Occupy Wall Street: Small Convergence of a Radical Fringe

Why haven’t the protests on Wall Street sparked a prairie fire of populist rebellion across the country? Why, when Adbusters called for “reinforcements” did these not magically arrive? Why, if the protesters represent the feelings of “99% of Americans” have so very, very few of those represented bothered to support the initiative in any way at all?

Isn’t just about everyone furious with Wall Street right now?

Yes, but turning latent sentiment into coordinated collective action is never as simple as a mere call to action.

But it’s easy to see how a contingent of radicals could come to believe the delusion that the right call to action at the right moment is how mass rebellions are ignited. This formula for instantaneous revolution ignores quite a few essentials, including context, organizing, and leadership.

Context matters. Wall Street is not Tahrir Square. The United States is not Egypt. We have very different cultures, economic conditions, and political structures. Just because something on the other side of the globe seems awesome and inspiring to you, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to replicate it here. And trying to do so shouldn’t be your starting place.

Organizing matters. A notable “Tahrir Square” moment in the United States was November 30, 1999, when over a hundred thousand people effectively shut down the ministerial meetings of the World Trade Organization in Seattle. It was quite inspiring. Unfortunately, just like now, a lot of young radicals wanted to magically and formulaically replicate that everywhere, and attempted to do so at similar summits for the next two years, with diminishing returns. Seattle was only possible because of the grassroots organizing that had been steadily building in much less flashy, less glorious campaigns for the previous decade (e.g. anti-NAFTA organizing).

If your big introduction to collective action is a moment like November 30 in Seattle, it’s quite understandable, however mistaken, to try exclusively to replicate such magic. It’s like arriving at a farm during the harvest. Wow, all this delicious food is everywhere, and all you have to do is pluck it from the vine! You just want to keep harvesting and harvesting &#151 why would anyone try anything else?! That the harvest was only possible through planting, watering, and diligent tending (including weeding!) escapes your notice. And this isn’t entirely your fault; if the farm had more resources, your elders would be taking the time to give you a better orientation.

Leadership matters. In a call to action, it matters who is making the call. Their legitimacy among already constituted social identities matters. It will make a difference, for example, if the call to action is being made by the head of the AFL-CIO, by prominent religious leaders, or, say, by Adbusters. You’ve got to start with a realization that there are plenty of reasons why people would not want to go to Wall Street to take action. They have other commitments in their lives, including jobs and families. And they might get arrested or hurt. However, in moments of real social upheaval a surprising number of people often prove willing to make significant sacrifices… if they think their sacrifice might actually make a difference. People are more likely to believe their efforts will make a difference when they are being asked by leadership that has already earned their faith and trust. (This leadership can be institutions and organizations, not just charismatic individuals.)

These mistakes are not entirely the fault of the brave young radicals who are taking the streets. The smallness and fringe-ness of the Occupy Wall Street protests is symptomatic of a much broader cultural pattern. This is part of a world in which politics is more about individual self-expression than about strategic engagement. This helps explain why the freak flag flies so freely at the protests, and why protest “organizers” probably didn’t approach the leadership of the AFL-CIO or the NAACP to try to build buy-in from social bases that are bigger and broader than their own small self-selecting circles. Radicals, like a lot of other people, are caught up in their own self-selecting, self-reinforcing information universes. A few nodes in their network put out a call to occupy Wall Street, all their “friends” repost and retweet, and suddenly it seems that the whole country may just be on the brink of revolution.

Disintegration of the American Public (pt.1)

Kevin Drum has a post today at Mother Jones titled Everybody Hates Everybody Else. Based on a recent Bloomberg poll (see the pie/donut chart below), he concludes that:

…what it really means is that everybody hates everybody else. Democrats all think Republicans are responsible for screwing up the country, and Republicans all think Democrats are responsible. The only difference is that Republicans can’t decide who they hate more, Obama or Nancy Pelosi.

Half the country is a bogeyman for the other half of the country, and vice versa. Whoot!

Now, from the outset of any discussion of this phenomenon, I think it’s indispensable to name that this is not a symmetrical equation, with the two sides mirroring each other, both equally culpable in the same exact ways.

