Do YOU hang with people “like yourself?”

First, read this lead paragraph from Robert Samuelson’s column today:

    People prefer to be with people like themselves. For all the
celebration of “diversity,” it’s sameness that dominates. Most people
favor friendships with those who share similar backgrounds, interests
and values. It makes for more shared experiences, easier conversations
and more comfortable silences. Despite many exceptions, the urge is
nearly universal. It’s human nature.

Then share with us your answer to this question: Is this true for you?

I ask that because what Samuelson is saying is accepted as Gospel, as an "of course," by so many people. And you can find all sorts of evidence to back it up, from whitebread suburbs to Jeremiah Wright’s church to the book that inspired the column, The Big Sort by Bill Bishop.

The thing about this for me is this: I don’t know any people like me. I don’t have a group of people who look and act and think like me with whom to identify, with the possible exception of my own close family, and in some respects that’s a stretch — we may look alike and in some cases have similar temperaments, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to being alike, say, in our political views.

Oh, but you’re Catholic, you might say. Yeah, do you know what "catholic" means? It means "universal." At the Mass I attend, we sometimes speak English, sometimes Spanish, and throw in bits of Greek and Latin here and there. The priest who often as not celebrates that Mass is from Africa. We live in, I seem to recall my pastor telling me, 35 zip codes. There are black, white and brown people who either came from, or their parents came from, every continent and every major racial group on the planet. My impression, from casual conversations over time, is that you would find political views as varied as those in the general population. Sure, more of us are probably opposed to abortion than you generally find, but that’s not a predictor of what we think, say, about foreign policy.

Yeah, I might run into someone occasionally who shares my background of having been a military brat. But beyond a comparison of whether you ever were stationed in the same places, there’s not a lot to hang a sense of identity on.

I belong to the Rotary Club, which means I go have lunch with 300 or so other people who also belong to that club once a week. I can’t think of any attitude or opinion I have as a result of being a Rotarian, nor — to turn that around — did I join Rotary because of any attitude or opinion I held previously. I joined Rotary because Jack Van Loan invited me to, and my boss — two publishers ago, now — said he wanted me to join. Wait — there’s one thing that’s different: I started giving blood as a result of being in Rotary. But I don’t feel any particular identification with other people who give blood, or any particular alienation from others who DON’T give blood, the selfish cowards (just kidding).

That’s not to say anything bad about Rotary, or anything good about it. It’s just not a predictor of my attitudes. I suppose people who have an objection to singing the National Anthem and "God Bless America" every week might stay away, but that still leaves a pretty broad spectrum of life here in the Columbia area. Rusty DePass, who worked hard for Rudy Giuliani last years, plays piano at Rotary. Jack, longtime comrade and supporter of John McCain, is our immediate past president. Another prominent member is Jim Leventis, who is the godfather of Nancy Pelosi’s daughter, the filmmaker Alexandra. No one of them is any more or less a Rotarian because of his political attitudes.

(I can think of one superficial way in which an outside observer might see sameness at Rotary — a lot of the men in the club are of the 6% of American men who still wear a suit to work every day, although plenty don’t. And it’s whiter than South Carolina, but that seems to go with the suit thing.)

I’m a South Carolinian, but I’m very much at home in Memphis, and have grown quite comfortable during frequent visits to central Pennsylvania, where the Civil War re-enactors wear blue uniforms.

I cannot think of five people not related to me, with whom I regularly congregate, who share my "backgrounds, interests
and values" to any degree worth noting.

Anyway, my point is that all of this is a barrier for me to understanding people who DO identify with large groups of people who look alike and/or think alike and/or have particular interests in common that bind them as a group and set them apart from others. If I tried to be a Democrat or a Republican, I’d quit the first day over at least a dozen policy positions that I couldn’t swallow. And I don’t see why others do.

Maybe I’m a misfit. But the ways in which I’m a misfit helped bring me to supporting John McCain (fellow Navy brat) and Barack Obama (who, like me, graduated from high school in the hyperdiverse ethnic climate of Hawaii). McCain is the "Republican" whom the doctrinaire Republicans love to hate. Obama is the Democrat who was uninterested in continuing the partisan warfare that was so viscerally important to the Clintonistas.

Coming full circle, I guess I like these guys because they’re, well, like me. But not so most people would notice.

It’s going to be interesting, and for me often distressing, to watch what happens as the media and party structures and political elites who DO identify themselves with groups that look, think and act alike sweep up these two misfit individuals in the tidal rush toward November. Will either of them have the strength of mind and will to remain the remarkably unique characters that they are, or will they succumb to the irresistible force of Identity Politics? I’m rooting fervently for the former, but recent history, and all the infrastructure of political expression, are on the side of the latter.

