The Big Sort

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You might move to a new neighborhood for the schools, or the commute, maybe the taxes. Turns out a whole lot of us also move to be around people who think and act and believe like we do. Bill Bishop calls it the "big sort," and he says it's tearing the country apart. "This is the untold story of why America is so culturally and politically divided."

Here's the basic hypothesis: Americans are more mobile than ever, and have more choices in where to live, and who to live near. And we now have communities based on age, political views, and religion. All this "way-of-life segregation" has its consequences, argues Bill Bishop... The country is so polarized and "ideologically inbred that people don't know and can't understand those who live just a few miles away."

Are you a part of this big sort? What choices have you made to be around people who are more like you?



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I agree that this is happening. Looking at the split in the country after the last presidential elections was a very clear message that the divide is growing. Anyone else remember all the talk about the far easter and western states wanting to join Canada? It's an unrealistic idea of course but I think certainly illustrates the divide. To add my two cents on the problem I would have to say that I am more in favor of building relationships in my community (which is largely differing in opinion from me) in order to bring ideas into dialogue and share the similarities and possibilities. In my opinion it's really the only way to build a stronger nation and not a divided one.

Sent by P~ | 2:07 PM | 7-7-2008

Why would anyone move into a neighborhood simply to have people tell them what they want to hear? Seems kind of juvenile.

Sent by Daniel | 2:10 PM | 7-7-2008

Yes, it's true that this has been the case. However, as Day to Day's show on California Dreamin' shows, many people are now moving away from California's urban areas because they can no longer afford it. The Big Sort, as you call it, will not remain nor will it stabilize the red/blue divide.

Sent by Heidi | 2:16 PM | 7-7-2008

As a gay couple living in Utah, we made a conscious effort to choose one of the most liberal enclaves of Salt Lake City and enjoy all of our neighbors. This was not the case in suburban Salt Lake where the predominant faith excluded us from our neighbors.

Sent by David Taylor | 2:19 PM | 7-7-2008

Particularly, in the midwest, aren't our college-age children doing this "Big Sort" automatically when they decide not to stay in-state following graduation? I believe if you look at the 2000 Census data, it is easy to spot by identifying the state with slower population growth and declining number of House of Representatives allocated following the census.

Sent by Shirley, Norman OK | 2:26 PM | 7-7-2008

How are people going to handle their respective enclaves as local travel becomes increasingly expensive? They will be spending much more time within their repective communities and I believe these "locals" will be demanding more local power.

Sent by robert Mackleer | 2:26 PM | 7-7-2008

I can't see how this is anything new. I grew up in Boston & Greater Boston in the 50's & 60's. My parents grew up in Boston, where they were very sorted, and that continues today. I will say I had the unfortunate experience of moving to the correct sorted (by faith) neighborhood in a city, but not allowed to go to the school where the rest of the kids of my faith attended,as it was the middle grade of jr high. The way the city had got around this was by just letting the children in my neighborhood go to a different jr. high right from elementary school. As a result, I spent a tumultuous 8th grade under verbal and physical assualt due to my religious beliefs. The end of the story is there was no way I would live anywhere but where there was a strong concentration of people in my faith. There is tremendous diversity where I live, Brookline, MA. But there is also people who share my faith and political beliefs.

Sent by Janine | 2:28 PM | 7-7-2008

I'm in Utah as well David, up north in "gods country" and I agree that it can be a bit hard to break into "the club" even when, as I am, your a member but not terribly good at it ;-)


Sent by P~ | 2:29 PM | 7-7-2008

What about the inability to have a candid discussion inspite of the pressures to be "politically correct". In the face of such pressures be withdrawn and only express views they believe will be accepted within their group. Could people in in search of an environment which allows self expression. Also, what about the unusually large waves of illegal and legal immigration where immigrants tends to locate in the same geographical/community.

Sent by Michael | 2:32 PM | 7-7-2008

Like-mindedness was very much my motivation in choice for moving to the Armory Park neighborhood in Tucson, Arizona. In Downtown Tucson, I find a much more diverse sort of people, who are not only tolerant, but celebrate the differences in the people around them. It also happens that the political campaign signs cluttering the neighborhood declare support for Obama. As I travel further east in Tucson, I find an increase in conservative banners. Additionally I find an increased general hostility and intolerance of difference. When I lived on the east side of Tucson, I had a consistent feeling that I was in physical danger as a gay man. As I traveled closer to work however--near Downtown, I found that hostility and danger quickly dissipated.
People of like minds defiantly cluster.

