What Kind of Diversity?

Let me respond to a few articles and papers. They cover different aspects of diversity. I have long been bothered by some of the issues involved and how they are handled. It is disappointing and frustrating to see the endless flow of low quality discussion and analysis, not to mention the inadequate research.

I’ll begin with The Costs of Ethnic Diversity With Garett Jones from The Economics Detective. It’s an old argument, that diversity is bad, bigotry gussied up in scientific language. I’m not racist because I’m a good liberal, says the author; it’s just the damning facts speaking for themselves. Yet other facts say otherwise, as it always depends on which facts one uses and interprets, behind which can be hidden beliefs and biases. To emphasize this point, one could note that fairly high diversity is found among some of the wealthiest, not to mention among the most stable and influential, countries in the world: UK, US, Canada, Australia, Spain, etc. And most of the struggling and dysfunctional countries are extremely homogeneous (or at least perceived as ‘homogeneous’ from the perspective of the Western racial order). That isn’t to blame homogeneity instead, as there are other factors involved such as post-colonial legacies and neo-imperial meddling. But obviously there is no consistent global pattern in lack of diversity, however defined, and societal problems. Even outside of the West, there are diverse societies that manage to get positive results — Amanda Ripley writes (The Smartest Kids in the World, pp. 160-161):

“In Singapore, the opposite happened. There, the population was also diverse, about 77 percent Chinese, 14 percent Malay, 8 percent Indian, and 1.5 percent other. People spoke Chinese, English, Malay, and Tamil and followed five different faiths (Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, and Hinduism). Yet Singaporeans scored at the top of the world on PISA, right beside Finland and Korea. There was virtually no gap in scores between immigrant and native-born students.
“Of course , Singapore was essentially another planet compared to most countries. It was ruled by an authoritarian regime with an unusually high-performing bureaucracy. The government controlled most of the rigor variables, from the caliber of teacher recruits to the mix of ethnicities in housing developments. Singapore did not have the kind of extreme segregation that existed in the United States, because policy makers had forbidden it.”

Other research shows that segregation is a key factor. Diversity only correlates to social problems when populations are segregated. As Eric Uslaner explained (Segregation and Mistrust, Kindle Locations 65-73): “[C]orrelations across countries and American states between trust and all sorts of measures of diversity were about as close to zero as one can imagine… [L]iving among people who are different from yourself didn’t make you less trusting in people who are different from yourself. But that left me with a quandary: Does the composition of where you live not matter at all for trust in people unlike yourself? I had no ready answer, but going through the cross-national data set I had constructed, I found a variable that seemed remotely relevant: a crude ordinal measure (from the Minorities at Risk Project at my own university, indeed just one floor below my office) of whether minorities lived apart from the majority population. I found a moderately strong correlation with trust across nations – a relationship that held even controlling for other factors in the trust models I had estimated in my 2002 book. It wasn’t diversity but segregation that led to less trust.” Then again, high inequality studies show that economic segregation causes the exact same problems as racial/ethnic segregation. Maybe it isn’t diversity itself that is problematic but how some societies have failed to deal with it well.

It’s interesting that these people who criticize diversity of race, ethnicity, religion, language, etc rarely if ever talk about other forms of diversity such as socioeconomic class, involving issues of vast differences in funding and resources, education and healthcare, environmental racism and toxicity rates, police brutality and ghettoization, biases and prejudices, opportunities and privileges, power and influence. Capitalism (specifically in the form of corporatism, plutocracy, inverted totalitarianism, and social darwinism) causes high levels of income and wealth diversity, i.e., inequality. If diversity was bad, then so is capitalism that causes class diversity. But maybe the main problem of class diversity or any other form of diversity is social division that leads to political divisiveness. Diversity wouldn’t necessarily be problematic, if there were movement between populations. Without racial/ethnic segregation, there is more racial/ethnic integration and assimilation. And without economic segregation, there is more economic mobility and cross-generational wealth accrual. That means the solution is to not isolate populations out of xenophobia and bigotry, especially to not create permanent underclasses of any variety.

Here is the complaint I have with this kind of people, besides some of them expressing anti-diversity fear-mongering or else complicitly going along with it. Between them and I, we are focusing on different evidence which is fine to an extent. But the difficulty is that, generally speaking, I know their evidence while most of them don’t know mine. And I can explain their evidence while they can’t explain mine. It isn’t usually a meeting of minds through fair debate based on mutual respect and mutual concern for truth-seeking. Their arguments almost always come down to cherrypicked data. That isn’t to say their data shouldn’t be accounted for. It’s just it’s hard to take them seriously when they refuse to even acknowledge the data that disproves, undermines, and complicates their dogmatic beliefs or half-thought opinions. I admit that diversity is problematic under particular circumstances. What most of them can’t acknowledge is that diversity is beneficial under other circumstances. That would force them to admit that it isn’t diversity itself that is the crux of the matter. That said, the above piece from The Economics Detective does admit the profit motive for businesses being diversity-friendly and so I’ll give the author some credit for genuinely being a good liberal, but I must take off a few points for his all too typical carelessness in not being fully informed.

Now to the next example. Someone stated that: “The article below said that people are less willing to give when different groups are different status/class/privilege, not necessarily when different in and of itself” This person was referring to the following: Economic versus Cultural Differences: Forms of Ethnic Diversity and Public Goods Provision by Kate Baldwin and John D. Huber. I’d point out there was further research that showed it is more complicated than the original paper’s conclusion: Ethnic divisions and public goods provision, revisited by Rachel M. Gisselquist. Even taking the original paper as is, it still doesn’t answer my criticisms. They aren’t dealing with social identity (race, class, etc) as social construction and social perception created through social control and maintained through social order. That is where such things as segregation come in.

I’m not seeing much good research to explore these more fundamental issues, which leaves them as confounding factors that remain uncontrolled and unaccounted for. There are so many problems and limitations in this area of research. The world we live in was created by centuries of colonial imperialism that has been continuously racist and classist up into the present. What is being measured in any of these countries is not necessarily about diversity but about the legacies of systemic and institutional racism and classism on a global scale. And I’d argue there is no way to separate the racism from the classism, which should be obvious to anyone who has given it much thought. We are talking about complex systems with inseparable factors, such as segregation/ghettoization and integration/assimilation. With diversity, this issue is who gets to define and enforce social identities. Colonial imperialism gave birth to both a particular social/racial/class order and what became the WEIRD culture. The researchers are the inheritors of this all and then enforce their biased views onto their research.

I don’t trust that many of these political and economic researchers understand what is involved. An anthropologist would better understand what I’m talking about, not just the diversity of subjects but more importantly the diversity between scientist and subjects. Researchers from entirely different cultures might approach this far differently. Anthropologists have done much interesting work that probes much deeper than most research (David Graeber could be a useful anthropologist to look into about these overlapping issues). For example, how would an anthropologist who is a Native American study the diversity of Native Americans in states or regions where multiple tribes live, specifically across a history of white supremacy in creating the reservation system? Also, how does the perceived diversity of European-Americans in earlier US history compare to perceived homogeneity of Europeans at present? Might it be important who was in power when diversity was enforced on a population in contrast to when homogeneity was enforced? What about the power dynamic of mostly WEIRD researchers have in a WEIRD society in imposing their views and biases? Is Asia, the majority of the world’s population, diverse as Asians experience it or homogeneous as Westerns perceive it?

Here are the last two I’ll respond to: Why Does Ethnic Diversity Undermine Public Goods Provision? by Habyarimana, Humphreys, Posner, & Weinstein; and Ethnic diversity, social sanctions, and public goods in Kenya by Edward Miguel & Mary Kay Gugerty. These miss a major point. Diversity and homogeneity are built on social constructs. They are dependent on public perception and social control. A society can choose to maintain diversity or not. If we don’t economically and racially/ethnically segregate people while instead treating people fairly and equally, promoting integration and assimilation, and ensuring the social democratic resources and opportunites for all, including geographic and economic mobility… if we do that, then diversity will over the generations turn into homogeneity, as has been historically proven across the world many times over. It has happened repeatedly since the beginning of the species. The Germanic tribes were once diverse, but now they just think of themselves as Germans. The British were once diverse, but have slowly developed a common identity. The Piraha originated from separate ethnic tribes that came together, but now they are just the Piraha. The opposite can happen as well. Take people from the same society and treat them differently. In a short period of time, the two invented groups will immediately take on the new social identities. To go along with this, it won’t take them long to create new cultures, traditions, attire, and ways of talking. You can see this when people join an organization, convert to a religion, get a new group of friends — they will change their appearance and behavior.

