Whence Polarization?

America today is riven with racial, social, and political divisions. Why? Is there a way out?

It’s hard to know where to begin. So, rather arbitrarily, I begin with race. David Reich‘s hot new book, Who We Are and How We Got Here, is causing a stir in genetic-research circles. Reich, who takes great pains to assure everyone that he isn’t a racist, and who deplores racism, is nevertheless candid about race:

I have deep sympathy for the concern that genetic discoveries could be misused to justify racism. But as a geneticist I also know that it is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among “races.”

Groundbreaking advances in DNA sequencing technology have been made over the last two decades. These advances enable us to measure with exquisite accuracy what fraction of an individual’s genetic ancestry traces back to, say, West Africa 500 years ago — before the mixing in the Americas of the West African and European gene pools that were almost completely isolated for the last 70,000 years. With the help of these tools, we are learning that while race may be a social construct, differences in genetic ancestry that happen to correlate to many of today’s racial constructs are real….

Self-identified African-Americans turn out to derive, on average, about 80 percent of their genetic ancestry from enslaved Africans brought to America between the 16th and 19th centuries. My colleagues and I searched, in 1,597 African-American men with prostate cancer, for locations in the genome where the fraction of genes contributed by West African ancestors was larger than it was elsewhere in the genome. In 2006, we found exactly what we were looking for: a location in the genome with about 2.8 percent more African ancestry than the average.

When we looked in more detail, we found that this region contained at least seven independent risk factors for prostate cancer, all more common in West Africans. Our findings could fully account for the higher rate of prostate cancer in African-Americans than in European-Americans. We could conclude this because African-Americans who happen to have entirely European ancestry in this small section of their genomes had about the same risk for prostate cancer as random Europeans.

Did this research rely on terms like “African-American” and “European-American” that are socially constructed, and did it label segments of the genome as being probably “West African” or “European” in origin? Yes. Did this research identify real risk factors for disease that differ in frequency across those populations, leading to discoveries with the potential to improve health and save lives? Yes.

While most people will agree that finding a genetic explanation for an elevated rate of disease is important, they often draw the line there. Finding genetic influences on a propensity for disease is one thing, they argue, but looking for such influences on behavior and cognition is another.

But whether we like it or not, that line has already been crossed. A recent study led by the economist Daniel Benjamin compiled information on the number of years of education from more than 400,000 people, almost all of whom were of European ancestry. After controlling for differences in socioeconomic background, he and his colleagues identified 74 genetic variations that are over-represented in genes known to be important in neurological development, each of which is incontrovertibly more common in Europeans with more years of education than in Europeans with fewer years of education.

It is not yet clear how these genetic variations operate. A follow-up study of Icelanders led by the geneticist Augustine Kong showed that these genetic variations also nudge people who carry them to delay having children. So these variations may be explaining longer times at school by affecting a behavior that has nothing to do with intelligence.

This study has been joined by others finding genetic predictors of behavior. One of these, led by the geneticist Danielle Posthuma, studied more than 70,000 people and found genetic variations in more than 20 genes that were predictive of performance on intelligence tests.

Is performance on an intelligence test or the number of years of school a person attends shaped by the way a person is brought up? Of course. But does it measure something having to do with some aspect of behavior or cognition? Almost certainly. And since all traits influenced by genetics are expected to differ across populations (because the frequencies of genetic variations are rarely exactly the same across populations), the genetic influences on behavior and cognition will differ across populations, too.

You will sometimes hear that any biological differences among populations are likely to be small, because humans have diverged too recently from common ancestors for substantial differences to have arisen under the pressure of natural selection. This is not true. The ancestors of East Asians, Europeans, West Africans and Australians were, until recently, almost completely isolated from one another for 40,000 years or longer, which is more than sufficient time for the forces of evolution to work. Indeed, the study led by Dr. Kong showed that in Iceland, there has been measurable genetic selection against the genetic variations that predict more years of education in that population just within the last century….

So how should we prepare for the likelihood that in the coming years, genetic studies will show that many traits are influenced by genetic variations, and that these traits will differ on average across human populations? It will be impossible — indeed, anti-scientific, foolish and absurd — to deny those differences. [“How Genetics Is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race’“, The New York Times, March 23, 2018]

Reich engages in a lot of non-scientific wishful thinking about racial differences and how they should be treated by “society” — none of which is in his purview as a scientist. Reich’s forays into psychobabble have been addressed at length by Steve Sailer (here and here) and Gregory Cochran (here, here, here, here, and here). Suffice it to say that Reich is trying in vain to minimize the scientific fact of racial differences that show up crucially in intelligence and rates of violent crime.