Sent by Clinton Russon | 2:32 PM | 7-7-2008

One of the callers commented on the need to move out of a conservative town in order to feel more comfortable expressing thier views. There is also the issue of a conservative mantra of "cut the budget" or "no new taxes". I am curious if the types of services available and funded are different between the so called conservative or progressive communities? It really makes me wonder if progressive communities are more liveable because the people who live there are willing to pay for services?

Sent by Virginia Allen | 2:34 PM | 7-7-2008

I am a liberal living in a fairly liberal neighborhood in a very conservative state. I have found that the most democratic (small d) gathering places are neighborhood pubs and sports bars. I have a couple which I frequent, and people of diverse income levels and political backgrounds gather for the common activity of watching sports on television. Political discussions happen often, and even become fairly heated but nearly always end with a handshake and a beer.

Sent by Mike in Ok | 2:35 PM | 7-7-2008

It would seem that ex-pats -- those who choose to move and live outside of the U.S. -- may be taking self-segregation to the extreme. It would seem their motives may be more about separation and disengagement rather than segregation and homogenization though.

Sent by Terry Lewis | 2:37 PM | 7-7-2008

Clustering has also been taken up by Richard Florida's ideas on the "creative class", building on like minded people congregating in places to create the new products and services for the idea economy.
How does your author feel about Mr. Florida's ascertions? How are these two ideas regarding clustering of population either similiar or different from each other?
Thank you,

Sent by Mitch Clark | 2:40 PM | 7-7-2008

I think in the presence of a war, a tough economy, increasing awareness of horrific hardships across the globe - we want something that feels easy and that we feel like we can at least get something "right" in our lives. We have chosen where we live so that it is easier for our kids to have access to like-minded opportunities. We become observers of the "other" but do not engage in a meaningful, sustained way. Wow - thanks for shedding light on this - just snapped us out of our reverie. Time to critically rethink some of these choices.

Sent by Jane Davison | 2:40 PM | 7-7-2008

While the Big Sort may be largely due to demographic and economic forces, as well as to individual choices, I think the right has consciously made an effort to exploit it and to increase polarization over the last 20-30 years because it suits their purposes.

It seems that voting in the US is now as much an expression of identity than anything else. As much as I despise what they've done - it is brilliant: funnel all the wealth to a narrow group of people at the top of society, while you keep the masses distracted with gay marriage.

I shudder to think what will happen when our refusal to deal with global warming and oil shortages fully comes home to roost, as it is starting to already.

I'm sure they'll find a way to blame the shortage of oil on gay people somehow.

Sent by Ken | 2:44 PM | 7-7-2008

If you believe that GWBush is a war criminal, an abuser of the constitution, and needs to be impeached, why would you move to a neighborhood where the flag is displayed/abused 24/7 rain/shine and GWBush, Dick Chaney (and topically, Jessie Helms) are Freedom Gods and the saviors of American Democracy?

Seems that while we still have free speech (but watch that space!), we can say what we think, our voice can rise louder and less fettered in a neighborhood whose voice rises with ours in a chorus, rather than in a neighborhood where it would rise in a cacophony.

But, then, the dilemma becomes (re: today's show) how do we convince the other side when truth and evidence don't suffice?

Sent by c woof | 2:45 PM | 7-7-2008

As a long time liberal and Limbaugh/O'Reilly hater, I cringe at the large amount of free ammunition "the big sort" is creating for both. Isn't the subject of this book mearly documenting instinctual human nature attributes for the 99.99% of Americans who are part of an immigrant based population?

Sent by Steve | 2:47 PM | 7-7-2008

I agree in the theoretical benefit of living amongst people whose values and beliefs differ greatly from your own, and I have lived in such communities in different regions of the U.S. myself. However, I would much rather live in a place where people's values are similar to my own because beliefs lead to action, and I want local priorities and actions to match my own priorities -- strict environmental standards and progressive environmental laws, support of labor unions, support of civil rights and equal rights for all (gender and racial equality, support of gay marriage, etc.), support for public schools and other public programs, support for pro-choice laws, more strict and humane animal husbandry and pet ownership laws, and a culture that fosters thoughtful political debate rather than narrow-minded, bigoted hate-mongering. It's interesting that the author and guest on this program lives in Austin and thinks Austin lacks enough political diversity because it's SO liberal/progressive, since I lived there for almost 5 years and found it very diverse, and indeed, so much infused with the conservative values of Texas that I was no longer comfortable living there and moved to northern California, where I also encounter far more diversity in political and social values than you would expect given this region's national stereotype. However, unlike Austin, which being in TX is surrounded by toxic waste dumps, anti-labor laws, and a history of entrenched southern racism and sexism, California has a long history of more progressive politics (esp. in some parts of the state) that creates a more fruitful environment for open-dialog and a better future for all.