Whether enforced from above or taken on by individuals, social influences are powerful. One great example of this was Jane Elliott’s eye color experiment. Along these lines, a ton of interesting studies have been done about the observer-expectancy effect, subject-expectancy effect, Pygmallion/Rosenthal effect. Hawthorne/observer effect, golem effect, etc. I’d add stereotype effect to this list, which deals with group identities more directly. How people are identified doesn’t just shape how they identify but also determines how they are treated and how they behave. Basically, these are self-fulfilling prophecies. Such experiments were only done over short periods. Imagine the results attained by continuing the same experiment across multiple generations or even centuries. Social constructs should be taken seriously, especially when made socially real through disenfranchisement, impoverishment, high inequality, segregation/ghettoization, systemic prejudice and biases, concentrated power, an authoritarian state, police enforcement, and much else. When we are talking about ethnic diversity in terms of immigration and refugee crises, this includes centuries of colonialism, resource exploitation, military actions, covert operations, political intervention, economic sanctions, and on and on. There are long, ugly legacies behind these racial, ethnic, and national divides. In many cases, ethnic immigrants come from countries that were former colonies and have borders that were artificially created by empires. First and foremost, there is the immeasurable diversity of justice and injustice, power and oppression. Diversity as racial order didn’t naturally develop but was violently enacted, a racial ideology shaping racial realities.

So what do these people think they are studying when they research diversity? And what are they actually studying? The confounding factors are so immense that it’s hard to wrap one’s mind around it. About people who study and discuss these kinds of topics, one gets the sense that many of them aren’t deep and careful thinkers. Things that seem obvious to me never occur to them. Or else these things do occur to them but for ideological reasons they can’t acknowledge them. I wonder what some people even think diversity means. As I’ve said before, I have more in common with a non-white Midwesterner than I have with a white Southerner. And I have more in common with a non-white American than a white European. Diversity of skin color doesn’t necessarily correlate to diversity of ethnicity, language, religion, etc. The average African-American shares the same basic culture as other Americans. A large part of African-Americans should technically be called European-Americans, both in terms of genetics and culture. As Thomas Sowell argues, African-Americans don’t have an African culture, rather a Southern culture. What makes African-Americans stand out in the North is that because of segregation they have more fully maintained their Southern culture. But that depends on where one lives. Here in Iowa City, most of the African-Americans are either immigrants of African ethnicties or individuals whose families have been in the region so long that they are assimilated to Midwestern culture, but African-Americans with Southern culture are rare around here.

If cultural diversity is what is deemed problematic, then that has nothing directly to do with skin color. But if we are talking about conflict based on skin color, that is simply an issue of racism. So, what exactly are we concerned about? Let’s get clear on that first. And then only after considering all the evidence, let’s begin the process of honest debate and informed analysis.

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Orphan Trains in Context: History, Culture, and Law

Orphan trains represent a transitional period in American history. Many threads from the past became entangled as American society struggled with issues of greater freedom and social justice.

In the early US, there obviously wasn’t much in the way of welfare, for families and for children without families. It didn’t take long for an era of reform to follow after the era of revolution. Shifting conditions, economic and demographic, forced change to happen. The stress on society was immense and new systems were put into place to offer a relief valve. This is the context in which I wish to speak of orphan trains.

These orphan trains operated from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s. Children without parents (or without what judges deemed capable or “worthy” parents) were considered a major problem in the big cities, and this problem grew with the influx of immigrants, often poor and unemployed. Industrialization brought people to the cities and built the railroads, simultaneously exacerbating the problem and offering a possible solution, a pathway for moving a perceived excess of youths elsewhere.

It was a time when the Westward expansion and rural farm life was being idealized to a greater extent. It just so happened that sending unwanted kids West also made them someone else’s problems, but it worked out well since those out West often were looking for cheap labor. The kids, however, didn’t always benefit from this deal… not that urban poverty offered them much hope either.

It was natural for trains to be used in dealing with orphans, juvenile delinquents, and “street urchins”. Large numbers of children from the cities on the Eastern seaboard were sent west on trains. The kids were pulled off the trains in rural areas and, in the early phase of this system, anyone who wanted a kid could take one or two or three. Some people were actually looking to adopt children, but others wanted extra hands on the farm or around the house. The main obligation supposedly being that a “good home” was provided, although this was defined loosely and not enforced to any great degree.

* * * *

The early waves of reformers were a product of their time. The first orphan trains operated prior to the Civil War. The slavery debate was heating up and it touched upon every aspect of society, orphan trains included. Some abolitionists feared that the orphan trains were being used as an extension of slavery, and there was reason behind their fear. Not all the orphans were being adopted. Many were being indentured, a term I was unfamilliar with:

“When a child is adopted, he/she become equal to the natural children in all respects – including inheritance.

“Indenture was a legal means to remove a child from an unsatisfactory home without a long court procedure.  The child was not given inheritance rights.  People tended to use the two terms interchangeably but they are not the same thing.  Many people simply did not know the difference.”

The legal background to adoption and foster care has its roots in indenture, which is a practice and a legal construct many centuries old and having continued into the early 20th century. This indenture of orphans is basically the same indentured servitude that preceded and was the precedent for slavery. In fact, the out-placing of children with the orphan trains has its origins long before the Civil War, having been inspired by the out-placing of British children to the American colonies where they were sold into indentured servitude. Besides Africans, the first generation of indentured servants in America include the Irish. Interestingly and unsurprisingly, Irish children were a major target of the welfare societies operating the orphan trains.

Indenture diverged from slavery as a new racial order took over in the late colonial period. This was a sore point in American society, for it showed the class war at the heart of the American experiment, an experiment ruled by a plutocracy. This is why the debate of how to deal with the welfare of children was mixed up with the debate of slavery and capitalism. Defenders of slavery feared the expansion of indenture for similar reasons they feared industrialized capitalism as it was practiced in the North, as both were seen as competition for the slave system, making slaves less valuable and bringing whites down to the same level of slaves.

* * * *

The orphan trains were at the heart of all this. There was great debate about them, about how the process was being implemented and its results. The debate only ended when the orphan trains themselves ended, seventy-five years after they began in the 1850s.

During that time period, some reformers sought to go beyond indenture, but new legal systems were slow to develop. Initially, there wasn’t much legal framework upon which to base adoption and foster care. Trying to avoid the problems of the old ways of doing things, many new problems took their place. Getting rid of indenture without creating new legal protections for children simply created a system that was haphazard and lacked oversight.

No one knew what happened to many of the children who were neither indentured nor adopted. They simply slipped through the cracks, sent away and lost to all records. Abuse, no doubt, was rampant. Many children were used as cheap or even free labor. Still others became victims, whether of violence or sexual exploitation… or who knows what else.

It was upon the groundwork of colonial practices of indenture and slavery that capitalism was built. And it was against such practices that the struggle for democratic freedom was fought. The 1800s was the time when our society sought to get beyond old forms of social control and oppression, both indenture and slavery, the remnants of which continued well into the twentieth century with child labor in factories and the chain gangs of prison laborers.

* * * *

Protection of the defenseless took a long time to become established in law. Our modern sentiments about the innocence of childhood and the universality of human rights is a fairly recent invention.

Another recent invention is our present conception of whiteness. One of the most interesting stories of the orphan trains relates back to one of the main protagonists of this story, the Irish. They weren’t always deemed white. The English and Anglo-Americans were known to compare the Irish to Africans and Native Americans. The Irish were savages and foreigners, partly because they were mostly Catholic. Unlike today, Catholicism wasn’t seen as just another variety of Christianity. Protestants, specifically WASPs, saw Catholics as an alien culture. One of the names given to poor Irish children was “street Arabs”.

How did these Irish become white and hence “real Americans”?

This was a long process. In the early colonies, Africans and Irish indentured servants lived together, worked together, and I suppose had children together when the opportunity allowed. The racial order of slavery came later and that was the beginning of the Irish transition toward whiteness, initially simply being represented by their legally defined non-blackness. This shift of racial identity was solidified during the era of orphan trains.

