Tuesday, June 29, 2004

David Brooks: Age of Political Segregation

Is the information age responsible for an increasingly polarized American society? In today's online edition of The New York Times, David Brooks asks this question, and provides compelling evidence for the affirmative:

"I've been writing about polarization a fair bit recently, and the more I look into it, the more I think I'll just move to Tahiti. That's because the causes of polarization — at least among elites — have little to do with passing arguments about the war, the Bush leadership style or the Clinton scandals. The causes are deeper and structural ... to a large degree, polarization in America is a cultural consequence of the information age. This sort of economy demands and encourages education, and an educated electorate is a polarized electorate.

As examples of this, Brooks offers the following points:

+ That's because college-educated voters are more ideological.

+ Once you've joined a side, the information age makes it easier for you to surround yourself with people like yourself. And if there is one thing we have learned over the past generation, it's that we are really into self-validation. * Editor's Note: This is so true! Why else do I blog?

+ We don't only want radio programs and Web sites from members of our side — we want to live near people like ourselves ... the political result is that Republican places become more Republican and Democratic places become more Democratic.

+ When we find ourselves in such communities, our views shift even further in the dominant direction. You get this self-reinforcement cycle going, which social scientists call "group polarization."

+ People lose touch with others in opposing, now distant, camps. And millions of kids are raised in what amount to political ghettoes.

Brooks is worth a regular indulgence for a multitude of reasons. Not only is he amazingly erudite, but he's eminently sensible and always a gentleman. That can't be said for his colleagues in Op-Ed at The Times. Go and read the whole of it.

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