Sent by Amy | 3:01 PM | 7-7-2008

I am concerned that the cause is the other way around. I've spent my life committed to listening to other points of view and being open to people's differing beliefs and ways of life; spent student time living in other countries; mediate and practiced law mediatively. But during the Vietnam war era, I became aware for the first time of feeling completely polarized and being unable to carry on a rational conversation myself with someone who couldn't see the sickness of the war. That of course shifted as more people came to share my views - but about many things like reproductive rights, race, Israel (I'm a non-Zionist Jew), along about then it seemed to start feeling really heavy and on quicksand to try to discuss point of view as point of view. Bill Clinton may have given us a brief vacation from the extremes of that situation, but any hope of rational discourse then seemed to get re-poleaxed with the rise to power under Bush II of closedmindedness that seemed completely lacking in self-awareness.

In 2002, my husband and I happened to move to the most socio-economically, racially, mixed community I and we have ever lived in because we fell in love with our 19th century house, and we both greatly prefer not being in a walled-off pre-sorted community.

But do we carry on political conversations with neighbors who don't seem like-minded? No way. It would seem more dangerous rather than less, living as close to each other as we do.

The fact that our neighborhood lacks institutions designed to bring people of different backgrounds together is no doubt part of what keeps it from helping people blend - and we don't have school-age kids or go to church, both of which might also make a difference.

But these days my impression is that too many people impress their differences on one violently, whether with literal gun violence or just extreme ostracism. Terrorism is an extreme extreme of this - but it feels not so far from being an extreme of a continuum we see right here.

All of this is why I care so much about hope for our real country, the United States of America. Imagine a time when saying that has such symbolic meaning.

Sent by Deborah Seed | 3:03 PM | 7-7-2008

My husband and I are white, highly educated moderate liberal atheists. We made the choice to buy our first house in a working class black neighborhood in the city. We knew we could only afford within a certain range and that we wanted to be in the city, and we didn't want to be in a neighborhood of people exactly like ourselves. It has been an interesting experience. Many of our neighbors vote Democratic as we do, but for different reasons. Happily, though most of our neighbors are either Christian or Muslim, and we are pretty open about our religious skepticism, nobody has criticized us in any mean-spirited way. When people have a face to go with a viewpoint, they are more likely to sympathize and see the person, not the ideas that they disagree with. I feel it has made me a more tolerant and sensitive person to live among people who are different from me, but I think it has worked because my neighbors already had a lot of religious and other diversity within the community, and so they already were used to having open minds and being tolerant. If our neighborhood were a lot more homogenous in a way that was different from us, I'm not sure how welcome we'd feel. There must be points of commonality that are emphasized, whether they be political, cultural, economic, ethnic, religious, racial, etc.

Sent by marf | 3:04 PM | 7-7-2008

It is true that likes attract likes. However which came first. I live in a condo/single family community run by an association. I was President for four years, very involved socially as well as Board dedication.

Since then I have gone elsewhere for involvement. We have only one family that we could consider as friends.

This is a community that our religion is a small minority as well as different politics. We enjoy the community but just don't mix anymore. The community is well run so we have no desire to move.

We just find our activities elsewhere.

Sent by Bill & Barbara Frankenstein | 3:07 PM | 7-7-2008

There was a study I found in graduate school(Psychology) reporting that people who suffered the most physical ailments were those that moved away from their community norms. Examples...Interfaith marriage, change of political party, not participating in family business.

Sent by Norm | 3:23 PM | 7-7-2008

It was interesting to note Mr. Bishop's references to individual congregations being made up of individuals who think/belive alike. Is this a result of consumerism creeping into faith as it does everywhere else? Instead of any denominational or doctrinal loyalty or neighborhood parish feel, families (it appears) select churches solely on whether they feel comfortable, or they hear only want they want to hear. If all of life becomes a matter of getting only what the individual wants or what the individual feels he/she deserves, then yes, the whole concept of community is eroded and there is no more recognition or doing things for the common good--for all, not just those just like me.
I wasn't able to hear the whole program--is some of this like-seeking behavior related to the mobility of society? If one is relocated 1000 or so miles from any family, childhood friends, support network, isn't it more likely that families will seek out places to live that offer some degree of comfort/security/familiarity?

