Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Salon.com | Losing my religion

Posted by shannonclark on February 5, 2004

Salon.com | Losing my religion

Good Salon article from the perspective of a Dean supporter. It reinforces my point about the challenges of networks. Her phrase “an echo chamber” is a very good one, sums up much of the challenge of any network that ceases to grow and bring in new voices and alternative opinions.

She uses religion as a metaphor, and I think it is a very apt. Most “movements” whether religious, political, or pop cultural share similar traits. Many movements over time lose sight of what grew them in the first place, and become instead holding patterns, echos of conversations and discussions amongst the converted, rarely bringing in the vibrancy and difference of the outside.

I am a big believer in diversity. I was raised in a rare American community that was (and is) diverse in nearly all aspects. Racially it was mixed in a proportion not dissimilar from the national proportions – that is, there were not “token” minorities there, but vibrant large communities of nearly every ethnicity imaginable. Economically my home town (Oak Park, IL) was and is a village with everything from subsidised housing to multiple million dollar historic estates, and the schools are good so there are students there from families that were on Welfare to families that give Rolls Royces when they turn 16, and everything inbetween. Culturally Oak Park is a village with churches of every denomination, Synagues, and even (I assume) at least one Mosque. My classmates were Hindu, Jewish, Catholic, Prostestant, and Moslem.

In short, I grew up in a very unusual community, even today most of America while generally diverse, is not specifically diverse on the level of where we live, work, play and go to school. There much of the country is still seperated into identifiable communities – whether by wealth, by ethnicity, by employment, or by race. Urban areas are, perhaps, more diverse than most suburbs or rural communities, but it is a challenge for America.

While, as a very young child, I had a strange view of the world, I have grown into a worldview that, I hope, is encompassing and celebrates great diversity. As a child I truly pictured the world as one where “everyone was a Catholic”, though I had the counter argument in my own family (my Mom’s Jewish) but while I was very young and attended a Catholic elementary school, went to mass each Sunday with my father, and played with friends from school, and did not have a television. I lived in a world of my imagination but my reference point was that people were Catholics.

It took a while to shift that perspective to understanding that the world is far more complicated.

Likewise, in any movement there is a challenge posed by the increasing inward trend of the movement. You tend towards talking with fellow members, towards reading communication (on or off line) from the movement, even towards socializing with fellow “true believers”. In this way, your connections with people of differing views gradually grow weaker and less frequent. Without any maliciousness (expect perhaps when the “movement” is not a political one but a cult) a movement full of people inside of this echo chamber will grow increasingly seperated from the rest of the world.

Likewise a company that only listens to their current customers and to employees, without looking outward towards non-customers, towards competitors, towards potential markets as of yet completly unaware of the company, will find itself almost always eventually with a shrinking market.

Some of this is natural, customers will change over time (in the worst case they die) without ongoing new streams of customers the company will usually slow down and eventually stop growing.

The challenge I see in America today is that our media, including the Internet, as well as our social trends are making it easier and easier for us to seperate into echo chambers. Indeed, around the world this trend is occuring in countries everywhere.

Without ways of spreading thoughts and ideas (and goods and services) amongst these seperate chambers, and without ways of helping each group open up and listen to the other, we risk people increasing living on the same planet, but also living in completely different worlds.

Looking at one of the biggest issues in the world today, terrorism, especially that part of it driven by Fundementalists (Muslim, but as well Christian anti-abortionists, Hindu nationalists and others) these groups thrive on building up a complete echo chamber around their followers. A world where alternative views, thoughts, options, and behaviors are not just condemned but almost literally not there.

I believe that our government and other leaders should work very hard to change these echo chambers of ours. Not by building newer, bigger, larger ones, but by encouraging and supporting ways of breaking down walls, of getting people outside of their normal contexts and give them opportunities to encounter each other as individuals, as well as members of a group.

As well, we need to always, each of us, keep in mind that throughout life most “groups” are not either/or (however much they may claim it), rather, all of us are part of many groups. And we have the responsibility to not let any one of our “groups” drown out all the many others to which we belong.

Thus:

I am an entrepreneur.

I am a writer.

I am a “chowhound”

I am white.

I am a Chicagoan.

I am an American.

My family is Irish, Catholic, Polish & Russian, and Jewish.

My cousins are black, white, vietnamese, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, and Budhist.

I am an indepentant.

I am male and under 30.

and you see, I am all of the above, many more, and none of the above. We each have our list. As time passes our lists will change, but critically nothing on my list is “all” that I am. Nothing on your list is “all” that you are. If we lose sight of that, we as a people on this planet lose.

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