September 22, 2010
the righteousness that is the special entitlement of homogeneous groups
I am always torn when I hear discussions about the "fragmentation" of American culture or politics, because fragmentation also means diversity and freedom. Yet there are real disadvantages to losing a common dialog. Bill Bishop has written a brilliant book, The Big Sort, about how we have chosen to live in more culturally and politically homogeneous communities than a generation ago. I think he gets the issue just right:
It would be a dull country, of course, if every place were like every other. It's a joy that I can go to the Elks lodge pool in Austin to see the H2Hos, a feminist synchronized swimming troupe accompanied by a punkish band, or that I can visit the Zapalac Arena outside my old hometown of Smithville, Texas, to watch a team calf roping. Those sorts of differences are not only vital for the nation's democratic health, but they are also essential for economic growth. Monocultures die.
What's happened, however, is that ways of life now have a distinct politics and a distinct geography. Feminist synchronized swimmers belong to one political party and live over here, and calf ropers belong to another party and live over there. As people seek out the social settings they prefer--as they choose the group that makes them feel the most comfortable--the nation grows more politically segregated--and the benefit that ought to come with having a variety of opinions is lost to the righteousness that is the special entitlement of homogeneous groups. We all live with the results: balkanized communities whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible; a growing intolerance for political differences that has made national consensus impossible; and politics so polarized that Congress is stymied and elections are no longer just contests over policies, but bitter choices between ways of life.
Bill Bishop (whom I know just a little) and his wife sorted themselves into a progressive neighborhood in Austin, where they are comfortable--as I would be. He begins his book with truly troubling quotes from the neighborhood's listserve about how specific conservative neighbors ought to leave the area. It's an important reminder that such "righteousness" is by no means a monopoly of the right.
September 22, 2010 11:49 AM | category: none
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