Monday, February 18, 2013

The Great Silence (On Race & Culture) Part X

We close this discussion on race and racism, with the question: given what we know about the limits of human nature,what should be done to ensure peace in an increasingly diverse America ? 

During a discussion about Dr. Ron Paul's platform, a progressive friend of mine became noticeably agitated and asked me "how can you support him, he is racist?!?" 

To which I responded, "can you name a single instance in which Dr. Paul was less than courteous to someone because of their race or culture? Or, better yet, present me with a single policy that he has proposed that could be deemed as malicious in intent towards any one group?"

After a nervous silence, he contested "I heard that years ago, some questionable things were written about African-Americans in his newsletter." 

I retorted that for various reasons the validity of these charges are questionable, but in questions of race, what is most important are not our inner thoughts and feelings, but rather our personal conduct and the policies that we support, which in the case of Dr. Paul do not demonstrate racism. Dr. Paul has repeatedly stated that “Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans strictly as members of groups rather than individuals." 

To which my friend responded "we know deep down inside that Dr. Paul and other conservatives do not like blacks..." 

"For the sake of the discussion," I interjected, "let's assume that's true. Never the less, in contrast to most liberal politicians, Dr. Paul opposes the war on drugs, because, for among other reasons, it is a significant factor in the mass incarceration of African-Americans. And what about Presidents, such as Lyndon Johnson  and Richard Nixon who were privately racist, but passed essential civil rights legislation? I then posed the vexing questions:"what good has the lofty feelings and self congratulatory rhetoric of liberals done for African-Americans? Has it lessened the prohibition fueled violence that is wracking Chicago's South and West Sides? Has it improved the city's dismal public schools? Has it lessened unemployment?"

My friend's discourse demonstrates that many liberals approach issues of race with a mindset that is reminiscent of more archaic forms of religious thought. Specifically, his rhetoric implies that he places far greater importance in "purity of thought" and "purity of theology", than in individual conduct and the real impact of policy. Historic examples of this phenomena abound; in the Ottoman Empire, Islamic Persia and Afghanistan, the religious authorities overlooked widespread pederasty and homosexual behavior, even though they were explicitly haraam. Yet, for crimes of thought (apostasy) and speech (blasphemy), the death penalty was readily applied. During the time of the Spanish Inquisition, the civil and religious authorities mercilessly hunted heretics, yet turned a blind eye to radically unchristian behavior, such as the plunderrape and enslavement of the indigenous peoples of the Americas by the conquistadors. Granted, the hypocrisy of Americans who condemn the heretics who question the official narratives of race and culture, yet behave no differently than so called racists, is not nearly as destructive as the previous examples. But, it does demonstrate how many Americans have elevated proper thoughts, feelings and rhetoric to an almost religious level, while placing little stock in real behavior.

Rather than indoctrinate our children with a collectivist, multicultural ideology, the best remedy for racist behavior is an affirmation of civility and individual dignity. Frankly, I could care less about what someone may think about my people, Jewish-Americans, as long as they do not harm anyone's life and liberty, or impede their pursuit of happiness. They are under no obligation to view me or my culture favorably, but I insist that I am treated fairly as an individual. In practical terms, this implies a support for laws that prohibit clear cases of housing and employment discrimination. And although they should have the complete right to express their anti-Semitic thoughts to me, they should refrain from doing so, not because of any egalitarian ideology, but because it constitutes an act of incivility. If they are compelled to peacefully express their thoughts in a public forum, I welcome them to do so, because it will surely highlight the idiocy of their beliefs. 

Do not engage in fruitless debates about the desirability of one group over another. Discussions of diversity should be centered on the issue of compatibility. For example, if you were the Minister of Immigration of Somalia, would you opt for secular, white, western Christians migrants who would never assimilate into the traditional, Islamic, tribal centered society of Somalia? Or would it be wiser to invite migrants with compatible norms, values and traditions, in order to minimize the risk of conflict? Would policies that induced rapid demographic shifts in Somalia contribute to stability and development, or increased tension? The same line of logic should apply to the policies of the United States and Western Europe. 

Next we must put to rest the cornerstone of the liberal narrative, namely that disparate results constitute proof of discrimination and institutional racism. In his book, The Economics and Politics of Race: An International Perspective, Dr. Thomas Sowell documents that across the globe, achievement gaps are ubiquitous. In most cases, culture and behavioral patterns, rather than discrimination are the most significant factors. The best evidence being the examples in which discriminated minorities, such as the Chinese of Malaysia, the Armenians of Turkey and the Jews of Hungary, outperformed politically dominant majorities. And in his monumental study, Affirmative Action Around The World: An Empirical Study, Dr. Sowell demonstrated that in every case, preferential policies: increased inter-group friction, benefited the more well off members of the target communities and imposed economic costs on the nation.

While the federal government should intervene in real and compelling cases of discrimination, it must respect the rights of self governmentfreedom of association and refrain from social engineering. For example, the Department of Justice intervened in the very liberal Marin County not because there were documented cases of discrimination, but because it was "too white". They pressured the County to offer subsidized, low income housing as a remedy for their "lack of diversity". At best this might lead to temporary physical integration, but will discourage real, long term social and economic integration, which only occurs through cultural assimilation, freedom of association and respect for individuality. 

