Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Political segregation marches on

I just joined a new social networking group, as if I really need to spend more time online. Bureaucrash Social is a networking site for libertarians, civil libertarians, classical liberals, Ron Paul Republicans, anarchists -- generally, people who celebrate individual freedom and look on government with suspicion.

Bureaucrash Social is a pretty cool site -- good functionality and a slick look. Best of all, it lets me connect with like-minded people without fretting overly much about butting heads with control freaks of one flavor or another.

Folks with a taste for being left alone aren't by themselves in this. Sites like Diatribune fill a similar role for lefties, while Power to the People is one service that helps conservatives get up-close and personal. Whether you like liberty or prefer crushing liberty, if you want to associate only with like-minded people, that task is becoming increasingly easy.

It's not just online, either. Bill Bishop, in his book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart, documents how people are increasingly segregating themselves into communities of people who share similar cultural values and political views. As of 2004, 48.3% of Americans lived in counties that are politically uncompetitive -- one major party or the other has a lock on local political loyalties. The process tends to be self-sustaining, too. As people spend more time with their political tribes they become less compromising in their own views and increasingly intolerant of opposing ideas. As the political environment becomes one-sided, dissenters are spurred to migrate to welcoming communities of their own.

I see it myself. The reason that I find Bureaucrash Social such a haven is because it can be difficult to be a libertarian in a world of "national greatness" conservatives and cult-of-Obama liberals. In particular, advocacy of free markets and small government isn't very popular right now, so it's easy to flee to an environment where similar refugees gather.

And once there ... Well, I certainly don't become more compromising myself. A ready source of intellectual ammunition and a supportive environment wonderfully stiffens the spine and recharges the batteries.

Is that a bad thing? Bill Bishop argues that political balkanization has created a country "whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible" and "has made national consensus impossible."

I'll attest to the culturally incomprehensible part. On a non-partisan social networking site where I participate, I was privy to an exchange of messages between two old college friends over Sarah Palin's "scary" lifestyle of guns and snowmachine races. To put this into context, you have to understand that these women -- former roommates -- had a race at the end of their senior year to see who could bag more sexual partners. I don't know who won, but I know the tally for each soared north of 50. One then became, for several years, a lesbian, while the other neglected to slow down her romantic adventures during her first, not-so-successful marriage. At their prime, they both had healthy appetites for pretty much any available intoxicant that could be smoked, drank, snorted, swallowed, or ... I don't think either went for needles.

I'm not criticizing, mind you -- the only person wronged along the way is one ex-husband. I like these women, think they're good people, shared in much of the lifestyle and settled down at about the same time -- OK, I had less settling to do -- that they did. But it takes a certain cultural myopia for somebody from such an interesting background to wag a finger at anybody who stops short of cannibalism. Scary really is in the eye of the beholder. But you might not realize that if you have little contact with people who live very different lifestyles.

As for making consensus impossible ... Is that really such a bad thing? I've written before that political polarization may well help to keep us free, and I still think that's true. When people are politically segregated into hostile camps, the government can never have the full trust or support of the population. That means that any administration will face hostility and opposition. "Consensus," to be honest, is usually the battlecry of political hucksters trying to sell us a bill of goods and ticked off that we won't all get with the program.

A little more willingness to compromise, would probably be a good thing, though -- but not among us folks on the right side of the issues. What we really need are uncompromising libertarians and liberals and conservatives eager to bend over backward to accommodate us.

Somehow, though, I'm not sure everybody is going to eagerly embrace that idea.



Blogger Shamgar said...

I largely agree with what you're getting at here, however I think there are some valid concerns to be raised.

You're absolutely right that its a good thing to spend time in like-minded associations and that some dividion and unwillingness to compromise is what helps to keep us free.

Yet when it comes to homogenous communities I think we should pause a bit. Obviously people should be ree to associate with whom they wish regardless but I think its a good think to have some diversity if thought.

Your understanding of the issues and reasoned defense can only get so refined among your peers. Its when they're tested against those who disagree that you really find out what they're made of.

Further when your group is too homogenous there is little opportunity for your ideas to affect others. Instead we become a society of stagnant and slowly deteriorating thought.

we need the conflict in the realm of ideas. (
Unfortunately it has become almost a sin to discuss contrary issues and that only contributes to the problem.)

October 8, 2008 7:35 PM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...


I agree with you about the value of diversity -- at least of sufficient familiarity with other values and way of life that you are tolerant of those differences. That's why I was somewhat tongue-in-cheek about the virtues of monoculture, and why I told the story about my college friends and their shocked reaction toward Sarah Palin's lifestyle.

So, while I believe that there are real benefits in contentious political division, I don't overlook the value of the sort of interaction that encourages tolerance.

October 9, 2008 10:09 AM  

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