August 11, 2005

"Crunchy places like Boulder attract crunchy types and become crunchier."

"Conservative places like suburban Georgia attract conservatives and become more so." David Brooks wants us to overcome our fastidious correctness and examine the mechanisms of "cultural geography."


Videos by Professor Howdy said...
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Mark Daniels said...

When I read this piece this morning, I thought that this was a rather silly passage in an otherwise worthy column. What are the factors that contribute to the rampant and sometimes post-modern insularity in a world that is more wired and should therefore be more unified than ever? That's one way I would summarize Brooks' question and I think it's a good one.

Mark Daniels said...

I meant to say "sometimes violent."

Skewed Left said...

Personally, I welcome new ways of understanding human interaction and motivation and if an analysis of geographic migration reveals new insights, go for it. I do take issue with this statement:

There are a certain number of close-minded thugs, especially on university campuses, who accuse anybody who asks intelligent questions about groups and enduring traits of being racist or sexist.

How about just plain wrong? In the social sciences, I think we all follow the rational, self-interested utility maximizer as the axiomatic foundation of research. If you don't start from this assumption, you're accused of being "fuzzy-headed".

My colleague raised an interesting thought. The economics revolution of social science occurred in his lifetime. It was a Kuhnian shift but he thinks we're due for another one - a new fundamental idea of human motivation. He raised the idea that biology would provide the foundation with a measurement and classification of brain activities not possible in the past.

What about this idea of cultural geography identifying human motivation factors that can be used across all social sciences like the idea of the "utility-maximizer"?

Cool stuff, but don't think you just have to get over the PC squad in the anthropology department, you'll have to get past the math snobs in the econ department too.

goesh said...

Brooks states, "People are moving into self-segregating communities with people like themselves, and building invisible and sometimes visible barriers to keep strangers out", and what came to my mind are the working poor who migrate to the other side of their trailer parks to get away from crack dealers. The buck often stops right there with just that in Commonville. Vast swatches of the social fabric participate minimally in cultural geography.

P. K. Scott said...

So people like to be around people who are similar to themselves. Wow. We'd better get millions of dollars of grant money to study this. Right now.

I am always amazed at how researchers in both the natural and social sciences continually try to study the obvious and then try to make it sound innovative and new. I believe even my backwoods, hillbilly ancestors had a keen grasp of the essentials of cultural geography without having a Ph.D. They knew they didn't want to go to the city where the folks were "different than us."

Bruce Hayden said...

I think that even when I had long hair in my hippi days in college, I was uncomfortable in Boulder. I can safely say that I have taken any number of courses from the University of Colorado, but never had to attend classes in Boulder. Same profs in Denver, just no terminal hipness.

And I had to drive through the town twice in the last month, once to drop my daughter at camp, and once when we saw her half way through. And, even to this day, the town makes me uncomfortable. Don't know why. It just does. Its like I don't belong there. I know I don't. And they know I don't, etc.

And, interestingly, it wasn't the car I was driving, or the clothes I was wearing, or anything obvious like that. It is just one of the few places in Colorado that I know I don't belong. And I really don't know why, just that I have felt that way for 35 years now.

Ann Althouse said...

Bruce: Funny. I just chose Boulder as a destination because I DO feel especially comfortable there. I taught at the law school there for a semester. It didn't strike me as especially hip. It was like Madison, but with more skinny people.

Kathy Herrmann said...

While I agree with PK on some levels, people like to be around others like them, I also think there's a bigger value to research.

In a diverse world, we have to either build bridges, ignore each other, or destroy each other. Option 2 may be peaceful but it keeps us from gaining the power of summation. Option 3 is obviously destructive so 'nuff said. Option 1 allows us to celebrate diversity while at the same time leveraging its power.

The question becomes how to we do that, which turns back 'round to social scientists trying to understand why people are motivated to do the things they do.

Ross said...

The Austin American-Statesman did a whole series on the phenomenon of the increasing number of "landslide" counties --- oh, last year, I think. Politically, at least, it found that in the past 30 years individual counties have tended to become either more Republican or more Democrat.

And I can say that in very conservative boondocks NorCal, we have a substantial share of Bay Area refugees who fled up here precisely to escape drowning in the sea of liberalism.

I, on the other hand, like Boulder a lot myself ...

chuck b. said...

I'm sure people leave the Bay Area to get away from crazy liberals. I'm even more sure people that move here in droves to be near them, and to get away from the conservative places where they came from.

I think these are microtrends tho'... in downtimes, people move where the weather's nice and the real estate's cheap. In boom times, they move to where the jobs are. Brooks overstates the cultural segmentation argument.

Bruce Hayden said...


Somewhat funny, but unsurprising, given that you are as comfortable in Madison as you obviously are.

I do find your point interesting about being similar except for all the skinny people. I was talking at a picnic tonight to a couple of women from elsewhere, and we were discussing that there is a much bigger emphasis in much of Colorado on outdoor sports. Everyone skiis, bikes, hikes, etc. Well, not obviously everyone, but everyone I know, up to, and including, my 83 year old father and my mother when she was alive. He still skiis and bikes, though we may have to curtail the later given his recent balance problems.

It is just a different lifestyle I think from much of the rest of the country - but one that I grew up with, so I think it normal, until I go elsewhere and find that not everyone has a half dozen pair of skiis, a couple of bikes, pairs of skates, etc. At the picnic, one of the women was moaning that kayaking season is almost over now. She is able to get on the water almost every day from May through now - but the water levels have dropped now that most of the snow has melted.

And I know people with 20-30 pair of skiis. My next brother, still racing probably a year younger than Ann, has probably that many in the rafters of his garage.

Boulder of course is even extreme for Colorado. A couple of years ago, it was rated the #2 outdoor sports town in the country, after a small town in Alaska where a lot of the McKinley expeditions are staged from.