Our educational, economic and political elites must change course and encourage democratic assimilation, rather than multiculturalism. Families, communities and private schools should be welcome to teach their children about their own traditions, but on their own time, with their own resources. Public schools and other tax payer funded institutions should educate students about their shared American Culture and History, driven by the goal of E pluribus unum. Immigration policy must compliment, not undermine these goals. For I cannot cite a single example in world history in which exacerbating group differences and grievances, led to a more peaceful, prosperous and democratic nation. And lastly, never, ever stifle free speech and honest debate, for as we see in Syria, forced silence may offer the temporary illusion of calm, but it never leads to long term peace and good will among diverse communities.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Great Silence (On Race & Culture) Part IX

Gazing Into The Future of the United States

There is nothing I love more than travelling. What makes new countries so interesting are their distinct characteristics. When we visit a new place, we are first captivated by the sites and the scenery, the museums and the monuments. What week long trip to Paris does not lead to photos of smiling tourists posing next to the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower? But, the longer we stay, the more we realize that the culture, quirks and everyday customs of the people make other nations so different and interesting. The shared myths, history and traditions form a nation's spirit and  zeitgeist. But, the ways in which culture shapes everyday social, economic and political behavior have a real impact on a nation's level of education, economic development, crime and corruption. While laws and institutions are certainly important, the people are what define a nation. As facile as they may sound, who can deny the axiom: Japan is Japan because of the Japanese and Nigeria is Nigeria because of the unique ways of the Nigerians. The failed nation building endeavors of the United States have made it abundantly clear that when the laws and institutional framework of one land are adopted by another, wildly different outcomes will result, because of the different culture and temperament of the respective groups. And when foreign powers create borders that lump populations together that do not possess a shared culture, the chance of conflict and national disintegration is great. Thus, it can be said that demographics, via culture, is destiny. As the United States shifts towards a Majority-Minority Status, it would be wise to study the experiences of other diverse nations and especially of other states within the union. As the vanguards of demographic change, California and Texas can offer a glimpse into our probable future.

It is fairly obvious that if over time in Japan, Nigeria or any other nation, the historically dominant population group lost their majority status, without the thorough cultural assimilation of the new residents, the respective nations would be irrevocably transformed. The probable outcome would be shifts in policy that increasingly represented the values of the ascending group. But, even if the laws of the land were not formally changed, the shift in norms and behaviors would mean that their real life application and impact would no longer be the same. According to Harvard Professor Robert Putnam, the growth in diversity in a homogeneous society like Japan, would be accompanied by a decline in social trust and civic participation. Bandiera and Levy believe that in a more diverse Japan, fewer tax payers would be so willing to fund their generous universal health care system, especially if they believed that many of the beneficiaries were "others" rather than "their own". And we can be confident that the majority of the Japanese, or any other majority group for that matter, would strenuously object to the elimination of their demographic and cultural hegemony.  Well before it took root, the more democratic minded would push for a platform of reduced immigration and increased assimilation and unfortunately others would be drawn to hostile chauvinism. The universal desire of groups to maintain demographic and cultural control over a territory is also seen on a smaller scales and compels the formation of ethnic enclaves, white flight and even the fear of gentrification that some Latinos display.

One need not approve of these less than egalitarian sentiments, in order to acknowledge that they arise from basic, evolutionary impulses in human nature. In fact, policy that is grounded in an understanding of sociobiology and history can lessen the risk of inter-communal conflict. Contrary to most liberal narratives, the greatest risk of ethnic chauvinism and oppression is not the hegemony of one group or culture, but rather the lack of clear dominance and stability. For example, the Ottoman Empire was most tolerant at its zenith, when Turkish-Muslim political and cultural hegemony was clearest. But, as the empire weakened and Turkish dominance waned, racism and fascism reared its ugly head, with tragic results. Interestingly, most Americans take it for granted that racism is more pronounced in some states and localities than others, without asking why. Paradoxically, the states that have historically been the most homogeneous, such as Vermont, Maine and Wisconsin have also been the most tolerant. And historically diverse states, such as Mississippi and Louisiana, with large African-American populations, have been the least. I believe that in most, but not all cases, when an area is relatively homogeneous with no prospects of bold demographic change, the risk of racism and ethnic conflict are less pronounced. The liberal narrative that presents this as a "white vs brown" issue are puerile and not supported by facts. Much to its credit, the liberal Southern Poverty Law Center has documented the growing tension between Blacks and Latinos, especially in the neighborhoods of Southern California that are undergoing rapid demographic change.

