Friday, July 18, 2008

Twin Cities Tidbits

I am on the road in Minnesota, on my way to collect Gruntled Son from French camp. Spending the day in St. Paul and Minneapolis, I collected these fun small items, and one slightly serious one.

At Macalester College, the vegetarian cooperative dorm, with its own veggie kitchen and dining common, is under the bleachers of the football stadium. The tour guide said that the stadium was thick enough that the sound of the games did not come through. "It is just like a regular dorm," he said, "except the ceiling is slanted."

The funky business district serving the University of Minnesota is called Dinkytown. There is no agreed explanation.

In Dinkytown there was a hair salon called Hair Shaft. This might be a vulgar double entendre. I prefer to think it is a play on the German word for political domination, loved by Weberians, "Herrschaft."

Near the other half of the U of Minnesota campus, on the Minneapolis side of the river, is a coffee house that I commend to you, Mapps, in the middle of a student/Somali neighborhood. The hot tea dispenser is labeled "East African Tea," which is spiced with cardamom.

The one semi-serious observation I made was of how the Macalester tour guide spoke about the chapel. I have been to many small liberal arts colleges like Macalester, almost all of which were founded by churches. There is a significant division, I have noticed, in how tour guides account for this relation. At some schools, the normal guide rap includes explaining the college's specific church relation and how it helps support students' spiritual life. At other schools, the guide apologizes for the church relation and the chapel, and assures prospective students that nothing will be expected of them religiously. Macalester is in the latter category. Now, I think it is perfectly reasonable for colleges to loosen their church ties in order to treat a broader range of student faiths with equal seriousness. Centre has done so, and Swarthmore has gone even further. But this is not the same as treating faith as something the college should hide, merely accommodate, or even apologize for.

I have been to only one college in which the tour guide had no idea that his school had been founded by ministers with a religious mission. He was surprised to learn that the building he was pointing out to us was named for the famous evangelist who put the school on the map. But then, Oberlin has always been unusual ...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Napoleon of Notting Hill

This is the title of G. K. Chesterton's 1904 novel, which I just listened to on a long car trip. I always enjoy Chesterton's humor. His later work, after his conversion, always makes me want to be a Catholic, at least while I am reading it. This book, pre-conversion, is quite muddled theologically.

The novel is set in the future, when big empires have conquered the world, government is all bureaucratic administration without the bother of elections, and the king is chosen by lot. A whimsical joker is chosen king, and sets about restoring separate governments in all the London boroughs, with romantic medieval pomp. The chosen head of Notting Hill -- which I think is meant to be the most inoffensive and inconsequential suburb -- takes it seriously. Warfare with the bureaucrats and merchants of neighboring boroughs ensues. The patriotism of (very) little nations is pitted against crushing, monotonous, soulless mechanism.

What Chesterton takes up here is the question of nationalism vs. imperialism. The novel was written at the time of the Boer War, in which the British extended their empire by crushing the Afrikaaners in South Africa, a war fought mostly for diamonds and gold. The war was intensely popular in Britain at the time -- this was the war that produced "jingoism" as a term for aggressive patriotism. Chesterton was part of a small group of "Little Englanders" who opposed the war and opposed imperialism. They were not pacifists. I think they could best be described as anti-imperialist nationalists.

I generally think that Chesterton is right until proven otherwise. I think he is not right on theology here, but that is not his main focus. The main point is that human greatness comes from attachment to the actual places and people of our ordinary organic life. We can't go wrong if we defend that from outside attack or assimilation. And we can go very wrong when we impose our ways on other people defending other places.

I am torn about this. On the one hand, imperialism has inevitably led to overreaching and creates, on the whole, more bad than good. On the other hand, I am a cosmopolitan in my daily life, and believe in national greatness. I think that it is possible to make a great nation that is expansive, generous, and exemplary without crossing the line into conquest and oppression. But I am chastened by the paucity of historical examples of great nations that have managed to consistently stay on the right side of the line.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Big Sort and the Racial Divide

Bill Bishop's The Big Sort is primarily about how geographic segregation affects elections. More Democrats are living in overwhelmingly Democratic neighborhoods, and more Republicans are living in overwhelmingly Republican neighborhoods.

