6 comments

  1. “Efforts by the elites to the contrary notwithstanding,
    Americans are apparently doing what human beings
    naturally do anyway: seeking out others of their
    own kind with whom they form communities.”

    1. Bishop’s thesis is that the Big Sort started in
    about 1965. If this is a reflection of “what human
    beings naturally do”, then why did it wait until 1965
    to start happening?

    2. Some humans, under some conditions, actively
    seek cultural diversity and enjoy it; e.g. many
    residents of New York City, San Franscisco, and
    other metropoli (and, e.g., myself, personally, and
    many people that I know).

    3. Be very careful about statements about
    “what humans do naturally”. They’re tricky
    as all get-out.

    4. The foregoing is not any part of an
    argument against secessionism (the
    main subject of your piece).

  2. “1. Bishop’s thesis is that the Big Sort started in
    about 1965. If this is a reflection of “what human
    beings naturally do”, then why did it wait until 1965
    to start happening?”

    But what was American society like before 1965?

    Blacks were segregated from mainstream society. Homosexuals were considered felonious criminals. Feminism was a marginal, fringe movement of the radical Left. Most Americans adhered to some kind of Christianity. Even wealthy Jews were barred from country clubs and even hotels on occasion. And what else happened in 1965? The change in immigration law that opened the borders to 3rd World immigrants.

    It makes sense that the Big Sort would have begun in 1965 because that’s when a combination of cultural change and legislative change came into being that radically transformed American society. Within the middle class, the Big Sort is a manifestation of the culture wars that date back precisely to that time. Also, keep in mind that Bishop is focusing primarily on partisan political rivalries and cultural conflict within the middle class. If we extend that analysis out much further to the areas of race and class, we see that the Big Sort is even more profound. The Big Sort began as the old, homogeneous American society disappeared in favor of the newer, more diverse American society that includes mass immigration and compulsory integration laws, rivalries between “traditional values” and the counterculture, between gays and the religious right, between feminists and traditional gender roles and so forth.

    “2. Some humans, under some conditions, actively
    seek cultural diversity and enjoy it; e.g. many
    residents of New York City, San Franscisco, and
    other metropoli (and, e.g., myself, personally, and
    many people that I know).”

    I like diversity just fine. I’ve lived in a bohemian city district for 23 years. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Amsterdam, one of the most diverse places there is. I associate with all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. But even for someone like me, there is still The Other. For instance, I utterly despise suburban life and suburban culture, and spend very little time in such places or among such people. I probably hate the bourgeoisie as much as any non-Marxist ever could.

    I dislike organized religion a great deal, and have not ventured inside a church in 25 years. I know lots of religious people, and get along fine with them, but I don’t involve myself in that aspect of their lives.

    Despite what is often said about me, I really have no problem with blacks or homosexuals. But I don’t hang out in hip-hop clubs or gay bars either.

    Spend some time around diversity mongering liberals and one will often find a great deal of exclusivity and outright snobbishness. Spend time around counter-cultural leftists and one will often find a good deal of out-group hostility. For instance, in my experience, liberals and leftists talk about poor, uneducated whites with the same kinds of visceral hostility that racists use to discuss blacks. “Intolerance” is in the eyes of the beholder.

    “3. Be very careful about statements about
    “what humans do naturally”. They’re tricky
    as all get-out.”

    Somewhat. But it’s also a standard statistical principle that the larger the sample, the greater the predictability. Large groups are easier to more accurately generalize about than individuals.

  3. Good points about american society before 1965, Keith. I am
    reflecting on them, and it seems to me that (in keeping with what
    you said) the “Big Sort” before 1965 took the form of being
    mostly imposed/enforced by the state as e.g. laws that required
    segregation, or made it difficult not to segregate. People did not
    have to consciously self-sort; it was “done for them” more or
    less. On the other hand, Bishop is talking about a more
    comprehensive kind of sorting than that just along racial lines.
    He is talking about sorting along political party affiliation and
    related lines. I don’t believe that this existed much before the
    1960s or 1970s (am I wrong?).

    This Bishop/Big-Sort thing reminds me of Cass Sunstein’s
    “information ghettos” from the early 2000s, about how people were
    creating (by way of internet, etc.) their own highly-biased news
    and views inputs, such that they no longer were/are exposed to a
    diversity of views. Instead of reading the op-ed page with
    editorials sometimes written by ideological “enemies”, now you
    just visit ONLY the websites written by people who think the same
    things you think. According to Sunstein this is a major trend.
    It seems weird to me. I’ve always been a xenophile. I LIKE
    reading views that I disagree with and that get my goat up and
    that challenge my pet ideas. It’s fun.

    Anyway, the question is: WHY? Why do people like to segregate
    themselves (and their minds)? Why occupy a narrow little ghetto
    of monoculture when you can enjoy the whole mansion of diversity?
    (“Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving” —
    Auntie Mame, circa 1955.) I don’t know, but it is unlikely to
    have much to do with “human nature”. There are too many
    “defectors”, too many outliers. There is a pattern, but there are
    also many outliers — too many to dismiss.