Those ineradicable differences mean that there is something like a permanent — and mostly black — underclass in America. But there is an American “overclass” (to which I will come) which insists that all can be made well by pushing the underclass into contact with people who (wisely) resist the push, and shoveling money and privileges at it. This, alone, would be cause enough for a chasm between the overclass and those who resist its misguided social agenda. But there is more.

I now invoke Robert Putnam, a political scientist known mainly for his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2005), in which he

makes a distinction between two kinds of social capital: bonding capital and bridging capital. Bonding occurs when you are socializing with people who are like you: same age, same race, same religion, and so on. But in order to create peaceful societies in a diverse multi-ethnic country, one needs to have a second kind of social capital: bridging. Bridging is what you do when you make friends with people who are not like you, like supporters of another football team. Putnam argues that those two kinds of social capital, bonding and bridging, do strengthen each other. Consequently, with the decline of the bonding capital mentioned above inevitably comes the decline of the bridging capital leading to greater ethnic tensions.

In later work on diversity and trust within communities, Putnam concludes that

other things being equal, more diversity in a community is associated with less trust both between and within ethnic groups….

Even when controlling for income inequality and crime rates, two factors which conflict theory states should be the prime causal factors in declining inter-ethnic group trust, more diversity is still associated with less communal trust.

Lowered trust in areas with high diversity is also associated with:

  • Lower confidence in local government, local leaders and the local news media.
  • Lower political efficacy – that is, confidence in one’s own influence.
  • Lower frequency of registering to vote, but more interest and knowledge about politics and more participation in protest marches and social reform groups.
  • Higher political advocacy, but lower expectations that it will bring about a desirable result.
  • Less expectation that others will cooperate to solve dilemmas of collective action (e.g., voluntary conservation to ease a water or energy shortage).
  • Less likelihood of working on a community project.
  • Less likelihood of giving to charity or volunteering.
  • Fewer close friends and confidants.
  • Less happiness and lower perceived quality of life.
  • More time spent watching television and more agreement that “television is my most important form of entertainment”.

It’s not as if Putnam is a social conservative who is eager to impart such news. To the contrary, Putnam’s

findings on the downsides of diversity have also posed a challenge for Putnam, a liberal academic whose own values put him squarely in the pro-diversity camp. Suddenly finding himself the bearer of bad news, Putnam has struggled with how to present his work. He gathered the initial raw data in 2000 and issued a press release the following year outlining the results. He then spent several years testing other possible explanations.

When he finally published a detailed scholarly analysis … , he faced criticism for straying from data into advocacy. His paper argues strongly that the negative effects of diversity can be remedied, and says history suggests that ethnic diversity may eventually fade as a sharp line of social demarcation.

“Having aligned himself with the central planners intent on sustaining such social engineering, Putnam concludes the facts with a stern pep talk,” wrote conservative commentator Ilana Mercer….

After releasing the initial results in 2001, Putnam says he spent time “kicking the tires really hard” to be sure the study had it right. Putnam realized, for instance, that more diverse communities tended to be larger, have greater income ranges, higher crime rates, and more mobility among their residents — all factors that could depress social capital independent of any impact ethnic diversity might have.

“People would say, ‘I bet you forgot about X,’” Putnam says of the string of suggestions from colleagues. “There were 20 or 30 X’s.”

But even after statistically taking them all into account, the connection remained strong: 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 a recent study, [Harvard economist Edward] Glaeser and colleague Alberto Alesina demonstrated that roughly half the difference in social welfare spending between the US and Europe — Europe spends far more — can be attributed to the greater ethnic diversity of the US population. Glaeser says lower national social welfare spending in the US is a “macro” version of the decreased civic engagement Putnam found in more diverse communities within the country.

Economists Matthew Kahn of UCLA and Dora Costa of MIT reviewed 15 recent studies in a 2003 paper, all of which linked diversity with lower levels of social capital. Greater ethnic diversity was linked, for example, to lower school funding, census response rates, and trust in others. Kahn and Costa’s own research documented higher desertion rates in the Civil War among Union Army soldiers serving in companies whose soldiers varied more by age, occupation, and birthplace.

