NONCONFORMITY BREEDS CONFORMITY. There used to be an America That Worked(TM). It came undone sometime in the 1960s, a casualty of more enlightened attitudes that questioned underlying hypocrisies, or of hubris on the part of a Greatest Generation accustomed to success as order-takers becoming the order-givers, or of some kind of mushroom, depending on where you were and what your priors were. That it came unraveled might have been a necessary corrective to excesses of a previous era of genuine secular crisis followed by a consolidation of gains (the Fourth Turning hypothesis) or it might have been the experimentation made possible by unprecedented prosperity (the depressing tale of Palisades High School's class of 1965 as an extreme case study). In The Big Sort, Bill Bishop argues that the era of greater personal freedom and unraveling of conventions (yes, the usual Organization Man and Gray Flannel Suit horror stories appear) culminates in a more-or-less permanent Unraveling. The subtitle, Why The Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart, makes writing Book Review No. 15 straightforward, as understanding the subtitle implies no spoilers in the book itself. It's extensively researched, although why the publisher decides to include both numbered endnotes and footnotes identified by asterisks and daggers escapes me. (Footnotes ought be consecutively numbered and provided at the foot of each page, period.) Mr Bishop analyzes inter alia voting patterns, church attendance, house designs, restaurant locations, and the use of lawn-care services to argue that people, whether liberated from the pre-1965 consensus or antagonized by what followed, took advantage of their new freedoms to associate more with like-minded neighbors and isolate themselves from those who are different. His primary focus is on voting behavior, and an afterword suggests neither Senator McCain nor now-President Obama really sold the electorate on being post-partisan. If his reasoning is correct, a Fourth Turning-like resolution of current cultural and political divisions in the United States will be more difficult than the Consensus that held from 1945 to 1965. There's room for additional research, for example on whether the popularity of Applebee's is a proxy for Republican success (it sounds obscure, but read the book) or whether the construction of houses that are more attractive to conservative or liberal households (there's more to that than the paint) is made possible by changes in the builder's art.

The author is a journalist, and he resists the temptation to take sides in the culture wars, as well as the temptation to micro-analyze the separation he sees. There are several potential senior papers in providing that micro-analysis.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

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