My critics will respond that the pertinent factor is not demographics, but rather racism is correlated with a state's political orientation. A study analyzing the occurrences of racist tweets during the last presidential election, casts serious doubt on this supposition. Interestingly, strongly conservative and overwhelmingly white states, like Idaho, Wyoming and South Dakota, had the lowest per-capita rates of racist tweets in the nation. And liberal, ethnically diverse states, like Maryland and Illinois, actually had much higher rates. Minnesota provides a bit of a puzzle, because it is both more liberal and less diverse than the national  average, but it had a higher occurrence of racist tweets. When we look carefully at Minnesota's demographic figures, we see that between 2000 - 2010, it experienced one of the largest and swiftest increase of minority population of any state, which in most other nations is correlated with the growth of illiberal behavior. Given our growing knowledge of evolutionary psychology and the history of group conflict, what is most surprising are not the isolated instances of white chauvinism, but rather the lack of serious debate regarding the unprecedented demographic change that is occurring in the United States. I cannot think of a single instance in all of history in which a majority population acquiesced to their demographic and cultural displacement, yet through a series of government policies, European-Americans are doing just that.  I believe this speaks more about philosophical, if not spiritual changes in our national elite, rather than the general populace.Again, I will affirm that I could not care less if the complexion of the nation changed, but it is important to predict the impact of the the cultural and economic changes that may accompany the decline of America's historically dominant population. More than anything, what is most troubling is the lack of honest, intelligent discussion on this topic. So, the least I can do is offer a paragraph of my predictions.

This may be counter-climactic to my readers, but no, I do not foresee any radical change. Despite the best efforts of our educational elite, assimilation persists, as does the power of our national narratives, so our cultural core will remain. But, never the less there will be economic and cultural shifts.The first question is not if African-Americans, Asian-Americans are Hispanic-Americans are assimilating, but rather to what segment of American Society are they assimilating too? As mentioned in our previous post, each ethnic group is represented at each point in a bell curve, but the distribution is never the same. So, more specifically we must ask: what percentages of each group is joining the ranks of the educated, economically dynamic sector of American Society? The stable middle class? The economically deteriorating working class? The culturally pathological (segment of the) underclass?  Taken as a whole, how is this shaping the socio-economic character of the nation? By gathering key statistical pieces, we begin to form a clear picture of the present state of affairs:

Poverty: Caucasian 9.9%, Asian: 12.1%, Hispanic: 26.6% and Black: 27.4%

Children Living In Poverty: Asian: 13%, Caucasian: 17%, Hispanic: 33% & Black: 38.2%

Median Income: Asian: $45,032, Caucasian: $40,300, Black: $31,890 & Hispanic: $28,548

Unemployment: Asian: 5.9%, Caucasian: 7.2%, Hispanic: 10.2% & Black: 14.1%

Proportionality Of Robbery Arrests: Blacks: 443%, Caucasian-Hispanic: 65% & Asian: 22%

Children Born Out Of Wedlock: Asian: 13%, Caucasian: 34%, Hispanic: 53% & Black: 80%

On most measures, Asians are economically performing above the national average and Latinos and African-Americans are scoring below it. Given that that the first two groups comprise the fastest growing segments of American Society, this demographic shift will, in the future, exacerbate already growing economic inequality. My critics may respond: past immigrant groups, such as the Irish and Italians rapidly rose up the ladder, so will Latinos and African-Americans. In order to ascertain future outcomes, we must explore the indicators that are most correlated with future economic outcomes, namely, academic achievement:

National Math Scores For 4th Graders: Asian: 256, Caucasian: 249, Hispanic: 229 & Black: 224

4th Graders Proficient In Reading: Asian: 50%, Caucasian: 42%, Hispanic: 18% & Black: 16%

National Math Scores For 8th Graders: Asian: 303, Caucasian: 293, Hispanic: 270 & Black: 262

High School Graduation RatesAsian: 93.5%, Caucasian: 83%, Hispanic: 71.4% & Black: 66.1%

Total SAT (Reading, Math, Writing): Asian: 1640, Caucasian: 1579, Hispanic: 1363 & Black: 1272

Bachelor's Degree Or Higher: Asian: 50.2%, Caucasian: 29.3%, Black: 17.7% & Hispanic: 13.%

In a globalized economy that increasingly rewards educated workers and offers diminishing returns for low skilled labor, based on present patterns in academic achievement, we can project that the wage gap will become even more, not less pronounced. Furthermore, when we analyze the selections of majors among different ethnic groups, we find that Asians are over-represented in high demand, high wage fields such as computer science, mathematics and engineering, while Hispanics and Blacks are underrepresented. I suspect that to a degree, we will come to resemble nations like Mexico and Chile, which economically speaking are a juxtaposition of: globally competitive firms that generously reward the best and brightest; stagnant sectors of the economy that offers low wages and insecurity and an anemic middle class. One factor that impacts wealth creation and class mobility is credit, which increasingly determines one's access to: higher education, housing and investment capital. Credit scores not only directly effect economic outcomes, but are also indicative of general patterns of financial behavior. Unfortunately credit scores reflect the general ethnic order of: Asians, Caucasians, Hispanics and African-American, which is even seen within the same classes. Thus the growing number of individuals with low credit scores will translate into increased operating expenses, greater regulation and diminished demand in various sectors of the economy, most notably housing.

Further evidence that demographic trends will increase economic inequality is found when we analyze the population compositions of various states:

-The most economically equitable states were also more homogeneous than the national average: Utah, Alaska, Wyoming, New Hampshire, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Hawaii, Idaho, North Dakota, Montana & Maine.