But disclaimers aside, I don’t think those on the progressive-leaning side of this culture war can be fully excused for our part. Nor do I think politicians are the only ones to blame. It’s really fun and easy&#151and quite understandable&#151for progressives to spend a lot of time pissing and moaning about conservatives and also about politicians. But it can be disempowering too. We are currently not organized in a way that gives us much leverage over many politicians, and we’re even less capable of influencing the attitudes of our hardest opponents. Focusing attention on the most extreme conservative statements of our hardest opponents can be an important thing to do tactically… from time to time. But to have our whole progressive media universe revolve around such stories is not only excessive, it’s also self-defeating. We get caught up in a story of being the powerless enlightened minority whose unfortunate fellow citizens are hopelessly backward. Now, while there may be some truth to this feeling, dwelling excessively on it is more a matter of venting than about changing something.

Don’t get me wrong. The need to vent is fully understandable. Venting helps us feel sane, and helps us feel connected with others who feel the same as we do. It’s part of the process of building our self-selecting progressive social circles. Venting about politicians and conservatives serves to signal others that we belong. We’re not so different than politicians in this regard. The modern public relations techniques employed by politicians are not much more than a scaling up of the signaling behavior all of us engage in intuitively, in our more manageable sized social groups. We’re signaling that we belong. (Sure, we’re also signaling our values.)

So yesterday I was talking with a friend who I know to be an excellent grassroots organizer at their college campus &#151 who has helped to win some impressive uphill battle campaigns. My friend was lamenting about a new class where he’s a teacher’s assistant. The class has a progressive-sounding name and course description, so my friend was surprised, disappointed, and somewhat alarmed that the group he’d been assigned was comprised almost entirely of jocks. I listened to a stream of jock stereotypes, before entering into quite an argument with my friend.

This is college, I argued. If you can’t reach out to people who have different interests and who cluster into different social groupings now, when will you ever be able to do so? This is exactly what’s wrong with our social change efforts, I thought to myself. Activism has become its own specialized thing, where self-selectors congregate and become content to associate mostly with themselves; who develop their own specialized signals of belonging; who, however friendly amongst themselves, tend to feel exclusive to outsiders; who too often become afraid to engage&#151to really, genuinely, deeply engage&#151people who are different from themselves, outside of their activist spaces.

Social transformation is what happens in everyday spaces with all sorts of everyday people. Activism should not be it’s own magical refuge from the world, but a conscious intervention in the world &#151 woven into the fabric of our everyday lives.

We need to move beyond a culture of blaming and venting and dismissive attitudes. When you label someone a jock it makes you think you know a lot more about them than you do. It’s the same if you label them a hick. Or a conservative or a Republican. They become one-dimensional characters &#151 objects that we talk about, instead of human beings who we stretch ourselves to genuinely engage.

I’m not arguing that progressive change agents should spend all our time talking to our hardest opposition. That wouldn’t be a useful allocation of our limited time and resources. But the tendency to constantly talk smack about people who we deem to be less enlightened than ourselves doesn’t tend to stop with our hardest opposition. It tends, rather, to seep into everything and to unnecessarily cut us off from a lot of potential allies. It is the opposite of what grassroots organizing used to mean.

Activists caught in the Filter Bubble

How personalization helps activists find each other while losing society

Also published at Alternet.

Eli Pariser’s new book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You is a must-read for pretty much anyone who uses the Internet. Eli breaks down troubling trends emerging in the World Wide Web that threaten not only individual privacy but also the very idea of civic space.

Of key concern to Eli is “web personalization”: code that maps the algorithms of your individual web use and helps you more easily find the things that the code “thinks” will pique your interest. There’s a daunting amount of information out there, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming to even begin sorting through it. Personalization can help. For instance, I can find music that fits my tastes by using Pandora, or movies I like through Netflix. The services provided by companies like Pandora, Netflix, Amazon, et al are designed to study us&#151to get to know us rather intimately&#151to the point where Netflix can now predict the average customer’s rating of a given movie within half a star. Eli paints a picture of your computer monitor as “a kind of one-way mirror, reflecting your own interests while algorithmic observers watch what you click.”

Whatever the benefits, the intent of these services isn’t just to benevolently help us find the things we’re looking for. They’re also designed to help companies find unwitting customers. When you open your web browser to shop for a product&#151or really for any other reason&#151you yourself are a product whose personal information is literally being sold. Companies that you know, like Google and Facebook, and companies you’ve probably never heard of (e.g. Acxiom) are using increasingly sophisticated programs to map your personality.