Sent by beth in Fargo | 3:36 PM | 7-7-2008

We moved to a small, rural, southern town because I had the chance to work in a lovely, fulfilling, professionally suitable job. However, I can easily attest to the fact that living in a place like this is killing us. The pressure to conform, to be what everyone expects, to be "normal" (meaning Christian, white, conservative, straight, and operating as if resources were abundant for all and there is no climate or food or energy or globalization crisis...), to fit into the mold and live by the mantra, "it has always been this way," is deadening to every progressive, expansive, compassionate ideal we hold dear. One of the things that we say when people ask us about living here is that it pulls the feathers off our wings one feather at a time. It's depressing and exhausting. We feel no safety in nor receptiveness to our being "other" here. We wanted this to work. We came here with the hope of never moving again. We tried to make a lot of friends...they all have moved away....As it turns out, we're gong to go with great joy and exhilaration toward the Big Sort when we're able to make the jump. I'll be sorry to leave the job ... and the affordable house....and the big yard...and the nice weather, but not the social environment. It does kill you one day at a time. I know exactly why it has been happening.

Sent by Suzanne | 3:59 PM | 7-7-2008

When the war in Iraq began, I was shunned by my entire Annapolis, MD neighborhood because of a sign I placed in my window: "War is not the answer." There were about 20 townhouses on my cul-de-sac. Only one family did not turn their backs to me when I went outside. It was very painful for several years.

Sent by Sharon | 4:38 PM | 7-7-2008

My wife and I retired to the West Coast of Florida from the beltway in 2000 after careers in the government. We were surprised to find that the majority of our neighbors were midwesterners and very conservative. We consider ourselves independent, but our opinions regarding the 2000 election were considered "Liberal and Left Wing". After a series of hurricanes in 2004, we moved to the Phoenix area. We found the identical population with the same "Conservative" views and inabilities to discuss anything that disagreed with their views. After being involved with the government as fairly senior levels, it has been interesting to see how many people don't really know how the government works and don't want to know.

Sent by Don | 4:48 PM | 7-7-2008

I live in Bayridge (Brooklyn, NYC).
This is one of the most gerrymandered districts (CD 13) in the country. If you see it on a map, it looks like a zigzagging jigsaw puzzle. It is the only CD in NYC that had a Republican congressman (currently Vito Fassella) for decades. There is some evidence of a re-sort here, now that many of the district's old timer residents (White Catholic ethnics) are moving out or dying and a wave of former Manhattanites (mostly W.A.S.P., some Asians) are escaping $3000.00 per month rents winding up here. I am one of these escapees and am not enrolled in a political party and most of my political views are moderate. I speak to my neighbors regularly - even about politics. They all predict that the Republicans will not be able to win the next election in our CD and at the same time no one wants to vote for a Democrat. There are no independents running and no one cares enough about partisan politics to vote in a primary. Some of my Republican neighbors are embarrassed to admit they voted for George Bush. The neighborhood has several other different immigrant groups, quickly becoming "the new old-timers" and many people in these groups are entirely apolitical, not registered and civicly inactive. I could describe the political mood here as "thoroughly demoralized". Is this something anyone else out there runs across?

Sent by George T | 4:53 PM | 7-7-2008

What I find most surprising about these comments is how many commenters are so exclusively focused on their nearby neighbors. I find, just the opposite, that enhanced communications and mobility have expanded my "community" well beyond my zip code, and things are much more diverse than when I grew up. But even taking a local focus, I am surprised to learn I am in the minority, living in a steadily more diversifying county - and alongside folks with divergent political and social views. Admittedly, I find myself debating with my neighbors over politics frequently. Does that mean I've gravitated to area where people are like-minded in their desire for diversity? :) I don't know - I am somewhat skeptical that this Big Sort is some new phenomena that is ripping apart the country - show me the data.

Sent by John | 4:55 PM | 7-7-2008

Having recently read Obama's chapters on values, politics, and "Democrats and Republicans" in "Audacity of Hope", and then listening to the vitriol screaming from the left over his supposed movements toward the center, I have begun to realize how much my leftist friends are just as dogmatic and uncompromising as my FOX viewing neighbors. I have had the opportunity to live in Madison, WI and in a small right-leaning suburb outside of Milwaukee. Since I have displayed my Obama sign, amazingly enough my Republican neighbors still say hello and invite me over to their parties. And we still talk politics--but about values we share like the quality of our schools, water quality, and safety. I doubt my previous neighbors would have offered a Republican migrant the same hospitality.

Sent by Daryl Strait | 5:47 PM | 7-7-2008

Come on! We come from a historical lineage of racial segregation, ethnic/immigrant segregation, severe class segregation. This is so completely nothing new. The only thing that's NEW is our identity is less and less ethnic or religious but political and ideological.

Sent by M | 6:56 PM | 7-7-2008

if you are afraid to speak your mind because your neighbors disagree, not only are you a coward, you are doing a disservice to your beliefs. It does no good to talk to people that agree with you. This "us vs. them" mentality is getting worse because of people not willing to be heard.

