Diversity counterproductive to "social capital?"
November 2, 2007 9:40 PM   Subscribe

Diversity counterproductive to "social capital?" James Wilson's article in Commentary magazine talks about Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam's essay recently published in Scandinavian Political Studies. In the essay, Putnam publicizes the findings of his research, conducted in rural districts, towns, and cities, whose conclusion establishes that diverse neighborhoods show less "social capital" because ethnically diverse residents seem to distrust each other.

Putnam has discovered that friendship, carpooling, participating in local projects is much lower in ethnically heterogeneous communities than in homogeneous ones. His research reveals that the exception to the tendency of diversity to inhibit "social trust" occurs in ethnically diverse military or religious settings as well as in social circles with intermarried couples. Wilson adds sports teams to the list of these exceptional places where ethnically different people click well.

Wilson also ends up rejecting Putnam's idea that increased church presence and the building of additional public athletic facilities would bring ethnically diverse residents together. Instead, he offers up his own rather vague suggestion:"strong families living in neighborhoods made up of families with shared characteristics seem much more likely to bring their members into the associational life Putnam favors." Looks like "strong families" can overcome the lack of social interaction in neighborhoods. But isn't the term of "strong families" reminiscent of GOP's panacea for all problems?
posted by gregb1007 (37 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Apology: In a strange twist of fate, commentarymagazine.com, the site that houses the article, has gone offline shortly after I wrote this post. Hopefully, the site will come back on soon.
posted by gregb1007 at 9:47 PM on November 2, 2007


Wow. I thought it would take a few years, but less than a week after they hire John Podhoretz, they go under.
posted by ibmcginty at 9:55 PM on November 2, 2007


Previously.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:02 PM on November 2, 2007


Thanks for unearthing the previous discussion, i_am_joe's spleen. But in my defense, I link to a different article that makes somewhat different points. However, if people decide there's too little that's new here and that this thread should be "liquidated," that's fine too.
posted by gregb1007 at 10:07 PM on November 2, 2007


Therefore, we should all be atheists?
posted by Brian B. at 10:09 PM on November 2, 2007


isn't the term of "strong families" reminiscent of GOP's panacea for all problems?

Only if "strong families" is a term your willing to concede. I have a strong family.
posted by Mblue at 10:25 PM on November 2, 2007


Btw, here's a "Google Cache" version of the article:

Mblue, I wasn't sure what he meant by "strong families." To me the word reeks of the GOP connotation of very traditional, old-fashioned families. It is possible that he could have meant families that spend a lot of time together and have strong bonds of love, but I wouldn't bet on it.
posted by gregb1007 at 10:33 PM on November 2, 2007


So people who are different tend to avoid each other unless there is a greater whole they are a part of in order to face off against a larger "us vs. them" situation, and we're surprised at finding this out?

The easiest way to get people to trust each other is to give them both someone to mutually distrust and work together against. Someone who looks like you, acts like you, and believes what you believe is easier to trust than someone who looks different, learned different customs, and believes differently. We find some alien life form out there, cultural and ethnic differences will be small stuff compared to the crazy outlandish things those damned shifty non-oxygen breathing alien bastards do.

Well, we can at least try to patch things up in the meantime. We've gone from rampant lynchings, burnings, and running out of town to grumbling, vandalism, and ignorant threats. Progress isn't perfection, it's just a start.
posted by Saydur at 10:34 PM on November 2, 2007


Mmm, defense of racial nationalism.

What, that's uncomfortable to realise? Too bad.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:40 PM on November 2, 2007


People are racist. Duh.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:47 PM on November 2, 2007


I'm reminded of a computer simulation by Thomas Schelling described in this review article:
Agent-Based Modeling: A New Approach for Theory Building in Social Psychology - Eliot R. Smith


The economist Thomas Schelling (1971), in one of the earliest multiagent investigations in the social sciences, explored how segregation can arise in diverse populations through the actions of individual agents even when no agent specifically desires segregation. Schelling distributed agents of two different types (red and green) randomly in a lattice. His model assumed that each agent used a single, simple rule: Do not be in the minority in your local neighborhood. Agents moved to empty spaces if the proportion of same-color agents surrounding them (e.g., in the eight squares surrounding each square in the lattice) fell below a threshold, such as 30% or 50%. This rule was repeatedly applied until all agents stopped moving. The final result (under a wide range of assumptions, such as the particular values of agent thresholds) generally was a pattern of near-complete segregation, with clear boundaries between groups and virtually no mixed neighborhoods.