    This might sound arrogant, but I think it might be a developmental
    issue. I think said segregation might be a reflection of
    (relatively) retarded adult development. Children can be amazingly
    xenophobic. A kid once said to me, when I suggested that he try
    some squash: “I’ve never had it, so I don’t like it”! It can
    be challenging to expose oneself to new and different stuff. It
    puts you at risk of… horror of horrors… being WRONG, or being
    forced to CHANGE. A fate worse that death, eh? (Ha ha.) Staying
    with what you know is staying in the comfort zone: low challenge,
    low likelihood of things getting out of control, low ambiguity.
    (Remember “ambiguity tolerance”? One of the hallmarks of the
    right-wing or authoritarian personality is low ambiguity
    tolerance.) Of course, maybe I am an arrogant bastard for even
    suggesting any of this. I consider that a distinct possibility.

    Keith:
    “Spend some time around diversity mongering liberals and one will
    often find a great deal of exclusivity and outright snobbishness.
    Spend time around counter-cultural leftists and one will often
    find a good deal of out-group hostility. For instance, in my
    experience, liberals and leftists talk about poor, uneducated
    whites with the same kinds of visceral hostility that racists use
    to discuss blacks. ‘Intolerance’ is in the eyes of the beholder.”

    I’ve noticed this to an extent — but to less of an extent than I
    would expect based on the standard accusations along these lines
    from the right. Generally the accusations (not yours right here;
    I am speaking of my readings elsewhere) are exaggerated and
    whiny; the whole reaction to “political correctness” being far in
    excess of anything that actual PC excesses (which DO exist) might
    justify. Right-wingers are like children in this regard (and other
    regards). “Mommy, tell Timmy to stop botherin’ me!” Yeah yeah,
    whatever. But it would be nice if they grew up.

    For the most part the PC leftists (however infantile they
    themselves can be at times) are just trying to compensate for the
    really egregious “anti-PC” (opposite of PC) errors/crimes of the
    past. They’re mostly just good-hearted people trying to create a
    better, fairer world, even if they are stupid and, sometimes, too pushy.
    The right gets FAR too exercised about this. And probably they
    need to, since their ideas on other fronts are so often bankrupt
    (gotta talk about something, eh?). Getting up in arms about rather
    trivial shit is one of the characteristics of the paranoid
    authoritarian right-wing psychotype. They need a hot tub, some
    good sinsimella, and a double-whiskey.

    I actually went through a period where I tried those right-wing
    anti-PC ideas on for size (so to say), and had myself
    half-convinced of them. It was fun for a while, skewering witless
    left morons for their excesses, blind-spots and prejudices —
    while at the same time rooting out some of my own old blind-spots
    and prejudices. It was profitable and fun. But then that darn old
    critical intellect and contemplative perspective intruded, and
    spoiled the party.

    Keith:
    “[It is a] standard statistical principle that the larger the
    sample, the greater the predictability. Large groups are easier
    to more accurately generalize about than individuals.”

    Certainly, but that is not what I was talking about. You can show
    that, statistically, consumers in the U.S. behave in X, Y, and Z
    ways (I am making up the example as I type, fingers flying), based
    on some huge sample, but that may or may not — very likely does
    not — tell you anything about fundamental human nature. Consumers
    in the U.S. behave in X, Y and Z ways because of life-long
    brainwashing, numerous cultural pressures, and so on. I said
    that you should be cautious with statements about “what
    humans do naturally”, and I stand by that, given the
    usual connotations of “naturally” (as in: innately, by their
    fundamental nature, in-born, hereditary, genetic, “in their
    blood”). Humans do an amazing variety of things, and most of them
    are highly conditioned by culture. Genes set some very general
    parameters, and the remaining (vast) territory is filled-in by
    the environment.

    Thanks for putting up with my long-winded rambling.
    IF you put up with it, that is. 😉

    Alan
    

  4. “On the other hand, Bishop is talking about a more
    comprehensive kind of sorting than that just along racial lines.
    He is talking about sorting along political party affiliation and
    related lines. I don’t believe that this existed much before the
    1960s or 1970s (am I wrong?).”

    Yes, I agree with all of this. But why has this political segregation taken place? Prior to the 1960s, America was even more of a one-party state than it is now. Today, both parties represent the same imperial-ruling class interests, and in some cases represent different factions within those interests, and they maintain power by playing differing cultural factions against one another. That would have been impossible in the culturally homogeneous society of the pre-’65 era, where The Others that did exist were politically excluded. How does this translate into present day political party segregation? Because the two parties represent the rival cultural interests that emerged from everything that happened after 1965.