-The least equitable states were generally more diverse: DC, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, California, Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia.

Regarding educational outcomes:

-The states with the highest percentages of adults with a high school diploma are more homogeneous than the national average: Wyoming (91.9), Minnesota (91.6%), Alaska (91.4%), Montana (91.4%), New Hampshire (91.2%),  Vermont (91.0%),  Utah (90.6%), Iowa (90.3%) and Nebraska (90.3%) and Maine (90.2%).

-Those with the lowest percentage of high schools graduates are a mix of diverse states and mostly white, historically poor Appalachian ones: Mississippi (80.3%), Texas (80.4%), California (80.8%), Louisiana (81.6%), Kentucky (81.7%), Alabama (81.9%), West Virginia (82.6%), Arkansas (82.7%), New Mexico (83.1%) and Tennessee (83.2%).

-The figures regarding college graduation rates were far more ambiguous, appearing to be more related to the presence of major urban hubs and college towns, that on hand boast a large number of college graduates and on the other hand have a large presence of uneducated residents. For example, Washington D.C. has the highest per capita presence of college graduates (50.5%), while also having an abysmal record on the number (58.6%) of high school students graduating within 4 years. Hence, such areas also tend to have the least equitable distribution of incomes.

Perhaps the state that offers us the most insight into the effects of demographic transformation is California. On one hand California boasts the 12th highest per capita income of any American State and is home to a wide array of highly innovative firms. On the other hand, California has witnessed a decline in some categories. In 1970 it was the state with the 7th lowest percentage of adults without a high school diploma, by 2008 it had the third highest percentage of adult workers without a high diploma. In 1970, it possessed a middle (25th) rank of economic inequality, but by 2008, it was less economically equal (6th) than even Texas and Mississippi. Given its strong progressive vein, we cannot reasonably attribute these changes to policy, but rather to population changes. Hence, I believe that many Americans are uneasy about demographic change, not because of racism, but because of legitimate social and economic concerns, many of which are progressive in nature.

Contrary to the alarmist rhetoric of paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan, I anticipate very little direct political conflict between whites and other groups. Rather, demographic change will merely increase the already present polarization between liberals and conservatives. The Democratic Party will continue to be a coalition between a mostly white, urban, elite; government workers; and the growing number of diverse, working class communities. Middle and working class whites will continue to form the core of a diminished Republican Party, but no more than a handful of politicians will promote white ethno-political activism. Their ire will neither be focused on diverse populations nor on demographic change, but rather on the political elites who have engendered the transformation, against the democratic will of the majority. The reason being is that broad sections of the political elite have ignored polls that demonstrate a clear preference for reduced levels of legal immigration and enforcement of existing laws. Lou Dobbs best sums up the seemingly paradoxical sentiments of being critical of immigration policies, while not harboring animus against immigrants themselves, in the following lines: "I've said for some time that the only rational actor in this entire immigration crisis, illegal immigration crisis, is the illegal alien, trying to benefit himself, herself and better their lives. But illegal employer is acting against the national interests, acting against the law in every respect. How can we get to the employer who is so shamelessly exploiting the illegal alien and so shamelessly flaunting U.S. law?" Given the willingness of much of the Democratic and Republican Party to forgo the Rule of Law for ethnic identity politics and to meet the desire of businesses for cheap labor, I would not be surprised if a growing number of  mostly white conservatives gravitated towards third parties and grass roots movements, in the coming years.

Most white conservatives will focus on preserving their interpretation of traditional, Anglo-American Culturethat is open to people of all races, and use the universal language of fairness to reject affirmative action and amnesty. Others will push for greater decentralization and self government, for state and regional cultures can be just as pronounced as ethnic ones. With the vain hope of attracting diverse voters, Republicans will increasingly turn to charismatic, conservative Latinos, such as Marco Rubio and South-Asians, like Bobby Jindal. Perhaps, the strong taboo against any expression of white group interests will lose its hold and it will be expressed in some states and localities. The left will howl in protest, but it will not take the form of rabid fascism, rather it will resemble the activism that every other ethnic group is encouraged to pursue via organizations like: Voto Latino and the Black Congressional Caucus. I anticipate that politicians will express less concern for the plight of African-Americans in communities with a minimal white presence, like Los Angeles. The reason being is that few Latinos and Asians share the sense of guilt for slavery and the historic abuse of African-Americans, that most educated whites do, nor feel an imperative to make the neighborhoods and institutions that they dominate, more "diverse" or "representative".