(Not red-ist or green-ist.)
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:06 PM on November 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


If " segregation can arise in diverse populations through the actions of individual agents even when no agent specifically desires segregation", than the only way to fight it would involve a central planning agency that would decree where each person within an area would live. But that of course could and should never happen because it would way too intrusive!
posted by gregb1007 at 11:12 PM on November 2, 2007


Whenever I see a reference to Commentary magazine, I always think of the Woody Allen joke:

I had heard that "Commentary" and "Dissent" had merged and formed "Dysentery."
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:32 AM on November 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


Oh, Putnam is the Bowling Alone guy. Whew, I can ignore this tempest in a memepot too.
posted by languagehat at 5:42 AM on November 3, 2007


Well, in fairness, languagehat, this new essay is based on an empirical study that Putnam conducted. He wasn't enthused about what the data showed. Because he knew that Commentary and its fellow travelers would use it as a reason to talk up segregation.

My Commentary problem-- and ours-- is that the right wing in this country is so far off the rails that it's hard to have an honest discussion about anything.

Not that there's no valid conservative perspective on things, but when you have Norman Podhoretz and Pat Robertson as your icons, and George Bush and Rudy Giuliani as your spokesmen, your movement is neck-deep in crazy. "Invade some new countries? Torture people? Search citizens without warrants, then detain them indefinitely without charges or access to a lawyer? Sure, we can do that, because we're the good guys."
posted by ibmcginty at 6:04 AM on November 3, 2007


"My Commentary problem-- and ours..."

Clever.
posted by cousincozen at 6:10 AM on November 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Old, Dupe, and stupid. Communities with lots of ethnic diversity are communities where most people have moved recently, rather then having family roots going way back.

Unless he found some communities that have been ethnically diverse for hundreds of years, he's full of crap, IMO.
posted by delmoi at 6:18 AM on November 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Yup, yay study, boo to the fact that it'll be used by twits.

I'm interested in his metrics for "social capital", and I've got a suspicion that he really isn't measuring much. There appears to be a large "oh, things were better before this awful internet replaced human interaction" nostalgia trip, coupled with some dubious choices for what constitutes "social capital"

I'm also leery of the 30,000 people involved in his survey. That seems an excessive number, and his method of selection is left unspecified in the linked article. There's nothing wrong with a large sample, of course, but it does leave one wondering how the responses were gathered, mail in questionares would seem the obvious choice for a group that large, and those aren't especially highly regarded among most sociologists I know.

I'm not saying that his conclusions are necessarially false, but I am questioning his methodology and metrics.

I'm also wondering how social capital can be measured effectively WRT networked communications. Take AskMeFi as an example. I'd argue it represents social capitol, and while the net population is predominantly white, European, etc, I know for a fact that its a multinational grouping with enough non-whites to be classified as hetrogonous.

My point is simply that the study seems to omit new sources of social capital in order to focus, seemingly out of nostalgia, on outmoded forms of social interaction. So no one is organizing barn raisings, or square dances [1] anymore, big whoop.

[1] Note, for the humor impaired, that's supposed to be comic exageration, I know he wasn't basing his study on that. Thank you.
posted by sotonohito at 6:30 AM on November 3, 2007


I'm pretty sure there are communities that have been ethnically diverse for hundreds of years. After all, in America at least we have quite a few cultures that are hundreds of years old and some that are much older. I wonder if any communities like that were studied, though.
posted by Citizen Premier at 6:44 AM on November 3, 2007


I am not living in Norway so I am not able to talk about that country. When I was growing up, neighborhoods consisted of ethnic groupings, ie, Jews in one, blacks in another, Irish in another, Italians in another etc. Now, in the suburbs, I find a mix and though there may not be social cohesiveness, that is the cost of living in the suburbs but these areas seem to be doing just fine.

