed machine again. So I just thought to myself that some kind person would find my documentation and take it to the audiologists - who would return it to me. And that is exactly what happened. I received it in the mail today.
Now isn’t that nice to live in a largish city and still get treated with village courtesy? But it is no coincidence. I trust my fellow Anglo/European-Australians to be like that: generally, good kind people. And that’s because the Australian population is still overwhelmingly white. You would have to go to Eastern Europe to find a whiter country.
Of course, it sounds racially-bigoted when it’s said just like that. But for several years now, to attribute Australia’s friendly civility to race has been mainstream sociology, albeit somewhat inconveniently so for the almost universally Left-leaning sociologists themselves. In Ottawa in December 2001, Robert Putnam, a left-leaning American political scientist at Harvard known for his research into racial homogeneity, launched a new set of findings on racial diversity and trust. They ran contrary to his own expectation, and to the two theories prevalent in this field, namely Contact Theory, whereby groups gain trust through inter-mixing, and Conflict Theory, whereby the groups do not gain trust of each other but turn inward to themselves as sources of trust. However, even though they did not suit him ideologically, and he certainly hesitated about making them public, Putnam was man enough to publish his findings.
What he found was that people who live in racially-mixed neighbourhoods (in his study, neighbourhoods with a lot of blacks or Hispanics in addition to whites) were much more likely to keep to themselves. They stayed home at night a lot more. They made fewer friends. They voted less. They gave less to charity. They involved themselves less in community projects.
Racial admixture killed community feeling, to put it bluntly, and it killed it not only between racial groups, confounding Contact Theory, but within them, confounding Conflict Theory. Whites were less trusting of other whites, and society as a whole became more atomised and life meaner.
At whatever level these effects kick in, Australia has, so far, largely escaped them. The most recent figures I can find show that Australians are 70% Anglo-Celtic, 18% European and 5% East Asian, with most of the latter being Han Chinese racially. The balance are mainly Indians, Pakistanis and Arabs, with Africans less than 1%.
In more recent years, however, Australia HAS acquired just one largish minority, the East Asians - mostly Han Chinese. But the Han are admirable, even exceptional people. They are, in general, quiet, peaceful, patient, intelligent, dutiful, and hard-working. They strive to get on with everybody and fit in well. They do little to cause anyone to stay home at night, and even though they have disrupted Australia’s racial homogeneity, they may actually have enhanced its social harmony.
So it was no accident that some kind person returned my papers. It is what happens in a society where people are in general kind to one another because they can identify with one another and sympathize with one another.
Although they tend to live their own lives and not really part of diverse communities, and account for only 1.5% of the population, I do not exclude from this Australia’s Aborigines. They are undoubtedly one of the most polite populations on earth. They also have an excellent sense of humour, as well as some well-known perceptual abilities that are quite eerie at times. But alcohol is their great downfall, and often they live in appalling squalor. The lady in my life - Anne - knows them particularly well and has great affection for them, which I can understand.
But all silver linings have a dark cloud and Australia has recently acquired one of those too. In recent years a considerable number of African “refugees” have immigrated. They already figure prominently in crime. Sad that as their number increases they may destroy the remarkable and valuable harmony that Australia still has.
Not that Robert Putnam would want to accept this possibility. He responded personally to his 2001 findings by launching himself upon several years of testing other possible explanations for the loss of trust. None of them held water. Then in June 2007 he published an article in the Scandinavian Political Studies journal which sought to mitigate the pro-homogeneity message in his findings. He argued that societies drawn from fragmented ethnic sources have been successful at creating new forms of solidarity and identity, that this proved that ethnic diversity was socially viable, and that people could become comfortable with difference. He cited the US military, religious institutions, and earlier waves of American immigration.
To what extent he thought the proscriptive character of the military or of the Christian faith was relevant to a (in many ways still) free society like America’s, I don’t know. But Australians could tell him that his point about earlier waves of American immigration was scarcely news. Until recently our population had ancestry that was almost exclusively from Europe or the British Isles. And regardless of whether your origins were Lithuanian, Irish, Italian, German or English, we all saw one another as simply Australian. In most cases, ancestry made little or no difference. Australia, like America, proves that Europeans have solidarity.
Unfortunately for Putnam, then, the atomising effect of diversity in America appears to be connected to genetic distance, and specifically, the distances between Hispanics and blacks and whites.
Much to learn of human diversity. And shrieks of “racism” when it is discussed come only from fools or the ill-intentioned.
This post originally appeared at John Ray’s personal blog but has been expanded for publishing here.