Polarization, Identity Politics, and the Future of America II. A More Optimistic View

Last week I discussed a new book, Facing Reality, by the controversial sociologist, Charles Murray.  He says that political polarization is caused by identity politics.  In particular:

  • Racism persists in America but it is in spite of the American system and its institutions, not because of them.
  • Identity politics is an existential threat to the American experiment. Treating our fellow human beings as individuals rather than as members of groups is unnatural.  Our brains evolved over thousands of years to think of people as members of groups and to be suspicious of people who are unlike us.  This shaped human government, mostly hierarchial, for 10,000 years.
  • America proved that a durable alternative to the natural form of government is possible. The introduction of identity politics into that carefully constructed constitutional system means a reversion to the primitive jungle of “us against them.”
  • The rhetoric about white supremacy and systemic racism coming from black opinion leaders, and their white supporters, is provoking a strong backlash from middle-class and working-class whites. This is the cause of our current polarization.

But this is not the whole story!  Another sociologist, Richard Alba, is more optimistic about race relations.  His argument is that:

  • Many non-whites are assimilating into the American mainstream, just as white ethnic groups did before them.
  • The mainstream can expand to accept a visible degree of racial diversity, as long as there are shared understandings between individuals with different ethno-racial backgrounds.
  • More than 10% of U.S.-born babies have one parent who is non-white or Hispanic and one who is white and not Hispanic. This is a sign of growing integration into the mainstream by members of minority groups.
  • By the 2050s, Mr. Alba estimates that one-third of babies with white ancestry will also have Hispanic or nonwhite ancestry. The idea of who belongs to a racial majority or minority will become scrambled.

Conclusion.  Mr. Murray and Mr. Alba are both correct.  Right now we have a severe identity politics problem which is a threat to our constitutional system.  But, going forward, more and more racial assimilation will take place.  This offers the hope that identity politics will become less predominant as racial identity becomes less pronounced.  The future wellbeing of America depends on this amalgamation of races!

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8 thoughts on “Polarization, Identity Politics, and the Future of America II. A More Optimistic View

  1. Hybrid vigor will eventually win out, but we will need a strategy to prevent, mitigate, and ameliorate the pockets of entrenched poverty that have developed within every community during the Anthropocene. The resultant loss of lifetime social mobility for families living in poverty then feeds the social isolation that occurs in association with their neighborhood poverty.

  2. While entrenched poverty is certainly an important issue, it is one that cannot be solved by using the “race-card” for every failure of an individual or of a specific politicized group. Entrenched poverty can only be solved when the political forces in those communities become reconciled and focused on helping affected individuals rather than seeking more polarizing political power and allowing the poverty cycle to continue.

    • I agree that government can only do so much to address entrenched poverty. We have to somehow motivate the poor people themselves to take more initiative to lift themselves up.

      • I’ve ordered Fukuyama’s book and so I’ll be reading it soon. But what I’m really interested in is finding a solution for our polarized politics. This is where Richard Alba’s view is so important. He points out that the “mainstream” American culture is already expanding beyond working-class and middle-class whites as the various ethnicities intermarry and assimilate into a homogeneous larger group. This should eventually mitigate our extremely polarized current political divisions.

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