    Who are the rank and file constituents for the Democrats? Racial minorities, feminist women, gays, immigrants, welfare recipients, cultural leftists, environmentalists-all of the movements that came out of the 60s-plus the traditional Democratic constituency of northern blue collar workers. Who are the rank and file constituents for the Republicans? Middle to upper class economic conservatives, conservative whites, religious fundamentalists, gung-ho patriotic “love it or leave it” types, military fetishists, law and order types, the very groups that most objected to the cultural revolution of the 60s and 70s.

    “I’ve always been a xenophile. I LIKE
    reading views that I disagree with and that get my goat up and
    that challenge my pet ideas. It’s fun.”

    Me too.

    “For the most part the PC leftists (however infantile they
    themselves can be at times) are just trying to compensate for the
    really egregious “anti-PC” (opposite of PC) errors/crimes of the
    past. They’re mostly just good-hearted people trying to create a
    better, fairer world, even if they are stupid and, sometimes, too pushy.
    The right gets FAR too exercised about this. And probably they
    need to, since their ideas on other fronts are so often bankrupt
    (gotta talk about something, eh?). ”

    In some instance, this is true. For instance, I used to read David Horowitz’s Front Page Mag and the usual ravings on that site about anti-American, terrorist-loving politically correct types subverting all that is good. Many of the criticisms of PC I encounter from right-wing types often seem to me to be petty and not very good illustrations of the problems with PC. But that doesn’t mean that there is not a darker underside to PC. This is the analogy I like to use: The ravings against Communism found among right-wing types-McCarthyites, Birchers- during the Cold War period were often way overblown, hysterical, fanatical, exaggerated, paranoid, etc. Worse, it was often used as a cover for American military aggression in places like Indochina and Central America. But that doesn’t mean that Communism as a system was benign, harmless, or something not to take seriously or guard against. Likewise, whatever we may rightfully say about assholes like Rush Limbaugh, political correctness is genuinely dangerous. Case in point:

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/thought-police-muscle-up-in-britain/story-e6frg6zo-1225700363959?from=public_rss

  5. Keith: I am in a hurry right now and I will get back here on sunday
    or so. But for now, just one quick thought on one point: You wrote:
    “But that doesn’t mean that Communism as a system was benign,
    harmless, or something not to take seriously or guard against.”

    I disagree, largely. Communism as it existed (USSR, PRC) was
    not “benign and harmless”, true, but it was not something to take
    particularly seriously or “guard against” in the U.S. That’s a whole
    right-wing mythology, with virtually no merit. There was NEVER
    any chance that the U.S. would “go communist” in any way (other
    than, remotely, in some exceedingly american-ized way that would
    have no recognizable relation to elsewhere), and there was never
    a serious chance that we would be invaded. There was a chance
    that we would be nuked, but hardly enough of one to justify the
    McCarthyite hysteria and accompanying permanent war economy.

    Further, if you dig around a bit you’ll find that the alleged atrocities
    of the communist regimes were quite exaggerated, amounting to
    much smaller numbers than the likes of e.g. Rummel would have
    you believe. That’s not a defense of those systems, and I am not
    a communist; just a statement of what I believe now to be fact.
    Still further, there is the perspectival matter of what preceded those
    admittedly ugly regimes, and the relative benefit for the majority of
    the populations under them, post-revolution. Life expectancies
    jumped dramatically in a single generation in both Russia and
    China — from something like 30, up to 60+. That is an enormous
    accomplishment that is almost never mentioned by anyone, left
    or right. The knee-jerk anti-Stalinism of the left will not allow them
    to admit it. Stalin was a murderous bastard, to be sure, but the
    bottom line is that the era of his rule saw the fabulous advance
    that I just mentioned. That’s saying something. It is a big mixed
    bag and you cannot draw simple, blanket conclusions or judgments
    out of it. I think one should view communism in those nations as
    a developmental phase with both very good and very bad aspects.
    And to return to your point: I don’t see that it was anything to
    “guard against”. It was a phase they went through, and it had the
    effects that it was going to have, and now it is a different world.
    If anything is to be “guarded against” it is the encroachment of
    rapacious capital and the insane rule of “the market” *uber alles* —
    to the point of global collapse on all levels (at worst). Come to
    think of it, even though I am not a communist (and maybe I should
    be one!), it is possible that we would be looking at a different and
    somewhat better picture today if the USSR and PRC had
    maintained more of their initial socialist spirit.

    More rambling… sincerely yours… did I say I was in a hurry? 😉

  6. Alan,

    I agree with just about everything you said. Btw, your analysis of Communism is almost identical to that of uber-libertarian Murray Rothbard. When I said “guard against” I wasn’t talking about the fantasies about Communist world conquest that some on the Right had back then. I certainly wasn’t endorsing American imperialist aggression in the name of anti-Communism which was the basis of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War. I simply meant that Communism was an undesirable system that should not have been view as an acceptable alternative to Capitalism, that’s all. The standard anarchist and third-position view of Communism.

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