So how does the Big Sort relate to race? Most Americans would like to live in racially integrated neighborhoods. The fact that most people live in neighborhoods in which one race predominates is partly due to the fact that "racial groups" differ in what they think is the ideal mix, which makes it hard for a neighborhood to stabilize with a proportionate mix. The result is more racial segregation than most people want.

Race, though, is a crude proxy for beliefs, values, and way of life -- the very things, Bishop argues, that people are looking for when they choose a neighborhood. Moreover, race is becoming cruder as a proxy for way of life all the time. We can anticipate that as more people choose where to live based on their way of life, and their way of life is less constrained by their race, neighborhoods should get more mixed by race and less mixed by values.

African-Americans, at this moment in history, overwhelmingly share similar political values. Black Americans vote Democratic more than 90% of the time. That is a higher rate of Democratic voting than registered Democrats show. In this year's presidential election, it is likely that 95% of African-Americans will vote for Barack Obama. Given the high baseline of black Democratic voting, the fact that Obama is himself a child of the African diaspora probably does not add very many more votes than any Democrat would have gotten. What Obama will add, I think, are many people, especially young people, who would not have voted at all.

So how does race interact with the Big Sort? Bishop argues that people tend more and more to vote with their neighborhoods. This is partly due to the fact that they move to neighborhoods of like-minded people. It is also due to the fact that the neighborhood line on a candidate or an issue -- which in most neighborhoods is getting pretty easy to discern -- shapes how undecided voters choose. Thus, if most African-Americans live in overwhelmingly Democratic neighborhoods, the new voters, reluctant voters, and undecided voters (small though their numbers may be this time) are likely to fall in line with the neighborhood -- just as the Big Sort predicts.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Big Sort vs. The Big Join

So how does The Big Sort affect marriage?

Bill Bishop, in the book of that name, is dealing with counties as his main unit of analysis, so it is hard to tell directly how marriage is affected by his finding. As a default, he takes couples with children as the unit that he assumes chooses neighborhoods. This is not a bias so much as a simplifying assumption. Since most people do marry and have kids, this is not a bad assumption. It does, though, obscure some important nuances.

In particular, many strongly Democratic neighborhoods are full of single people, while the Republican exurbs are very family-oriented. Other researchers have found that the famous "gender gap" in voting is mostly a marriage gap. Married people are more likely to vote Republican; singles, Democratic. Since there are more single women than single men, this looks like a gender gap.

Indeed, most marrieds have a stage in life when they are living single. At that stage, in the college-going class, anyway, they are more likely to live in an urban area where they worry less about protecting and educating little ones. At a later stage in life, with kids to worry about, they move someplace with more room and less danger. If they changed their voting habits with that move out, that would be a big part of the explanation of The Big Sort.

Which is a good start for the next research project.

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.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

How Does the "Big Sort" Sort Catholics?

I have been writing about Bill Bishop's The Big Sort this week. Today our Centre College study group had the pleasure of meeting with Bishop, who was in Kentucky for a book signing.

One of the terms that Bishop uses to talk about the lifestyle divide that helps produce politically segregated neighborhoods is between "public Protestantism" and "private Protestantism." These are based on a distinction Martin Marty made between the way mainline Protestant churches in this country have lived their faith, and the approach taken by evangelical, fundamentalist, and pentecostal churches. In surveys, those who view their faith as the basis for stewardship of the public realm tend to vote Democratic and live near other Democrats. Those who, by contrast, view faith as primarily about personal belief and morals tended to vote and live Republican. The former views don't actually entail liberal theology, and the latter don't entail conservative theology, but the correlations are pretty high.

I wondered how Catholics fared on these measures of public and private Protestantism. Bishop reported that Catholics with conservative theological views and an emphasis of their personal faith and morals tended to vote Republican, while liberal, socially oriented Catholics tended to vote Democratic. This is completely in line with Bishop's other findings.

What is odd is that Catholic social teaching is as traditional, papal, and "mainline" as "public Protestantism" is. Protestantism is more individually oriented than Catholicism is pretty much across the theological board. Bishop's sources were not, I think, refined enough to ask Catholic-specific questions that would let us tease out the nuance of how Catholics who are theologically traditional and publicly oriented vote. That is a good start for the next study.