One casualty of greater diversity will be a diminished concern for the commons, such as the promotion of environmentalism, public transportation, parks, art and culture. Ironically, but not by chance, the most progressive cities in the United States are among the whitest: Burlington, VT (88.9%), Iowa City, IA (82.5%), Madison, WI (78.9%) and Portland, OR (76.1%). The reason being is that in diverse localities, more energy is spent on competing in an ethnic spoils system, rather the broad community interests. And unfortunately, people are generally more willing to submit to higher taxation when they feel the beneficiaries are racially and culturally similar to them. While only political demagogues feed the lesser beasts of our nature, like intolerance and chauvinism, it is a great act of folly to ignore them and treat man as a tabula rasa. Good politics is the art of understanding and accepting man for what he is, while still striving for greater. This can only be accomplished through honest debate and the end of the great silence.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Great Silence (On Race & Culture) Part VIII

One of the most essential tools in understanding the nature and dynamics of population groups is the normal distribution, which is popularly referred to as a bell curve. When the statistical distribution of virtually any characteristic, such as height, weight, intelligence and income, is graphically represented it invariably forms the general shape of a bell curve. The rate of outcomes and occurrences, from grades on a math test within a classroom, to the rates of incarceration within a nation, can also be plotted in this fashion. Populations can be grouped, analyzed and compared based an almost endless number of criteria, such as: region, religious affiliation, race, gender, profession, political orientation and even by attitudes towards science fiction. 

When we compare the bell curves of different populations, for almost any given factor, such as years of schooling obtained, we find: 

1) Members of each population group are represented at every point in the graph.

2) There is a tremendous degree of overlap between each population group.

3) There is a much greater degree of diversity within each group, rather than between the group.

4) But, never the less, the shape (distribution of scores) of bell curves are rarely identical, which means that at different points (outcomes) on the graph, some groups are better represented than others.

5) A good many individuals within a group with a lower mean score will still exceed the scores of a segment of the higher scoring group. 

In practical terms, what can this tell us about race and culture?

When we meet an individual, we have absolutely no way of knowing where they fall within a bell curve for any given socioeconomic factor, which I refer to as the: Iron Law Of Individuality. For many factors, the African-American bell curve is skewed to the left, yet the graph clearly demonstrates that there are many African-American individuals who outperform European-American individuals. Hence, it would be irrational and immoral to object to  an African-American (or member of any other group) from moving next door to you, solely based on their ethnicity. And conversely, it is foolish to automatically welcome any individual because of their ethnicity. The only instance in which prejudice is a rational option is if you are in a potentially dangerous situation in which you do not have the luxury to gather information on each stranger. When I walk down the street late at night, I will choose to avoid males over females, young over old and whites over Asian-Americans, because statistically crime rates are lower for the former. 

While a bell curve does not allow us to reasonably predict the nature of an individual, the larger a statistical sample is, the more predictable aggregate outcomes becomes, which I refer to as the Inescapable Law Of Averages. So while we cannot know what a Polish-American, Puerto Rican or Gay neighbor will be like, simply based on their identity, whether we admit it or not, we can make strong predictions on what a Polish, Puerto Rican or Gay neighborhood will be like. From the demographic makeup of a neighborhood, we can make reliable predictions on the level of crime, the quality of schools, the pervasiveness of litter and 101 other socio-economic factors. The exception to this rule is when the higher scoring outliers of a lower performing group congregate in an area, such as Chicago's Chatham Neighborhood, allowing for the establishment of stable, middle class milieu. But, with the end of de jure segregation, many upwardly mobile African-Americans have opted for more integrated neighborhoods, leaving once prosperous enclaves in decline. Given the significant overlap of bell curves, it would appear that the positive and negative outliers of a community have a disproportionate impact on its quality of life. Or, more specifically, in even the worst neighborhoods, the majority of residents are law abiding, yet a relatively small number of criminals can create  a violent, unstable environment, in which few businesses are willing to endure the risk of providing needed goods, services and employment opportunities. 

Most people of good will implicitly accept these principles; far from being hateful or resentful, they celebrate successful minorities that contribute to cultural, economic and political life, yet their actions indicate that they are not optimistic about the impact of demographic changes on their neighborhoods. This is why there is such a clear divergence between popular rhetoric and private choices, in which even the staunchest progressives will pull their children out of a school when it becomes "too diverse". Most educated people realize that the pathology they are fleeing does have historical roots in the terrible discrimination that minorities experienced. But, they do not want to subject their family to needless risk, especially considering that the fate of other individuals is rarely improved through osmosis. Due to the dearth of honest, viable narratives that synthesize these seemingly contradictory sentiments, many Americans experience a form of cognitive dissidence. And by default, they opt for well meaning, but flawed liberals narratives on race and racism that do not articulate their hopes and fears. The result is the silence of some, the insincerity of others and a nation that is none the more integrated. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Great Silence (On Race & Culture) Part VII

In our previous post, we explored the paradox of how on an individual level, culture can be positive, while still leading to negative political and economic outcomes on a group level. Culture clashes are the exception for individuals, but the rule for groups. From personal experience, I can affirm that if you sit an Israeli and a Palestinian together, an Indian and a Pakistani, away from their countrymen, with few exceptions they will get along. The examples we presented were ones of stark incompatibility, such as the clash between secular western and conservative Islamic societies. But, there are many instances of  low level friction, caused by more subtle, cultural incompatibilities that rarely escalates to outright conflict. We hear this in the social and political narratives of different communities, that at times diverge to the point were it is hard to believe that two people are witnessing the same occurrence. Within the United States, this subtle friction is occurring between Anglo-American and Latin-American cultural spheres. This is most apparent to those who follow the polarized debate on immigration. The point is not to determine which narrative is more factually or logically sound, because in personal and political conflict, perception is reality.

