Thursday, June 19, 2008

The "Big Sort"

According to the Economist, Texas has a new city where 100% of the residents are Ron Paul supporters.
"His most ardent fans are invited to build homesteads in "Paulville", an empty patch of west Texas. Here, they will be free. Free not to pay "for other people's lifestyles [they] may not agree with". And free from the irksome society of those who do not share their love of liberty. "
This is all part of what author Bill Bishop calls in his new book, the "Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart". Bishop worries that Americans are becoming increasingly isolated from contrary views and succumbing to "a group think" mentality, separating themselves, and edging ever closer to extreme beliefs.

According to Bishop, it's not just segregation by home ownership in towns like Paulville that are leading to an isolationist mentality, but the internet, television, and (gasp!) even homeschooling!
"the home-schooling movement, which has grown rapidly in recent decades, shields more than 1m American children from almost any ideas their parents dislike....

"We now live in a giant feedback loop," says Mr Bishop, "hearing our own thoughts about what's right and wrong bounced back to us by the television shows we watch, the newspapers and books we read, the blogs we visit online, the sermons we hear and the neighbourhoods we live in."

Maybe I'm in the minority, but I read the opinions of those contrary to my own more often than I read those of people who agree with me. That's how I learn and challenge myself and what I think. Even on my blog, I welcome the comments of those that disagree and don't moderate out dissent. If my thoughts can't hold up against scrutiny, then maybe they're not worth holding at all.

I approach educating my children the same way. Yes, we teach our children what we believe, but I welcome the challenging questions my children ask. I don't want little Spunky robots who are just going to parrot what I think. I want them to learn to think for themselves. Yes, I want them to believe what I believe - not simply because I believe it is right - but because they do! With five teenagers in the house, this can create a tense family environment at times; but if what I believe is true, it can handle the tough questions of my teenagers. Truth always does and always will.

If Bishop is right and Americans are becoming "balkanized" it may be in part because some are not confident in what they know or believe and are finding security in like-minded people. However, looking at the diversity of Ron Paul supporters who are both on the right and the left of the political spectrum, I don't think that's what this particular community is all about. So it could also be that, like the Pilgrims, Paulites are declaring their independence and are willing to carve out a place where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are still the reason we choose to live in the United States of America - even if is confined to a few acres in Texas.

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