Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Helpful Neighborhoods Tend to Stay Helpful

My topic on WKYB this morning.

Neighborhoods differ in how helpful they are.

Robert Sampson studies "enduring neighborhood effects," to take the subtitle of his fine Great American Cities. He did surveys of Chicago neighborhoods, and found that they differ in how trusting or cynical they are.  However, what people say is not always what they do.  So he compared this attitude data with some ingenious studies of behavior in different neighborhoods.

People have heart attacks all over Chicago.  Sampson looked at how likely bystanders were to offer CPR in different neighborhoods.  This gives a map of helpful behavior.

Then, years later, he did a letter-drop study.  He dropped addressed, stamped letters all over the city, then counted how many from each neighborhood were picked up by a stranger and put in the mail.  This also gives a map of helpful behavior.

The two maps are highly correlated.  Helpful neighborhoods tend to stay helpful; unhelpful neighborhoods likewise have an enduring effect.

Sampson then compared these behavioral maps with the survey data. Here, again, there was a strong correlation.  People in helpful neighborhoods said they were trusting, thought local government was legitimate, and were more likely to create civic organizations to do good.

Other research has shown that helpful attitudes and behavior are contagious.  So if you want your neighborhood to be one of the helpful ones, start a viral trend of visible helpfulness.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Centrist Principle: Social Movements Come from the Failure of Meliorism

I write on the principles of centrism at the Gruntled Center whenever I think of one.

Sociology as a discipline celebrates social movements.  We look for the conditions under which people can be roused to activism for social change.

Yet in a centrist social theory, in a well-functioning society there would be no need for social movements.  The daily action of incremental improvement - meliorism - would gradually mitigate social problems and improve social life.  Social life will never be perfect, but the meliorist ideal does believe in gradual improvement.

Meliorism reduces social friction.  Social movements are like earthquakes, which happen when unresolved friction builds up.

The proponents of social movements like the conflict, as well as the social progress.  Centrists, by contrast, see conflict as a danger and a social failure.  We try to engineer a society with gradual progress that removes the need for social movements.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

I Condemn Left-Wing Terrorism and Right-Wing Terrorism


This morning a Bernie Sanders supporter shot a Republican member of Congress, and others with him.  This is a vile act.

The great majority of terrorist acts in this country are committed by right-wingers, and I condemn them.

On this occasion of left-wing terrorism, I am equally strong in condemnation.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Celebrate Loving: Interracial Marriage on the 50th Anniversary of Loving v Virginia


This week is the 50th anniversary of one of the great Supreme Court decisions, Loving v Virginia.  In 1967, interracial marriage was illegal in the lingering residue of the slave states.  Only 3% of American marriages were interracial. Loving changed that.

Today, 11% of all marriages are interracial, and the rates are rising.  An even better indicator of the future is that 17% of all new marriages are interracial.  Hispanics and Asians are leading the way - already more than 1/4th of their marriages are interracial.

Attitudes toward interracial marriage have also improved dramatically.  In 1990 - not in the dark ages before the Civil Rights Movement, but just one generation ago - most white people opposed intermarriage for themselves or their relatives.  Now that group is down to 14%.

Even more indicative of a sea-change in attitudes: today, almost 40% of Americans think interracial marriage is a good thing for the country.


Thursday, June 08, 2017

Are Strangers a Benefit or a Cost?


If you trust the world, strangers add to your diverse treasure of interesting experiences.

If you fear the world, strangers cost you an expensive evaluation of their threat.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Celebrating Global Stability

My topic on WKYB this morning.

The Fund for Peace calculates a stability measure for almost every country in the world, every year.

This year, South Sudan is the least stable country.  This is not surprising, as they are in the midst of a civil war.

Finland is the most stable country, as it has been several times before in this ranking.

We tend to focus on the scary instability arising here and there in the world.

But the big picture is actually that the world is pretty stable - especially in NATO territories.  On this D-Day, that is something to celebrate.