Forcing Diversity: Just Say No

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President Obama is catching a lot of flack for his second term appointments and cabinet selections – they’re not diverse enough. Women’s groups are among those lambasting the president, disappointed in the male-female ratio among his appointments. And hey, I agree with them, I want to see more women serving in these positions as well—if they deserve the job. If their appointment has nothing to do with hitting a diversity quota.

Because honestly, forced diversity sucks.

In his book We Are Doomed, John Derbyshire notes a study done by Robert D. Putnam that inquires the degree to which diversity contributed to the results Putnam recorded in his book Bowling Alone. Putnam took on a major study that involved 30,000 US citizens living in 41 locations, attempting to discover the connection between increasing diversity and decreasing social capital. His results are quite convincing: there is a negative correlation between social capital and diversity. As Derbyshire puts it, “the more you have of one, the less you have of the other.”

The results of the study decisively show that the level to which people trust those different from themselves, or “out-group trust,” is less in places that are heavily diversified. Perhaps more remarkable, the degree to which people trust those similar to themselves, or “in-group trust,” is equally lower—around 50 percent—in diverse neighborhoods.

Putnam, a man of common liberal opinions, was himself surprised by his results. In stark contrast to his assumed beliefs, people living (and by extension, working) in ethnically diverse settings tend to withdraw inward rather than fuse together. Diversity, as Putnam found, leads to a society where people stay home more, inter-mingle less, and trust one another and their elected officials in reduced numbers. This finding is in stark contrast to the common assumption that diversity will bring together “individuals of diverse backgrounds.”

The notion that we can all coexist peacefully is an attractive ideal, but one that isn’t founded on much evidence. The truth instead seems to be that humans prefer to surround themselves with like-minded people, and are naturally hesitant and fearful of the unfamiliar. This is not to suggest that people never choose to diversify—or that we should do anything to discourage it from happening. It is simply an argument for voluntary association; evidence that people are happier deciding who they interact with.

So if Obama feels that the best advice to be had will come from a group of predominately white men, why shouldn’t those men get the job? If we are concerned there aren’t enough women and minorities at the top, then we should focus on why instead of why didn’t they get the job anyway.