Turn to our schools: we have a nice mix. My kid has friends that are Chinese, Muslim, etc --and that is a good thing. Wilson, whose writing are best regarded as conservative, published this in a magazine that is conservative....Now, since Commentary is largely a Jewish organ (or was), why do we find so many Jews who in fact are intermarrying, working with non-Jews, assimilated, secular or reform and living in "non-Jewish" communities?

If mixed (or diverse) is poor social capital, would the magazine suggest re-instituting quotas, as once had, at elite colleges in order to increase social capital?
posted by Postroad at 7:05 AM on November 3, 2007


Allow me to introduce the two of you.

Chicken? Egg.

Egg? Chicken.
posted by flarbuse at 7:39 AM on November 3, 2007


I posted this in a previous thread, but this is what Putnam himself said on the topic:

"In this article, I wish to make three broad points:

• Ethnic diversity will increase substantially in virtually all modern societies over the next several decades, in part because of immigration. Increased immigration and diversity are not only inevitable, but over the long run they are also desirable. Ethnic diversity is, on balance, an important social asset, as the history of my own country [the United States] demonstrates.

• In the short to medium run, however, immigration and ethnic diversity challenge social solidarity and inhibit social capital. In support of this provocative claim I wish to adduce some new evidence, drawn primarily from the United States. In order to elaborate on the details of this new evidence, this portion of my article is longer and more technical than my discussion of the other two core claims, but all three are equally important.

• In the medium to long run, on the other hand, successful immigrant societies create new forms of social solidarity and dampen the negative effects of diversity by constructing new, more encompassing identities. Thus, the central challenge for modern, diversifying societies is to create a new, broader sense of ‘we’."

Putnam is a lot more nuanced than the conservative anti-diversity types who piggybacked on his argument. In addition, Putnam makes distinctions between short-term and long-term effects of diversity that rarely show up in articles that wish to use Putnam as raw material for an anti-immigration or anti-"diversity" argument. Anyway, when did conservatives start caring about "social capital" anyway? If I advocated any other policy other than immigration restriction on the grounds that it increased "social capital," I'd be accused of supporting the "collectivist heresy" (a la Maggie Thatcher's quote, "There's no such thing as society, only individuals and families.).
posted by jonp72 at 7:44 AM on November 3, 2007


Recall what darwinians have to say about diversity
posted by Postroad at 7:56 AM on November 3, 2007


Diversity only works with equality and equal rights where it is not used against someone, not that a conservative would ever factor equality in. The theoretical problems with diversity is that it is a reality, not an ideal. To make it an ideal one would infer racialism. This all means it will never not be a topic.
posted by Brian B. at 8:24 AM on November 3, 2007


'This subject includes some costs as well as some benefits.' Some people who think in terms of 100% for vs. 100% against will consider this statement to be 'I am 100% against this subject' and then be 100% against the one who said it. It seems 'diversity' has some costs as well as benefits. Those who think I am a 100% bad person for saying so are now ignored 97.44% of the time by me.
posted by eccnineten at 8:47 AM on November 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Brian B. Actually, conservatives factor that in all the time. The problem is that they percieve granting equal rights to groups that previously didn't have them as acting against the formerly privilaged group.

Thus the absurd notion that when homosexuals demand equal treatment they're demanding "special rights".

For a perfect example of this, see Michael Weiner (who operates under the alias "Michael Savage") who, on his show broadcast on Jan 15 of this year said, in reference to civil rights: "It's a racket that is used to exploit primarily heterosexual, Christian, white males' birthright and steal from them what is their birthright and give it to people who didn't qualify for it."

My emphisis.
posted by sotonohito at 8:48 AM on November 3, 2007


"It's a racket that is used to exploit primarily heterosexual, Christian, white males' birthright and steal from them what is their birthright and give it to people who didn't qualify for it." (Michael Weiner/Savage)

Good quote for its absurdity, and it even makes sense the other way around condemning elitism. But it shows why they need God, and why every God will be different, because each privileged claim to birthright is self-awarded and circular without their bigoted God.
posted by Brian B. at 8:58 AM on November 3, 2007


I'm pretty sure there are communities that have been ethnically diverse for hundreds of years. After all, in America at least we have quite a few cultures that are hundreds of years old and some that are much older.

These two sentences sum up the whole problem. Any community that can truly call itself cohesive couldn't survive for hundreds of years without losing any meaningful diversity. When you live together that long with the grandchildren of your grandparent's neighbors, you're one ethnicity, regardless of skin color or religion.