Before I continue, I must emphasize: The said cultures are compatible in virtually every aspect, except for some political and civic values and traditions. For this reason, a great many Hispanic-Americans and European-Americans have formed friendships, families, businesses and communities together. And even in the political sphere, there is quite a bit of overlap, with a good many Hispanics supporting traditional American political values, while a growing number of European-Americans are drawn to corporatist and populist visions that are  reminiscent of Latin-American politics. But, never the less, there is evidence of a real divide. The most obvious is the recent presidential election, in which Obama received 71% of the Hispanic Vote, while only 41% of the white vote. Many commentators believe that this is because of the current Republican position on immigration, but a closer look at our electoral history casts doubts on this. In 1986 President Reagan and much of the Republican Party supported the Amnesty of 2.9 million undocumented immigrants, yet in the 1988 presidential election, George H.W. Bush received only 30% of Latino votes. And in spite of the immigration friendly legislation that he enacted during his own presidency, in the 1992 election, George H.W. Bush only received 25% of the Latino vote.

While immigration is important, the two most significant factors that draw many Hispanic-Americans to the left is income and political values. With some exceptions, families of limited means are more likely to support politicians that promise an expended welfare state. But, even among solidly middle class Latinos, there is a strong perchance towards the statist vision of the Democratic Party. Further evidence for this is found in a Survey of Values published by the Pew Center:

66% of Hispanics and only 36% of whites believe that: "The government should help more needy people even if it means going deeper in debt."  

65% of whites and only 49% of Hispanics believe that "When something is run by the government, it is usually inefficient and wasteful."

59% of Hispanics and only 22% of whites believe that "We should make every possible effort to improve the position of blacks and other minorities, even if it means giving them preferential treatment." 

Some right wing alarmists wrongly conclude that in the context of this divide, the growth of the Latino Vote should be conceived as the imposition of alien political values on the United States. It would be far more accurate to characterize it as an infusion of political blood and electoral vigor into the anemic body of the American Left. While the impact of the Hispanic vote in the last presidential election was overstated, it has allowed the Democratic Party to establish a near political monopoly on the once competitive state of California and make inroads into Republican Strongholds. And several moribund labor unions have stated that Latinos are their only hope for survival, with one commentator even declaring "Latino workers are not imbued with the...individualism which has been used against white workers," they "are often involved in institutions with a collective mentality..." It is doubtful that the growth of Latino Populism will translate into greater wealth and influence for poor and working class Hispanics, rather it will serve to empower the mostly white, liberal, political elite, much as it does in Latin-America.

Originally I believed the statist, clientelist streaks in Latin-America to be a more recent phenomena, taking root in the second half of the 20th Century. But, the Nobel Prize winning author Mario Vargas Llosa presents a compelling argument that almost every form of government that Latin-America has known, from right wing military regimes, to progressive reformists and Cuban Marxism, have all been plagued by the Five Original Sins, bequeathed by Spanish Colonial Rule. They are: Corporatism, State Mercantilism, Privilege, Redistribution of Wealth and Political Law. Absent is a strong tradition of Rule of Law and limited government; in its place is the right of politicians to arbitrarily bend or circumvent the law to reward their clients and punish their opponents. When favors and exemptions from the law are granted to a select few, such practices are decried as corrupt, but when they are used to seduce millions of voters, they are celebrated by many as the legitimate spoils of electoral victory.

I believe that one of the reasons why the immigration debate is so contentious is because to a degree, it represents a clash of political cultures. Many Latinos assume that resistance towards amnesty must step from xenophobia, not realizing that many otherwise welcoming Americans view it as an erosion of the rule of law. When individuals hear declarations that Obama should pursue immigration reform, because he owes Latino Voters, they become ill at ease, because these sentiments are at odds with long established political values and traditions. And even supporters of reform are not comfortable with suggestions that President Obama should simply circumvent the legislative process and declare amnesty through executive fiat.We should embrace the strong sense of work, family and friendship that immigrant communities bring, but the last thing we need is the expansion of Latin-American political traditions, for our own leaders and  institutions are already rotten enough.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Great Silence (On Race & Culture) Part VI

Sometimes American Individualism Limits Our View of the World

America Culture has been noted by its admirers and detractors alike to be one of the most individualistic in the world. Since it's inception, this spirit is seen in world of laws, literature and popular culture. We see this is Thomas Jefferson's idealization of the Yeoman Farmer, Ralph Waldo Emerson's verses on self-reliance and non-conformity and in the rugged individualism celebrated in cowboy movies. Almost unique to the world, Americans believed that men could cast off their old national, religious, cultural linguistic, geographic and economic identities and recreate themselves. So, it is quite natural that most Americans can only analyze culture from the lens of individualism. On one hand, this is very positive, because it helps inculcate a spirit of tolerance. On the other hand, it leads many Americans to overlook the fact that culture is not only manifested in individual behavior, but also in the ways in which groups, communities and nations function. The increasingly strong reservations that most people (thankfully) hold against prejudging individuals, makes it quite difficult for them to make an honest, informed assessment of the beliefs and practices that predominate in other cultures.

