Some sociologists have argued that many changes in public life are the result of demographic changes, such as the gradual disappearance of the “greatest generation” and its replacement by the “baby boom” generation. (e.g., Robert Putnam). On this page you’ll find discussion of how cultural and sociological changes have influenced civility. (We’ll have less to say about “interventions” regarding cultural changes than we will on our other pages.)
- Changes in residential patterns see for example Lauren Howe’s summary of Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort. Bishop notes that far more Americans now live in landslide counties (carried by a presidential candidate with a margin of 20% or more). In 1976, 27% of Americans lived in such counties. In 2008 it was 48%. According to a recent calculation, 89 percent of the Whole Foods stores in the United States were in counties carried by Barack Obama in 2008, while 62 percent of Cracker Barrel restaurants were in counties carried by John McCain. (Figures from this NYT article)
- An increase in the consumer mindset: Consumers used to have to make tradeoffs. But nowadays we can increasingly order products tailored to our exact specifications (e.g., customizing a computer from Dell). See the end of this NYT article, which quotes J. Walker Smith, a market researcher, who notes that Americans say they want compromise in Washington, but they’re not generally willing to make trade-offs to get it. They simply want the other side to compromise. [added by JH]
- The decline of humility and self-restraint. David Brooks notes that the founders thought that one job of government is to restrain the popular will, and they designed a political structure to do so. But “Leaders today do not believe their job is to restrain popular will. Their job is to flatter and satisfy it. A gigantic polling apparatus has developed to help leaders anticipate and respond to popular whims. Democratic politicians adopt the mind-set of marketing executives. Give the customer what he wants. The customer is always right… American and European capitals still have the structures inherited from the past, but without the self-restraining ethos that made them function.”[posted by Haidt, 5/12] Steve Seibert offers a related analysis of how humility has helped civility and political effectiveness at key times in American history [posted by Haidt, 1/12]
- Demographic Changes In their ebook Millennial Majority authors Winograd and Hais argue that Millennials will end partisan gridlock and usher in a new era of civic virtue but not without resistance from contentious boomers.
This page is edited by Matt Motyl