Our Enemy Is Isolation

Justin Davidson, reporting for New York magazine, writes about the widening split between urban and suburban voters (http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/04/the-urban-rural-divide-matters-more-than-red-vs-blue-state.html).

One odd paragraph stands out, however:

It’s not clear what accounts for this political force field that weakens with every mile from City Hall but that’s carried from center to center along transit lines. Do people with strong political views choose to live in like-minded communities, or do the places people choose to live form their opinions about how society should work? Which comes first: real estate or ideology? Either way, the dynamic behaves like an ideological centrifuge, distributing liberals and conservatives in complex but not random patterns.

From reading Davidson’s own article, or applying basic common sense, it seems pretty clear what accounts for deep-seated conservatism, and that’s isolation. If you travel by car and live in a single-family house (or gated community, let’s call that a “home-let”), then your interactions with other people are likely limited and largely avoidable. The freedom afforded you by your remove might even allow you to go out of your way to avoid mixing with people around whom you feel uncomfortable: you don’t have to shop at the supermarket closest to you, for instance. You can drive that extra five minutes in the other direction.

On the other hand, public transportation (like public school) day by day breaks down that fantastical “other.” While the stray bad experience–a mugging or other act of violence, a belligerent or deranged passenger–may still jade you in the short-term, the long-term effect of mingling with your fellow Americans–not just anonymously cruising past them in traffic or sending out unheard curses at whomever just cut you off–has a liberalizing effect. You can still hate those of different ethnicities, genders, or orientations, but you can’t do so anonymously, and the removal of anonymity–as seen when leaping from a water-cooler conversation to a message-board free-for-all–makes it a lot harder to do so. That’s the “political force field” that Davidson is describing: the more alone you are, the more entitled you are to everything around you, the more independent you feel, whether there’s any actual basis to that whatsoever. Of course these people retreat into conservative platitudes: they’ve already gone out of their way to physically cut themselves off from the world at large. What’s another psychic cut or two?

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