Because of the dominant narratives on race and culture, few people can wrap their heads around the paradox that one can befriend and admire individuals of certain cultural backgrounds, while still be weary of the group dynamics that are driven by that culture. Having traveled in the middle east and befriended many Arab, Turkish and Persian Muslim, at the risk of overgeneralizing, I can say that on an individual level, they are among the most warm, hospitable and likable people you will ever meet. I admire the industriousness and entrepreneurial spirit of Palestinian Immigrants, the commitment to education and achievement of the the Iranians and the unbreakable sense of family of the Pakistanis. Clearly, on an individual level, religion and culture have not impeded their ethical, intellectual and professional development. But, on a national level, they have made the establishment of democracy, rule of law and economic freedom very challenging. Supporting evidence for this is found in the fact that Islamic Nations tend to score at the bottom of the Democracy IndexCorruption Index and Ranking of Women's Rights. Because, while individuals are unpredictable, groups dynamics are not. Based on the culture that predominates in a region, we can predict a host of socio-economic outcomes. This is readily apparent when we analyze a global map of corruption, which clearly shows a strong connection between regional cultures and the general level of corruption. For example, the least corrupt nations are part of the Scandinavian, Anglo-Protestant and Confucian cultural spheres. With the exception of Chile and Uruguay, Latin-America scored poorly. And the bottom of the list was mostly comprised of Islamic and / or Sub-Saharan African Nations.

What is the practical implication of the culturalist narrative? We should welcome diverse, talented individuals into our nation, neighborhoods and in my opinion, circle of friends and family. But we should not encourage the formation of large, unassimilated groups who will recreate the very social, economic and political dynamics that led them to leave their nations of origin. The most obvious example is the rise of "honor attacks"homophobic harassment  and calls to limit freedom of expression in England, but more subtle examples abound, which we will explore in future posts.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Great Silence (On Race & Culture) Part V

Picture Above: A Casualty in the Jihad Against Educating Women

Before we continue our discussion, we must briefly highlight the difference between explicit culture and implicit culture. Explicit culture are the stated beliefs and values that predominate in a nation, the written laws of the state and the official beliefs of civic, religious and business institutions that hold sway. Implicit culture are the values implied by the behavioral patterns of the populace, in public and especially in private. When you analyze the constitutions and laws of most nations you find that the majority contain strong affirmations of equality, yet we see a divergence between nations that come close to realizing these stated ideals and others in which women and minorities languish as third class citizens. In international polls, even in nations with widespread abuse of women, the majority of respondents affirmed their belief that women should have equal rights. The same is true for education; few parents or government officials will respond that education is not a priority, but in many nations, data suggests otherwise. The source of the discrepancy between rhetoric and reality is the daily choices and strategies that individuals, families and communities make.

When we analyze the extent to which nations, with similar nominal GDPs and levels of corruption, have addressed illiteracy, we find a tremendous divergence, that speaks of their implicit cultures. For example, Kenya and Pakistan are both poor ($850 & $1,201) and corrupt, but Kenya's literacy rate has been raised to 87.4%, whereas in Pakistan it has languished at 54.9%. Hence, the actual behavior of individuals, families and the state imply the education is held in higher regard in Kenya. And when we analyze the literacy rate of women and men, we find that in Pakistan the rate for women (30.3%) is half that of men (68.6%), whereas in Kenya, the (90.6% & 84.2%) the gap is not nearly as pronounced.

Some will respond that this is simply a product of each nation's respective governments, which do not always reflect the will of people. This is a problematic notion, given that governments do not exist in a vacuum, but reflect the culture of the nations from which they arise. For the sake of the discussion, let us assume that this holds true in the example of Pakistan and Kenya and focus our analysis on the private behavior of families.  To do so, I compared the sex ratio of newborns, which is generally indicative of the extent of sex selective abortion, which is one the most misogynist act conceivable. Predictably, Pakistan has among the most skewed ratios (1.10) in the world, whereas Kenya enjoys one of the most equitable ones (1.02). Those who persist in the belief that this is simply a product of Pakistan's dire poverty should consider a recent study that found that such behavior even persists among well off South Asian immigrants in the United States. Clearly, the actual behavior that predominates in a nation tells us far more about their culture than laws and polls.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Great Silence (On Race & Culture) Part IV

What is most striking about the narratives that present racism and discrimination as the primary explanations of  racial achievement gaps is that they are extremely macro-social and abstract in nature. While a broad, structural analysis can often bring insight to a discussion, in this case it allows ideology to supplant an honest, inquisitive exploration of data.The said narrative utilizes ill-defined, nebulous concepts, such as institutional racism and structural racism as articles of faith; the former is defined as "a form of racial inequality resulting not from conscious discrimination, but from the cumulative effect of subconscious racism and / or the aggregate inertial discriminatory effect of individuals within a non-diverse group favoring like-minded individuals."  Their very focus on a phenomena that they define as invisibleunintentional and even subconscious,  precludes a clear, empirical analysis of the actual manner in which individuals and groups advance or lag in different institutions.They fail to use data to construct a clear line of causality that demonstrates that privilege or discrimination determine the actual outcome. Rather their arguments rest of anecdotal evidence or the spurious explanation that the very presence of an achievement gap is proof of ongoing privilege and discrimination. The author of this blog believes that the foundation of understanding economic and social performance of individuals and groups must be based on intellectually honest case studies, grounded in rich, comprehensive details. Only once this has been established can we construct compelling abstractions and ideology. Or put simply, one cannot hope to grasp the dynamics of a forest, until they understand the nature of the flora and fauna that populate it.