And it’s not just creepiness and individual privacy that’s at issue here. Personalization is also adding to a civic crisis. It’s one thing for code to help us find music, movies and other consumer products we like. But what about when code also feeds us our preferred news and political opinions, shielding us from alternative viewpoints? Personalization now means that you and your Republican uncle will see dramatically different results when you run the same exact Google news search. You’re both likely to see results that come from news sources that you prefer &#151 sources that tend to reinforce your existing opinions. Maybe your search will pull articles from NPR and Huffington Post, while his will spotlight stories from FOX News. Both of you will have your biases and worldviews fed back to you &#151 typically without even being aware that your news feed has been personalized.

Web personalization is invisibly creating individual-tailored information universes. Each of us is increasingly surrounded by information that affirms&#151rather than challenges&#151our existing opinions, biases, worldviews, and identities.  

This filter bubble impacts everyone. And it poses big challenges for grassroots activists and organizers in particular.

Values reflected back: the illusion of doing something

If you’re an activist, then probably a lot of your Facebook friends are activists too. Your friend Susan has been posting all week about the public workers in Wisconsin. Jacob posted an insightful read about white privilege that’s at the top of your newsfeed &#151 50 of your friends “like” it. Sam is a climate activist, and her Facebook presence reflects it. And you just posted an article about an upcoming protest to end the U.S. occupation in Afghanistan.

When you log in on Facebook as an activist, it might feel like you’re part of a mass movement. Social justice issues are front and center &#151 as if that were the main thing people used Facebook for. That’s how web personalization works on Facebook. When you click on a lot of posts about gay marriage, you will start seeing more similar posts. When you check out certain people’s profiles, they’ll show up more often in your newsfeed. If these folks think a lot like you do, you’ll see a lot of stuff that reinforces your worldview.

It’s fun and validating to see a lot of stuff you agree with. But consider the implications. People who are opposed to gay marriage are seeing a lot of articles that reinforce their beliefs too. And, perhaps more important, folks who aren’t that interested in the issue probably won’t see anything about it at all. Maybe you fancy yourself an agitator with your Facebook posts, but the folks who might feel agitated&#151and the more persuadable folks in the middle&#151typically aren’t seeing those posts at all. Furthermore, even if you think you’re right about all your beliefs, how are you going to be equipped to persuade others if you’re not exposed to their views?

You can spend your whole day expressing your political identity on Facebook. You can also use it to mobilize the usual suspects to take some online action &#151 or maybe even to get some of them out to an “offline” political event. But to mistake this kind of thing for grassroots organizing is a big problem.

Grassroots organizing is a process that happens within&#151and within deep relationship to&#151already constituted social blocs. It’s a process of articulating demands in language that means something to the community and making those demands actionable. It is moving the community into action as a community &#151 not just fishing for a handful of radicals who come out as individuals. But most activist spaces today are spaces for self-selectors, where folks do enter as individuals. And to really enter these spaces, you often have to assimilate to an activist subculture, and check some aspects of your identity at the door.

I don’t know of any mass movement in the history of the world that was composed of all self-selecting individuals (at least no movement that lasted longer than a flash). Take the Civil Rights Movement. If Bob Moses, Ella Baker, Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parks had been oriented toward the center of a small circle of self-selectors, they would not have been the leaders of a movement. (Picture them inspiring each other with status updates like, “No one should have to give up their bus seat because of the color of their skin. Please post as your status if you agree.”) It only became a movement when these and other good leaders helped to move whole communities&#151most notably black churches and schools&#151into action as communities. Membership in these communities came to imply movement participation. This is how movements become movements.

Self-selection on steroids

Web personalization shouldn’t be blamed for starting this pattern where people gravitate toward the things they “Like”™. Eli is quick to point out how Americans had been clustering into likeminded groups for a few decades before the web was even a big deal. We have literally been migrating into values-homogenous social spaces since the late 1960s. Discussing the ideas of Ron Inglehart, Bill Bishop, Robert Putnam, and others, Eli paints a picture of an increasingly fractured society.

For the past four decades or so we’ve been rearranging our lives to surround ourselves with people who think a lot like we do &#151 phasing out folks who don’t share our opinions and tastes.  We’ve chosen our neighborhoods, religious congregations, civic and political organizations, the cultural spaces we frequent, and our friendship circles so that we can experience our worldview reflected back to us and minimize dissonance. With or without web personalization, it makes sense that we would continue to follow the same pattern in our online communities.

