Deconstructing “The Big Sort”

Bill Bishop, author of "The Big Sort", will speak at Drake on Thursday night.

On Thursday night, Drake University will host writer Bill Bishop as part of Drake University’s “Better Together Iowa” series.  Everyone’s friend and broadcaster Paul Yeager and IPTV will tape the lecture as part of their Civility series.  It will air on September 24th.

Alexander Grugrich of Foundry Coworking, on a tweet to me, summed up Bishop’s book in one sentence:

“…society is pooling into homogeneous groups, (politics, religious, educated, etc) doesn’t say how to fix it.”

Bishop, in his column to the Des Moines Register on Sunday, points out a case study of how to cultivate civility that was conceived by University of Oklahoma president David Boren, a former U.S. Senator.

Boren’s theory was that it’s harder to demonize the people you live with. And he believed, along with the Founding Fathers, that a democracy’s great advantage was heterogeneity. When people with different ideas mixed, they were more likely to find the best solution – and society was less likely to be overwhelmed by faction or extremism.

-Bill Bishop, “About ‘those people’ you disagree with, Des Moines Register September 12, 2010

Boren’s theory of breaking up the homogeneous sects and building a 21st Century “melting pot” has been effective at Oklahoma.  But, in turn, there is a perception that people feel like they are being “forced” to listen and accept differentiating opinions and will do everything possible to distance themselves even greater by “selectively” segregating themselves with their own homogeneous sects.

Former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach discussed civility a while back. I wrote about his call for civility in June and is linked here on his picture.

When I went to college, I felt “liberated” to learn about different viewpoints and experiences, whereas back at home in Waterloo, the black community preached to “stick with your own”, distrust people who were not the same skin color as you were, and were solidly Democratic.  I discovered that regardless if I respectfully disagreed with someone’s opinion and my willingness to listen to their views, a sizable number of people will continue to demonize me for not “following the script” or agreeing with them.

It is a choice that people will make.  The major problem we have is that we “react” to what someone has said or done.  By reacting, we never get to the phase of understanding “why” an individual have an opposing view.

Maybe those are the people, regardless of political, gender, religious, and racial affiliation that need to be paired together in Boren’s experiment.  The fear is what if Boren’s experiment doesn’t produce the same results that it has at Oklahoma, and people start resorting to physical blows if they are “forced” to group up together?

Yes, I want civility, but as Alexander pointed out, we hope Bishop can provide some ideas and solutions on how we can foster civility around us as individuals, if groups and sects of “like-mindedness” refuse to “desegregate” socially and politically and “un-Sort” into a “heterogeneous” society willing to accept differences.

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