Almost five years ago I did a series of posts on Bill Bishop's book The Big Sort. (Series here) Bishop explains that for at least thirty years we have been sorting ourselves into enclaves of polarized groups, even physically locating ourselves with others who think and live like us. But the big question is why?
Avi Tuschman has a piece in The Atlantic that has some interesting ideas, Why Americans Are So Polarized: Education and Evolution. The lead reads: "Improvements in learning—which correlates with stronger partisanship—and the tendency to choose likeminded mates may be helping to create divided politics."
"... The dynamics that fuel the Big Sort accelerated in the second half of the 20th century, coinciding with a massive increase in education. Between 1960 and 2008, for instance, the proportion of women with bachelor’s degrees nearly quintupled. The dramatic rise in educational attainment has a couple of unexpected side effects. For one, research shows that higher education has a polarizing effect on people: Highly educated liberals become more liberal, while highly educated conservatives grow more conservative. Second, people with college degrees enjoy greater freedoms, including social and geographic mobility. During the 1980s and 1990s, 45 percent of college-educated Americans moved to a new state within five years of graduation, compared with only 19 percent of their counterparts who had only a high-school diploma.
Meanwhile, evolutionary forces are pulling these more mobile, like-minded individuals together, because our political orientations play a key role in our choice of a mate. In society as a whole, spouses tend to resemble one another—at least a bit more than they would if coupling occurred at random—on most biometric and social traits. These traits include everything from skin color to earlobe size to income to major personality dimensions like Extraversion. Most of these statistical relationships are quite weak. But one of the strongest of all correlations between spouses by far is between their political orientations (0.65, to be precise). Spouses tend to have similar attitudes on moral issues like school prayer and abortion not because they converge over time, but rather because “birds of a feather flock together.” Biologists call this assortative mating. ...
I think he is on to something. I think he is also correct when he writes:
... The silver lining to these gloomy findings is that our ideological positions are not set in stone. Only about half of the variance in political orientations comes from genetic differences between individuals; the rest comes from the environment. So it’s certainly possible to transcend the attitudes that threaten to divide us. The first steps in doing so are to understand our political nature, develop realistic expectations about ideological diversity, and make a renewed commitment to pragmatism over ideology."
I think Tuschman is on to something. From my perspective, I find myself asking what role the church plays in all of this. Seems to me the church just mirrors what is happening in society and Christians on the left and right are quite content with that.