In other words:

Communities with lots of ethnic diversity are communities where most people have moved recently


However, the problem that Putnam's been trying to get at throughout his career is that we're seeing a lot more diversity, a lot less traditional associations (including the nuclear family), and we seem to be getting close to some sort of hypothetical threshold where that sort of deep identity and cohesive neighborliness is simply impossible, because we'll all be rootless, cosmopolitan, atomized individuals without sufficient bonding social capital to form bridges.

My comment from the last thread.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:10 AM on November 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea wrote "because we'll all be rootless, cosmopolitan, atomized individuals without sufficient bonding social capital to form bridges"

I think that premise is simply incorrect. Its definately true that Americans, especially, are no longer going in for a deep shared identiy and cohesive neighborliness with the random strangers who happen by pure chance to live nearby, but I argue that's because we're no longer forced to, and that its ultimately a good thing.

Back in the bad old days you had no choice but to attempt to forge deep bonds with the people who, by pure chance, happened to be in close physical proximity to you. Sometimes you succeeded, other times all you managed was a mutual tolerance. I suspect that the nostalgic looking back has over estimated, possibly by an order of magnitude, just how close those bonds really were.

Today, however, we can form bonds with people of our natural affinity groups, those who share our interests, regardless of physical distance. Of course trying to be close friends with your neighbor, who in all likelihood has few if any interests in common with you, will begin to fade away, and why shouldn't it?

Further, I think that the element of nostalgia, or more accurately rural longing, involved in the entire proposition is poisonous. It sounds, in large part, like the same "cities are evil, dehumanizing, places" line of bull people have been pushing since the first city was built.

I have no close ties to my physical neighbors, but I object most strenuously to the assertion that this makes me rootless, or atomized. Nevermind net relationships, which some will doubtless claim don't count, I have several close friends who live up to 20 miles or so away from me, but who I nevertheless see on a regular basis, and feel vastly closer to than I do to my neighbors.

Rapid transport made the necessity of attempting to forge ties with the people who, by pure chance remember, happen to live in close physical proximity unnecessary. Rapid communication is making the phenominon extend not merely to the X mile radius around you, but to the entire planet (or at least those parts of it which have a common language with you).

How's that a bad, or atomizing, thing?
posted by sotonohito at 11:00 AM on November 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I suspect that the nostalgic looking back has over estimated, possibly by an order of magnitude, just how close those bonds really were.

In fact, Putnam's work is not based on nostalgia, but on comparative research in Italy during the 70s: Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. He compared the efficacy of local governments in the Italian North and South and showed that deep identity and cross-community bonds are necessary conditions for democratic institutional success.

I have no close ties to my physical neighbors, but I object most strenuously to the assertion that this makes me rootless, or atomized. Nevermind net relationships, which some will doubtless claim don't count, I have several close friends who live up to 20 miles or so away from me, but who I nevertheless see on a regular basis, and feel vastly closer to than I do to my neighbors.

True, and but I would say the same thing. But you and I have got other kinds of capital: cultural and material capital out the wazoo. Try bootstrapping your way out of poverty or making your government listen to you without a lot of friends. Who takes care of the kids when there's an emergency at work? Your distant buddies, your Metafilter contacts, or the neighbor lady who thinks Bush is a good leader because he has an honest face? Voluntary associations are too easy and undemanding to provide the kinds of goods that social capital can supply.

I'm not dissing the internet: I'm -on- the internet. But like Putnam and a lot of other civic republicans, I doubt that the internet can make up for the losses we're currently seeing in civic engagement, communal cohesion, and local institutions of self-governance.

How's that a bad, or atomizing, thing?

I'm not a luddite. I like getting pizza on the internet and flying to France for a week's vacation as much as the next geek. What's wrong is that our communities are anemic: the solution isn't to become Amish, for God's sake! The solution is to fix the communities, and it's especially to stop destroying communities, especially among poor and recent immigrant populations that need communities for these basic social goods.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:28 PM on November 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


anotherpanacea wrote "Who takes care of the kids when there's an emergency at work? Your distant buddies, your Metafilter contacts, or the neighbor lady who thinks Bush is a good leader because he has an honest face?"

