Books Higher Education

when sorting things out is a bad thing

Richard Florida mentions Bill Bishop’s new book, The Big Sort.  The essential premise of the book is that as America has become more diverse, Americans have sought out homogeneity by moving into communities with people more like themselves.

This reminds me of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.

Maybe this is just an understandable product of increased mobility. Maybe it’s people giving up on democracy. I don’t know. Given a choice, would you prefer to live in a community with people who generally share your values, interests, culture? I wonder if this isn’t more broadly a product of the social, economic, technoscientific revolution in which we are immersed. We are really at sea about the political, social, and ethical responses we ought to make about such matters.

It is pure coincidence that the same thirty years has seen the ongoing balkanization of our discipline? How pathetic is it that when humanities are in decline and we struggle to make ourselves relevant to students and the general culture that we avoid one another? that we gather in separate intellectual enclaves rather than communicating?

I’m not suggesting that we have to agree or even really get along (heaven forbid!). But how about figuring out a way of living that does more than just hope the rest of the world doesn’t exist or won’t call.


2 replies on “when sorting things out is a bad thing”

In my darkest moments, I think we’ve seen some version of the ultimate Triumph of the Will.
Other times, I think the punishment fits the crime, for folks in the humanities: we insist that discourse is nothing but the circulation of power, that identity trumps community (it’s a [insert identity here], you wouldn’t understand, and if you try you’re appropriating my voice), and we end up with discourse that does nothing but circulate power, and identity that can neither imagine nor participate in community in any productive way.
Not really a non sequitur: have you read “The Black Swan”? It’s a thrilling ride so far….


Thanks Gardner. I saw you twittering about Black Swan yesterday. It’s on my list.
Humanists need to recover from the apparent trauma of postmodernism–ideology, power, the death of the subject. We need to recover from the shock that people are different from one another. To reference Agamben, we need to work with one another *whatever* we may be.


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