Ron Inglehart’s explanation for the trend is based on Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs”: once our basic survival and material needs are provided for, we then focus more attention on social networks and individual expression. This explains why dramatic outbursts of self-expressiveness hit every industrialized society in the world simultaneously in the late 1960s. According to Bill Bishop (in The Big Sort), a generation that “grew up in relative abundance” started to display “a politics of self-expression.” And apparently, self-expressive people prefer to express themselves in like-minded company.

So what’s the big deal? I like my friends and I’m glad they share my values. It’s affirming. It makes me feel good. I can relax in like-minded company. What’s the problem?

Eli discusses several problems with this trend. I want to discuss, for an activist audience, a political problem &#151 political in the sense of collective power. My friends and I may be satisfying our identity needs when we talk politics at the bar&#151or when we share political posts on each other’s Facebook walls&#151but what are we accomplishing? What can we accomplish? What do we, as a small, self-selecting, self-segregating group of folks have the capacity to accomplish &#151 if we’re not connecting with others?

See, if you love to play the online game World of Warcraft and&#151for reasons I can only guess at&#151you want to spend all your time doing that, then living in a bubble doesn’t pose much of a problem for you. By surrounding yourself with other folks who are equally obsessed with this admittedly pretty cool videogame, you can be an all-W.O.W.-all-the-time kind of person. Best to you.

If, on the other hand, you set out to stop global warming, you will absolutely fail if you only surround yourself with people just like you. You need a heck of a lot more people to get on board. The magnitude of your task demands that you break out of your activist ghetto and go beyond the boundaries of self-selection. If you want to build the kind of collective power needed to take on the fossil fuel industries&#151with all their money, power, and entrenched webs of influence&#151then you have to somehow infuse your goal into the identities of many, many sectors of society.

But are you, climate activist, up for this task? Or will you instead orient yourself toward the center of a small, insular climate activist subculture? Will you frame your message strategically to connect with people who live beyond the boundaries of your group? Or will you content yourself to signal only to your friends? The world may be going to hell in a hand basket, but at least you’re there taking a righteous stand, surrounded by other righteous eco-warriors, right?

As a grassroots organizer, one of things that troubles me most about the filter bubble is its potential to take the tendency of insularity among would-be social change agents and to inject it with steroids. I’ve seen some of the most committed social justice activists strangely resembling folks who are obsessed with World of Warcraft. They structure their lives around something that they’re really into. And no one else is paying attention.

The very concept of a group of activists speaks to this fragmentation. It’s as if activism has morphed into a specific identity that centers on a hobby&#151like being a skater or a “theater person”&#151rather than a civic responsibility that necessarily traverses groups and interests. In a way, the very label “activist”&#151its individualizing, identifying affects&#151excuses everyone else from civic responsibility. I may or may not have an opinion about a given issue, but I can’t be expected to do anything about it because “I’m not an activist,” or “I’m not really into politics.”

In a society that is self-selecting into ever more specific micro-aggregations, it makes sense that “activism” itself could become one such little niche. But when it comes to challenging entrenched power, we need more than little niches. We need huge swaths of society bought in.

Bursting Bubbles

Reaching a broader audience is an indispensible task of social change agents. If we are to leverage the kind of collective power it takes to make the kind of change worth talking about, we need to construct broad alignments of heterogeneous social forces. This task becomes more challenging as the public information landscape becomes increasingly ghettoized. Here’s Eli:

…the Internet has unleashed the coordinated energy of a whole new generation of activists&#151it’s easier than ever to find people who share your political passions. But while it’s easier than ever to bring a group of people together, as personalization advances it’ll become harder for any given group to reach a broad audience. In some ways, personalization poses a threat to public life itself.

If we’re not intentional, the task of reaching a broader audience won’t just be harder; it’ll be hopeless. If activists are themselves ensnared in self-selecting, self-affirming&#151one might even say narcissistic&#151filter bubbles, they will lack even the inclination to attempt bridging beyond the boundaries of comfortable little clubs.

Political expression that doesn’t engage beyond self-selectors is essentially apolitical. There is no politics without friction. Civics is not easy or clean or pure or contained. It’s messy. Civic engagement requires us to break out of bubbles, to dive into the mess, and to lean into the friction.

