Monday, July 7, 2008

The Clustering of the Like-Minded

The small town dynamic continues to perplex me. And these days I'm still better at collecting others' thoughts than expressing my own. Maybe soon I'll have the luxury to sift through it all and pound out some coherent ideas, but currently that's not an accurate reflection of my mental map. There's not even a table of contents up there right now.
We don't get NPR in our town. It's on an AM station out of Columbus that I can sometimes pick up if I'm driving, but usually Olivia is with me, and the constant buzzing is too much to ask of her. So tonight, Brett fixed me up with a speaker loud enough for me to listen to the NPR Program Stream off my computer while working around the house. Thank you Brett, you've changed my life again. Within minutes, Talk of the Nation was coming through clear as a bell.
Tonight, Guy Raz was talking with Bill Bishop, the author of a new book called The Big Sort: How the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. The big idea is that we tend to live, work, and play with people who think just like us. Bishop suggests that this practice is doing us, and our society at large, a great disservice. It's keeping us from engaging in legitimate discussion on all important issues. It's perpetuating ignorance. Before we recognize what's happening to us, we get entangled in group think and only see the opposition as absurd.
Here's the link to the interview which also includes an excerpt from the book. Joel, you'll be getting this in the mail soon- happy birthday, and welcome back. I'm checking it out at our library tomorrow (or I should say, I'll be requesting it through interlibrary loan).

10 comments:

DC said...

Thanks for this. I think I ll request this one through the library myself!

Lara said...

We moved to a VERY small town (1200) last year. This book sounds interesting to me. I'll have to check it out. I do think that sometimes it's harder to have friends that think just like you in a small town because there are so many less people. We have friends now that we would've never been in a place to even meet in Atlanta. It's been kind of cool and really made me think about my beliefs and opinions.

Karen Luttrell said...

Does the author suggest this is a recent phenomenon? Is this not the nature of human behavior to find like-minded people? How can moving to a smaller community make people ignorant when we have greater access to information, ideas and communication than ever before? Perhaps people are clustering in smaller groups as a way to reconnect with people, instead of the anonymous transmissions over the internet. In a large metro area where I live, rarely do people make eye contact walking down the sidewalk, much less say hello. You're pushed up against a dozen strangers in a subway car, but don't even acknowledge their existence. This too is a innate need of human nature - physical and meaningful human contact. Or maybe people are moving to small towns because they want to escape crime, crappy schools and high mortgages. If so, I can't say that I blame them. Maybe the author takes up the issue because the ideologies of many people who live in small towns are contrary to his, therefore ignorant.

katie said...

Pet peave- how politics and religion (Christianity) have melded so strongly that many on the "right" aren't thinking for themselves anymore, much less looking for a Christ-centered view on various topics like the environment. Many believe that Obama is evil and global warming is a myth because "Limbaugh says so." In there mind off shore drilling is a GREAT idea because Republicans support it, and government should NEVER be involved in helping the little guy. It is sad that you can hardly have a reasonable discussion about political views anymore because so many have been indoctrinated by their homogeneous surroundings. We would get a lot more done if everyone crossed the aisle and depolarized themselves.

Karen Luttrell said...

Katie - Of the two presidential candidates who have crossed the aisle and depolarized themselves, McCain has a better track record. Politics and religion are just as fused on the left as well - Sojourners/emergent church gushes about Obama. I think it's just as narrow minded and polarizing to believe that being conservative means that one doesn't think for oneself, listens to Limbaugh, and hates Obama. Demonizing someone because you disagree with them, doesn't make your arguments any more valid. Please explain what the Christ-centered view on the environment is? Boost Ethanol production? Use nuclear power? Solar? Wind? Give up use of fossil fuels entirely? Use clean coal? Does Jesus want us to invest in more fuel efficient cars or public transit? How will all this be funded? Preserving God's creation is not just a priority of the Dems. That's why off shore drilling is a better alternative to drilling on protected land, but that doesn't make it the best option. You do know the US is drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, right? Try reading the editorial section of the Washington Post. That has some diverse political views.

Elizabeth Dark Wiley said...

I'm smiling right now. I really wish you two (Katie and Karen) knew each other. You're both so passionate and committed to pursuing the truth and then handling what you know responsibly. And I'd have to add that you both probably frequently find yourselves in the minority of whatever group discussion your involved in. You two would set up playdates for your kids just so you could hang out together on a regular basis. Now, how could I get you in the same neighborhood? Thanks for speaking up. Let me know if you want each other's e-mail addresses.

katie said...

