Cultural geography

My friend Jen pointed me at this column by David Brooks, describing the concept of cultural geography, a field he doesn’t really define, but comes across as the study of how and why different communities believe different things. Given my current belief in the idea that everybody has different realities, she thought I would find it interesting, and I do.

Brooks notes the tendency for people to move “into self-segregating communities with people like themselves”, and the consequential divergence of culture. I wrote about this last year:

But even while these technologies make it easier to support a geographically distributed community, people are redistributing themselves to co-locate their ideological community with their geographic community. These technologies make it easier than ever to find where “people like you” are, as well as providing connections that can be drawn upon to make it easier to move there. So people move to where they feel comfortable.

I think that this tendency towards segmentation is going to encourage growth in two fields of study. One is what Brooks is calling cultural geography, the study of how different culture segments form, what makes them endure and/or prosper, and how they will behave moving forward. The other is what I’ve been calling Latour-ian diplomacy, the ability to process the results of cultural geographers and use their findings to move between different culture segments and communicate and negotiate among them. I think that given the exploding number of culture segments that Brooks observes, the need for diplomacy is becoming stark, because without it, we will be reduced to a state of tribal war, where we treat everybody who is not like us as “evildoers”.

While reading the community post I quoted above, I found a link to another old post of mine about political extremism, which covers this territory:

But the important thing to remember is that nobody is evil in their own minds. They can’t be. They have their reasons for what they’re doing, and they believe in them very strongly. They may have a twisted perspective that is inconceivable to the outsider, but in their own minds, they think they’re doing the right thing. And treating them as monsters will only convince them that you’re a monster yourself, and then we’re back in our ideological fortresses throwing metaphorical Molotov cocktails at each other (or in the case of Palestine and Israel, real explosives).

To make progress, you have to have a flexible enough mind to be able to simulate others’ perspectives, at least enough to open a line of dialogue, to put things in terms that they will understand, to seek avenues of compromise.

Reading that post, it’s both embarrassing and satisfying to realize how little my ideas change from year to year. I’d already identified the idea of diplomacy as being the key. It’s time for me to start fleshing out these ideas and figuring out how to implement them.

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