The hopeful nugget here is that social change work has always started with a belief that reality is dynamic, not static. Things change all the time, even seemingly fixed structures. And we can step up and be self-conscious agents who influence the direction of change. The filter bubble, and all the constraints that come along with it, is another kind of structure we have to engage. Recognizing the structure is an important first step. To that end, Eli’s book is a great contribution. Then we’ve got to do some stuff that may make us feel uncomfortable.

Bob Moses wouldn’t have been a leader in the Civil Rights Movement if he had stayed in the north and only surrounded himself with other Harvard-educated young black academics and professionals. For the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to help catalyze a movement, he and others would have to enter some of the most dangerous segregated areas in the South and talk with some of the poorest, least educated, and most disenfranchised people in the entire country &#151 probably at times an altogether uncomfortable experience.

While Bob Moses sets a pretty high measure to compare ourselves with, perhaps we can at least take a little inspiration and conceptual wisdom from his approach. If he and other Civil Rights leaders could muster the courage to step so far out of their comfort zones, perhaps we can at least start consciously taking a few small steps in that direction.

Jonathan Matthew Smucker is a grassroots organizer, strategist and trainer. He serves as Director of Beyond the Choir.

Book Review: The Big Sort (part 1)

“How could Bush have possibly won?! I don’t know anyone who voted for him!”

“How could Obama have possibly won?!  I don’t know anyone who voted for him!”

Depending on where you live and who you associate with, you’re likely to have heard some version of one or the other of the above two quotes (in 2004 or 2008, respectively).

That’s because over the past few decades we’ve migrated and rearranged our lives to surround ourselves with people who think pretty much just like us – and we’ve effectively phased out the folks who don’t share our opinions and tastes.  We’ve chosen our neighborhoods, religious congregations (or lack thereof), civic and political organizations, the cultural spaces we frequent, and our friendship circles so that we can experience our worldview reflected back to us and minimize dissonance.

In The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart, author Bill Bishop (with Robert G. Cushing) eloquently presents a thorough study of political self-segregation in the United States.  Since around, say, 1968, geographic and cultural spaces in the United States have become measurably more politically homogeneous.  Bishop provides data to support this claim, broken down by zip codes, neighborhoods, religious congregations, civic organizations, and more.  He offers helpful explanations from several angles for why this has happened – including some fascinating insights from social psychology.  And he makes strong arguments that this “Big Sort” is having profound impacts – mostly negative – on our culture and politics.

The book focuses heavily on Democrats vs. Republicans.  This is understandable as the only data available that snapshots political opinion across the entire country at once is voting records from Presidential elections.  It’s the one time when we all have the same political choice in front of us – and you can see how different districts, zip codes, and demographics cast their votes (and having only two major political parties – lucky us – surely makes the analysis simpler).  As such, I can appreciate why the author draws primarily on this data.  I do take issue though with the way he discusses the two parties as if they genuinely represent the left and the right.  I take more issue with how he treats left and right as if they are symmetrical in their self-segregating behavior, and equally culpable for the crisis in our democracy.  I discuss this further in Part 2 of this book review.

But critiques aside for the moment, here’s why I love this book – and why I think it’s essential reading for anyone working for progressive change in the United States.  Bishop provides a framework that inadvertently illuminates a major constraint on the emergence of stronger, broader-based progressive movements today: namely the tendency of progressives to talk only to ourselves.  I’ll get to that shortly.

First, to explain our national “migration of self-selection,” Bishop spotlights the work of Ronald Inglehart, who “proposed a theory for why all industrial countries appeared to be undergoing similar changes in their cultures and politics” – changes that seemed to explode dramatically all over the world at once in 1968.  Inglehart’s explanation is based on Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,” which essentially states that once people have air, they then concern themselves with finding water; and after their thirst is quenched, they can think about food; and then clothes and shelter.  And once basic survival and material needs are so abundantly available that they can be taken for granted, we humans then concern ourselves with social networks, and then ultimately with individual freedom and expression.

Inglehart applied Maslow’s theory to what was happening in every industrialized society around the world simultaneously in the late 1960s.  Bishop discusses how a generation that “grew up in relative abundance” started to display “a politics of self-expression.”