Sent by Nicholas Ivan Ladendorf | 7:01 PM | 7-7-2008

That people would seek out surroundings that reinforced their beliefs and did not put them in direct philosophical and idealogical confrontation with those around them is something of a no-brainer. It is really very little surprise that people do this, especially in a nation that places so much emphasis on freedom of motion, as well as individual freedom. The country is vast, most of us own automobiles, and we are often encouraged, expected, or at least allowed to make a break from family tradition and move to new places. Why, when given the option, would anyone in their right mind choose to move to a community that gave them nothing but grief for the things they believed in? Why did the speaker view this as a more modern phenomenon, rather than something that has always existed? I'm not disagreeing with the speaker, but I think some of the reasons for this trend were not directly addressed in the program today.

I think a HUGE reason why this sort of thing is occurring on such a widespread scale, and why people are more dichotomized than ever in today's political climate, is the emphasis that we have begun to put on large scale, sweeping issues of federal government rather than local issues and government that we as citizens can become directly involved in.

Modern media has chosen to force-feed us news that relates to the hot-button issues that have existed since the dawn of man. This has resulted in people willfully segregating themselves over beliefs held in relation to things like abortion, the right to bear arms, and war... war! These are problems of such monumental scope that it is ludicrous to expect every citizen to somehow form a coherent opinion and judgment on what are really existential problems. We attempt to grapple with huge issues such as these. A vote for a political candidate is no longer an effective way to solve local, domestic issues. Instead, it's become some sort of bizarre proclamation of our core beliefs as embodied by rich white/black guy X. If our society expects us to choose our political affiliation based on spiritual and existential grounds, of course we are going to become dichotomized. In fact, it's eerily close to living in some kind of fundamentalist religious state. Just because there are two sides instead of one who are maintaining a physical coexistence doesn't mean that we aren't any less radical than other societies.

As communities and governing bodies, we are able to come together to clean up the water, enact zoning laws, provide a safe environment for our children, and see to the fundamental needs of each human being by hopefully equitably distributing our resources.

We should not be expected to engage in political discourse about the meaning of life or other huge, imposing subjects. That is the realm of spirituality, academia, the arts, and the individual spirit of man and woman.

Sent by Owen | 7:02 PM | 7-7-2008

We've moved to a small town because of my husbands job at a local university. We share the community's appreciation to be able to walk our children to school, support local businesses, benefit from locally grown food, but we are in the minority when it comes to our political and religious views. We're hoping to build on the similarities we have with our neighbors and eventually get to the point where we can approach our differences with an established respect and appreciation for one another....perhaps we're a little too idealistic in our thinking. It has been a hard transition.

Sent by Elizabeth | 8:34 PM | 7-7-2008

After my father-in-law died my wife and I retired and moved from Orange County California to Hemet California.
We moved into a senior community where many of our neighbors were 5 to 20 years our senior, and eons away from where we are politically.
We're anti Iraq war, where as most of our neighbors are fully supportive of the situation there.
We've learned that it's best not to talk about this issue.
Our neighbors are good people, and we've learned to love them, but we know that there is no use in trying to force our views on them.
Co-existence is the name of the game.

Sent by Les Lyon | 10:33 PM | 7-7-2008

To the contrary Mr. Bishop, my wife and I would love to live in a diverse neighborhood with different people and views on life, but it isn't available. We sorted our search for a home by the most ideal commute, the best schools and a walkable town with a town center. Even though we do live in a suburb, we didn't want to be in "suburbia." Much to our chagrin, this left us with very little choice but a neighborhood full of people, well, like ourselves :-(

Sent by chris | 10:43 PM | 7-7-2008

I heard the program, and thought "The Big Sort" was irritating, and then I read the article on the NPR website and am even more certain of the The Big Sort's dullness (as in "dull edge").

I don't doubt that the author laid hands on good data, and that statistical manipulations revealed interesting patterns. Marketers do indeed break down population along quite different lines than traditional demography: One system has about 60 discreet categories of consumption behavior. Its all very interesting. The fault I found was in the author's simplistic interpretation of the data.

I agree that there is a tendency by some people to police the borders of officially approved opinion - to suppress dissent, diffuse conflict, to mute the open speech that is supposed to be possible in a democracy. (Personally, I would rather live in a country where I was offended every day than live in one where offense was not allowed.) But social control is nothing new. It far predates any recently observed demographic change in the USA.

