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March 10, 2006



Nice effort. Well done (again). And I'm not sure there could have been a better way to get people to this site than bringing up something like this.

There's a concept in psychology known as "cognitive complexity" -- one's ability to see shades of grey versus only black and white (simply put). I'm not a psychologist, but hey, that shouldn't keep me from talking like I know what I'm talking about, right? I think the tendency for most humans is to relax their minds, and in most cases that means "black and white." To think "grey" takes work. "Black and white" is easier. You're either with me or against me. My way or the highway. It's just easier that way -- you don't have to think so much about it (i.e., your "ignorant" comment). Hence segmentation, racism, or any of the dividing notions that cause what was warned about way back in the Federalist papers: factions. Back then, and in the 40s-60s as you noted, we had a clear problem/issue that provided the necessary reason for alignment. Lacking that, you get what we've got.....

gordon squires

Have been reading your columns for a number of years. Have enjoyed and learned from all of them.

I think you are exactly right about the segmentation of our society. I suspect that there may be even more segmentation than mentioned in Crash(which I haven't seen yet, but plan to purchase). I suspect that there is a big diffence between the young blue collar worker and young white collar worker. And they certainly don't seem to hang around with or date/marry into the other class. And both groups seem to have the attitude that you mentioned in your column.


Rebecca Lewis

There is another reason that humans segment our groups. An anthropologist would be better at explaining it than me, but I think the simplified version goes something like this:

Human minds are best able to relate to a limited number of members of a group.
We can be intimate with 3 to 10 persons.
We are able to very closely relate to 10 to 30 persons.
We can be personally acquainted with perhaps 200-300 persons.
We can be aware of perhaps 3,000 persons - the size of a village.

Beyond that, the human brain and it's capacity to socialize is constrained. Now there are people who can do much better. I had a college professor who knew the name of each person in his lecture hall - and would call on us in class. Some ministers get very familiar with a large number of people in their congregations. But, for the average person, these numbers are pretty normal.

I found a paper on-line that gets into some of the biology behind it if you want to read up on the subject. http://www.bbsonline.org/documents/a/00/00/05/65/bbs00000565-00/bbs.dunbar.html

There is also a post in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar's_number

I think that our segmenting into groups of like mind is, in part, an attempt to manage our personal society. It is alot more WORK to get to know people with differing ideas. It is much easier to maintain contact with people that we have something in common with. Even when we get to know someone "different" from ourselves, it is on our common ideas that bring us together. We might appear to socialize with people of different ideas (Republican vs Democrat), but the thing that brings us ultimately together is probably the common desire to make the USA and the world a better place to live.

Just a thought.

Ira Krakow


I'm a longtime subscriber to your newsletter. Your comparison of segmentation in our society and segmentation of Iraq and Afghan society is right on the mark, and a chilling commentary on the prospects for a satisfactory end to the situation, either there or here.


And what would you ladies and gentlemen think it would take to solve the problem? or is there a real prolbem that needs solving? or is there any reason to solve said problem if it is a problem?

Doug Byrd


I am a long time subscriber to your newsletter and enjoy reading your articles. I wish to respond to a segment (pun intended) of this article. Dick wrote "One point about American Christian fundamentalism is that it is not a Pan-national thing such as Islam. It seeks only to extend its values across America." Perhaps I am misunderstanding your point, and please correct me if that is the case, but Christianity (at least my denomination Southern Baptist) is trying to extend itself throughout the world. We have missionaries around the world who are spreading the message of Christianity.

In my view, Christianity is the most segmenting issue humans face, whereas racial segmentation is a secondary matter. C.S. Lewis explained (much more eloquently than I can) that each person decides whether Christianity is true or not. The reason I feel Christianity is the ultimate issue is it has eternal implications, impacting us beyond our lives on earth. After a person decides yea or nay on Christianity, there are numerous other secondary segments, or decisions from which to choose. For example, a Christian chooses which denomination to align with; and we all make decisions regarding racial relations as you wrote about.

Anyway, the points I have tried to make are Christianity is indeed reaching out beyond the U.S. borders and, with all due respect to racial segmentation you wrote so well about, Christianity is the most significant segmenting force about which people decide.

Dick Lepre


Let me try. I see two tracks to your post: 1) Christianity is segmenting in the U.S. and 2) Christianity has some Pan-nationalism.

In regards to domestic issues I think that we have done a good job of separating Church and State. In simplest terms the question is this: did those who voted for Kerry think that he was in any way a tool of the Vatican? Or maybe "did those who did not vote for Kerry think that he was a tool of the Vatican?" My answers are "no" and "no". I think that the only issue on which religious beliefs have sway is abortion and I think that Americans have a decidedly mixed point-of-view about abortion. There is an underlying feeling that it is expeditious but not quite right.

As for Pan-nationalism, certainly there are missionaries but their role is almost entirely religious and to some extent they also serve a social function as they bring things such as health care to third world nations. I suppose that you could call that segmenting but my real point was that they were not trying to blow the place up as an alternative to acceptance of their faith.

Your notion that Christianity is a segmenting force here in the U.S. at present is something which I see differently. I see religious fundamentalism as being driven by decades of what I will simply call "social progressivism." I do not see this as a "these guys are right and those guys are wrong thing." It is a valid struggle of values. It is where our notions of right and wrong are woven into the social order. What is interesting is that we are predisposed to be cautious about anything having to do with religion crossing into the realm of law. The notion of the value of separation of Church and State is indeed deep-rooted

Bob Schader

Public Television tonight had an interesting piece on racial segregation in California prisons. The system segregates along racial lines and the inmates reinforce it. The court ordered March 1st integration date has come and gone. If the testimony of the inmates is to be believed, they are going have their hands full when the forced integration starts.


I congratulate, what words..., a brilliant idea


yes, i'm your side

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