The new society was more about personal taste and worldview than public policy.  It was as much or more concerned with self-expression and belief as with social class and economics.

Self-expressive people apparently like to express themselves in like-minded company.  And there you have it… The Big Sort.  Bishop provides a much fuller picture, and then goes on to discuss how insularity, self-righteousness, and groupthink inevitably rear their ugly heads in homogeneous social circles.  That’s where I jump off to return to the question of what progressive change organizations have to learn from The Big Sort’s framework…

If a progressive change organization’s goals are instrumental (i.e. the aim is to measurably change policies, structures, etc.), then it’s necessary for effective group members to be outwardly oriented – regularly talking to people outside of our social circles in order to build broad-based grassroots power, to gain the capacity to affect the big changes we imagine.  But if our psychological motivation for involvement is self-expressive (i.e. our aim is to express our values and who we are as people, and to feel a sense of belonging in a value-based community), then it doesn’t really matter if we talk to anyone but ourselves.  In fact, our identity with the group is reinforced when we differentiate ourselves from people outside of the group.  There can actually be a disincentive to reach outside of the group or social circle – and a social incentive to put up barriers.  This is especially true if a group defines itself in direct opposition to the dominant culture.  If your group’s narrative rejects the dominant culture, it’s pretty easy to take the next step and reject “society” wholesale – and then your place in the group is affirmed when you encounter (or project) hostility from “society.”  Taken to the extreme, some political groups even become suspicious of success itself.  Because if society embraces you, then you must have sold out!

So, at least part of our psychological motivation for political involvement can be fulfilled completely without us ever winning anything.  Thus, some of the most committed, fire-in-the-belly fighters for social justice and equality today are wearing their politics on their sleeve in a way that signals only to each other – at the cost of turning off a lot of potential allies.  We’re building a community together.  We are oriented to impress each other.  Our tactics, our speech, our fashion, all our expression is aimed at the center of our small, ineffectual, insular groups – instead of aiming to infect the broader society.  We are always looking to differentiate ourselves from the dominant culture, instead of looking for common ground.  We become attached to an identity of the righteous few, the keepers of a little flame.  We pride ourselves that we won’t let it be extinguished, but our monopoly on that little flame, our attachment to our own marginalization, our activist brand – inoculates the proverbial prairie against catching fire.

I’m generalizing.  Different political organizations land at different points across the instrumental vs. expressive spectrum.  And very few groups actually enjoy swimming in their own marginalization.  But probably all of us could stand to reflect on the prayer of Reverend Johnson (Blazing Saddles, anyone?): “O Lord, do we have the strength to carry off this mighty task … Or are we just jerking off?”

To be clear, the biggest reasons I recommend The Big Sort (particularly to progressive change advocates) are likely pretty different from the reasons why Bill Bishop wrote the book.  He seems mostly interested in getting everyone to better understand each other and to talk to each other more – worthy goals.  I’m extrapolating from his framework, applying it to my “neck of the woods” (waaaaaaay over here in “Far-Left-ville” *I discuss problems with this framing in Part 2 of this review).  In my 16-and-counting years working for progressive social change, I’ve found myself frustrated many times with the insular, “preaching to the choir” tendencies of many efforts I’ve been part of.  The Big Sort has helped me to see those tendencies in a broader societal context.  Like-minded clustering and self-segregation is not a uniquely progressive problem.  Just the opposite; it’s a nationwide, across-the-spectrum phenomenon.  You can see it in golfers or Cure fans or church-goers.  Like golfers and Cure fans and church-goers, members of social change organizations gain a sense of identity and belonging by surrounding ourselves with like-minded people.  But unlike golfers or Cure fans or church-goers, the raison d’etre of social change organizations is to affect real change that everyday people can feel in their everyday lives.  To do that, we can’t afford to go it alone.  We won’t see the big changes we imagine if we fail to activate more than the self-selecting usual suspects.  We’ve got to orient ourselves to connect outside the group to a broader base.

There’s some irony here.  For a crew that so often fashions itself as different from the dominant culture, in one important way we’re just doing what everyone else is doing: we’re surrounding ourselves with the wonderful people that we feel most comfortable with, and we’re closing off to others.  That seems perfectly understandable.  It even seems somewhat inevitable – but I hope not.  I hope we’re capable of devising better strategies for how we engage the Big Sort.

Read Part Two here.