May 18, 2009
The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart by Bill Bishop
Why is there such political and cultural polarization in America today? That is the question Bill Bishop sought to answer in “The Big Sort”. He discovered that while we were once much more mixed in our neighborhoods, cities and counties, we have been moving- often intentionally to be around “people like us”. So how and why did this shift occur? He traces it back to the year 1969- before that people trusted each other more, and trusted the government much more. After events in that year, there has been a steady decline in civic involvement, and increasing distrust among races, religious vs. secular people, liberals vs. conservatives as these groups have had less contact with each other.
There are a lot of statistics and numbers laid out in this book, which I liked being a former political science major. For others it may be more than you want to know. But it’s great to see thorough research backing it up, not just rampant speculation as many other books have done. Also while you are reading this think about how your lifestyle has been “sorted” and what impact that has on your actions and worldview.
June 18, 2008
The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz
The American gospel of individualism and the free market seems to preach that the more choices we have the better. But Barry Schwartz argues that as our options increase, the worse we tend to be at making choices. And the less we enjoy the choices we make. He starts by discussing this in shopping- all the different types of bread, or jeans we can buy. Then he goes on to show all the phone & communication options, entertainment, choices over how we pursue relationships, careers, religion. He supports his claims with many psychological studies.
Schwartz explains that people respond to this smörgåsbord of choices by being “choosers” who think about the importance of the decision and “pickers” who passively pick from whatever is available. Maximizers try to get the best, but while looking everywhere for it and finally making a decision, they wonder if it was really the best. Satisficers settle for what is good enough. Maybe sometimes they don’t get something as good as the maximizers, but they don’t stress out about it as much, and they don’t spend all that time needed to find the “perfect sweater”.
I have often felt overwhelmed by decision-making, and while others chided me for being indecisive, I thought there was something wrong with me. So reading this book was very reassuring, that yes, there is something psychologically overwhelming about all the choices we have. At the end of the book he gives a list of practical suggestions on how to make choices easier to deal with. One is to be more grateful for what you have, so that you will be more satisfied. Don’t compare yourself to others- figure out what is meaningful to you, and what makes you happy. This is something I really needed to hear- lately I’ve been very hard on myself for not being “good enough” compared to how I saw others around me. Accept some constraints on your choices. I would recommend this book to anyone in a modern industrial society, but especially people struggling with stress and depression. Folks with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), ADD, and autism often have trouble making choices and so I’d suggest it to them too.