Facebook: 'The Big Sort' or 'The Great Division'?
Saturday, July 19, 2014
By Beth Cody, Writers’ Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Recently I found myself unsubscribing to an acquaintance’s posts on my Facebook News Feed. Her posts had previously focused mostly on personal news about her life that I felt privileged to share, and occasional interesting posts about artistic and cultural matters. But recently, some of her posts have been about political issues. (I myself stopped posting political things on Facebook, only sending such things privately to interested friends.)

Her latest post concerned the Supreme Court decision that pro-life business owners aren’t obligated to buy abortion drugs for insured employees. Even though I lean pro-choice, as a libertarian it seems obvious to me that laws forcing people to do things they think are morally evil are the most totalitarian of laws and go against the very definition of religious (or any kind of) freedom, the concept upon which our entire nation was founded.

She’s an open-minded, moderate liberal and might see some truth in that statement. However, to her far more leftist Facebook friends, it’s apparently equally obvious that women have a right to abortifacients that someone else pays for. Her leftist friends and I exchanged comments until it devolved into an ugly argument, which she didn’t appreciate.

This was the second time this had happened, and I didn’t want to further alienate her (or to read more posts and comments demanding well-meaning but coercive laws destructive of our freedoms).

Afterwards, I found myself thinking about a book, ‘The Big Sort,” by Bill Bishop. Bishop musters evidence that since the late 1960s, Americans have been sorting themselves into like-minded communities with others of similar lifestyles and beliefs. He believes that this has led to our more polarized nation and is dangerous for democracy, and he (incredibly) calls for more voter apathy to preserve the peace.

Bishop doesn’t seem to understand that it’s almost certainly increased government controlling our lives that’s responsible for Americans defensively sorting themselves into like-minded groups, but he’s right that this is happening.

We socialize with people whose beliefs we feel comfortable with; we read newspapers that don’t make us angry with their benighted views; we shop where people with similar lifestyles do.

And we subscribe to the Facebook posts that we agree with. My friend will likely now see nothing but agreement with her liberal posts, and the only political posts I now see are from other libertarians and conservatives. (With numerous catchy slogans like: “I’m a Born Free, Gun Toting, Constitution Loving American.” I liked that one.)

Is this a problem? If we want to live together peacefully it almost certainly is. But I think a growing number of people don’t want to live together under the same government any more.

A recent Wall Street Journal article by Charles Murray, “The Trouble Isn’t Liberals, It’s Progressives,” asserts that it’s not just the Republican Party that is becoming more libertarian and less accepting of a highly regulated welfare state, but also that the Democratic Party is becoming less liberal-centrist and more “progressive,” casting aside freedoms of speech and religion and the traditional restraints of divided government in their quest for a perfect society.

This means there are two diametrically opposed groups, who together probably constitute a quarter to a third of the electorate, who have no intention of living under the laws the other group wants. One group advocates freedom and individual responsibility; the other wants government to take care of us and pay for everything. 

Every compromise the freedom-seekers make leads us further down the road to serfdom, yet it’s never enough to satisfy those who want total government planning. Compromise is unthinkable; loathing for the other group grows each year.

Schism is the only end result – with luck, a peaceful parting.

Sound unbelievable? Our nation is already choosing sides with our lifestyle choices, political affiliations and even our Facebook posts.

Bill Bishop may call it “The Big Sort.” I’ll call it “The Great Division.”