Another fit topic of rumination on this Independence Day 2011 is the question of voluntary segregation or balkanization. Herewith, a few very preliminary remarks.
I have been inclining toward the view that voluntary segregation, in conjunction with a return to federalism, might be a way to ease tensions and prevent conflict in a country increasingly riven by deep-going differences. We need to face the fact that we do not agree on a large number of divisive, passion-inspiring issues. Among these are abortion, gun rights, capital punishment, affirmative action, legal and illegal immigration, taxation, the need for fiscal responsibility in government, the legitimacy of public-sector unions, wealth redistribution, the role of the federal government in education, the purpose of government, the limits, if any, on governmental power, and numerous others.
We need also to face the fact that we will never agree on them. These are not merely 'academic' issues since they directly affect the lives and livelihoods and liberties of people. And they are not easily resolved because they are deeply rooted in fundamental worldview differences, in a "conflict of visions," to borrow a phrase from Thomas Sowell. When you violate a man's liberty, or mock his moral sense, or threaten to destroy his way of life, you are spoiling for a fight and you will get it.
We ought also to realize that calls for civility and comity and social cohesion are pretty much empty. Comity (social harmony) in whose terms? On what common ground? Peace is always possible if one side just gives in. If conservatives all converted to leftism, or vice versa, then harmony would reign. But to think such a thing will happen is just silly, as silly as the silly hope that Obama, a leftist, could 'bring us together.' We can come together only on common ground, only under the umbrella of shared principles. And what would these be?
There is no point in papering over very real differences.
Consider religion. Is it a value or not? Conservatives, even those who are atheistic and irreligious, tend to view religion as a value, as conducive to human flourishing. Liberals and leftists tend to view it as a disvalue, as something that impedes human flourishing. The question is not whether religion, or rather some particular religion, is true. Nor is the question whether religion, or some particular religion, is rationally defensible. The question is whether the teaching and learning and practice of a religion contributes to our well-being, not just as individuals, but in our relations with others. For example, would we be better off as a society if every vestige of religion were removed from the public square? Does Bible study tend to make us better people?
The conservative will answer no and yes respectively and will feel sure that he is right. The leftist will give opposite answers with equal confidence. There is no possibility of mediation here. That is a fact that can't be blinked while mouthing the squishy feel-good rhetoric of 'coming together.' Again, on what common ground? There can be no 'coming together' with those whose views are pernicious.
If we want peace, therefore, we need to give each other space by adopting federalism and limiting government interference in our lives, and by voluntary segregation: by simply having nothing to do with people with people with whom there is no point in interacting given unbridgeable differences.
Unfortunately, the Left, with its characteristic totalitarian tendency, will not allow federalism. But we still have the right of free association and voluntary segregation.
No doubt there are disdvantages to segregation/balkanization. Exclusive association with the like-minded increases polarization and fosters extremism. See here. The linked piece ends with the following suggestion:
Bishop cites research suggesting that, contrary to the standard goo-goo exhortations, the surer route to political comity may be less civic engagement, less passionate conviction. So let’s hear it for the indifferent and unsure, whose passivity may provide the national glue we need.
Now that is the sort of preternatural idiocy one expects from the NYT. Less civic engagement! The reason there is more civic engagement and more contention is because there is more government interference! The Tea Party movement is a prime example. The solution is less government. As I have said more than once, the bigger the government the more to fight over. The solution is for government to back off, not for the citizenry to acquiesce like sheep in the curtailment of their liberties.