May 18, 2017 at 8:10 am, by Carl

Last month, Ross Douthat published a strong article in The New York Times in which he argues that the US cities, which are predominantly liberal, should be broken up.  It was a surprising argument both in its direction and in who printed it (the typically very liberal NY Times).  But there it was in the infamous Grey Lady (or is it “Gray Lady”).  Take a look at what he says:


for many of their inhabitants, particularly the young and the wealthy, our liberal cities are pleasant places in which to work and play. But if they are diverse in certain ways they are segregated in others, from “whiteopias” like Portland to balkanized cities like D.C. or Chicago. If they are dynamic, they are also so rich — and so rigidly zoned — that the middle class can’t afford to live there and fewer and fewer kids are born inside their gates. If they are fast-growing it’s often a growth intertwined with subsidies and “too big to fail” protection; if they are innovation capitals it’s a form of innovation that generates fewer jobs than past technological advance.

Why does this matter?  Well, Douthat says he is trying to make suggestions for a stronger or better America in the wake of the 2016 election that brought Donald Trump to the Presidency.  In that vein, Douthat thus says:


So has the heyday of these meritocratic agglomerations actually made America greater? I think not. In the age of the liberal city — dating, one might argue, to the urban recovery of the 1990s — economic growth has been slack, political dysfunction worse, and technological progress slow outside the online sector. Liberalism has become more smug and out-of-touch; conservatism more anti-intellectual and buffoonish.

What to do?  Well, ultimately he suggests simply breaking up the cities.  Sadly, we know that has as much likelihood as demanding the Internet be shut down due to its various ills to our culture.  So, rather than talking specifically about the cities changing (though, to be clear, I agree with Douthat that we would be stronger if the various major companies and institutions in the major cities started putting aspects of their business or work into the rural countryside thus forcing movement of citizens from the cities to the country), perhaps we simply note that the key is to force yourself out of sameness.


Part of our challenge is that the human is a communal animal, but one that leans toward natural affinity.  We like being around others like us.  That affinity can come out of natural aspects (race is the most notable here), but also can come from nurture aspects such as common likes (types of music or hobbies for instance).  So, we quite naturally being around others who are most like us, who like the things we like.  That won’t change.


What CAN change, though, is to take the determined step to engaging others who aren’t like you.  Start small.  Find the person in your classroom or office who, while perhaps not exactly like you (or doesn’t seem to present interest in the same hobbies as you), also isn’t a jerk to be around.  And you know…most people aren’t jerks.  So, you have lots of options to pick from.  Ask that person to eat lunch with you or simply ask them about their weekend.  Don’t judge, make a face or have to counter their statements…just listen, give a smile and perhaps offer your own thoughts on the movie or the sport that they enjoyed.  The point is simply to engage in the lives of other people.


That won’t necessarily make us a better country immediately.  What it will do, though, is remind you that each person you meet is a human of worth…and that even those who don’t agree with you aren’t necessarily crazy, rude or mean.  They just see the world differently than you. And that is key….we find our best solutions when we realize that we don’t have a monopoly on the best ideas, and our best ideas can become even stronger when different views from ours are brought out.