Mixed company moderates; like-minded company polarizes. Heterogeneous communities restrain group excesses; homogeneous communities march toward the extremes.
This interview with Bill Bishop, about the increasing social segmentation in America, has some cool tie-ins with a book I’ve been loving lately, Lawrence Levine’s Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Levine touches on the changing use of public space in the early 1900s as “Culture” was increasingly associated with the wealthy, and patrons and directors exerted more control over how we experience art:
The relative taming of the audience at the turn of the century was part of a larger development that witnessed a growing bifurcation between the private and public spheres of life. Through the cult of etiquette, which was so popular in this period, individuals were taught to keep all private matters strictly to themselves and to remain publicly as inconspicuous as possible… People were similarly taught to remove from the public to the private universe an entire range of personal reactions… The individual mirrored the increasing segmentation of society in a segmentation of self.
Bishop mentions in the interview that “The best-educated citizens are the least likely to have a political discussion with someone with a different opinion.” Public spaces and self-selection. Two interesting ideas that I hope Bishop talks about in his upcoming book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart. It’s on my reading list. [via book design review]