My distant buddies before my neighbors, actually. Right now I live in the traditionally black part of town, which means there is a great deal of economic mixing, you'll see expensive, new, houses right next to rundown shacks. My neighbors on one side of the street, honestly, won't speak to me or my wife because we're below their economic bracket. On our side of the street our neighbors talk to us, and we have somewhat distant but friendly relations. However, one is 86 years old and requires in home nursing, and the other I wouldn't trust to take care of my cat, much less my (hypothetical at this point) kid.

Before that I lived in a white neighborhood, and on one side I had a baptist minister/trucker who slept days and didn't much like me though we did maintain at least civil relations. On the other I had a viciously nasty woman in her mid 60's with whom I maintained cordial relations until, without any communication, warning, or indication that she had problems that way, she trapped my cat and (presumably) abandoned it somewhere; I have no idea what specifically she did because she completely refused to tell me, except to say that she had trapped the cat. After that, naturally, our relations were significantly less cordial.

Truth told, I've never lived in a place where I had people living close by who would, or could, help out with a kid if I needed it. I understand some people do, and I'm sure that's nice, but its not part of my experience.

As for "fixing communities", I still maintain that the premise is flawed. There's nothing there to fix, becuase in many places there isn't a community, there's just a bunch of people who happen to live next to each other. Communities, increasingly, are what we find online, or physically scattered. If, as tech marches on, more work can be done by telepresence, and it becomes cheaper to move we may find some of the real communities, those based on shared interests, turning into corporal communities. And that could be fun, beneficial, etc.

But I think its simply that people have, to a large extent, found that their communal desire is more deeply satisfied with (relatively) distant friends, or online relationships. As I said before, why bother trying to kludge together a pseudo-community based on nothing but geographic proximity when its so easy today to find a true community of likeminded folk?

I'll agree that there are advantages to the kludged together physical proximity type communities, help with kids and so forth. It'd be nice to have that too, but building communities takes work, and, self evidently, most people find it more rewarding to put that work into communities not based on physical proximity. That isn't a problem, its a simple cultural evolution.
posted by sotonohito at 5:17 PM on November 3, 2007


I just reread the last sentence of my comment, and boy was that a stinker. I was in a hurry. Still, I think you're missing the point: you're a historian with a lot of education, and you aren't the sort of person hurting for social capital. It's quite possible for you to get everything you need out of the world through your online experiences, your professional relations, and the chums who you can easily reach by car. I'm not discounting that, but I am claiming, as do many civil society theorists, that it's a lot harder to take advantage of that kind of easy, voluntary community when you don't own a car or a computer.

The poor often find themselves in the same position as you: without close neighbors they trust, without family nearby. But because they're also poor, it's significantly lonelier for them than it is for you. As a society, we continually make policy as if the whole world were made up of bourgeois intellectuals. Unfortunately, we've neglected some important measures for maintaining communal life. That means that large portions of the population are a lot worse off than they ought to be: they're less resilient, less capable of calling on a network of family and friends to help with an emergency, a new business venture, or to petition the government when they are aggrieved by injustice. That makes the world a riskier, lonelier, poorer, and less just place than it has to be.

My guess is that your online community is full of great pals, but that you, too, find yourself unable to make your representatives listen to you. If Putnam is right, that's because your community doesn't have the right kinds of associations necessary to make its representatives listen. The good news is that there is a solution. The bad news is that the solution involves finding a common ground with people who don't have much else in common with you than geography. It might feel like an imposition, but that's what
democracy needs to work.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:21 AM on November 4, 2007


anotherpanacea I agree with all of your observations, and disagree with your conclusion.

There's no denying that among the poor net connection is all but non-existant, and travel is prohibitively expensive. I was poor myself for several years, so I'm more familiar with those problems than I want to be.

I'll also observe that among immegrant and/or minority communities there is a stronger ad-hoc community due simply to the status of being immegrant or minority. Being black by marriage I've experienced that first hand as well, to the extent that a white guy can anyway.

However there are two distinct problems here, and I think you, and Putnam, are wrongly juxtaposing them.

The first is the problem of a social support network, and the second is the political problem.

