17.10.11

SEPARATING EQUILIBRIUM.

President Clinton visits Chicago, to bewail the absence of viewpoint diversity on your block.
“We’re not nearly as gender-biased as we used to be, We’re not nearly as racist as we used to be. We’re not as anti-gay as we used to be. The only bigotry we’ve got left is: we don’t want to be around anybody who disagrees with us.

As people burst into laughter, he threw out some statistics: In the 1976 presidential election, the vote margin between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford exceeded 20 percentage points in only 20 percent of counties in the U.S.

“That means people were having arguments in barber shops and beauty salons and coffee shops,” Clinton said.

But in 2004, more than 48 percent of counties were at least that far apart.

“Part of the problem with political paralysis in Washington is we just want to be around people” that have similar views, Clinton said. People say, “‘I’ve got enough problems in life — why do I have to deal with somebody that’s going to argue with me?’ Somehow we’ve got to get comfortable being with people we disagree with. This is a time for thinking. All this hyperventilating and name-calling, it’s highly destructive.”
That's the same thirty-some years during which the general-purpose coffee shop might have lost some of its New Luxury clientele to a Starbucks, and some of the haircutters differentiated their offerings, and during which parents with the means to protect their children from the worst depredations of so-called progressive education bid up the prices of houses in school districts with excellent test scores and probably like-minded neighbors.

That propensity for like to associate with like might have been encouraged by quests for productive efficiency in building houses and easing the transfer of executive families around the country.
Alpharetta, Georgia becomes Fishers, Indiana, becomes Woodbury, Minnesota, becomes Plano, Texas. The soccer fields and tennis clubs and swimming pool in the subdivision, which might be a gated community, are also there. The striving middle managers get sent to the $250 K to $500 K tract, and the soon-to-be vice presidents get sent to the $1 million to $5 million tract.
Although President Clinton is almost surely correct that the old forms of bigotry can no longer be revealed in polite company -- there's no open and notorious sundown suburb announcing its preferences at the city limits -- he's missing one important point in his treatment of a neighbor with a different point of view as an additional problem.  When neighbors are in general agreement on what the problems are, and what the acceptable responses to them are, the conversation at the coffee-house can be good-natured.

But when consensus breaks down, the stakes become higher.  Here's a meditation on gated communities from five years ago.
I just flipped open my road atlas to New Hampshire. Near Dartmouth, I find Canaan, Canaan Street, Canaan Center, and West Canaan. Not far away I find Grafton, Grafton Center, and East Grafton. To the northeast, Rumney, West Rumney, and Rumney Depot. Each of those clusters represents a town meeting gone bad somewhere in the Colonial period. In those days, one could get away from annoying neighbors (or the cliques that sometimes dominate traditional common councils) by clearing some trees nearby. It's more difficult to do that today. To claim that gated developments are a modern rejection of a civic tradition is to mislead readers.
We're not yet to Independence, or Secession, but that's not to say those developments are beyond contemplation.

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