Friday, February 11, 2011

I'm Not Like You - or Am I?

Earlier in the week, my husband and I attended a lecture by Bill Bishop, author of The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like Minded America is Tearing Us Apart, at Hollins University.  (He also runs a news site called The Daily Yonder, about rural living.)
While much of the information wasn't new, a few things surprised me. For one, the author pointed out a significant drop in higher education in this country and changes in where those folks live. Thirty years ago, people with higher education degrees were spread all over the country. Now, people with higher education degrees are congregating in areas, sorting themselves into neighborhoods and communities of folks who are "like minded." There are also fewer of them.

Meanwhile, folks who have particular religious or other types of lifestyles (the example he used was those who use lawn fertilizer and those who do not) have done the same, sorting themselves into areas where everyone else is most like them.

I kept comparing my own locality, which has changed dramatically over the last 30 years, to the nationwide information as it was being presented. My community is now a place I hardly recognize. Oh, it's still rural, and I have lot of friends here and people and places I love, but there is also a different brand of people, folks who don't care about many of the same things I do. History is a good example. I have a seven-generation connection to the area; my family's blood and sweat has watered the land. But many folks don't have that connection and look at me oddly when I try to explain it, and don't understand why a building shouldn't be torn down.

So anyway, according to the author, people are moving themselves into little groups not according to race so much (though of course that still goes on) but by lifestyle. The author showed pictures of different neighborhoods and how right away you could tell what sort of people lived there.

Some neighborhoods sport flags and well-trimmed lawns, while other neighborhoods had book stores and yard art. People, maybe subconsciously, move into neighborhoods that fit their lifestyle. In turn, it's created a schism; no one tries to understand the other side.

Additionally, the author claimed that more than half the population believes their opinions and thoughts are the correct ones and that there is no need to listen to anyone else. I find that rather scary, because I know for sure I don't know everything. And then again, most of these same folks want someone just like them to run the country. Not me. I want someone who's a heck of lot smarter than I am up there making the calls.

There is so much information out there now with the 24/7 TV and Internet, that people just tune it all out and only listen to what they're comfortable with, excluding everything else. So new ideas and thoughts on subjects never reach their ears. This adds to the schism.
The author, unfortunately, had no solution to the problem and doesn't see one until there is some exterior crisis that forces people to pull together. If 9/11 didn't do it - and it didn't - I am not sure what it will take.

I wonder how we might end the radical, loud, brutal meanness that permeates a lot of life these days. I used to think everyone wanted to be kind, gentle, and nice, but I have decided that this is not the case: many people like being angry, they enjoy being mean, and they want to be vicious. I find that sad.

Apparently the last time the US was this divided, with neighbors so estranged from one another, was before the Civil War.

Are we headed toward a Civil War? If so, how may we avert this? Any ideas? Or are we too far gone?

Articles about this book may be found at the following links if you want to read more:

Are Evangelicals Too Republican?

Here's an Audacious Idea: Let's Reason Together

Communities of Exclusion: The Costs and Benefits of Diversity


  1. Very interesting. This reminds me of a comment my daughter made. She's in middle school (8th grade). I asked her what was the main thing she didn't like about school. Her answer- the kids are unfriendly, some are mean, and they don't look at you. I think of your comment about a feeling of estrangement. I think it starts with the kids and what they learn at home.

  2. I would have loved to hear this guy speak. Kurt and I are always analyzing why we want to go back to New Jersey, why we're not happy here, (it's such a beautiful place, the people are so nice) and it boils down to we want to be near people "like us." It's more fun when you're hanging with someone who has the same interests and values and likes YOU because you are like THEM. It's comfortable and safe. I think it's natural to congregate to your peeps.

    I don't like history. Maybe I should say I don't like political history. Wars and laws and all that stuff. But I love hearing about how people lived in the "old days." And I think old houses and barns and things are treasures that we should preserve any way we can. The last thing I would do would be to tear an old building down.


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