Tuesday, April 16, 2013

You are what you read

One of my school projects which I am most proud of is a statistical study of presidential voting patterns versus urban population in the 2000 US Presidential Election. I made a fantastically well-designed study with great methodologies, and I ended up finding statistically significant results (If someone actually cares I can explain to them why this study was so well-considered, but its a bit technical so I'll hold back for now). My research questions was whether urban voters (or counties heavy in "urban" populations), as designated by the US Census Bureau, voted for the Democratic candidate, Al Gore, or the Republican candidate, George W. Bush. The only significant problem with my study was Ralph Nader, but overall he did not receive too many votes (with the except of one county which I then had to exclude). Surprisingly, at the time of this project (I believe it was Fall 2007), there were ZERO serious papers that addressed the topic of urban versus rural voting patterns. It is always assumed that urban voters are more liberal because of their increased likelihood of being in a heterogenous environment, but at this time it had not been addressed. Since then journalist Bill Bishop wrote an excellent book, "The Big Sort" about how populations are clustering based on ideological values. 

The results of my study were that urban voters were statistically significantly more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate rather than the Republican candidate. Bishop's book took this idea a step further in saying that it is more than just urban/rural people that are clustering, but also within this areas a similar smaller-scale clustering is happening.

Recently I've become more and more active on Twitter. Though typically outspoken, and likely to tell someone when I disagree with them, I try to keep my arguments civil and merit-based, rather than personal. Yesterday someone who I almost always disagree with wrote something thoughtful and respectful (for a change) and so I wished to jokingly tell this individual that we finally agree on something, hell must have frozen over blah blah blah. When I went to this person's Twitter page it would not allow to me reply to the tweet or even send tweet in general. Apparently this means the person has blocked me. I know people often block other people that they find annoying or who have sent nasty messages (and spammers of course), and while I am not the most innocent of Twitter users, I found it shocking that someone has blocked me for no apparent reason. 

It really made me wonder why someone who openly speaks of themselves as progressive would actively work to silence someone with a dissenting opinion, no matter what that opinion is. If we are excluding people because we disagree with their politics, we are only causing further problems. I myself follow people and organizations I do not like or agree with, but because they command some respect from a variety of other people or may be important some how, I like to know what they are saying and thinking. Of course I am not perfect, and I really dislike MSNBC and Fox and will rarely watch either of them, but this is also because there are better quality sources with similar enough opinions that I am able to access. If you cut off a source and prevent yourself from being exposed to others how can you be considered progressive? How can you be considered "worldly"? How can you understand the other side if you do not even know it? 

People like this individual are a big problem for our society. They consider themselves "holier than thou", think their opinion is correct no matter what, and are unwilling to seek out those who may critique (and therefore IMPROVE) their own arguments. Once again I am not perfect in this matter, I can be quite immodest with my own beliefs and sense of self-worth, but the last thing I would ever want to be accused of is being disinterested in meeting and talking to people are different. We learn and we grow from our experiences, and if we have the same experience every day, what will we ever learn? Reading, television and internet are the most prevalent ways in which many of us are exposed to others, why not read or watch something new? You might learn a thing or two.

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