WASPs, in their fear of Catholics, intentionally placed Catholic children into Protestant homes. In response, Catholics began to implement their own programs to deal with Catholic children in need of homes. One such case involved nuns bringing a trainload of Irish orphans to Arizona to be adopted by Catholic families. The problem was that the Catholic families in question were Mexican-American. The nuns didn’t understand the local racism/ethnocentrism involved and were taken by surprise by the response of the local WASPs. The “white” population living there took great offense at this challenge to racial purity. Suddenly, when put into that context, the Irish children were deemed to be innocent whites to be protected against an inferior race. This is ironic because where those Irish children came from in the big cities out East they were considered the inferior race.

This is the just-so story about how the leopard got his spots… er, I mean, how the Irish got his whiteness.

* * * *

This is key to understanding America. It was in the East where hyphenated ethnic Americans were minorities, seen as outsiders and threats to the status quo. But it was out West where the American Dream took fuller form and part of this was emergence of broader notion of whiteness. Old stigmas of ethnicity and class could be left behind and a new life begun. Out West, the right skin color and work ethic were what mattered. Whiteness offered great privilege for those willing to leave the East or else who, like these orphans, were forced to leave.

The untold part of this story is, as always, the indigenous perspective. Every ethnic group was being pushed elsewhere, in the contest for power and social control. The British sent the Scots-Irish to Ireland and the Irish to America. The welfare reformers then tried their best to send the children of the Irish and other ethnic minorities to the West, a place many ethnic minorites already had escaped to. The Native Americans, of course, were pushed ever westward finally ending up in reservations. Like the children of ethnic minorities, many children of Native Americans were removed from their homes and sent to boarding schools where every aspect of their culture was forbidden.

It was all about forced assimilation through cultural genocide. It never fully succeeded in all cases, but it succeeded well enough to undermine the power of most minority groups that sought to maintain their political, economic, and cultural independence. Quite an ugly process, oftentimes motivated by good intentions based in the belief in the power of environmental influences, a rather modern understanding of human nature. Reformers wanted to save people from themselves, going so far as to save children from their own parents and communities. Orphan trains were one tool in the battle to defend WASP identity and so-called real American values.

This is the background for what American became in the 20th century, everything from the Ku Klux Klan to univesal public education. The question was always how does one make immigrants and minorities into good American citizens, even against their will if necessary.

* * * *

The deeper challenge that Americans have never been able to face is that of the problems of the social order itself. The various minorities didn’t cause their own poverty and all the issues related to poverty, such as homelessness and orphaned children. The social order was built on high economic inequality and low economic mobility. This is obvious when one sees that the prejudices and oppressions of American society have their deepest roots in British imperialism and colonialism.

Shipping poor kids out of poor neighborhoods and communities does absolutely nothing to solve the problem that caused those kids to be born into poverty. Get rid of one generation of kids without changing the conditions and new generations will continue to be born into poverty. So much of welfare has always focused on results, instead of causes. The fear that the poor were a threat to the social order was a real fear, but sadly reformers were often the least likely to be in a position to understand that the social order itself was a threat to much of the population. When a system of conflict, oppression, and social control is created, almost everything becomes a potential threat.

A new country was founded with the American Revolution and yet all the old problems of the British Empire were carried over. Reformers are interested in reform for the very reason that they wish to defend the social order. But because they are invested in the social order, they aren’t in the position to see clearly the problems of the social order that need to be reformed. That is the eternal failure of reform. Hence, that is the frustration of social justice advocates across all of American history.

This country still struggles with poverty and inequality, all of the problems that have plagued this society from the beginning. We are no closer to dealing with these problems than were the 19th century reformers. In many ways, the problems have grown worse as wealth and power have been concentrated even further.

* * * *

Orphan Train Myths And Legal Reality
Rebecca S. Trammell

“The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction” by Linda Gordon
Debra Dickerson

In Arizona, all social significance hinged on the differences between “whites” and the inferiors: Mexicans, “Chinamen,” blacks and Indians. Closest to white in appearance and comportment, Mexicans were at the top of the list but remained (then as now) non-white. Intermarriage (or more often, intercourse) between whites and Mexicans was common and largely accepted in the Southwest, but there were limits — Mexicans adopting white children, for instance. Gordon’s convincing analysis of the nuns’ mistake and the debacle that followed points up some potent racial ironies that are still worth savoring today: The Easterners didn’t understand that the same train ride that would bring their Irish charges parents and homes would also make them white. Of course, had they been white in New York, there would have been no need for the arduous journey west.

Orphan Train Riders: The White Slavery Movement
Our Future Rooted in Our Past

These children were labeled as “Street Arabs”, “the dangerous classes”, and ‘street urchins” to name a few. In the mid 1800’s and early 1900’s of the United States history, these problems escalated and led Charles Loring Brace, a minister in New York, to found The Children’s Aid Society in 1853 in New York City. Orphanages or asylums as they were called back then, did exist, but Charles L. Brace felt that it was not the best environment for children to grow and develop. Brace thought that the children would benefit from fresh air, work and a loving family and resulted in the birth of the Orphan Trains. Unfortunately the loving family life was not always the case and the child would have to be moved to another family.

In 1865, the New York Foundling Asylum was founded by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. Beginning in 1872, the Asylum began to send children in trains out to families in the west. Indentured forms were filled out by the people accepting the child with indenture lasting until they were 18 years of age. The New England Home For Little Wanderers (NEHFLW) in Boston, Chicago Home Society, Minnesota Home Society, and other such societies also placed children with families on the frontier. Most children were never adopted into the families they went to but became indentured servants.

Book Review: Orphan Train
Literary Hoarders

Between 1854 and 1929, so-called “orphan trains” transported more than 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, and homeless children between the ages of 2 and 14 from the East Coast to the Midwest for foster care and adoption. But their treatment often amounted to indentured servitude. Chosen first were infants, for more traditional adoptions, and older boys, for their manual labor; adolescent girls were typically selected last. While some children quickly found love and acceptance, many walked a harder road.

Orphan Trains of Nebraska
Ancestry.com

From 1854 to 1929, signs like this were posted and published all across the Midwest. Over 150,000 orphaned, homeless or neglected children were uprooted from the city and sent by “Orphan Trains” to farming communities, primarily in the Midwest, to be adopted out to good homes. In this way, the city of New York was not only drastically reducing their orphan problems, — they were also aiding others who desperately wanted children. The children were taken by train and often lined up at predetermined stops to be “looked over” and adopted (or in many cases indentured). Those not selected were taken to the next stop in hopes of finding a new home. For many children, life improved because they found homes with loving adults to care for them. Others, however, were not so fortunate, and their lives became more miserable as they found themselves in homes where they were used chiefly for slave labor. (in 1927, there were still 12 states, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Virginia, West Virginia, Nebraska and Kansas allowing indenture of children who had been turned over to poor farms or county authorities) And even though the “Orphan Train” brings thoughts of poor orphaned children, this was not always the case. Many of the children still had parents, but their family could not care for them and put them into state run homes, until they could get back on their feet. When the official transporting of children was ended in 1930, the migration of these children encompassed 47 states!

Orphan Trains (1854 – 1929)
Angelique Brown

In the 1920s the number of Orphan Trains decreased sharply. It was at that time that states began passing laws that prohibited placing children across state lines. Additionally, there was criticism from abolitionists who felt that the Orphan Trains supported slavery. Pro-slavery advocates criticized the practice as well, saying that it was making slaves obsolete. In 1912, the U.S. Children’s Bureau was established with the mission of helping states support children and families and alleviate many of the factors that led to children living on the street. As state and local governments became more involved in supporting families, the use of the Orphan Trains was no longer needed.

Riding the Orphan Train: What we can learn about modern slavery from our own history
Beyond Borders

Between 1853 and 1929 roughly a quarter million American children were swept off the streets of New York and other east coast cities and sent westward on trains to live with and work for farm families. Some were true orphans. Many others were not. Many landed in loving homes and were cared for and sent to school. Many others were not and essentially became child slaves.

In fact, before the civil war opponents of this practice in the south argued that the real purpose of the orphan trains was to reduce demand for slavery in midwestern states. Then, after slavery had been outlawed, abolitionists in the north opposed the practice, arguing that many families were now using the free labor of these children in place of slaves they had lost or could never afford.

Trains would stop in midwestern and southern towns, and the children would file off and parade before the assembled townspeople, often on hastily constructed stages. Locals would inspect the children, feel their muscles, look at their teeth, and question them. Contact between the children and their families back east was strongly discouraged. Many of these children ran away from the abusive new homes they were placed in, and a few even found their way back to their families in the east.

