“The Big Sort”

Check this one out… The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart by Bill Bishop:

“The lesson for politics and culture is pretty clear. It doesn’t matter if you’re a frat boy, a French high school student, a petty criminal, or a federal appeals court judge. Mixed company moderates; like-minded company polarizes. Heterogeneous communities restrain group excesses; homogeneous communities march toward extremes.”

Kathleen Parker: The Omen In My Mail

This morning, nationally syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker gives us a peak inside her inbox.

And it’s not pretty.

She describes receiving emails reacting to her column citing concern about Sarah Palin’s qualifications as “[n]ot just angry, but vicious and threatening.” A sampling:

I am a traitor and an idiot. Also, my mother should have aborted me and left me in a dumpster, but since she didn’t, I should “off” myself.

Parker correctly suggests that there’s plenty of blame to go around on both sides of the aisle, “… that’s the way one begins to think when party loyalty is given a higher value than loyalty to bedrock principles.” Parker writes:

Such extreme partisanship has a crippling effect on government, which may be desirable at times, but not now. More important in the long term is the less tangible effect of stifling free speech. My mail paints an ugly picture and a bleak future if we do not soon correct ourselves.

The picture is this: Anyone who dares express an opinion that runs counter to the party line will be silenced. That doesn’t sound American to me, but Stalin would approve.

Readers have every right to reject my opinion. But when we decide that a person is a traitor and should die for having an opinion different from one’s own, we cross into territory that puts all freedoms at risk. (I hear you, Dixie Chicks.)

… Our day of reckoning may indeed be upon us. Between war and economic collapse, we have enormous challenges. It will take the best of everyone to solve them. That process begins minimally with a commitment to engage in civil discourse and a cease-fire in the war against unwelcome ideas.

We could not agree more.

. . . a people who can engage in self-determination

“We describe ourselves very proudly as a democracy. The preamble of the constitution, which I think is a wonderful preamble. I think we ought to think about it almost literally everyday and ask, well, to what extent is government organized to realize the noble visions of the preamble. The preamble begins “We The People” it’s a notion of a people who can engage in self-determination.

What I have discovered is a real fear of popular government. I think that for a variety of reasons having to do with the nature of politics in recent years, there is this incredible mistrust of people who don’t share your views, and you think that they’re out in some ways to wreck the country. . .

If you actually talk to Americans in their own homes in their own workplaces, it’s not that everybody agrees, but they aren’t so polarized as our current political system is. And there really is the opportunity to create a more democratic politics but I think frankly ,and somewhat sadly, more and more people are losing that faith in popular government.”

– Sanford Levinson on PBS’s Bill Moyers’ Journal

Well said.

“It seems to me that this country has become two choirs, each side listening only to its own preachers.” – Bill Moyers

Civility 101: A draft

We’ve been thinking for a while now about just how this civility thing might go, and all that thinking has produced some ideas. Just to confuse you, here’s our tickler:

Bring your human brain.
Hold opinion lightly at times.
Eat potato salad, make potato salad.
Recognize horse manure before tracking it.
Find the wedge. Lose the wedge.
Fight like Founding Fathers.
Get (un)personal.
Lose the evil “they.”
Build your vocabulary.
Remove punctuation
Meet your batty brain.
Hold discomfort.
Be a comparison shopper.
Elevate substance over symbolism.
Err on the side of laughter.

Next week we will jump right in to discussion about bringing your human brain and leaving your lizard brain at home (when you come to the Village Square AND – we might humbly suggest as long as we’re being bossy – when you drive and when you vote).

The sum of light

The Year of Living Dangerously

One of my favorite movie lines is from The Year of Living Dangerously:

“You do whatever you can about the misery that’s in front of you. Add your light to the sum of light.”

The character speaking was Billy Kwan, played by Linda Hunt (cast alongside a young Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver). Though he was speaking of poverty in Indonesia, it doesn’t seem like a half-bad general admonition for a way to live a life.

At the foundation of The Village Square is the concept that, when it comes to politics, we’re in need of a bit of light right about now (and the big-for-our-britches ambition that we can contribute to the sum). Dr. Law, co-chair of our board of directors characterized us as seeking “less heat, more light.”

Of late, we’ve witnessed the growth of partisan online blogs, where people who generally agree with each other “talk” (and sometimes yell). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s civic engagement, it can be “light” but too often it turns into “heat.” Too many of us now belong to a side which pitches half an argument. Two sides with half an argument each is no substitute for citizens who understand a whole argument.

Here at The Village Square blog, we’ll strive for whole arguments. If we care about truth telling by public servants, we must care about truth telling by all public servants, on the right and the left. If we care about media accuracy, we must care about media accuracy whether it benefits the right or the left.

And as we launch our Village Square, we need to resist the temptation to vilify an average citizen on the “other” side, who is, in reality, our neighbor down the street, the nice woman at the bookstore, our kid’s softball coach. It’s so much harder to hate “people” when you meet them face-to-face.

That doesn’t mean becoming a doormat and failing to pitch or even appear to believe in your argument, as good argument is fundamental to The Village Square. But argument must incorporate a larger perspective that allows us to argue AND hold the tension of opposites at the core of our democracy. Maybe in these partisan times, our new forum will be our own version of “The Year of Living Dangerously?”

And, if there is anyone out there still listening to anything other than the sound of his or her own voice, maybe someone will notice.