Birds of different feathers may sometimes flock together, but they are also less likely to look out for one another. “Everyone is a little self-conscious that this is not politically correct stuff,” says Kahn….

In his paper, Putnam cites the work done by Page and others, and uses it to help frame his conclusion that increasing diversity in America is not only inevitable, but ultimately valuable and enriching. As for smoothing over the divisions that hinder civic engagement, Putnam argues that Americans can help that process along through targeted efforts. He suggests expanding support for English-language instruction and investing in community centers and other places that allow for “meaningful interaction across ethnic lines.”

Some critics have found his prescriptions underwhelming. And in offering ideas for mitigating his findings, Putnam has drawn scorn for stepping out of the role of dispassionate researcher. “You’re just supposed to tell your peers what you found,” says John Leo, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. [Michael Jonas, “The downside of diversity,” The Boston Globe (boston.com), August 5, 2007]

What is it about academics like Reich and Putnam who can’t bear to face the very facts that they have uncovered? The magic word is “academics”. They are denizens of a milieu in which the facts of life about race, guns, sex, and many other things are in the habit of being suppressed in favor of “hope and change”, and the facts be damned.

All of this is a prelude to some observations about the state of America:

The U.S. was undoubtedly more united — more tightly knit by “bonding” and “bridging” capital — in 15 years after the end of World War II than it has been since. Bonding has loosened among whites because of socioeconomic and geographic mobility.

Post-war prosperity enabled most of the descendants of the Greatest Generation (GG) to live high on the hog compared with the GG.

College-going rates boomed, giving the descendants of the GG access to social and cultural circles that weren’t open to most of the GG.

The descendants of the GG, because of their greater prosperity and movement in “higher” circles (which include even seemingly trivial things like book clubs and wine-tasting clubs), became (on the whole) distant from the morals and mores of the GG and its antecedents. The more educated and the more highly paid, the more distant.

The GG and their antecedents weren’t strangers to regional, racial, religious, and class differences, and the suspicions and (sometimes) hostility engendered by them. But the whites among them (i.e., the vast majority), were broadly united in their allegiance to God and country. The blacks were, too, though they lived mostly apart from whites, by design (mainly on the part of whites) and mutual choice.

That degree of unity was possible because the economic and educational differences among the GG and its antecedents didn’t span as vast a range as they do today, and because they were racially (if not ethnically) similar.

On top of that there are wide and growing racial-cultural fissures. (For who can deny that race and culture are deeply intertwined?) These fissures are due in part to the rapid growth of black and Hispanic populations in the United States since the 1960s, growth that will put whites in the minority by the middle of the 21st century, This will come after two centuries (from 1790 to 1990) when whites accounted for more than 80 percent of the population, and a 70-year span (1900 to 1970) when the population was 88-percent to 90-percent white. Throw in the huge numbers of illegal immigrants, and the picture looks even darker.

There is just no getting around it. Like prefers like, and it’s just as true among blacks and Hispanics as it is among whites. Throw in the deepening divisions among whites (discussed above), and you have a country unlike the one that existed in the first 60 years of the 20th century.

Throw in, on top of all that, dissensions bred by white elites (The Crust), and you have a country that is unrecognizable to almost anyone who came of age before 1960, or anyone who still adheres to the morals and mores of that earlier era.

The Crust consists of the information-entertainment-media-academic complex, huge swaths of the professional-managerial (college-educated) classes, and most of the politicians at the national, State, and local levels. Many of the politicians who profess allegiance to conservatism are nothing but vote-seeking, power-hungry, backslappers who would rather be reelected by pandering to special interests than actually try to conserve traditional American values like self-reliance and respect for others’ property and liberty.

What you have, in fact, is a culture war that has become a cold civil war. But it’s not a war of white vs. colored or North vs. South, though because of the “big sort” it does have a geographic dimension. At bottom, it’s a war of white traditionalists vs. The Crust and the “victim” classes (blacks, Hispanics, gender-confused persons, etc.) favored by The Crust to the exclusion of non-Crust heterosexual white males. You know the drill:

The Crust believes in sharing the wealth. Not all of its own wealth mind you, but just enough to assuage The Crust’s white guilt. But sharing means forced sharing (because The Crust knows what’s good for everyone), regardless of its long-run economic effects and the burdens that it places on taxpayers of modest means.