Questions remain for orphan train survivors and descendants
ECM Publishers

An ad in an 1882 edition of the Albert Lea newspaper stated, “A company of boys from the Children’s Aid Society of New York City will arrive in Albert Lea on Friday, November 17, for the purpose of finding homes and employment with farmers and others. There will be a meeting for the distribution.”

An article in the November, 19, 1913 St. Cloud paper reported that 100 children from New York, ranging in ages from one to four years, would be distributed in tearns County. (Pictured are Betty Murphy and Sister Justina Bieganek, both of whom were riders, Barb Noll, Gen Gustafson and Colleen Murphy. Staff photo by Joyce Moran)

Distributed?? Today, one sometimes hears about pumpkins being distributed … or, seedling trees. But children?

Such was the case, however, when, from 1854 to 1929, an estimated 200,000 children were transported by train from the Children’s Aid Society Orphanage and the New York Foundling Orphanage, both of New York City, bound for distribution to homes across the United States.

The children generally arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs. A cloth patch attached to their shirts contained their names. Some carried birth and Baptismal Certificates—some did not. Most did carry an indenture paper which legalized their adoption.

“The children went through the most traumatic experience of all,” said Renae Wendinger of Sleepy Eye, MN, the daughter of one who rode an orphan train—”the breaking of family ties.”

Wendinger was in Little Falls August 25 and 26, participating in the 40th annual reunion of Orphan Train Riders who came to Minnesota and nearby vicinities. The reunion took place, as it often has over the years, at the St. Francis Center.

“Some children went to good homes,” continued Wendinger. “Some did not. Some people just wanted a servant or someone to take care of them in their old age. This was not considered cruel because our country was still familiar with servants and slavery.”

Going on, Wendinger related that some children were legally adopted while others were not. And often, she said, siblings were not kept together because a family only wanted one child.

Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed
Stephen O’Connor

Most of these charges were not new. Editorialists and critics had compared outplacement to slavery practically since the departure of the first train, and these were far from the first examples of abuse that had been brought up in a public forum. What was different was that so many joined so vocally in the criticism, a signal both that a new consensus was emerging among a mostly younger class of child welfare professionals and that Brace’s power and prestige had begun to erode.

Brace was being attacked partly because of his prominence, especially after the publication of The Dangerous Classes. T/he sins that the CAS was being accused of were, after all, true of virtually every organization that placed orphaned or vagrant children in families. The New York Department of Charities relied on correspondence from the foster parents to monitor even children placed in the city and, as Mary Ellen Wilson’s case demonstrated, did not do a much better job than the CAS of checking up when required reports did not come in. In-city placements by a well-regarded Philadelphia agency were visited only once a year, while children placed by the Catholic Protectory were visited once every two to five years. Those children placed by the Randall’s Island House of Refuge were never visited at all. The attacks on Charles Loring Brace were clearly part of a much-needed self-correction of the entire American child welfare system. And he was singled out for attack because he was the exemplar of the old consensus — the main idol who had to be toppled.

“Philomena’s” story is just one example of the forced adoption of Irish children
Tom Deignan, Irish Central

For a people so passionate about the past, an Irish American’s longing for roots he never knew might seem unusual. But over the course of Irish American history, there are unfortunately many stories of children separated at young ages from their parents and compelled to grow up in strange, sometimes abusive, new surroundings.

And even if they were relocated to loving homes (as Michael Hess seems to have been, raised by a Catholic family in St. Louis), these Irish children were forced to grow up detached from the faith and culture into which they were born.

Perhaps the most prominent and controversial symbol of this was the Children’s Aid Society, which ran so-called “orphan trains” for Irish and other immigrant children in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Supporters argued that large numbers of Irish kids were wandering big city streets homeless, and that relocating them to loving families in the mid-West was a blessing.

Critics, however, note that the children were often exploited for their ability to labor on farms.

“At its worst it was not much better than slavery,” author Christina Baker Kline said in a recent NPR interview.

Earlier this year, Kline did extensive research for her novel “Orphan Train,” which features a young Irish girl named Niamh who loses her family in a tenement fire.

Orphan train children “were all between the ages of mostly two — but sometimes as young as babies, baby trains were called ‘mercy trains’ — and up to the age of 14. Those 14-year-old boys, 12- to 14-year-old boys, were the most in demand because obviously they were labor,” Kline said.

It also did not help that Children’s Aid Society founder Charles Loring Brace had an extensive record of anti-Catholic writing, and was open to the charge that he was taking Catholics off the dirty city streets in order to convert them into Protestants.

According to Kline, the extent of the era’s anti-Irish sentiment went to bizarre lengths.

“I came across a newspaper article from The New York Times about how the trains that were being sent were not allowing redheads,” she said.

During a heated exchange of letters in The New York Times back in 2001, Irish American novelist and historian Peter Quinn said the Children’s Aid Society “was not merely a compassionate agent of charitable relief…but an active partner with the courts and Protestant proselytizing societies in seeking to ‘redeem’ Irish Catholic children from a cultural-religious identity considered destructive of personal virtue and moral behavior.”

Of course, many Irish “orphan train” children grew up to live happy and productive lives. But the pervasive sense of dislocation and loss these children must have felt – especially after their own parents endured the trauma and uncertainty of emigration – is a rarely-discussed aspect of the Irish experience in America.

The Orphan Trains Transcript
American Experience, PBS

NARRATOR: Children drifted from farm to farm. Some even made their way back to New York. There were stories of children landing in reform school in Michigan; from Indiana, rumors of children on the dole. A southerner named J. H. Mills claimed that “men needing labor, their slaves being set free, take these boys and treat them as slaves.”

ELLIOTT HOFFMAN BOBO: There was one boy. I refused to go home with this farmer, too. He took this other boy, Albert– maybe I shouldn’t name him, but– and they kept him on the farm, wouldn’t send him to school, worked him eighteen hours a day in the field and he just lost his mind. And he died at an early age, less than thirty years of age. And he finally ran away from home, but it was too late. They wouldn’t let him go to town and see people, afraid he’d tell them how badly he was treated. And he never saw anybody. Didn’t– once– I saw him about two times during the whole time he was there, about ten years. I just saw him twice and he was afraid to talk to me. And I couldn’t– I couldn’t help him. I didn’t know enough to help him. But my dad always thought that he was abused, so he was afraid to talk about it, afraid he’d be abused some more.

NARRATOR: The record books are filled with names and dates, details of departures and arrivals, but say little about the quality of the children’s treatment. The extent of abuse is unknown.

The Society’s goal was to visit each child once a year, but there were only a handful of agents to monitor thousands of placements. With reports of children drifting through the countryside, Brace consented in 1883 to an independent investigation. It found the local committees were ineffective at screening foster parents. Supervision was lax. Many older boys had run away. But its overall conclusion was positive. The majority of children under fourteen were leading satisfactory lives.

READER: [Ann] “Dear Mr. Brace: When I lived in New York, I had no bonnet and now I have more bonnets than I can wear. And I get no whippings and I have a father and mother and brothers and sisters here and they are kinder to me than my own ever were. I think I will never be happier than I am now.”

NARRATOR: In New York, the children of a new generation of immigrants were facing deprivation and homelessness. Brace continued to insist that removal from the city was the street children’s best hope for deliverance. he used photographs like these, made by his protégé, Jacob Riis, to dramatize their plight.

The Society boasted about the story of two street kids, Andrew Burke and John Brady, who were sent to the same Indiana town on the same day. On arrival, the judge who adopted Brady considered him “the homeliest, toughest, most unpromising boy in the whole lot.” He said, “I had a curious desire to see what could be made of such a specimen of humanity.” John Brady grew up to be governor of Alaska. His friend, Andrew Burke, grew up to be governor of North Dakota.

But many rural people viewed the orphan train children with suspicion, as incorrigible offspring of drunkards and prostitutes. The children spoke with the accents of Ireland, Germany and Italy. Unlike most Midwesterners, many were Catholic. One official said, “What was good for New York was very bad for the west.”

READER: [farmer] “I have known several of these city Arabs being provided with homes and never heard of but one that proved to be honest. I believe it is the blood and not the education that tells.”

