Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My love letter

It's not to any one individual. It's to us as a collective. And not just us librarians, or ed techies, but we middle Americans as a collective mind and intelligence and, most importantly, a moral compass. If it's still there, as Charles Murray disputes in his latest book.

Everywhere I've turned this month, I've seen data and snippets of analysis pulled from Coming Apart used to tar and feather simultaneously two segments of society, which Murray handily limits to white people, to avoid any racial kerfluffle. He finds the white underclass lacks the wherewithal to seize the opportunities before them, but also implicates the superior echelons, which haven't lived up to their own moral resonsibility to help those less fortunate.

I have been worrying A LOT about societal segmentation for a while -- since Bowling Alone, which showed we were drifting away from the community-based civic engagement that really benefits individuals and families, and the The Big Sort which geographically isolates those among the like-minded, but probably most tangibly and technologically manifested in the "Pod people" conversations of 2006, which pointed out the erosion of common national culture and what they could leave in its wake. And, frankly, the idea of a life spent combating the Coming Apart is what keeps me living and working in a more heterogenous place, though it is nonetheless well past the arbitrary population threshold Murray uses to sort the formation of like-minded clusters from inherentrly more diverse smaller ones.

I do think there is some credence in Murray's assertions. It is obvious that never have so many Americans been out of touch with so many others. But part of what we do as librarians should be provide people windows as well as mirrors. For some of my students, Gossip Girl is much a window as is Inside Out and Back Again is for others. I want to consciously work at fostering more caritas between our readers and help them find their own sense of place within the larger frame of a workable society. Maybe Murray puts forth some vision of how we can enfranchise those who don't automatically seek to participate in our democracy. I'm on the holds list for that one, at the public library.

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