Sharing the wealth includes a commitment to demonstrably destructive and counterproductive schemes, some of which are the affirmative action, the minimum wage, universal basic income, expanded Medicaid rolls, “free” college, and that holy grail of feel-good schemes: single-payer health care. (You can be sure that The Crust would still have access to private-pay health care.) These are sure-fire vote-getters among blacks and illegal immigrants — both (not coincidentally) favored groups among The Crust.

Throw in other programs and policies to entice and keep the votes of aggrieved feminists, gender-confused persons, naive transnationalists, religion-haters, success-enviers, and everyone else who believes that white America is evil (The Crust excepted, of course) and that it’s government’s job to deliver nirvana. Sprinkle in a huge helping of idealistic and impetuous youth. Stir, stir, stir with all of the communications technology that can be mustered.

Suppress dissenting views by invoking the “victim” classes (women, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, gender-confused persons, etc.).

Pump schoolchildren and college students full of The Crust’s crazy beliefs (small samples here and here), so that in a few decades those beliefs will be set in concrete among most of the populace. (Shades of the “flower children” of the 1960s and 1970s who became politicians, lawyers, judges, professors, and joined other influential pursuits.)

These economic and cultural differences underlie the fragmentation of America.

But it’s worse than fragmentation. The Crust is in charge of almost everything, including much of government. The Resistance (which Wikipedia doesn’t even acknowledge) is of The Crust’s making. In concert with its sub-rosa members in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the central, State, and local governments, The Resistance is dedicated to the overthrow of the lawfully elected President of the United States. Why? Because he is perceived as a threat to The Crust’s agenda: one world under the technocratic control of administrative agencies dedicated to the pursuance of The Crust’s pseudo-scientific dogmas.

The spirit of it is captured by Theodore Dalrymple:

The threat to our freedom comes not from government, except when it cravenly capitulates to the demands of monomaniacs and tries to limit our speech by decree, but from pressure groups from within what used to be called, invariably as a term of approbation, civil society. Perhaps uncivil society would now be a better term for at least a part of it, which wants to reform not only laws but our minds and souls. It does this not for the sake of betterment, but as an exercise in, or as an expression of, power. The will to power seems to have infected people who once might have been content to live quietly, power itself now being the only goal worth aiming for in the absence of anything more elevated or elevating.

Stalin famously (or infamously) once said that writers were the engineers of souls, and that is what pressure groups believe themselves increasingly to be. They do not so much seek to persuade us by the force of their arguments as irreversibly to change our mentalities. Habit is character, and if we can be forcibly made to change the way we speak, eventually our thoughts will follow. Of course, such changes have always occurred, but less by design than spontaneously.

The totalitarian impulse did not die with the Soviet Union, but rather fractured into many different monomanias. The freedom that many people desire is the freedom to limit other people’s freedom, which they find much more gratifying than the mere expression of their own opinion, which has at most the effect of throwing a pebble into a pond, causing a ripple that soon disappears and is forgotten. Surely I am more important than that, and my opinion deserves to dictate to others?

Political polarization is about much more than culture. It’s about liberty. Freedom of speech is a threat to The Crust and The Resistance because their joint agenda can so easily be shown for the sham that it is. Thus it is imperative for The Crust and The Resistance to stifle freedom of speech and other freedoms that threaten their agenda: freedom of religion, freedom of association, and the right to bear arms.

Totalitarianism is on the march, and it is gaining strength daily.

I once again beseech Mr. Trump to undertake a preemptive (cold) civil war before it is too late to rescue liberty from its enemies within.

It’s the only way out.

Related reading:
Peter Leyden and Ruy Texeira, “The Great Lesson of California in America’s New Civil War“, Medium, January 19, 2018
Kurt Schlichter, “Liberals Announce Plan to Crush Normal Americans in a New “Civil War” (Spoiler: It’s Not a Great Plan)“, Townhall, April 9, 2018
Selwyn Duke, “Twitter’s CEO Endorses Call for Conservatism’s DestructionThe New American, April 11, 2018
Surnantra Maitra, “The Creeping and Creepy March of the Progressive Totalitarian Impulse“, American Greatness, April 11, 2018
John Derbyshire, “Ideology Trumps Reality in Reich’s Who We Are And How We Got Here“, The Unz Review, April 19, 2018

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