ALICE AYLER: Bad blood. That’s what they used to consider it. We kids from New York were of inferior stock. Bad blood is what’s running through those veins and some people have bad blood and others have blue blood. Well, the bad blood is supposed to carry the bad things down from your parents. Through your life, all the bad things are supposed to come through that bad blood and you don’t have a chance to do better.

Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed
Stephen O’Connor
pp. 95-7

“The most significant antecedent of all, however, not only for Brace’s orphan trains  but also for both of the earlier American “placing out” efforts, was simply  the indenture system. Indenture even had a long history of being used for the reform and removal of undesirable or potentially criminal children. Beginning in the seventeenth century, the British routinely gathered up — or kidnapped — poor children from the slums of London and sent them to the colonies to be bound servants. For much of that same period American commissioners of the poor had sought to “reform” destitute children by placing them in supposedly “respectable” homes at great distances from their depraved parents. The Philadelphia House of Refuge, where John Jackson had been incarcerated, commonly indentured boys to sea captains and had even placed one child as far away as Peru.

“By the mid-nineteenth century, however, the indenture system was in its final phase, having succumbed, on the one hand, to the looser employer-employee ties fostered by wage labor and the market economy, and, on the other hand, to the changing attitudes toward children and — under the influence of abolitionism — bonded servitude itself. In a way, the orphan trains were an attempt to modify an increasingly outmoded system, or at least to rescue that system’s best elements.

“Under the standard indenture agreement, a child was “bound,” generally until the age of twenty-one, to a master who, in exchange for labor, was expected to train the child in the “art and mystery” of his craft and to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, and a “common” education. At the termination of the indenture, the master was also supposed to give the apprentice a suit of clothes and often a bit of money and a Bible.

“The agreement between the CAS and prospective families was identical in its general outline but differed in ways designed to give the child more freedom and protection. The most important difference was that orphan train riders were not “bound” to the families they went to live with. Unless the child was adopted by the new family, the CAS or the child’s birth parents retained guardianship. Also, the relationship between the child and the family could be dissolved at any time if either party was dissatisfied, and the CAS would attempt to find the child a new placement and arrange for the child’s transportation, either to that new placement or back to New York City. And finally, the head of the family with which the child was placed was not the child’s “master” but his or her “employer.” This did not mean that the child was paid wages — although many children, especially the older boys, were in fact paid for their labors. The term was testimony to the looser nature of the placement, by comparison to indenture, and to the legal equality of the two parties. “Employer” also implied, of course, that the child was still expected to work, as a farmhand domestic, or in some other capacity. But the relationship was not meant to be a cold exchange of labor for basic necessities. From the beginning the ideal consummation of any placement was held to be the child’s incorporation into the family.

“Brace’s reinvention of indenture was, however, only one of many ways in which American society was struggling to preserve this ancient and ubiquitous institution. Indenture was nothing like an outmoded profession — blacksmithing, for example —  that could disappear without a trace in a single generation. It was an  essential component of American family and social organization. Long after the notion of bonded servitude (at least of noncriminal whites) had become intolerable in a democratic republic, long after payment only in room, board, and on-the-job training had come to seem exploitative and unnatural, and even long after the legal apparatus of indenture — the contracts, penalties, and terminology — had fallen into neglect, there were still families that needed work done they were unwilling to do themselves, and there were still parents who could not afford or did not want to raise their children to adulthood, and there were still adolescents who could not bear to remain in the homes in which they had been born. Throughout the Victorian era and well into the twentieth century aspects of indenture survived as a social safety valve, as a source of cheap labor, and, most important of all, as a set of assumptions about the obligations of family, of adults and children, and of the rich and the poor. By looking closely at these assumptions, we can see not only yet another way in which the orphan trains were inevitable, but how they could also seem natural, normal, and good.

“Little Orphan Annie has come to our house to stay
To wash the dinner dishes up
And brush the crumbs away,
To shoo the chickens off the porch
And dust the hearth and sweep,
To make the fires, bake the bread
And earn her board and keep.
— James Whitcomb Riley”

The Orphan Trains: Placing Out in America
Marilyn Irvin Holt
Kindle Locations 440-488

PLACING OUT In America was given form by Charles Loring Brace. Born in 1826, Brace was the product of nineteenth-century values and of old New England traditions. His family was comfortable in its financial and social status, and Brace grew up in Hartford, Connecticut. There he was influenced by the sermons of the renowned theologian Horace Bushnell who believed in the naturalness, the “unconscious influences,” of child rearing, deemphasizing the use of threats and coercion in the shaping of a child’s character. Bushnell also may have played a role in Brace’s decision to become a minister. Graduated from Yale in 1846, Brace then attended the Yale Divinity School and the Union Theological Seminary, but after completing his education, Brace was not sure that a church ministry should be his calling. He leaned toward missionary work and had his first introduction to life as a city missionary at New York City’s Five Points Mission. That experience was of great importance to Brace’s career, and he maintained ties to that institution and the Five Points district after leaving to become instrumental in founding the New York Children’s Aid Society in 1853.’

With the Aid Society as the vehicle, Brace devoted his life to working with the poor. His contributions were many and during his lifetime his tireless efforts brought him recognition as an urban reformer. Brace also received some measure of notice for his writings, whose topics ranged from his experiences among the lower classes to analyses of life in foreign lands and ancient civilizations. One theme that held a particular fascination for him was the evolution of civilization, or perhaps more accurately, the forces that led a civilization from one step of development and culture to another. Because of this interest, Brace was a student of the theories of Charles Darwin and greatly admired this man, whom he came to know. Seemingly Brace was intrigued by the implications of Social Darwinism, and, as evidenced by his Dangerous Classes of New York, believed that society could be greatly changed, if not brought down, by a growing poverty class. As Brace’s writings illustrate, he did not follow the school of evolutionists that argued for “natural” events to take their course. Brace disavowed survival of the fittest. Rather, he was convinced that society could create artificial social structures for improving the lives of the poor, and he sided with the evolutionists who argued for intervention programs that would change and benefit all society.2

Brace was convinced that just as humans had developed through an evolutionary process, their behavior could evolve, and be shaped, for the good. There was one qualifying point, however. After becoming a city missionary and working with adults at Five Points and later New York’s Blackwell’s Island, with its penitentiary and workhouse, Brace became convinced that any effort “to reform adults was well-nigh hopeless.” He therefore directed his energies to the salvation of children. His life’s work produced numerous social-welfare programs, and by 1894 the New York Children’s Aid Society supported forty-five major activities in New York City and its environs. Included among these projects were twenty-two industrial schools; six lodging houses (five for boys, one for girls); a farm school; and a children’s summer home on Long Island. These accomplishments, which gave help and support to many thousands of young lives, have been overshadowed by Brace’s best known legacy-placing out.3

Although Brace later wrote of placing out as if no other person but he or any, other country but America had used the system, it was an imported idea. Indeed, he was not the only American to have an interest in the system’s possibilities. At least two contemporaries are known to have considered placing out as an option for dealing with the urban poor. Robert M. I Iartlev, of the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, and John Earl Williams, of the Boston Children’s Mission, advocated the system; the association with which Hartley, was involved established the New York Juvenile Asylum, a later advocate of placing; out, and Williams was to become treasurer for the New York Children’s Aid Society. In fact, the Boston Children’s Mission, founded in 1849 and incorporated in 1864, began a modest in-state placement program under the direction of Williams in ih5o. It was Charles Loring Brace, however, who gave the concept definition in America.4

What these men idealized was a theory, for removing the urban poor to the less populated and more rural areas of the country. Abstractly, they viewed placing out as a solution. They might personalize their arguments with sad human examples, but they’ were in fact creators of a particular view of what should he done with the poor, and more often expressed concern in terms of the immediate effect of the poor on society,. Familiar with traditional forms of charitable support, they knew that from the Colonial period children and adults had been indentured and that the institutionalized were commonly used as farm laborers to earn their keep. They shared a belief in the code, “labor is elevating and idleness is sinful.” Additionally, these men seemed to have little concept of life in the expanding west. Brace’s writings point to an idealized view of rural life, not unlike that expressed in popular thought. Supposedly the unlatched door of the country home offered hospitality to friend or stranger, and class or circumstance of birth had little meaning. The rigors of frontier life evidently went unrecognized, and as importantly, these city reformers seemed blissfully ignorant of the urbanization of western cities such as Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Chicago. No longer frontier outposts, these were by the 185os centers for commerce and transportation. Equally ignored was the far west, with its influx of emigrants, gold seekers, and entrepreneurs. Brace and his contemporaries certainly were aware of westward expansion but seemed oblivious to the growth of cities like San Francisco, which established its first orphan asylum in 1851, in part to house children orphaned on the Overland Trail.’ Instead, the focus of these men centered on eastern cities, and their romantic notions of the west remained steadfast.

