Friday, June 27, 2008

Sisters resists self-segregation

The Economist this week published an interesting piece on the increasing self-segregation of American society.
It seems that Americans are increasingly sealing themselves off in communities made up almost exclusively of people just like them in a phenomenon one sociologists dubbed The Big Sort.
We’re not talking about racial segregation here, though that’s a part of it. The phenomenon is one of social and political self-segregation.
“Because Americans are so mobile,” The Economist notes, “even a mild preference for living with like-minded neighbors leads over time to severe segregation.”
The problem with this is that “Americans are ever less exposed to contrary views.” It’s not just living in enclaves where everybody has pretty much the same outlook; they tune into TV and radio that suits their beliefs, read only what they already agree with and nobody around them challenges it. Views in an echo chamber become more and more extreme.
That’s no way to live, no matter what your values. That kind of “safety” is a slow death.
We’re lucky in Sisters. This community, while it is not ethnically diverse, has a broad cross-section of people with a variety of backgrounds, beliefs, and values. And we rub up against each other at community events, in restaurants and at the Post Office. We argue with each other in Letters to the Editor.
I know several people who are close friends, despite being polar opposites in politics and in many of their social attitudes.
That vibrancy is at risk, though. I talk to many people on both ends of the political spectrum, on either side of the cultural divide, who are increasingly intolerant of hearing from people on the other side.
Monocultures aren’t healthy in forests or in human communities. We are blessed to have a vibrant town here. Let’s make sure it stays that way.
Jim Cornelius, Editor

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