22 thoughts on “Do YOU hang with people “like yourself?”

  1. bud

    Will either of them have the strength of mind and will to remain the remarkably unique characters that they are, or will they succumb to the irresistible force of Identity Politics?
    Most people now recognize that McCain has succumbed a long time ago. He’s now pro-torture, pro tax cuts for the wealthy, pro-drilling and of course pro-status quo for our health care. And of late he’s even backed off of his immigration proposals. Of course he’s always been pro-occupation of Iraq so I guess he’s stayed committed to one of the bad policies he’s always endorsed. So what is it about McCain that even remotely suggests he’s non-partisan? Seems pretty much a GOP hack to me, something he was not in 2000.

  2. Norm

    Interesting question. I would say yes in terms of superficialities. I hang with people who are similar to me in age (although that range gets broader from both ends as I get older). My casual gatherings tend to reflect my ethnicity. When I attend events (NASCAR, Gamecock football, and St. Patrick’s Day in Five Points, for example), I assume most of the people there share some interest with me.
    On the other hand, when it comes to more fundamental beliefs–political, religious, and profession-related philosophy–I often find myself at odds with my closest friends, members of my family, and my colleagues. On top of which, because I find my views and beliefs and the importance I assign my values evolve based on my experiences and education, I’m not even sure I would hang with myself from 15 or 20 years ago if similar convictions were the primary criteria.
    I, too, can relate to both Senators Obama and McCain. Both have beliefs which are important to me, and the curious thing for me is that they keep moving closer and closer to each other on many issues. I am fearful that the idealogues from both sides of the aisle will drag their respective candidate (whichever wins in November) back to their own side and wage partisan warfare. Maybe the time has arrived for the Centrist Party.
    When did politicians adopt the belief that the opposition party was their enemy rather than their opponent?

  3. Richard L. Wolfe

    Brad, this is great topic. I can easily answer the question. No! I would hang with people like myself if I could find them. My long time friend and business partner is Gay, left wing, hates religion, spends money like Congress does and has no problem with socialism. ( side-note, he discovered he was Gay ten years after we became friends )I am straight, married, a Christian, Libertarian, tight with money and favor capitalism or socialism.
    We fight like cats and dogs but we make it work.
    On the broader question, I never dated fat girls. Does this make me fatophobic? Yes it does but don’t I still have freedom of choice at least in my personal life? I am going to end here because I am anxious to see how others weigh in on this one. It should be fun and interesting.

  4. bud

    I usually hang with whoever is around to hang with. I live in Lexington, world capital of the GOP. I work with folks who smoke (pizza job) and don’t smoke (state government). In the long run what difference does it make what folks think about religion, politics, sexual orientation, books, movies, cars, food, whether they sport tatoos or anything else for that matter. I would even be willing share a latte or a Pabst Blue Ribbon with Lee Muller some time. As for fat women… Maybe I better not go there.

  5. Doug Ross

    > I would even be willing share a latte or
    >a Pabst Blue Ribbon with Lee Muller some
    I’ve suggested that Brad schedule a get together some time for the blog regulars. I bet it would help cut the personal attacks down significantly.
    Most of my friends in Columbia are associations either via being husbands of my wife’s friends or parents of kids who play sports with my kids.

  6. Karen McLeod

    Church seems to be the most philosophically varient group that I deal with (next to this blog). But other friends run the gamut of age and interests. We differ enough to make discussion and debate interesting (one of my best friends is [gasp] a libertarian!).

  7. Brad Warthen

    Yes, Doug, I know it would help. There’s a phenomenon that I’ve noted for my entire career, which is that reporters tend to have much more positive impressions of newsmakers than their editors do. Why? Because the reporters deal with them, and see them as human beings rather than abstractions.
    Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time for being human these days. Right now, every day is a crisis just getting our pages out without Mike. Just five seconds before typing this, I was on the phone with someone in the newsroom who is trying to help us, and we were improvising a way to get tomorrow’s pages finished. We think there’s some light at the end of the tunnel, but there will be a lot of scrambling for the foreseeable future.
    I’m not going to give up on the idea, though.
    Funny thing — as much as people holler at each other on this blog, I’ve got a hunch that superficially, a lot of us will be demographically similar. But that just goes to show how little demographics mean, in my book.
    When I get together with a bunch of middle-aged, middle-class white guy, I just don’t get any warm and fuzzy “these are my people” kinds of vibes. But I don’t get those vibes from any kind of group that I can think of.

