Saturday, December 28, 2019

Clusters And Bubbles

     I was musing over a handful of topics for a column when I came upon this Chris Muir strip:

     Chris’s gift for portraying important (albeit unpleasant) truths in pictorial form is one I’ve envied for a long time. Those three frames are equivalent to a really long essay – and as a bonus, they make one laugh. Amazing!

     I hope he won’t mind if I add a few words of my own.

     Time was, the houses of Congress were in session for only a few weeks per year. The rest of the year, the Senators and Congressmen were in their home states and districts – and not to do “constituent service.” The nation’s legislators were working people, in contrast to the “professional politician” of today.

     As time passed and Congress arrogated more and more power to itself, Congressional sessions were lengthened. Today they occupy by far the greater part of the year. That creates a rationale for federal legislators to live in the District of Columbia or nearby. In consequence, their social circle is – drumroll, please – one another, rather than the people of the districts that put them in their offices.

     I’m not aware of any book that traces the emergence of the social and political environment the members of the federal power elite inhabit. I’d love for there to be one. It would be my first hardcover purchase of 2020. For as Chris implies in the above, it was the concentration of power-mongers in a small geographical region that gave rise to the “Washington bubble:” the sense that the consensus among D.C.’s political class is what really matters, rather than the rights, prerogatives, preferences, and opinions of private American citizens. A delineation of how that mindset evolved within the clustering confines of Washington would be instructive, to say the least. It would also point the way toward the dilution thereof.

     The same effect is visible in other bubbles that have clustered geographically. One of the most obvious is the media bubble. Media types associate almost exclusively with one another. What they “know” consists of the consensus among their fellows. They have little contact with private Americans who might differ with them. To a large extent this is a consequence of their concentration in three left-liberal urban enclaves.

     What other occupations exhibit such clustering tendencies? Correlate them with the social, economic, and political opinions prevalent therein. What does the pattern tell you?

     President Trump’s recent move to push a major executive department out of the D.C. area suggests that he’s aware of the consequences of clustering and has decided to act against them. It might not prove entirely effective; after all, social circles once established can be rendered portable. But it’s a nice experiment, a first strike against one of the most pernicious tendencies in American sociopolitics: the “Us versus Them” effect that arises from the identification of political-class members with one another rather than with the interests of Americans generally.

     Of course, the political class hates him for it. How could it be otherwise? They’re jealous of their lifestyle and perquisites, which they would strain to replicate once moved from D.C. to Wichita. And to be surrounded by all those commoners! How would they transmit their ruling-class attitudes to their progeny, that the kiddies would be properly prepared to ascend into the halls of power in their turn? Think of the children!

     It only sounds satirical, Gentle Reader. The cluster makes the bubble possible. If we destroy the cluster, we have a chance to make the bubble burst. Not a guarantee, mind you – and all taken with all, I’d prefer to see something more wholesale. But a chance is better than continuing to wring our hands over the status quo.

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