Monday, July 14, 2008

So What to Do About the Big Sort?

The conclusion of our discussion with Bill Bishop about The Big Sort yesterday was, naturally, What can be done about it? That is, if Americans are increasingly likely to live politically segregated lives, what should we do with the awareness?

I noted the other day Bishop's finding that the most educated people are the least likely to talk to people who disagree with them. I can certainly confirm this finding from academic life. As those of us around the table considered our various workplaces, some were in overwhelmingly Democratic shops and others in overwhelmingly Republican workplaces, but no one worked in a place with anything like an even mix.

Churches and other religious institutions are not much more likely to be politically balanced. I suspect that the more balanced they are, the less likely people are to talk politics with their co-religionists.

The main point of the book is that neighborhoods are increasingly mono-political.

One point that those of us blessed to live in lovely Danville could make to the big-city dwellers is that cross-party communication is more likely in a small town just because there aren't enough different neighborhoods and institutions to for the different parties to live in all the time.

The larger conclusion we drew was that we should go out of our way to have regular conversations with those with whom we disagree on politics. This will not only help us break out of the echo chamber. Talking to our political counterparts will, I hope and believe, help us to be more civil and gruntled.


JAS said...

Interesting comment about politically mixed churches. Mine is about 60/40 (D/R). To add to the confusion, most of the Democrats around here are gun-toting social conservatives (it's a heavily unionized area). And you know what? You're right. We don't talk politics. Moral issues, yes, but not candidates.

In comparison, a friend of mine pastors a city church that is probably 80/20 (D/R), with a large number of Priuses in the lot. His folks not only talk politics, but they make derisive jokes about those on the other side of the line. It floored me when I first heard it, because you could never get away with it at home. You'd be insulting a neighbor.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, the note on churches is interesting. I belong to a relatively conservative denomination (PCA) in a highly liberal area of urban St. Louis. The congregation is mixed bag of creative class misfits and crunchy conservatives. Virtually all of the 20 and 30 somethings are transplants, and I find that we rarely ever discuss politics. I’m not sure if this is simply a characteristic of our generation or if the nature of our church leaves people unsure of whom they might offend.

However, during a casual discussion with two other women, we discovered that each of us had been raised in ultra-conservative, ultra-Republican homes (the types that attend the conventions and donate heavily). To look at us now, you might never guess it. We’ve adapted to fit into our work environments as grad students, musicians, artists, social workers, etc. And the fact that all of us now shop for organic food, recycle religiously, listen to NPR, and spend our mornings doing yoga masks the fact that we’re all recovering right-wingers. Turns out that with our parents, coworkers and churchmates we remain virtually silent about politics. I think that's a shame. What a valuable, “purple,” discussion group we’d be if only we weren’t afraid of causing offense.

Gruntled said...

Since you have already established your common history, perhaps you could lead the purple discussion. I think this applies in both churches treated here -- I believe there is a market for discussions of candidates as well as issues that is based on civility and diversity of opinion as the ground rule. This would appeal to people who are distressed by the fact that it is so hard to talk seriously with people they disagree with. There are plenty of such people on both sides of the middle -- enough to have a non-snarky conversation.

Anonymous said...

I listen to Sean Hannity occasionally. I vehemently disagree with 95% of what is said, but I feel like I’m trying to do my part to bridge the divide :-)