Those who considered the idea of placing out were well aware of established forms for assisting the poor. Brace and his colleagues simply added a new dimension. It is quite possible that Brace shaped his ideas while on a trip to Europe in 1850. At that time he toured England’s “ragged” schools, which were based on the principle of reform rather than simple incarceration of children, a revolutionary idea for the times. No doubt Brace and contemporaries were already familiar with this work, but for Brace the experience of seeing programs in action allowed for a formulation of strategy. Also, Brace could not have failed to learn more about the British system of “transportation,” a well-known practice used as far back as the early 1700s. Under this system the country’s less desirable citizens were shipped to North America, Capetown, and Australia. Initially, transportation was a punishment whereby convicted felons were removed from their home country. By the time Brace saw the system, a new component had been added. Along with convicts, the poor, particularly women and children, were being resettled. The government transported many and gave approval to the British Ladies’ Female Emigrant Society to send more women out of country. The frontiers of the Empire needed labor, and in some cases prospective wives for male settlers. Transportation became a way, to supply that demand. Children and women were sent successfully to Canada and Australia, and at least one foray was made into the United States when London’s Home and Refuge for Destitute Children, in 1869, resettled twenty-one boys to the English colony of Wakefield, Kansas. In addition to what Brace saw in England, he encountered another form of relocation in the German states. There he observed a program established by prominent citizens, known as “The Friends in Need,” which placed vagrant city children with rural families. He also may have come into contact with the work of Pastor Andreas Brain, which did the same thing in Neukirchen, Germany. Bran’s work was inspired by his sermon text “The Christian Family-Parlour is the Best Reformatory,” a theme not unlike that taught by Bushnell.” It seems that Brace borrowed the basic idea of supplying labor while at the same time removing the destitute from high population centers, and tailored this to American society, sending thousands of children to experience lite in the West.

Kindle Locations 501-508

The plea for Christian charity went hand in hand with a warning. Brace’s writings, whether a society circular or his notable book, The Dangerous Classes o, f New York, paired charity with the caution that these children, left unattended, would some day threaten society. “The class increases; immigration is pouring in its multitude of poor foreigners, who leave these young outcasts everywhere in our midst,” warned Brace. “These boys and girls,” he wrote, “will soon form the great lower class of our city [and] if unreclaimed, [will] poison society all around them.” The solution was “a means of draining the city of this class.” Brace certainly had real concern for what happened to the children of the city, but his writings went beyond a simple appeal for help. Harking back to what Brace believed about social evolution, there was a desire to impose control over the possible ramifications of a growing underclass. Thus, Brace asked that support, financial and spiritual, he given the Aid Society to “drain” the potential threat. Meanwhile, he began the process “by communicating with farmers, manufacturers, or families who may have need of [child] employment.”‘

Kindle Locations 781-790

The ethnic backgrounds of those placed out reflect in part Brace’s personal prejudices. Brace believed that American and West European cultures were superior and that children from those backgrounds were more acceptable to receiving communities and families. When writing of children who came to the society for help, Brace gave approving descriptions of children such as the “yellow-haired German boy … with such honest blue eyes” and the “sharp, intelligient Yankee lad [who] comes in to do what he has never done before-ask for assistance.” To the Mediterranean and East European born, Brace was less receptive, particularly as he feuded with the Catholic community over placing out and as he believed Eastern and Southern European groups less advanced and civilized. In fact, when there were instances of Italian children being placed, the Aid Society pointedly described their earlier conditions, proving, at least to some minds, that this group was inferior: “Eugene M-, eleven years old, [was] found locked in a vacant room in a wretched tenement, deserted by his Italian parents.” After a stay at New York’s Home for the Friendless, the boy was sent to a “superior home” in Kansas .41

To a degree, Brace’s prejudices were those of American society. Robert Hartley, writing for the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor (A I C P), expressed much the same thoughts, particularly against Catholics, and despaired of the “accumulated refuse” that “had landed in New York.” Reformer Jacob Riis did not share such sentiments, but he certainly observed them. Writing of New York’s Fresh Air Movement, Riis noted that rural communities were not willing to open their doors to just anyone:

Kindle Locations 840-843

One historian writing on childhood in America has concluded that the Civil War served as a dividing line in not only the nation’s history but for children’s history. A loss of a national innocence led adults in their desire for a less troubled time to project an aura of virtue around childhood. Children were seen as the only hope left to the country.47 This analysis provides a psychological framework in which to consider the continuation of placing out during and after the war. The innocence of children was to be preserved, and their protection became a national mission.

Kindle Locations 1011-1019

It may be argued that the n i c P, Brace, and other reformers cloaked their fears of the lower classes, especially the foreign element, in the guise of charity. Certainly by standards of the late twentieth century their attitudes smack of bigotry and intimidation, but the times in which they lived must be considered, not to excuse, but to explain a viewpoint that allowed heartfelt concern for the worthy poor to coexist with apprehensions for what immigrants and a growing American-born class of poor might bring. This was the time of the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic Know-Nothing party, a period of America for Americans sentiment, and a time when educated men and women still spoke of Native Americans as “savages” and debated the question of blacks as a subhuman species. If Hartley, Brace, and their contemporaries are today to be interpreted as racists, that label must be applied to much of society. Just as city missionaries labored among the immigrants, missionaries among the Indians attempted to impose the white work ethic and standards of conduct, and those sympathetic to the plight of blacks, including the strongest abolitionists, often viewed that group as children who could not progress without white guidance. These attitudes did not diminish real compassion. In fact, for the times, men like Brace and Hartley were viewed as forward thinking. They, at least, were willing to tackle the needs of the destitute and downtrodden, despite rhetoric that today seems to curse the very people they were sworn to help.

Kindle Locations 1589-1601

Despite the apparent increase in legal adoptions during the latter years of the system, implicit in debates over placing out was the question of the legal status of those removed from the cities. If placing-out institutions did not demand indenture, adoption, or agreements with families to serve as foster care parents, who accepted legal responsibility for a minor? Certainly, there were those who were indentured and had the contracts as proof of their status within the home. There were those who had been legally adopted, giving them the benefits of family name and rights of inheritance. It is apparent now, as then, however, that many of the placed out, and perhaps the majority, existed in a kind of no man’s land of legal status. The institution to release the child for resettlement may have verbalized the rights of “prior” guardianship, but most orphanages or asylums that worked with placing-out organizations, expressed little interest in the outcome. For those placed out and not indentured or legally adopted, it was a state of limbo. It is clear in placing-out accounts that many, unsure of their place, assigned themselves a status. Many twentieth-century accounts state that the child was adopted into the family or treated as one of the family’s own, but being treated as part of the family and having a record of adoption are quite separate things. It is probable that many receiving families were uneducated or unaware of the niceties of the law and therefore never considered or understood either option. When Peter Manachisa, for example, was placed by the Sisters of Charity in a Louisiana home, his new parents signed indenture, not adoption, papers; Peter was given his new family’s name and he later learned that his parents, of limited education, had believed they were adopting him.33 For a growing number of reformers and officials of state boards of charity and institutions, the rather cavalier attitude of placing agencies in ignoring the legal implications of status may have represented just another reason for the system’s abolition.

Kindle Locations 1990-2002

In this new world of educated social workers and theorists and progressive thought, indenture, one of the long-held social options for placement came under scrutiny and was found lacking. Indenture of children and adults was deeply rooted in American life. It routinely served as a means of reducing the inmate populations of institutions and as a way for parents to provide their children with board and the means of learning a trade. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, there were rumblings. The superintendents of the Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home in Atchison, Kansas, had seen heated debate when state approval was given for indenture, and they were not unique in suffering, as one writer put it, the “wrath of the parents and relatives of [indentured] children, and of the politicians who are, or think they are interested in them.” One of those politicians was Governor Arthur Capper of Kansas, who received this viewpoint from a private citizen: “In fact it is my opinion that both boys and girls in this Institution [Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home] if permitted to remain where they are until they can acquire the training and education in household and other vocations will be able to go out and take employment independently and without being indentured to their employers.””

