Americans are becoming more consistently liberal or conservative and BORING
According to the most recent Pew Research Poll on political polarization, Americans are becoming more consistently liberal or conservative in their opinions, and ideological thinking is much more aligned with political party membership than before. This means that the overlap between the two parties that existed two decades ago is gone. And so we have fewer people — both political apostates and regular, moderate folks — who can bridge the gap between the competing partisans.
Worse yet, the hardening of ideological positions is reflected in the way we choose to live our lives. More than 75 percent of people who describe themselves as “consistently liberal” want to live in a neighborhood where houses are smaller and closer to one another and schools, stores and restaurants are within walking distance — while 75 percent of “consistently conservative” people want the opposite.
Once upon a time, political beliefs were loosely linked to class and status. But they increasingly define our entire cultural identities, and vice versa. Now, as University of Maryland political scientist James G. Gimpel has argued, you can easily guess a person’s political persuasion if you know the snack foods he eats or the music she downloads.
The Pew survey reminded me of a rather dreary dinner party I attended a few months ago in notoriously progressive West Los Angeles. It was one of those gatherings where everyone was of a type and agreed on all things — from what issues to support to what cars to buy. An astute local politician asked if I was sad because I was the only moderate amid a gaggle of lefties. Caught off guard, I blurted out the truth. I’m not used to so much certainty around one table, I told her. It bored me.
Social psychologists have long known that in uncertain times people often seek certainty and belonging in ideological groups. By adhering to all-encompassing, ideological worldviews, people can quickly differentiate between friends and foes in a threatening landscape. But certainty, while comforting, is bound to have long-term costs, including mind-numbing predictability and the diminishment of the chances of actually learning anything new. As social media becomes our primary means of receiving news and information, the Internet echo chamber becomes complete.
All this, says MIT’s Ethan Zuckerman, means that we learn about the world through self-selected people who are just like us, which only reinforces our worldviews. Zuckerman argues passionately against this state of affairs for two reasons. One, because he believes we can’t solve serious problems by just talking to people who are just like us. And two, because he thinks homophily — the fancy sociological term for birds of a feather flock together — is making us “stupid.”
Theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli agrees. He thinks that uncertainty is “the first source of all knowledge.” He insists that the term “scientifically proven” is an oxymoron, and tells his colleagues that a good scientist is never certain, and always ready to shift views the moment better evidence emerges...