When the author sees a monoculture, I want to say "Look closer." Human beings do readily clump into groups, which makes them interesting topics for study, but often they simultaneously maintain thoughts and behavior that contradict the group norms. A classic example is the conservative religious heterosexual champion who visits a park on the way home to find sexual satisfaction with another man. These contradictions make people an even MORE interesting topic for study.

Bishop doesn't seem to be living on the same planet that I do when it comes to politics. On the one hand, "tearing the country apart" seems like overkill. We are not being torn apart, we're being quietly marginalized. On the other hand, most people will never get close to the levers of economic and political power no matter how many of their neighbors they closely resemble.

Power in America is wielded by individuals and organizations who control very great wealth. If there is gridlock in congress, it is most likely competition among various elites that is causing stagnation in Washington. Some elite may speak "on behalf of aging Americans" for example, and be 100% committed to maintaining their control over the health insurance racket, and damn those aging Americans if they don't fit into the scheme.

I don't see the typical American developing exaggerated ideologies by living among people who share certain ideas. Indeed, the whole agenda of politics seems to have settled into a rather middle-of-the-road swamp. "Extremists" now occupy territory that is much closer to the center than space occupied by the traditional far left or far right 50 years ago.

Socialists or libertarians are real extremists: A typical socialist plan, for instance, would strip the rich of their assets and their ownership of money-making enterprises. That's extreme. Calibrate your measures of extremism accordingly.

Understanding ourselves is going to require much more sophistication than Bill Bishop provides.

Sent by Michael Jefferis | 2:03 AM | 7-8-2008

While I understand Bill Bishop's point, I also understand why we have reached this situation in our living place patterns. Why should one be in a neighborhood where one is more likely to encounter prejudice, rejection, and unfriendliness? Home is where one wants to feel safe and be oneself. Where one's family doesn't have to experience the unenlightened side of life. While the ideal is communities that are diverse in many ways and diversity is welcomed and embraced, we are far from that reality. I don't think that we can force people to accept diversity, it is an evolutionary process that takes a willingness to examine one's own prejudices about others and a commitment to begin the process of eliminating those attitudes and replacing them with reasonable ones. Having the kind of government we have had for the past 7+ years has not furthered achieving that desired situation of a diverse and truly accepting of differences country. Let's hope that they new government starting in January will begin to turn the tide towards that end.

Sent by Jos?? Mart??n | 2:08 AM | 7-8-2008

I am shocked that there has so far been no discussion about the connection between what Bishop calls the "Big Sort" and the impacts of racial and class segregation. Bishop's thesis is that the Big Sort began around the 70s when Americans began to have more choices about where to live and who to live near, leading to a "way-of-life segregation" based upon political party affiliation, cultural practices, and values and beliefs.

On the contrary, many studies have shown an increase in the concentration of racial and class segregation since the 1960s, before which, segregation by race was a given in many parts of the United States (see Massey and Denton's "American Aphartheid," William Julius Wilson's "The Truly Disadvantaged," and Oliver and Shapiro's "Black Wealth/White Wealth"). Class segregation on the other hand has always been present in the United States.

Bishop's study would benefit from an analysis of how the Big Sort occurred while controlling for race and class and interrogating how race and class have shaped the Big Sort.

At the heart of his thesis as I heard it described on air, Bishop gives individuals too much agency and does not closely examine the structural and historical implications of class and racial segregation. His conception of "way-of-life segregation" is also one that assumes that all groups and combinations of class, race, gender, and sexual orientation are have either the legal right or financial capacity to live and participate in all in the communities and civic institutions that he describes.

As a counter example, for centuries, segregation and forced expulsion were commonplace by custom (e.g. extrajudicial lynching, non-Whites inadmissible as witnesses in court), or by law (e.g. naturalization only allowed for Whites until 1952; racial housing covenants; laws against property ownership for non-Whites in Western states).

Look at New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina as a second counter example. Many African Americans live in the same neighborhoods of concentrated poverty because they don't have the incomes to move somewhere else or to invest in their neighborhoods. In New Orleans, many poor people were so immobile that they didn't even have the capacity to leave the City when it was being flooded.

Bishop often referenced political party affiliation as a dimension of his Big Sort. Now, unfortunately, I can't find any statistics about what are the political leanings of New Orleans residents, but I would bet you, they are influenced by the consequences of class and racial segregation upon their communities, if not before Katrina, then certainly thereafter.

In a third counter example, recall one early caller to the show who said that she when she was looking for a home, she looked for well manicured lawns and people who had values of property ownership. Already, this segregates her away from those who are without property: renters and homeless. To the extent that property ownership overlaps with racial groups, people of different nationality and language, and people with different political affiliation, she will find herself sorted along all these dimensions. Her very conception of what she values in a community is defined by class.