Local complaints supported a growing national concern. In 1927, twelve states-Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Maryland, Rhode Island, Virginia, West Virginia, and Nebraska-still allowed indenture of their institutional charges and of children who had been turned over to county authorities or poor farms. These states were pushed into the national limelight when calls were made for them to abolish the practice for “more intelligient child care services.” Pressure increased when the national Children’s Bureau published its study of indenture in Wisconsin. That study reflected some of the same criticisms made of placing out, citing children who were “worked virtually as unpaid servants in households and on farms, often deprived of schooling and . . . sometimes cruelly treated.” The Children’s Bureau demanded abolition of all indenture, calling it “a relic of sixteenth-century England.” 29 If indenture, a much older practice than placing out, could be cited for its antiquarian principles, then surely placing practices that sometimes included indenture could be called into question.

Conservative-Minded Liberals: Reactionary & Xenophobic

A while back I was involved in some discussions about Jonathan Haidt’s model of moral foundations via some book reviews. One of those discussions was resurrected. Two people offered links to articles. It connected to something else that was on my mind. That something is violence.

In the discussion, there was a link was to a piece by PZ Myers. What caught my attention was instead a comment by Eamon Knight:

“I mostly liked The Happiness Hypothesis, but I think Haidt’s gone downhill since (and in a direction pointed to by the flaws in that book, ie. let’s just appreciate everyone’s viewpoint because it comes from their basic psychology, even if it requires overcompensating for our natural pro-self bias). I’m reading the last chapter of Pinker’s Better Angels, in which he discusses the underlying psychology of the decline in violence. He frames his exposition in terms of Haidt’s Moral Foundations (the original five), though even more in terms of [mumble’s — sorry I’m not near the book at the moment] Relational Models (the two taxonomies roughly inter-map). Pinker argues that human violence has declined precisely as we have moved away from an emphasis on (using Haidt’s terms) Purity, Authority and Loyalty towards Care/Harm and Fairness — IOW, as we have become more psychologically “liberal”. Even modern conservatives are where liberals used to be — it’s getting harder to justify eg. outlawing certain sexual behaviours on the grounds of “yuck” or blind obedience. So to hell with Haidt’s false equivalence — we are better off by ignoring some bits of social-psychological baggage that worked for small foraging bands, just as we need to train ourselves into restraining our natural taste for sweets and fats that developed in the days when dinner was A) uncertain and B) often had to be chased down.”

Haidt argues that humans and hence society functions best when there is an ideal balance between moral foundations. The problem is such an ideal comes off as an abstract belief. Functions best for what purpose and for whom?

He justifies this balance by claiming he has gained a vantage point above all of us peons. Through his model, both conservatives and liberals can be transcended, although with a tilt toward conservatives for he oddly claims they are more balanced than liberals (an argument he makes by not taking into account some of the moral values that liberals possess and conservatives dismiss). As Eamon Knight says in another comment:

“Or to borrow a punchline originally used in a different domain, but which seems applicable here: the important thing is that Haidt’s found a way to feel superior to both sides.”

Haidt sees himself as a missionary who learned from the natives (conservatives) and now wants to teach the civilized folk (liberals) about the benefits of a more natural lifestyle. Meanwhile, from the safe position of his lectern, he conveniently doesn’t mention that the natives have a high rates of violence and death.

Still, I don’t just want to beat up on poor ol’ Haidt. Let me move onto the next link. It is a response to Haidt by Sam Harris. Of course, Harris does beat up on Haidt, but that isn’t what interested me. Instead, I want to beat up on Harris a bit to even things out.

Harris begins with the same basic insight as Pinker:

“Anyone feeling nostalgic for the “wisdom” of the Aztecs? Rest assured, there’s nothing like the superstitious murder of innocent men, women, and children to “suppress selfishness” and convey a shared sense of purpose. Of course, the Aztecs weren’t the only culture to have discovered “human flourishing” at its most sanguinary and psychotic. The Sumerians, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Hebrews, Canaanites, Maya, Inca, Olmecs, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Teutons, Celts, Druids, Vikings, Gauls, Hindus, Thais, Chinese, Japanese, Scandinavians, Maoris, Melanesias, Tahitians, Hawaiians, Balinese, Australian aborigines, Iroquois, Huron, Cherokee, and numerous other societies ritually murdered their fellow human beings because they believed that invisible gods and goddesses, having an appetite for human flesh, could be so propitiated. Many of their victims were of the same opinion, in fact, and went willingly to slaughter, fully convinced that their deaths would transform the weather, or cure the king of his venereal disease, or in some other way spare their fellows the wrath of the Unseen.

“What would Haidt have us think about these venerable traditions of pious ignorance and senseless butchery? Is there some wisdom in these cults of human sacrifice that we should now honor? Must we take care not to throw out the baby with the bathwater? Or might we want to eat that baby instead? Indeed, many of these societies regularly terminated their rituals of sacred murder with a cannibal feast. Is my own revulsion at these practices a sign that I view these distant cultures with the blinkered gaze of a colonialist? Shall we just reserve judgment until more of the facts are in? When does scientific detachment become perverse? When might it be suicidal?”

That is more than a fair point stated with dramatic flair. There are many things that are ‘traditional’ which we would rather not continue. Besides human sacrifice and cannibalism, one could mention common examples from past societies such as slavery and theocracy. Moral progress fits uneasily in Haidt’s scheme of moral foundations.

Harris further on continues his line of thought, but then takes it down a dark alley of his own (bigoted?) paranoia:

“The same point can be made in the other direction: even a liberal like myself, enamored as I am of my two-footed morality, can readily see that my version of the good life must be safeguarded from the aggressive tribalism of others. When I search my heart, I discover that I want to keep the barbarians beyond the city walls as much as my conservative neighbors do, and I recognize that sacrifices of my own freedom may be warranted for this purpose. I even expect that conservative epiphanies of this sort could well multiply in the coming years—just imagine how we liberals will be disposed to think about Islam after an incident of nuclear terrorism. Liberal hankering for happiness and freedom might one day yield some very strident calls for stricter laws and tribal loyalty. Will this mean that liberals have become religious conservatives pining for the beehive? Or is the liberal notion of reducing harm flexible enough to encompass the need for order and differences between in-group and out-group?”

How did the mostly non-Christian Japanese feel when the Christian Americans dropped atomic bombs on their cities? Some of those Japanese were liberals concerned about the long history of being oppressed and exploited by Western countries. And some of those Japanese were liberals concerned about when their own government went the path of oppression and exploitation in relation to the Chinese. Many liberal Muslims, Arabs, Africans and Asians have been concerned about the violent militaristic Western countries with long histories of imperialism, colonialism, genocide, slavery, wars of aggression, invasion and occupations, etc; all issues that many non-Christians see as directly connected to a Christian heritage going back to the Crusades.

A Christian nation is the only one ever to have gone nuclear on another country. Why is it terrorism if Muslims were to do it but a morally justified act of war when Christians do it?

Harris didn’t need to go there. It didn’t help his argument.

Harris isn’t wrong to bring up the violence of particular groups, but he ignores a larger issue of culpability. When the Iraq War (a war of aggression) was promoted, many liberals jumped on board. The number of innocent people who died because of that war makes the casualty numbers of the 9/11 attack look minuscule. Middle Easterners have more reason to fear us than we have to fear them.

This weird mix of liberalism and xenophobia is what I call conservative-minded liberalism. I see it all the time. It’s similar to how some progressives in the past became neoconservatives or how some liberal-minded people today have have embraced neoreactionary ideologies such as the Dark Enlightenment. As I’ve argued before, this seems to be a central aspect of liberalism, it’s ability to shift toward its opposite (sometimes shifting back again and at other times getting stuck).

I came across another example of this from a friend of mine, a very intelligent and well-educated friend I might add:

“Immigration to UK seems to be implicated in the UK criminal class now carrying guns and using them to shoot law abiding citizens and their police adversaries. The old ban on gun crime apparently was maintained by criminal norms–UK criminals shunned others who had shot the police. A criminal who shot and killed 3 UK police in the 1960s was shunned by his fellows and given no place to hide in his local community–he eventually lived in a tent in remote moorland (and was there apprehended).

“Now, that informal arrangement (which empirically, by inspection, seems to have existed) has collapsed. Criminals carry guns and use them against the police, so the police have armed themselves, too.

