The American Tower of Babel: How Decentralization Promotes Sectarianism

By Aleksey Bashtavenko

Academic Composition

The United States has long been celebrated as a land of diverse perspectives, where individuals with varied backgrounds and beliefs come together to form a rich tapestry of society. However, a growing body of literature, including works by Max Weber, Bill Bishop, Kai T. Erikson, and Eli Pariser, paints a different picture—a nation increasingly characterized by self-segregation and ideological isolation. This essay explores the overarching theme of self-segregation in America, as illustrated by the “Tower of Babel” metaphor, where individuals hardly have anything in common with one another. We will connect the views of these authors and delve into how this phenomenon is reshaping American society.

Max Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” offers a historical perspective on how religious sects, particularly Calvinism, promoted ideological purity and exerted enormous pressure on individuals to conform. The focus was on adhering to strict moral and economic values, creating a form of ideological purity that encouraged distancing from outsiders. This historical context provides a foundation for understanding how ideological homogeneity and the pressure to conform have deep historical roots in American society.

Bill Bishop’s “The Big Sort” delves into the contemporary phenomenon of self-sorting and political polarization in America. He observes that Americans increasingly cluster with like-minded individuals, resulting in political and social homogenization. This self-segregation, driven by shared values and beliefs, has led to a decline in empathy for differing viewpoints and a reduction in the diversity of thought within communities. The “Big Sort” highlights the consequences of these divisions, creating a stark picture of how Americans are isolating themselves from those who hold different beliefs.

In “Wayward Puritans,” Kai T. Erikson provides a historical case study of a 17th-century Puritan community in New England. Erikson examines how shared values, moral standards, and mechanisms of social control influenced the labeling and treatment of deviant individuals within the community. This historical perspective offers insights into how communities, even those founded on shared religious values, can promote conformity and distance themselves from outsiders when confronted with deviance from the accepted norm.

Eli Pariser’s “The Filter Bubble” explores the impact of personalized online algorithms and filter bubbles on the information individuals consume. These algorithms prioritize content that aligns with an individual’s existing beliefs, reinforcing ideological isolation. Pariser argues that personalized online experiences create echo chambers where users receive information that only affirms their views, rarely encountering thought-provoking or challenging content. The result is a digital self-segregation that further divides Americans along ideological lines.

While exploring the themes of self-segregation, it’s essential to address the traditional conservative argument for small government, often associated with minarchism. Many American conservative activists argue that minimizing the overreach of the federal government promotes liberty. However, this view overlooks a crucial aspect: the potential for small organizations, often associated with specific religious sects, to wield significant influence and even tyrannize over individuals.

Small government proponents assert that reducing federal authority safeguards individual freedoms. However, the focus on limiting federal power can inadvertently empower smaller organizations, such as religious sects, to exert strict control over their members. In such sects, individuals may face intense scrutiny over their personal lives, from dietary choices to intimate relationships and even thoughts. This level of intrusion can be just as, if not more, oppressive as a large government. Furthermore, the belief in limited government often disregards the importance of checks and balances on all forms of power, whether it’s the state or small organizations. The potential for abuses of power and the erosion of personal freedoms can exist at any level of authority.

The views of Max Weber, Bill Bishop, Kai T. Erikson, and Eli Pariser collectively shed light on the concerning phenomenon of self-segregation in America. From historical religious sects promoting ideological purity to contemporary self-sorting and filter bubbles reinforcing ideological isolation, the nation is becoming increasingly divided. The “Tower of Babel” metaphor aptly illustrates a scenario where individuals with divergent beliefs and values can hardly find common ground.

Addressing this issue requires a concerted effort to break down echo chambers, encourage diverse perspectives, and foster connections among Americans who may seem worlds apart within their ideological bubbles. It also necessitates a critical examination of the consequences of minarchism and the traditional conservative argument for small government, recognizing that unchecked power, whether from the state or smaller organizations, can pose threats to individual liberty and the diversity of thought that underpins a vibrant society.

2 replies »

Leave a Reply