I am troubled because the premise of Bishop's study is a dangerous one that leads to holes in the overall analysis. The fault of his argument is that the ideal subject of his thesis is someone who has almost unbridled capacity to be so mobile as to have the opportunity to enter whatever community she or he chooses. Regardless of whether it is by conscious choice or unconscious reflex, this ideal subject has the capacity to enter a community based solely upon her/his values or preferences. This ideal subject is someone who historically and presently has disproportionately been a White heterosexual male who is relatively propertied compared to the rest of society.

In contrast, what about those people who are forced into geographical communities. Remember that for centuries, the political system of the United States cared little about the political or social practices of Negroes, Chinese, and Mexicans. It was enough that they provided inexpensive and exploitable labor. Or on the other hand, the political system could also care so much about these non-White groups that they used the law and violence to bar them from participating and profiting from politics, enterprise, and civic society.

Racial segregation has never been as much a problem as economic segregation. Furthermore, the fact that the two were conflated by law, custom, and legacy is what gave rise to a scenario of class apartheid and White supremacy in the first place.

It deeply concerns me that Bishop's analysis of "sorting" as it was presented on Talk of the Nation forgets about the first sortings that happened in the United States: starting with the genocide and expulsion of indigenous Americans and continuing with the segregation, enslavement, and exploitation of numerous groups (including those who would later become culturally defined as White such as the Germans, Irish, or Italians). To step closer to a more complete study, our analysis must look to beyond the recent past 1970s and be robust enough to comprehend the reality of a more complex ideal subject of analysis.

Sent by Stephen Huie | 2:14 AM | 7-8-2008

As a moderate-conservative in a VERY liberal state/community, I find the constant stream of concerns about right-wing fascism to be highly ironic. Not that those concerns aren't well-founded (I've seen them in action) - but I have NEVER seen a group as intolerant of dissent as the so-called liberal/progressives that nearly always embrace an "our way or the highway" approach on any number of issues. If I think that abortion might actually be murder, if I have some doubts about the sanctioning of homosexual marriage, or - god forbid - if I think that the science on global warming isn't all that conclusive - I'm an instant pariah. It's impossible to have a real-live discussion with people about these issues as you try to understand another perspective - because you can't get past their labeling of you as "the enemy." I'm not suggesting that conservatives don't do the same thing - but the notion that liberals are more tolerant of different perspectives would be laughable, if it wasn't so sad.

Sent by nevin | 7:49 AM | 7-8-2008

My husband and I look for neighborhoods based on topography. My husband uses a wheelchair and has a handbike so the flatter the better. He is able to exercise better in a place with only minor elevation changes.
We also prefer diversity as it adds spice to life. All white is all boring. After growing up in the small town mid-west we've seen enough of the attitudes that develop in insular communities.

Sent by Bethany in Yuma, AZ | 11:25 AM | 7-8-2008

Like mindedness may be developing a new dimension as a result of the foreclosure crisis, at least here in the Vegas Valley: Avoiding neighborhoods with high foreclosures and their accompanying dead lawns, trees, and grass. Banks and lenders apparently aren't accountable for upkeep. Homeowners associations are powerless. Neighborhood choice may well become a matter of finding a place that actually has neighbors.

Sent by fcm | 12:32 PM | 7-8-2008

I think much of this is changing. The energy of the Obama campaign and the horrors of the past 8 years have pressed folks to look twice at the people around them who are not lock-step with them. Maybe it's more prevalent in gated communities, but most places people seem eager to build bridges. It's particularly true of the young. Is it this that has wrenched our nation apart since at lest 1980? Yes. But much is changing because people are discovering the impossible burden of being perfect and living with only clones. Change and letting down one's guard against 'the other' is proving to be a worthy pursuit.

Sent by Elizabeth Sholes | 6:54 PM | 7-8-2008

I was disappointed in the show because most of the callers tried to blame The Big Sort on their own pet causes: private religious schools, the media, gerrymandering. I fail to see how our schools, newspapers, and politicians are somehow impervious to the millions of choices people now make every day about what to do and where to do it, and that these institutions can impose some belief system on people. The society we have is the society we want, generally speaking. I haven't yet read the book, but it sounds to me like everybody has missed the point: this is a social phenomenon so quiet and pervasive that we haven't even noticed that it's happening, and there's no telling how long it will last or what will cause it to change.

Sent by Mark | 7:30 PM | 7-8-2008

This puts into words for me something that I had noticed, but had not processed. I am 50 years old, and it seems as though the world has turned upside-down. All of the tolerance and the live-and-let-live spirit that I was brought up with through popular culture seems to have disappeared in very short order.

