Monday, May 4, 2009

the big sort

i always enjoy the time on a plane if i have a good book i'm really into. on the flight out this time, i finished "the big sort: why the clustering of like minded america is tearing us apart" by bill bishop. this is one of the most interesting and thought provoking books i've read in a while. (but then, sorry scott, i actually liked freakenomics)

i'm always limited by time in most everything i do, and these blog posts are certainly no exception. there's only enough time to tap out a smidge of what's running through your head about an idea, and then there's real life to take care of. the unexaminded life is not worth living, but examining life takes more time than living it, so the math really doesn't work out very well. we end up examining a sample of our lives, not the whole thing. we just differ person to person on our sampling rates. some of us reach some threshold to be considered "introspective"

he points out that americans, among "developed" nations, actually are somewhat above average in our desire to talk about politics, according to studies. we are quite reticent, however, to talk about our political views with people who disagree with us. we only want to talk politics with "us" rather than them.

this is reflective of everything, not just politics. we are a people who avoid not only conflict, but difference. there are, of course, prominent examples, like our very diverse workplaces, where economic incentive drives us to leave that behind, so if you wish to argue the point, you can find plenty of ammunition. but the statistics of how we vote, what we buy, where we go (or don't go) to church, and where we live, speak pretty loudly. you can argue some about the why, about the interpretation, but not the what.

it's actually very reminiscent of the reformation. there is a shift in identity from an inclusive ("catholic" pretty much means "universal"), to the particular. once the identity shifts, the "other" becomes the enemy.

i think that's why we are becoming increasingly polarized. we have, as a nation, ceased to identify first as americans, but rather have redefined real americans as people like us.

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