Wow. What I am finding really funny right now is that despite my seemingly liberal comments, I usually vote to the right, and probably will in November. I definitely didn't mean to over-generalize and I don't ever want to demonize anyone- sorry if I came off that way. I just find that in my own corner of the world-speaking of my family, many of my friends and most of my community in a small southern good 'ol boy kind of town-that the tendency is to make demons and messiahs out of the candidates/political parties to the extent that you can't even converse anymore before someone gets incredibly offended. I simply want to be able to present alternative points of view to my own small audience for the sake of discussion. I don't think it is good, as mentioned in this book excerpt, to feel like you can't challenge the ideas of your community without being ostracized. Being like-minded isn't necessarily bad either, but we should be able to debate in a productive way.

Lori said...

You can subscribe to NPR podcasts on iTunes. It changed my life. Hope all is well.

katie said...

FYI- my initial comments, I am told by my sweet hubbie, came across as a direct attack on karen's thoughts preceding them. I should clarify that they were not a direct response to karen's first post. Not to bring up Obama again, but my post was really directed to those who can't get past the "terrorist pound," or similar nonsense, to talk about the real issues. -And I MOSTLY prefer my small town atmosphere over the big city- we have lived in both. Unfortunately despite other positive local values (faith, family, etc.), the likeminded-ness in our town includes unbelievable racism from both blacks and whites which still plagues our local government and its citizens every day. There is so much here that needs to be openly debated, and since the predominant ideology among my fellow citizens leans way to the right, they were the ones that I picked on. I could just as easily pick on the liberals. But I will stop there. Tim Russert was a great example of one who looked at all positions on a topic and judged them for their own merits and flaws, despite whether they originated on the right or the left- a good goal for all Americans. I have now beat the horse beyond death!

Karen Luttrell said...

I’m going to take my shots at the dead horse for just a bit. First, Katie I hope my comments did not cause you distress. I did not see your comments as attacking mine, and I wouldn’t take it personally if they did. What I was addressing was the broad generalizations and stereotypes that get in the way of meaningful discussion. Excuse me while I ascend my soapbox… The spin-doctors and politicos are counting on people getting their political information mainly from cable news and radio. The diluted, filtered and biased information rallies their base and baits fringe voters with sensationalized and insignificant stories. The recent Jesse Jackson comment and "terrorist pound" Katie mentioned are perfect examples of getting off topic. People don’t like delving into the real issues because they’re tedious and complicated with no easy solutions. Why can't we have presidential debates without "moderators"? I see your point about small town views, but Bubba in the pickup truck is entitled to his opinion, however misguided, because his vote counts just as much as anyone else’s. What concerns me is that “depolarization” is a nice way of just telling people their wrong and should come around to your way of thinking. Asserting that some can’t think for themselves or are just part of a groupthink is not going to coax them into the debate. They’re not going to say, “You’re right, I’m a lemming.” Of course there should be open debate about ending racism. For the record, racism is bad in metro areas too. For example, in my county right outside of our nation's capital, a white policemen was struck by a car and dragged down the street. The young black male who was arrested for the crime was found dead in his jail cell from strangulation. And the police aren't talking. Part of the discussion should attempt to find out why people believe what they do and their motivations for their opinions and actions, without assuming the opposing view is ignorant, misguided etc. For instance, someone may be accused of being racist if they express frustration because an overwhelming percentage of crimes are committed by black or hispanic men. Some people are called racists because they are prejudiced and abusive (actively or passively) toward people of another race/ethnicity. We have to be careful how we label. We’re all misinformed to some degree, and our personal feelings and agendas sculpt our ideology with what little information we have. I know, thanks for stating the obvious, Karen. Those
"Bubbas" managed to be a deciding factor in electing Bush for two terms. I think “Bubbas” are a greater factor in that a non-Southern Democrat hasn’t been elected president since Kennedy. Do the “Bubbas” know something you and I don’t? I was very serious about my question about Christ-centered policies on the environment, as well as other issues. I’m trying to figure it out. Finally, what is so wrong with ruffling a few feathers? I don't think there is anything wrong with challenging someone's viewpoint. Just don't descend into name calling. That's counterproductive. I don't think that Bishop's clustering theory is the problem. It's that people have evolved into spineless amoebas. Maybe I'm crazy, but I didn't think the Republican listserve guy was ostracized. It was the wrong forum. When has Austin not been left-leaning? I think Bishop is overreacting and should dig a little deeper for a better example. If anyone out there, particularly women, feel that they can't express their views in their community, I would remind them of the words of the great suffrage activist Susan B. Anthony..."Well-behaved women rarely make history"

Liz, I'm still working on my reply to your note. You gave me a lot to chew on ;)