  8. Harry Harris

    I’m convinced we do not have enough of what I call “discretionary integration.” We have lots of surface and business contact with people who are not our “natural” buddies. We don’t seem to spend enough “off the clock” time to discover that there is not as much difference in our values, hopes, thoughts, and preferences as we imagine. Prejudices based on outwardly observable characteristics are widespread throughout the world and probably relate to our survival instincts and our brain’s compulsion to seek patterns. Learning, exposure, and the highest religious values offer means of breaking free from these base tendencies. Nelson Mandella, when asked about reconciliation in his country, basically stated that the more he learned, the more he matured and grew as a person, the less membersip in any group meant to him.

  9. Brad Warthen

    Granfalloons. I’ve got no time for granfalloons. I can’t believe I wrote that whole post above, and forgot to use the word.

    As for our "off the clock" time — who’s got "off the clock" time? I only have the vaguest idea who most of my neighbors are, so I REALLY don’t identify with this voluntary segregation by like-minded people that The Big Sort supposedly mentions. Who has time even to learn their neighbors’ names, much less their philosophical views.

    When I’m not working, I’m with my family. Period. OK, I go to church. But that’s about it.

  10. Herb Brasher

    Brad, you gotta’ get a life. Easier said than done, right? Sure, you are doing an immense job, and one I think is a very important one of public service (I realize that a lot of other people don’t think that way, but let them think it, I don’t care).
    Well, the company I worked for said “enough is enough” and ordered me to work at least 10% less. I don’t know how I’m going to do that, but I do like yard work, and I do like flowers, and that way I get to visit with the neighbors a bit. I know the names of most people on the block now, though most of them pretty superficially.
    Of course, when you’re a member of an evangelical church, there’s quite a bit of pressure to get to know people, for, well, you know, evangelistic reasons. I have a hunch, though, that most of us don’t do it. I’ll just bet that evangelicals are fairly often a pretty homogeneous group, which may be one reason they have tended to think the same thing on every political issue.
    I want to get out again among internationals more, because they are the ones that I find really stimulating. Right now the yearly audit is what is left of my time.

  11. Herb Brasher

    Oh, my favorite time is Christmas, when all the kids and spouses can be together for a day or so. We spend all day talking–generally without getting up from the table. Having a son who is doing graduate study in political science keeps us all going–right and left are represented.
    And if you ever have that get-together, let me know. But somewhere that serves orange juice, ’cause I’m a tee-totaler. There are a few of us in the world, very few, I know.

  12. Herb Brasher

    Oh yeah, Brad, that series on John Adams was good. My wife and I watched it over the last several days–all good but the last one. The part about losing one’s life’ partner, over-dramatized as it was, gave my nightmares (can we die on the same day?–but that’s hard on the family, I guess).
    But you notice, he took time to work in the fields, too. That is, when he wasn’t in Washington and France.

  13. Brad Warthen

    Of course he worked in the fields. The man engaged in honest toil his whole life. He had to, to feed his family. Unlike certain slaveholding Virginians I could name…

  14. p.m.

    Yeah, that Adams guy was a prince of a fellow. He and the Federalists canceled freedom of speech with the Sedition Act, making anyone who criticized the federal government a criminal, especially newspaper people like you, Mr. Warthen.
    Would that Mark Sanford could do the same for you so you could hang your apparently meaningless history degree on the wall of your cell to admire.

  15. p.m.

    I’m a Tiger by tradition,
    But with all the Gamecock wishin’,
    It’s getting tough to play my part
    I’d be getting more nutrition
    Without their halftime attrition
    If they only had a heart.
    They have hired another savior
    But their off-the-field behavior
    Would give any coach a start
    Now one of their trustees is accusin’
    Their own police of doing the bruising
    Oh how I wish they had a heart.
    (Pardon me, Mr. Lahr, but at least I didn’t sing.)
    Seriously, Mr. Warthen, to answer your initial question, I’d hang with people like me if I could find any, but why would I want to join a club that would have me as a member?

  16. Susanna K.

    I live in Aiken. If I only hung out with people “like myself” I would have very, very few friends. I’ve settled for hanging out with people who are not antagonistic toward people like myself.

  17. Lee Muller

    Most taxpayers spend most of their time with other workers like themselves. The average manager in the US spends 53 hours a week at the office. The average design engineer spends 56 hours at the office. The average small business owner spends 68 hours at work.
    They don’t have time to hang out with government employees who only work 35 hours a week, and wouldn’t want to. The only things we have in common with most bureaucrats is religion, military, college or some sports, and private sector workers have limited time for those things.

  18. zzazzeefrazzee

    “They don’t have time to hang out with government employees who only work 35 hours a week, and wouldn’t want to. ”
    My cousin works at the US State Dept., and I can assure you that she works far more than 35 hours per week.
    Also, I own my own business, but I am more than happy to hang with my cousin when I am able.

  19. Lee Muller

    It is unlikely that your bureaucrat cousin is REQUIRED to work more than 35 hours per week, because that is the official work week for most of them.


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