I am left with culture shock. The last two years in particular, I have seen great cruelty, insensitivity, lack of compassion...

I guess when people hearts have not been changed, tolerance is just something that we put on and take off. Corrie Ten Boom spoke of how children in Nazi Germany were trained in cruelty; I think I see this happening here, in this day.

Sent by Steve Turner | 12:36 AM | 7-13-2008

While this might be tearing the country apart, living in a place that goes so completely against ones grain can tear ones own self apart.

I have lived all over the country, and grew up in an open, but conservative community. I am a progressive, and truly love all types of people and have never had a problem feeling accepted within a community. However, I now live in South Carolina in a small, gated, resort, conservative and mostly closed-minded, quite religious community. It simply does not work for me. Much of what you are saying applies where I live, in that I am a progressive in a conservative town. The prevailing viewpoint is coming from a conservative angle, with not much openness to varying ideas. It is, at times, almost unbearable. I have been alienated from my friends, and mostly, from really building a community.

I am a firm believer in bringing all viewpoints into the fold, but living in a place that works for me is something that I took for granted before now. And while I'm not looking for people who think exactly as I do, a community with similar values is important. Red or blue, black or white -- these issues are not meaty. Lifestyle choices, acceptance of various viewpoints, and an openness and willingness to engage in alternative dialogues are the main factors needed. I find this more open attitude to be more common among thinkers and educated people, period.

This also seems to fall into a cultural geography field, as physical place truly attracts specific personalities. And with so many issues to be divisive on, having similar values can help to get things done within a community.

I am looking to be in a place that believes in the mantra "live and let live." Where I live, that option is far from attainable without social scrutiny.

Here I come, Portland!

Sent by MsD | 5:42 PM | 7-15-2008

I believe that our political leaders and the elite that they serve have exacerbated a normal human trend to flock together. They pursue a "divide and conquer" strategy". Majority rules" and if you want to rule the majority you only need to divide them into groups that can be merged on key and often contrived issues. To achieve or maintain power is to be certain you sprinkle the correct amount of issues that will unite a winning majority. The losing minority can then be ignored. It is even more insidious (or ingenious) when you take into account we usually only turn out 50% or so of the voters in a presidential election. Now all you need is 51% of 50%. Control of a "united" one quarter of the electorate assures political control at the national level. At the state and local level the numbers are even smaller for turnout. If you only get 30% of the local voters to the polls then half of that number (16%) will exercise control in the community. For those who would rule us, it is a great benefit to divide us into groups and even better if the group is isolated from potentially corrosive opinions from those that differ from our "group". When election time comes one simply calls on the groups that are preprogrammed to respond to a particular ideology. Those who are not in the group can be ignored. It is efficient and cost effective as any good marketing plan should be. Spend your resources in a "market" that will respond to your product/pitch. Do not waste resources trying to convert those who have little or no use for your product. This has been a successful if dehumanizing way of taking care of (political) business.

Sent by Paul See | 2:00 PM | 7-17-2008

some of the big sort is going on on purpose, like a modern day Salt Lake City. The Free State Project, Free Town Project, Christian Exodus, Ave Maria, Paulville, Childfree Town Project, and Liberty Districts are some examples. Google them!
I'm glad. It's great news for secessionists of all kinds. HOORAY!

Sent by Alan Ditmore | 3:29 PM | 7-17-2008

I definitely agree that people do tend to live by sorting, if they can afford to but I don't think it's anything new, it's built in. We are attracted to people who think and behave like us, who are "normal" to us. My husband and I did indeed move to our current neighborhood because many of the people in our town share our views and beliefs. Outside of our political and ideological beliefs though, our neighborhood is ethnically and racially diverse.

Sent by Nicole | 4:35 PM | 7-24-2008

I live in Tempe, AZ and over the past year I have lost many friends to the lure of Portland, OR. It seems like every time someone I know is moving, they are heading to Portland. For liberal twentysomethings in the Phoenix area, Portland is their Zion (I call it, lovingly, hipster zion). And while I defnitely understand and agree with their complaints about Phoenix/Tempe, I wonder why they can't stay and try to improve their community and be the change they want to see, rather than moving to a place where everything is already in their eyes "perfect". They all want the similar things a vibrant music/art scene, cooperative communities, bike friendly streets, community gardens etc etc. All of these things are awesome and definitly desirable but I sometimes feel like saying, if you want a community garden why dont you plant one? why dont you petition for safer streets for bikers? they dont want to put in the work to get the community that they want.

Sent by kristin | 4:01 PM | 7-31-2008

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