The Distinctiveness Of WASP Ethics

I grew up a WASP. All of my family and friends were WASPs. I took WASP morality for granted. There was no concept of an in-group vs out-group morality in WASPville. If you cheated, you kept quiet.

I didn’t develop non-WASP friends until I went to UCLA in the fall of 1988. I was 22. I loved the Jews and Asians on my quiet floor at Rieber Hall but I learned there was something different about their ethics. Later, I would learn about the terminology of in-group vs out-group morality.

All the Asians I knew at UCLA were refugees from South-East Asia. America had been very generous to them but they felt little if any gratitude. They had a sort of contempt for America. Their generosity was primarily directed towards their own group.

Growing up as a WASP, I took for granted my full membership in my host nation. The Asians I knew at UCLA felt a more attenuated relationship to America.

I got a Chinese girlfriend in my 20s. She’d tell me about little tricks she’d pull that no WASP I knew would countenance — such as hanging out all day at the all-you-can-eat Souplantation or taking most of the tips left for the waitress.

I didn’t realize in the fall of 1988 that all of the world but WASPs had a tribal morality. I didn’t realize in the fall of 1988 the concept of social trust. I didn’t realize in the fall of 1988 that I was witnessing the decline of America.

I fell in love with Jews and Asians at UCLA — the two groups seemed to have more in common with each other than they did with the whites I had known — because I saw that they had virtues that WASPs lacked — fierce loyalty to their group and to their families, they lived with more passion and esprit de corps, and they worked and studied harder and enjoyed more success because their groups put more value on socio-economic success and less on honesty than did WASPs. They were master races. My race in comparison seemed mediocre and in decline.

Ron Guhname writes: WASPs rule! I wrote in a recent post that I was getting the sense that Americans with Protestant European backgrounds were the best behaved. So I decided to sum all my prior post numbers that dealt with ethnicity and moral behavior to assess this idea systematically. I followed the simple strategy of assigning a rank for each behavior for each of the 8 ethnic groups with sufficiently large sample sizes. Jews were often ignored in previous posts since one must turn to the religion rather than the ethnicity variable to get estimates, but I wanted to include them, so I calculated numbers and then ranks for them.

I included all variables that I have posted on–here’s a list of them: okay to cheat on taxes; drinks too much; ethnocentric; dirty house; frequents prostitutes; promiscuous men over 30; feel that infidelity is not wrong; gay; lesbian; husbands and wives who cheat; fathers divorcing mom; women arrested; and promiscuity for men and women and under. I realized that I had not posted on drug abuse so I added that to the rest. I ranked group so high numbers indicate more bad behavior, then I simply summed the 16 rankings for each ethnic group. Here are the totals:

Bad Behavior Index

Blacks 106
Mexicans 85
American Indians 85
Italians 70
Irish 67
Jews 64
Germans 56
English/Welsh 47

My hunch was correct. This pattern coincides with that feeling that goes way back among nativists that the moral quality of the country was slipping with the mass immigration from Catholic, southern and eastern European countries, and more recently in concern over immigration from Mexico.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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