Take the question of classroom achievement: logically, those who wanted to understand it should start by exploring the specific behaviors, norms and strategies of the students who academically excelled. For the sake of a sound analysis, naturally they should compare students of a similar economic background, who enjoyed access to equal educational resources, i.e. those from the same school. I am confident that they would find an exceptionally strong correlation between success and interrelated factors such as: discipline, a future orientation, intellectual curiosity and a desire to utilize all available resources. They could set forth a reasonable maxim, in order to academically succeed, a student must do X, Y & Z. We would certainly find that the majority of students with poor academic performance did not undertake these specific measures and strategies. I am strongly inclined to believe that the most relevant factor, regardless of race, is the extent to which students are not willing to utilize available resources and opportunities. And underlying the student's orientation is the values and specific that predominate in their families and communities.

The next reasonable step would be to determine if African-Americans who undertake X, Y & Z experienced positive outcomes, like their classmates, or did institutional racism prevent them from enjoying the fruits of their labors? To demonstrate that racism was a relevant factor we would require empirical data that showed that teachers and administrators engaged in statistically relevant patterns of discriminatory conduct. Did they grade them more harshly? Were they less willing to assist students simply because of their race? Did they discourage equally capable students from pursuing an honor's class, because of their background? Were they discouraged from utilizing free tutors that schools provide? Do any specific policies account for their much higher drop-out rate? I would be shocked if any one of these acts of discrimination were found to occur at a statistically significant rate, given that the mission statement of virtually every teacher training program and school district is to promote social justice, combat racism and celebrate diversity. This is especially unlikely considering that a large portion of African-Americans are taught by African-American educators. If indeed discrimination is not a key factor, the primary cause of the achievement gap is the varying rates that specific values and behaviors occur within different communities. But, for the sake of the discussion, let us say that I am understating the importance of structural factors, such as resource allocation, this still would not exclude the importance of cultural-behavior factors. The effects of institutional racism could be compounded by  normative patterns that lead many individuals to under-utilize the unequal resources and opportunities that are available to them.

To better understand the wealth gap, we would  investigate the extent to which specific financial behaviors occur within different ethnic groups. In order to compare "apples to apples" it would be imperative to control for age, education, the starting income level of the samples that comprise each group. Specifically, we would study the level of wealth creation over the course of 5 or 10 years, of individuals who started at comparable socioeconomic levels. The next step would be to determine the aggregate growth rate of each group over that period. And then using credit reports, bank statements and interviews, we would seek answer to the following questions: To what extent did the subjects amass debt in non-essential, luxury purchases? To what statistical extent did the members of each group lower their consumption level in order to save money? Did they invest the saved capital? If so, in what manners? What percentage of each group had poor credit scores? How often did the poor credit scores reflect uncontrollable circumstances (such as health issues) and how often were they the consequences of poor financial planning? Did poor credit limit their access to capital to invest in education, real estate and commercial enterprises? Analyzing the connection between wealth generation and specific behaviors and the extent to which they are found in each group would help us put together a credible explanation of the dynamics of the wealth gap. Of course we would also test the discrimination-privilege thesis, by discovering the extent to which each group experienced statistically significant rates of discriminationfavoritism and familial assistance. And if they were found to be statistically prevalent did unfavorable or favorable treatment occur in the absence of divergent behavior patterns or did simply serve to augment their effects? What is most puzzling is that so few of the individuals who sound the alarm on income equality bother to ask, yet alone empirically answer these essential questions.

The few liberals who are willing to concede the profound flaws in their narrative will most likely respond: the pathological behaviors of today, are a historical product of the legacy of past discrimination. The reason why a student is not willing to take advantage of the resources that are now available is because of the long history of the social, political and economic marginalization. And the challenges that students from impoverished communities face makes it harder to commit academically. I will concede that there is a great deal of truth to these positions. But, never the less misdiagnosing the source of the achievement gap as present discrimination that bars students from enjoying the fruits of their labor will ensure that the private sector will continue to pursue ineffective remedies. The  experiences of groups, such as Chinese-Americans, who have now surpassed European-Americans academically and economically, demonstrate that once legal equality has been ensured, culture and values becomes the strongest determinant of outcomes. In fact this has led to a virtuous cycle, in which the widespread adoption of positive behaviors has lead to favorable social and economic outcomes, which has all but eliminated the toxic stereotypes that most Americans once held about East-Asians. This may seem harsh, but in reality it is far more hopeful than the fatalist liberal narratives that hold that we are bound by past and present racism. For we as individuals and communities can transform our behavior and our culture, in the process changing the course that others set for us.