I argue that they are two almost completely separate problems because, if we were willing to expend the necessary energy, my neighbors and I could build a social support network. Since neither I, nor my neighbors, are lacking transportation or net connections we simply aren't willing to expend the energy, and are able (via our relatively high wealth) to get along without.

I'm not at all sure how one would go about successfully encouraging poverty stricken folk to construct such networks where they're needed, being poor tends to be exhausting and simply doesn't often leave enough energy to do social networking, regardless of how beneficial that might be.

The political problem, I argue, is separate because constructing social networks "simply" requires that my neighbors and I spend the necessary energy to get to know one another and get along despite whatever political differences we might have.

But turning that social network to politics is, I would argue, impossible. Beyond the most basic potholes and garbage collection level politics the very political and social differences that make us more willing to network on the net, or with distant friends, put us on opposite sides of political debates.

You wrote: "The bad news is that the solution involves finding a common ground with people who don't have much else in common with you than geography. It might feel like an imposition, but that's what
democracy needs to work."


No, that's not what democracy needs to work, its a recipe for a completely disinterested and uninvolved electorate because you given the proper incentive I can build a social support network with Bush worshiping types, but the very fact that they like Bush and I think he's a threat to the country precludes any sort of collective political working.

It doesn't feel like an imposition, it sounds like what it is: an impossibility. I, quite literally, cannot find common ground with someone who, for example, argues that abortion is precicely equivilant to murder and should be treated in exactly the same way. Or someone who thinks that all the US needs to do is nuke Mecca and it'd solve our problems. Or someone who thinks that looking for alternative energy solutions is hippy bullshit and all we need to do is burn a crapload more coal. Etc. On purely local stuff (potholes and garbage collection) common ground exists, but beyond that, no.

Which, in my darker times, is why I think our political leadership clings so desperately to purely geographic representation: to prevent any sort of effective community based politics. I either have to move (expensive, and in many cases not possible due to jobs, etc) to a place that has people who think at least somewhat like I do, or I'm screwed.

The ultimate solution, IMO, is to reduce the role geography plays in our political representation. In the US this could be accomplished (eventually, but probably not yet due to not enough people having internet access) by adding a third house to congress, one based not on geography by on common interest. Or possibly repurposing the current House of Representatives away from geography, leaving only the Senate as a geographic based house.

There are several possible ways non-geographic representation could work. Declaring membership in a community (changable midway between elections), and letting each community thus created have representation equal to that of a member of the House of Representatives from the state with the lowest population [1].

Another possibility would require more tech (and thus be further in the future) by making the non-geographic house work by proxy. Don't like the way your rep is voting, you take away the proxy and give it to somene else. Require that a proxy have at least 515,004 votes before they get in, but they vote all proxies they hold, so a very popular proxy might wield tens of millions of votes. Some sort of system like Instant Runoff Voting would be necessary so that if the person you chose as proxy fell below the critical level your proxy would immediately switch to your second choice (or third, etc), and so that if enough people switch to your primary choice they'd immediately get their seat.

Moving away from the high tech proposals even something along the lines of parlamentary representation, allowing everyone to vote for a PARTY, not an individual politician, and splitting the seats in the non-geographic house according to the vote percentages would allow for more diversity in political viewpoints, and possibly help smaller parties into national prominance. It'd let my old neighbor to the north vote for the Christian-Fascist party, and me to vote for the Atheist-Geek party. I might not get the particular individual I want in office, but at least my views would be heard.

[1] Currently Wyoming, requiring a voluntary community to get 515,004 members before it gets any representation. Actually, I think that even if we keep purely geographic based representation we ought to change the number of House seats each state gets every census based on the number of people represented by the lowest population state. Right now the US is short about 150 representatives, which means the low population states are overrepresented twice: first by the insane Senate system, and second by the skewed House system. Want to know why the US government is so right wing even though the country isn't? That's the answer.
posted by sotonohito at 8:36 AM on November 4, 2007


I don't think we agree on what politics is. You keep on talking about potholes like that's the superfluous part of politics, while what's essential is abortion or international relations.

Yet the system isn't set up to give any citizen particularly direct access to rights-allocation or foreign policy. The system is designed (with some bugs, admittedly) so that we can be engage in free self-governance. That means paying attention to the local school district, the town's development plans, the roads and essential services, and the activities of the local constabulary or police. That's politics: it's about setting priorities and executing decisions, i.e. distributing revenue, accounting for expenditures, and collective action.

