Monday, October 09, 2006

Melancholy Monday: Polarization Costs Us All

Za and I spent a delightful few days in upstate New York, around the little towns that dot the Hudson. In particular, we enjoyed our day spent in New Paltz. New Paltz is a little oasis. People walk everywhere, bicycle racks exist in front of all business and even in front of the bus. The restaurants participate in the slow food movement. Every business accomodates both children and pets. In fact, we went to have tea at a darling little shop and there was a large chalkboard, toys, books, and little people tables for kids. The bathroom had diapers stocked for mothers.

I have been obsessed with this town ever since we left. This is indeed a place to raise children. Mothers and fathers are certainly not isolated since every business welcomes children as important members of the community. I started reflecting on how so many of my friends become de facto shut ins in most American cities where breast feeding is seen as a public embarrassment and squawking children and rambunctious doggies are no-nos in public spaces. Here is a community designed to really embrace and celebrate families--including the pets. And, here is a town designed to protect our natural resources through organic farming, walking, recycling, and these happy villagers throughly enjoy the outdoors through hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking and sailing.

Why aren't there more towns like this? I have been thinking about this alot. You see, my first impulse is to find an adorable place like this for Za and I to live and raise children. But, the more I thought about moving to a place like New Paltz, the more I started to see what is so terribly problematic about the whole Red State/Blue State thing. A few weeks ago I wrote about White Privilege and Class. After writing that piece, my friend (who lives in a very white and racist working class neighborhood of Long Island) sent an email where he expressed his deep concern about any living space where only one race lives. We shouldn't have such communities where only white people or only black people or only latinos (you get the idea) lives. It flies in the face of the whole "melting pot" idea.

While in New Paltz I started to think, you know, here is a wonderful place to live, but it exists as an oasis. It is an oasis because it is carved out in a country where people largely live in Green towns, Blue States or Red States. The ideological balance of most towns is out of whack and polarized. If we saw towns with a better racial balance, ideological balance, and economic balance, we might see some of the good ideas of towns like New Paltz take root in other spaces. After all, the values of this community are not at all opposed to the more rural, agricultural and religious communities surrounding it. Both places value children, value farming, value crafts and community events. But, rather than seeing an exchange take place where Green party folks live peacefully with Mennonites (for example), we see towns segregated by political beliefs and values. Rather than see the common values, we emphasize the stark differences.

The big loser is all of us. Rather than actually create a true marketplace of ideas where good ideas win out, we create little cells wherein most residents think alike, don't want to change things and don't like any outsiders coming in and messing things up.

If we fought against the unfortunate polarization of the country and saw Republicans, Democrats and Greens all embrace the issue of our time--the enviroment, rather than politicize it and use it to divide us--we might all be a lot happier. We might slow down a little bit. We might enjoy each others' company. We might find we have more in common than we first realized: family, home, and a safe and loving community.