About Me

Find out more about me here.

13 December 2017

It's Time to Take Place out of Politics

FiveThirtyEight has a cool, ongoing podcast series on gerrymandering. It's gotten me thinking about an underlying issue that everyone seems to take for granted and no one I've heard is questioning. Namely, our entire representative democracy is based on geography; that is, we are represented based on where we live instead of (or even in addition to) our political ideology, social identities, etc. That's not to say that politics, identity, etc. aren't a part of electoral politics; it's just that those things are all mediated (inefficiently, I would argue) through place.

Undoubtedly, the central role of place in our democracy is owed to the technological limitations of colonial America. Moreover, land (and thus place) mattered in agrarian society in a way that it longer does in a post-industrial society. Place, then, is a decidedly 18th-century solution to representative democracy that simply no longer represents the people of the 21st century. I've written around this idea previously.

One reason that place has persisted is that place can quite easily be exploited by those with terrible intentions. For example, "state's rights" (i.e. regional autonymy) was invoked as a defense for first slavery and later Jim Crow discrimination. Another example is calls for "local control" as a defense for segregation in school districts.

A term that shows up in the podcasts (which I assume is from the political science literature) is "natural political geography." The basic idea is that people "naturally" sort themselves by place, most importantly by conservative/Republican and progressive/Democrat. In other words, it's not so much that people on the coasts have convinced each other over time to become liberal and that people in the "flyover states" have convinced each other over time to become conservative; instead, it's that people have been more likely to move to specific regions, states, cities, and neighborhoods where people already share their ideology. (Incidentally, sociology has long known of the structural sorting that happens for race and class.) However, there is nothing "natural" about people choosing to live by those with politics that are similar to their own or, more accurately, choosing not to live among those who are politically intolerant to them. If this phenomenon does indeed exist, it is at least in part a response to the fact that we do politics via place.

Our current set of political issues are not bounded. They include structural concerns over race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. We need an electoral system that acknowledges this. Moreover, the problems that SCoTUS is currently considering in Gill v. Whitford, including "packing and cracking," are created by our insistence on place and could be remedied if we admit that we don't live in that world anymore.

No comments:

Post a Comment