Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Mongrel Horde

I'm having some trouble getting a grip on David Brooks's point today.
Over the past few decades, American society has been transformed in a fit of absence of mind.
Perhaps he means into a fit of absence of mind. No? [jump]

Tyrone Power in Sign of Zorro, 1940. Via Patchary's Blog.

No. He means that there are lots of immigrants around, with 12.9% of the population foreign-born in 2010, as opposed to 5.4% back around the time he was born (in Toronto, obvs, but to American parents). The absence of mind, I suppose, means that it wasn't planned this way, when the racial quota system for admitting immigrants was abolished under the Hart-Celler Act in 1965. Who could have imagined that allowing more people in would lead to more people showing up?

Plus, in those days the country was "an outpost of European civilization":
In 1960, 75 percent of the foreign-born population came from Europe, with European ideas and European heritage. Soon, we will no longer be an outpost of Europe, but a nation of mutts, a nation with hundreds of fluid ethnicities from around the world, intermarrying and intermingling.
With mutt ideas and mutt heritages, knee-deep in the tide of ethnic fluids. This is going to end in tears, I'm afraid. I love the idea of the U.S. as an "outpost", though, a tiny cultural fortress squeezed between gigantic, barbaric Canada and Mexico (where European civilization, of course, has never had any impact).

Anyhow, the original discrete communities of Angle, Saxon, and Jutlandish origin, the Dutch, French, and German entrepreneurs who soon joined them, our excitable Irish, Italian, and Jewish friends, the mercurial Pole and sullen Serb, all had something deeply in common in a reverence for Plato and Montesquieu, the use of the salad fork, and the concept of racial purity. Then, boom! In 1965, the savage Hispanics (on whom European civilization, of course, has never had any impact) began pushing their way into the blue-eyed enclaves of California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Tejas I mean Texas, seducing our women with their mustaches and tango moves and turning our well-tiled gene pools into fetid swamps. ¡Don Diego, ayuda!
As we stand on the cusp of this New America, it’s understandable to feel some anxiety. If you take sociology and culture seriously, it’s sensible to wonder whether this is the sort of country we want to be.
I can see understandable, if you're stupid, but sensible not so much. If you take sociology and culture seriously, you might take history seriously as well and recall that the proportion of foreign-born US residents from 1860 to 1920 was consistently higher than it is now and, whatever you may believe, no more familiar with the thinking of Montesquieu than your average Mexican. In 1790 there were more American residents born in Africa (on whom European civilization, to be sure, had the considerable impact of keeping them in chains) than there were born in England. And in any case if more radical developments are indeed as Brooks says ineluctable—
Soon there will be no dominant block, just complex networks of fluid streams — Vietnamese, Bengalis, Kazakhs. It’s a bit like the end of the cold war when bipolar thinking had to give way to a radically multipolar mind-set....
In other words, immigration reform won’t transform America. It will just speed up the arrival of a New America that is already guaranteed.
—then wondering whether we want them to take place is the opposite of sensible, a waste of time.

And in fact Brooks isn't worried about it at all. He is literally concern-trolling himself! He expects it to be "interesting" and "exciting". We will end up with a reconstituted social hierarchy in which the educated upper class is simultaneously hyper-mongrelized by pervasive intermarriage and cherishing its ethnic roots, while the working class is broken into dozens of mutually hostile ethnic enclaves. Divide et impera! And then what "we" are going to do—"we" being the imaginary cultural hegemon Brooks always calls on to repair society's moral bone fractures and muscle strains, to persuade parents to marry and old people to turn down cost-of-living increases and young people to major in literature—is to cast away the "religion of diversity" in favor of "an ethic of social cohesion":
We won’t have to celebrate diversity because it will be a fact. The problem will be finding the 21st-century thing that binds the fluid network of ethnic cells.
Ugh, more of those fluids. And the bizarre implication that diversity isn't a fact yet, between 1790, or for that matter 1607, and 2013, as if the particularly peculiar situation of Stuyvesant Town when little David arrived there in the 60s were really some kind of perpetual norm. Which in Brooks's mind it is:  because what Brooks really is—pay attention, Drifters—is a solipsist.

I continue to be interested in Brooks's treatment of his sources. This column mentions two. One, Anne Snyder, is a researcher at the Times who seems to be generally available to columnists; what she did for Brooks is simply left unclear (she "delineates several possible changes to the social fabric" but we don't know where or which ones he cited); as far as I can tell from her blogging at Humane Pursuits her main contribution is to have offered an explicitly Christian perspective on Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, a book that seems to account for a lot of Brooks's current preoccupations. She has an arch and literate style, though. The other is Álvaro Vargas Llosa, whose Global Crossings probably found its way into his Kindle pretty recently. The point Brooks cited is not from the book's prologue (available online); he might have overheard it on Vargas Llosa's promotion appearance on the Diane Rehm show:
You also have a very interesting situation, which is they feel so secure, just as the Irish did and the Italians did in the past, so secure about being part of this society that they begin to claim their heritage, in terms of festivities and these kinds of things. Of course, nothing very substantial in the sense that they're not going to become un-American. It's simply that they feel so secure, so assimilated and then they don't feel they're going to be looked upon or frowned upon if they begin to embrace certain holidays and certain festivities back home.
As everybody knows, he's been hanging out at the Aspen Institute (a.k.a. Davos for the Innumerate) all week, chatting on the topic "The Inverse Logic of Life: The More we Give, the More we Get" (or, as Jesus put it, "It is more profitable to give than to receive") and posing for Arianna's photo ops. I'd guess Snyder must have ghosted the whole column if it weren't that she seems to be a rather better writer than he is.
Huffington Post. Aspens don't in reality turn in clusters, though their roots do connect them.

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