“One factor that contributes is immigration of Afro-Carribeans to UK, who brought/bring with them different norms for gun crime. For example, murder rates in Jamaica are 50x higher than in UK (Collier’s figures). If Jamaica does not have the highest homicide in the world, it’s quite high.

“A paradigmatic case is Mark Duggan (Afro-Carribean descent) who shot and killed three UK police and was lionized (rather than ostracized) by substantial portions of his co-ethnics in London. After he was shot, vocal portions of his co-ethnics sided with him against the police, and accused the police of brutality.”

Afro-Caribbeans live in poverty that was created from a colonial past. Poverty, for all races and ethnicities, correlates to higher rates of violence and crime. It sucks to be so oppressed to the point that poverty, and the desperation that goes with it, persists for generation after generation. Once slaves, I’m willing to bet those Afro-Caribbeans experience racism on a daily life which makes it hard for them to find good work and housing. Europe has the problem of ghettoizing immigrants, something the US doesn’t do (here in the US we only ghettoize our native-born poor minorities).

Besides, if we included all the violence done in the name of UK citizens by way of their government, the murder rates would look a lot differently. I’m willing to bet Collier isn’t including police brutality and wars of aggression in his figures, and certainly not all the victims of slavery and genocide (and other victims of colonialism and imperialism). We don’t even know how to count up all the victims in order to compare them. But Afro-Caribbeans haven’t enslaved UK citizens en masse nor started a war of aggression against the UK nor tried to make the UK into a colony.

My friend then concluded:

“The interpretation: Duggan can be viewed (in game theoretic terms) as a “super-villian” who violated the old norms, increased distrust between UK indigenes and Afro-Carribean new-comers, and is a paradigmatic signpost / marker of a transition to a new, more violent equilibrium (vigilant UK police must now be ready to shoot suspects before they might pre-emptively be shot *by* suspects).”

Or maybe it is simply the inevitable results of a colonial past with continuing poverty, oppression, and racism magnified by globalized capitalism and growing economic inequality. There are a lot of factors going on and few if any of them can be understood in isolation. There would be no Afro-Caribbeans in the first place if not for the intertwined history with colonialism and slavery. Afro-Caribbeans are as much a product of the Europe as of Africa, both culturally and genetically.

“Another salient example of norms,” my friend explained further, “probably not discussed in Collier but it came readily to mind.”

“In the USA, in theory and I think also in fact, Mafia (La Cosa Nostra) norms prohibited the murder of uniformed police officers and judges. I don’t know when this got to be the case, but it seemed to facilitate a “non-agression pact” in which Mafia members lived openly without much hiding who they were, and cops went home and slept at night with a bit less trepidation.

“The counterexamples in other countries are well known: Italy, Colombia, and Mexico come to mind offhand.”

Yes, norms change. But the argument seems strange.

The Mafia is listed as an example, but Italy is offered as a counterexample. The Mafia brought there norms from Italy. They were social norms and they were quite violent. An early version of the Mafia were the Black Hand. The more Anglo-American KKK was very similar, specifically the second KKK around the same time as the Black Hand.

Both the Black Hand and the KKK were anti-democratic and used violence when they saw it as convenient. They were some of the most violent groups in US history and yes many innocents were harmed, and the era when they dominated was one of the most violent in uS history. They both were trying to enforce their versions of traditional social norms and cultures, but they were also strongly opposed. One of the main motivations of the KKK was fighting against ethnics like the Black Hand because they feared changes that were undesired.

These kinds of arguments fall apart when you look at all of the data and look at the entire history. But that isn’t my main point in writing about this kind of argument. All three of these liberals (Haidt, Harris, & my friend) argue for traditional Western values. They may disagree about other things, but they agree about this style of argument. This is what makes them conservative-minded liberals, conservative-minded with a reactionary slant.

It is obviously a popular viewpoint. Even liberals get stressed out by the uncertainties of modernity: globalization, industrialization, de-industrialization, offshoring of jobs, world wars, etc. Everything is changing and we humans don’t have the capacity to easily deal with this on the individual level. It is overwhelming.

My argument is that liberalism can only operate on its own terms during peaceful times and in democratic societies. Liberalism becomes dysfunctional or forms weird hybrid ideologies when it is dominated by illiberal forces. It is only in brief moments when we can see the potential of liberalism manifest without the constraints of fear and anxiety. That is understandable, but unfortunately I don’t think many liberals fully understand this.

Romney’s Mormonism: Socialism, Progressivism, Xenophobia

A caller on Diane Rehm’s NPR show (I think it was October 11) offered an insightful observation. And the two guests, mainstream talking heads, were utterly clueless in typical fashion.

The caller commented on how Ryan spoke of Romney’s charity. The caller thought that charity was great and that it was great that Mormons take care of their own, but he wondered how much Romney donates to charities that aren’t Mormon.

In a president, you want someone who will be concerned about everyone, not just those seen as part of their group. This is the fundamental problem about Romney honestly admitting that he thinks 47% of Americans are unworthy of his concern and compassion, that therefore he is genuinely only interested in representing the upper classes and other groups of people he happens to personally identify with.

What really caught my attention was something else the caller said. He pointed out that the Mormons are socialist within themselves. This is common on the right. Conservatives are fine with socialism for people within their own group, but not for those not part of their group.

This is where the cluelessness of mainstream talking heads comes in. They denied this was socialism. How can smart people be so ignorant about such basic issues. Of course, it’s socialism. Just because it doesn’t fit Cold War anti-communist propaganda doesn’t mean it can’t be socialism. Most early socialists in America were religious and limited their socialism to the in-group.

This is clueless in another way. The guests argued that the Mormon church isn’t a government. Of course, the Mormon church is a government.

 
Mormons have always kept their church governance closely tied with political governance. In Mormon Utah, the church essentially is the government, in fact originally tried to create a government separate from the  United States. You move to a Mormon town and you will be forced to follow Mormon-based laws. Furthermore, tithing is a tax, not a choice if you want to be a Mormon just as federal taxes aren’t a choice if you want to be American, although both being a Mormon and being American are choices that one can always choose otherwise. Mormons don’t even have a choice in how their church government spends their money, certainly less choice than an American citizen for at least democracy allows for one to vote in or out one’s leaders.

Besides, the right all the time uses the government to fund their religious programs. Churches get tax exemptions and many religious organizations get government funding. For example, the religious right voted in Bush who then rewarded them by funding abstinence only sex education. Compassionte conservatism is ultimately religious ‘socialism’ being implemented in secular politics (‘socialism’ in the broad sense as defined by conservatives).

This is all made clear by looking at history. Back when immigration was low and there were fewer foreigners\outsiders, Mormons were strong supporters of the social welfare programs of Progressivism. Now that immigration is at a high point, Mormons vote against the very programs they once voted for. Such xenophobia is sadly predictable, and it is equally true for the rest of the religious right.

Divide and Conquer

Here is something I never understand.

Every time I hear someone talk about “Real Americans” it’s almost always a Christian conservative (such as Sarah Palin”. Why is this “Divide and Conquer” mentality so appealing to many conservatives? And why does it seem so repulsive to most liberals?

The only answer I’ve found is the research of Bob Altemeyer. He found in the US Right-Wing Authoritarianism correlates to social conservatism and Christian fundamentalism. In communist countries, the bigots tend to be communists. In fascist countries, the xenophobes tend to be fascists. But, in America, this same type of person tends to be a socially conservative Christian. Why?

I understand the power of group mentality especially in terms of fundamentalism, but still I just can’t get my mind around it. There is this obvious conflict between what Jesus did and said and what right-wing Christians too often do and say. Shouldn’t all Christians, even conservatives, be against such bigoted xenophobia and fear-mongering?

Many right-wing Christians will ask: What would Jesus do? But why do so few right-wing Christians ask this question when they walk past the homeless guy sleeping on the cold sidewalk? Why do so few right-wing Christians ask this question when confronted with undocumented immigrants who are trying to escape a country that has become violent because of the US War on Drugs? Why do so few right-wing Christians ask this question when they hear drum-beating and flag-waving propaganda for yet another war?

My problem isn’t that Christians fail to live up to Christ’s example but that so few even try. Still, their not trying doesn’t stop them from being righteous towards the failures of others.

I don’t know what Jesus would do, but I do know that Jesus wouldn’t be a right-wing Christian.