Aspen Ideas Festival: Bill Bishop on why we live with people just like ourselves

Mickey Edwards and William Bishop at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
Former Republican congressman Mickey Edwards and author William Bishop at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
Riccardo Savi | The Aspen Institute

What are the implications of an America where the places we live are increasingly crowded with people who live, think and vote just like we do?

Bill Bishop, says some of our political polarization comes from the fact that we're ideologically inbred — we don't know, can't understand and can barely conceive of people who live just a few miles away.

"Places are getting increasingly different from one another," said Bishop, co-author of "The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart." "We're constantly broadcasting to others who we are, where we are and what our lives are about."

As we move through life we're all trying to figure out who we are, and oftentimes that means looking at who other people are, Bishop said. Technology has made it easier than ever to find the people we want to be like, and then move to where those people are.

"Left and right are complicit in all of this," he said. "The left wants a world where individuals have utter social freedom, individually. And the right wants a world where every individual has total economic freedom."

This move toward individualism means when people vote they aren't just voting their political interests, they are asserting their identity.

"This is the big democratic question, is how to your run a democracy in a world where everyone gets to decide their own truth and no one trusts the institutions on which the country was founded," Bishop said.

Without that trust people are relying more on local government somewhat, but mostly they look for individual solutions for group problems — they want "ultimate choice."

Bishop worked as a reporter for major newspapers in Kentucky and Texas for many years and now lives in LaGrange, Texas. He helped found The Daily Yonder, a web-based publication covering rural America.

Mickey Edwards of the Aspen Institute, and a former Republican member of Congress from Oklahoma, moderated the discussion.

Recorded in Aspen, Colo., June 30, 2017, the session was titled, "Trust, Individualism and the American Identity."

To listen to the discussion, click the audio player above.

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