Resilient Communities are the Foundations of a Resilient America.

E Pluribus Unum revisited

What gave Western civilization its dynamism for so long was its creative tension and balance between the material and the spiritual…This is why the failure to teach Western civilization as a fundamental part of education…is so tragic.  The reason is not that ‘the West is the best’ – that’s an arrogant lie.  It’s that the West knows best, from bitter experience. — Arthur Herman

 Two years ago, in a post I called E Pluribus Unum, I asked a provocative question:  “Does diversity really provide strength to a community?  Perhaps a community builds its strength through overcoming the divisiveness inherent in diversity.  Perhaps it is not diversity at all but rather the forging of a chain of shared memories that strengthens a community.”  Today, on the 241st birthday of the USA, I want to explore that question further.

It is important to do this because much of the Western world is embroiled – mired – in controversies surrounding immigration.  These all boil down to trying to strike a balance between compassion and control.  At one extreme, compassion would compel a country to accept all fleeing oppression in their homelands.  At the other, control would allow to enter only those who clearly pose no safety or security risk.

There are facts that argue against both extremes.  America is the quintessential land of immigrants.  Our acceptance of the “huddled masses yearning to be free” is an essential strand of our DNA.  Immigration has been a cornerstone of our prosperity – many of our most important innovations in science and technology and medicine are due to the efforts of immigrants.  Conversely, some of our sanctuary cities are stained by the misdeeds – even murders – committed by a small number of immigrants.  If we look to Europe, the mayor of Paris recently admitted that clusters of immigrants have made some neighborhoods unsafe for women.  Sharia Law with its unequal treatment of women apparently reigns supreme in the immigrant ghettoes outside Paris and Brussels. And though little reported in the US, the perpetrators of the rampage of rapine and rape in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, 2015, were primarily North African migrants.

So we must find that middle way, that balance between compassion and control, and recognize that the tipping point will change with time – sometimes demanding more restrictive security measures and sometimes allowing all who wish to enter.  But the real challenge for all of us is to assimilate immigrants into our cultures, to stitch them into our national fabrics.

In the Western world today, various flavors of multiculturalism hold sway among the intellectual elites.  They all seem to have in common a certain disrespect for Western civilization, either explicit or implied.  It is as if the elites are somehow ashamed of what we’ve accomplished and how far we’ve come.  To me, this attitude is the real barrier to assimilating immigrants into our communities.

We should value the contributions that immigrants have made and can make, and respect their cultures.  But if we are to act as one in times of crisis we must have a unifying idea, concept, set of beliefs that rises above the tenets of any one culture and binds us all together.  Eugene Tan in Singapore calls this a “Master Narrative” – a common understanding of who we are, and how we’ve come to be.  Sadly, too many of us in the Western world have forgotten the fundamental truths that have helped move us to the forefront of history – the absolute importance of the “freedom to;” the necessity of respect for each individual, and the need to work together to solve the problems we face.  We must relearn these truths and inculcate them in those who come to our shores, else the cacophony of multiculturalism will shout down the voices speaking for the resilience of our communities.

Another interesting graph

The plot below shows population in poverty as a function of median household income for American counties.  The narrow black line indicates the best fit to all of the data (R2 ~ 0.1).  I’ve added a thicker black line to indicate the approximate position of a line that better fits the majority of the data (I haven’t calculated it, but it appears that R2 ~ 0.3-0.4).  Clearly, the best linear fit (narrow black line) is being heavily influenced by outliers with relatively low poverty compared to the amount of unemployment.

P u

I then looked at the most extreme outliers (the region shaded red) seeking some commonality.  The counties are geographically disperse – California, Arizona, New Mexico, Minnesota, Louisiana, Michigan, West Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey.  All have significant rural populations but some also have urban areas (e.g., Atlantic County, NJ).  There were some interesting links among them – Yuma County, AZ, contiguous to Imperial County, CA; ditto Colusa County and Sutter County, both in CA; Atlantic and Cape May Counties in New Jersey and Worcester County in Maryland just 30 miles away.  With the exception of Atlantic County, NJ, all had rather small permanent populations.

The one thing that seemed to be a constant was a high level of seasonal employment.  The New Jersey and Maryland shores in late spring and summer are tourist meccas; tourism also plays a big role in the economies of the Minnesota, Michigan and West Virginia counties that are outliers.  The mainly agricultural California, Arizona and Louisiana counties provide plenty of opportunities to make good money during planting and harvest seasons, but not much at other times.

Of course, what would be most instructive would be to look at all of the counties with significant seasonal employment.  Do they form a fairly unified subset that are less poor than their level of unemployment would indicate?  I’ll leave that to some enterprising graduate student to find out.