Friday, September 11, 2009

Cultural Devolution

I've already blogged about The Big Sort in America, the trend of like-minded people clustering together to form partisan neighborhoods with similar political beliefs. This naturally encourages close-mindedness as people are less exposed to anyone with a different socioeconomic status or value system. Counter-intuitively, the wide availability of information on the internet contributes to close-mindedness, as people simply filter their news to read only the blogs and reports of writers with similar belief systems. Instead of a free exchange of ideas to keep our democracy healthy, we're reinforcing our pre-conceived notions and increasing the distance between "us" and "them" within our own country.

So I started to think back on my own life, and I realized I was fairly close-minded before college. My beliefs at that point were mostly shaped by those of my family and friends, as most young people will be. It wasn't until I was exposed to a broad range of ideas, backgrounds, and socioeconomic strata at college, and I was allowed to explore and interpret those ideas on my own, that my mind truly expanded and began to form into the person I am today. Without that exposure, I'd likely be far less questioning, confident, and intellectual.

So it was quite disturbing when I read about the potential disintegration of universities in the near future, whose bloated corpses will be picked apart by the internet. If you buy the author's thesis, and I find it difficult to dispute the economic logic behind it, then soon we'll have even less sharing of ideas. Kids can stay in their own sorted neighborhoods to get their degrees online. Home schooling is already on the rise from K-12, and with everyone staying home for college, those minds will have another four years to form barriers against outside ideas.

It's terrifying to think we've already reached the zenith of democracy, and have begun a slow decline back toward fascism. But democracy can only work when there's an ability to see the Big Picture, to look at a problem from someone else's point-of-view and agree on a solution that works for everyone. If instead we devolve into a nation of close-minded isolationists looking out solely for themselves (doesn't seem like a big step down, does it?) then democracy becomes nothing more than the tyranny of the majority.


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