Arguing about issues settled by the Supreme Court thirty-five years ago is an absurd waste of the public sphere. You're right about the problems of representative apportionment, but the culture wars are the mechanism by which the US preserves legitimacy in the face of this dangerously unrepresentative government. You put it best yourself:

I, quite literally, cannot find common ground with someone who, for example, argues that abortion is precicely equivilant to murder and should be treated in exactly the same way.

You drive on the same streets, drink the same water, pay taxes to the same lazy and possibly corrupt City Hall, and yet this one, completely irrelevant doctrinal difference means you can't have a civilized conversation? Doesn't that seem a little strange to you? That's simply not reasonable: you'd work with pro-lifers to stop a war, wouldn't you? (Would you? I hope so.) You'd organize with them if Bush declared martial law and you wanted to resist. But somehow we've gotten to the point that we can't talk about the parts of government that effect our everyday lives because we're so busy arguing about these sticking points.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:28 AM on November 4, 2007


Local politics and regional/national politics are different things. I kept specifying "other than potholes and garbage collection" not to dismiss local politics as meaningless, but to distinguish between that and national/regional politics.

Local politics needs a fix, but generally its vastly more responsive to voters than national/regional politics. I can, and have, worked with people of radically different political positions from mine on purely local matters.

I'll also agree that its a shame that national political stuff keeps mucking into local politics. However, it does matter to a larger extent than you might think. City governments can, and with regrettably frequency do, make life hard for Planned Parenthood or local abortion providers to pander to the same mysognyst segment that Bush panders to on a national level. You can argue, and I'll agree, that they *shouldn't*, but the fact is that they do.

There was a vicious runoff election between two Republicans for my local state rep seat based, almost entirely, on the abortion issue, despite the fact that as state reps there is almost nothing either of 'em could actually do about abortion one way or the other.

In my post I was using the term "politics" to refer to regional/national politics. On a local level its different. In Amarillo, for example, the people elected to city goverment don't get any party affiliation next to their name, and are forbidden from officially campaigning as Democrat or Republican.

I discussed national politics because the problem of getting your representatives to listen to you is largely a national/regional problem, at least in my experience.

You wrote "But somehow we've gotten to the point that we can't talk about the parts of government that effect our everyday lives because we're so busy arguing about these sticking points."

I'd also like to observe that for 50% of the population the abortion issue affects their everyday lives on a quite personal level.
posted by sotonohito at 10:44 AM on November 4, 2007


Local politics needs a fix, but generally its vastly more responsive to voters than national/regional politics.

People without a lot of social capital don't vote, nor do they experience government, even local government, as responsive. Generally, they describe it in terms reminiscent of an occupying power.

I'd also like to observe that for 50% of the population the abortion issue affects their everyday lives on a quite personal level.

And for 12% of the population the whole emancipation issues affects their everyday lives. But that doesn't mean we need to keep talking about it. The abortion debate is over; we won. What you're looking at now is the misogynist's Jim Crow era: nostalgic for a time when women knew their place, but not particularly likely to unring the Roe v. Wade bell.

It sure does keep us from dealing with the procedural issues currently troubling the nation-state, though.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:53 PM on November 4, 2007


The sentences that caused me to stop reading:

If blacks or Hispanics, for whatever reason, are more likely to join gangs or commit crimes, then whites living in a neighborhood with many blacks or Hispanics will tend to feel uneasy. (There are, of course, exceptions: some, especially among the well-educated, prefer diversity even with all its risks.)

The final sentence implies that all blacks and Hispanics are gang members and criminals, and that all ethnically diverse neighborhoods have high crime rates.

Racist shitheads often correlate crime to race, even though it is actually much more closely linked to income and employment. Sadly, this false correlation has persisted for hundreds of years in the United States, with people blaming all of society's ills on the wop, the mick, the kike, the spic or the all-time favorite nigger.

But in reality, it's never had anything to do with race. It's just that the people who are the poorest and most desperate are the most likely to commit crimes.

Fuck this guy with a jagged glass dildo.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 9:16 AM on November 5, 2007


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