Friday, June 21, 2019

Segregation as Logical Extension of American Policies

Regular readers understand de facto segregation--based on race or class--is the primary scourge of modern Western societies, particularly when governments do not adhere to any borrowing limits. Yet, few people realize modern segregation is rooted in logic, not a nature-based pattern of "birds of a feather flocking together." To summarize, in a decentralized environment without a trusted mediator, new residents gravitate towards informal norms, including those relating to communication and conflict resolution; and because self-segregation allows minorities to replicate their informal norms (for example, see Amish or Mennonites), immigrants as a whole have tended to succeed when they self-segregate and to fail when they don't. (The West's response to its failure to correct racial segregation has been emphasizing or promoting individual minority outliers.) 

When Malcolm X and others discussed separation, they weren't just concerned with violence and police dogs--they were acknowledging a link between failure and ineffective governance in their own communities. More controversially, W.E.B. DuBois, Harvard's first African-American graduate--also referring to a lack of institutional trust--wrote of Germany's Jews banding together due to "oppression in the past." 
Kwame Appiah's The Lies that Bind (2018)
In my own California county, I notice clear distinctions when I drive 15 minutes in any direction, with Sunnyvale "belonging" to Indian-owned businesses, Cupertino "belonging" to Taiwanese-owned businesses, and East San Jose "belonging" to Vietnamese-owned businesses. Like DuBois, I, too, have seen minority Jews succeeding through voluntary separation, though in my case, I had argued other minorities ought to follow the same example in America. In the end, regardless of profession or location, the catalyst for self-segregation remains the same: a lack of trust in institutions, especially police and courts, increases the likelihood self-segregation will provide favorable outcomes, leading to a rise in the informal economy, which eventually weakens social cohesion and inhibits formal economic activity. 

Some countries understand this phenomenon well. Singapore, one of the world's most diverse countries, has taken so many measures to signal integrity, its overreach is sometimes comical--though no one can argue with its success. Like everywhere else, Singapore can be clannish; after all, its Chinese population was famously "kicked out" of Malaysia, and its experience with riots in 1964 led to its founder insisting "on a multiracial, multireligious, multicultural model to provide a cohesive identity for the new nation." (Kwame Appiah, The Lies that Bind Us (2018), hardcover, pp. 93) Despite its hallowed status as SE Asia's least corrupt country, most Singaporean experts have not fully connected their tough social harmony laws with a lack of entrenched mafia or a black market. Why not? Given the West's history, where racial subjugation and slavery have been based on widely publicized theories of inferiority, Western-educated graduates tend to focus on laws relating to "free speech" or race more than others, missing the fact that Singapore's laws restricted all non-modern behavior--to the point of fining residents in their own condominiums for being naked. (LKY, a lawyer educated in London, had no patience for those wishing to maintain "backwards" kampong behavior.) Somehow, Singapore knew it first had to establish social harmony then economic success, especially if it demanded sacrifices from most of its residents. 

Oddly enough, when modern thinkers today argue multiculturalism has failed, they do not cite poorly distributed government funding, inadequate governmental hiring practices, or convergence between vested political interests and historically one-race residency. They certainly do not point to their own failures of institutional integrity, causing either intentional or unintentional misdirection and further strengthening separatists, who often overlap with racists. The popular solution to modern society's ailments has been more meritocracy; however, elevated debt levels in both private and public markets have effectively propped up existing institutions regardless of merit, thereby entrenching the status quo. 
Appiah's The Lies that Bind (2018)
Indeed, any country where a man can borrow billions of dollars to invest in real estate under a tax code favoring such investments, then become president primarily on such a basis, means wealth and banking have become divorced from societal good. The effects of such a result are not only a coarsening of culture and greater skepticism of the kind of public-private partnerships making Singapore and China successful, but disillusionment, especially among young adults. 

As I write, I am reminded of 12 year-old Cassius Clay being assisted by Louisville police officer Joe Martin in a state prohibiting race-mixing in social venues, public parks, recreation centers, schools, and public transportation (one reason Cassius must have been so distraught over his lost bicycle). What was it that made Officer Martin look at a scrawny, tearful boy, realize the bike was gone for good, and decide he had to make sure this kid wouldn't lose hope? Why did the same conservative legal Establishment in that same Louisville city continue to protect the teenager when he was no longer Cassius Clay but a man with a foreign name and an unfamiliar religion? How did one Southern city looked down upon by Northerners look out for a boy different from themselves and then a man even more different than the boy? It must be because social cohesion and integrity, whether in Singapore in 2001 or Kentucky in 1954, are the stewards of any successful enterprise, cities included, and authority, when just, can prevail in spite of written laws or because of them. 
From Louisville's Muhammad Ali Museum, featuring meritocracy in action.
I do not claim to know all the reasons some communities succeed while others fail. I do know, however, the more Americans continue their current path, where they do not learn from Singapore and its foundation of informally and formally enforced social harmony and also from Louisville's refusal to allow formal laws to dictate social outcomes, the more they create a society where a Schwinn bike is just another bicycle, and a police officer's badge just another piece of tin. 

© Matthew Mehdi Rafat (2019)

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