“Bubble” Cultures and a Shrinking World

The comedian and social satirist Bill Maher devotes a section of his program to “Dispatches from the Bubble,” in which he attempts to show how right wing Republicans are living in a bubble that has little to do with reality in the rest of the United States.  But there are far more bubbles than just the one Maher points out, and some bubbles exist within other bubbles.

I live in Utah, a state that well might be termed the “semi-sovereign theocracy of Deseret,” where we have a state legislature that believes freedom of information requires giving schools the right not to teach sex education and has just passed a bill to that effect and that will forbid any mention of birth control except abstinence. It’s a state where legislators continue to demand and legislate ways to try to “reclaim” Utah lands from the federal government, but where one of the legislative leaders is pushing a bill to allow the condemnation of private lands to facilitate the development of oil wells and coal mines by industry.  It’s a state where every public high school in the state has an LDS Seminary of Religion across the street and where students are scheduled for “release time” during the date to attend seminary… and where the legislature balked at beefing up the high school curriculum because that would require cutting “release time,”  i.e., religious instruction, during the school day.

Wall Street financiers all live in a bubble.  They honestly think that “bonuses” aren’t the same as earned income and that paying only 15% income taxes on sums of money/securities received for services is eminently fair when middle class families pay far higher rates on infinitesimally smaller wages.

Then there’s the Congressional bubble, where no Representative or Senator can ever afford to change his position on anything, for fear that the media will discover that he or she actually thought and changed his or her mind – and that the voters would then throw them out of office – even if it happened to result in something getting done.

There’s the special bubble for climate change deniers… who somehow can’t see that the world is indeed warmer… or accept the fact that all the glaciers in the world have drastically diminished [except for three or so, which they use to refute the case], that the Arctic sea ice is vanishing, that the coral reefs are dying, that sea levels are rising…

Then there are the ultra-feminists, some of whom have declared that every act of heterosexual intercourse is an act of rape, and they won’t accept any other interpretation.

Or the black extremists, who lay every problem of U.S. black culture and subcultures on the “whites” because of slavery, conveniently forgetting that every single slave sold to the white slavers who took them from Africa had first been captured and enslaved by blacks first. That doesn’t excuse the inhumanity of slavery, but the blame for it covers all races and shades, because at one time or another, pretty much every culture has had a form of slavery, sometimes dressed up as penal servitude or indentured workers.

But the bubble problem isn’t just American.

The problem today is that, especially with globalization, we have different culture bubbles across the world.  Some of those “bubbles” coincide with national barriers, but many don’t. In a way, I’m reminded of the “Well of Souls” books by the late Jack Chalker, where there’s a massive “world” in which smaller worlds are separated by physical barriers, and the physical and cultural rules are different… except our bubbles aren’t protectively physically separated from each other.

India and Pakistan live in separate “bubbles”… and to make matters worse, each has nuclear capabilities.  Iran and Israel live in vastly different bubbles… and before long the Iranians likely will have nuclear weapons as well.

In much of the Middle East, women and children are still property (and yes, I know, that for all practical purposes, Rick Santorum and many Republicans believe the same thing, except they cloak it in terms of preserving traditional beliefs and personal freedoms – of men, of course), and people in those Middle Eastern cultures believe that Americans are infidels.  Do we live in a bubble… or do they?

The Japanese, those oh so polite folks, are one of the most xenophobic cultures around, at least if you’re Ainu or Chinese with roots in Japan for decades or centuries.

What bothers me is not that so many of us live in bubbles, but that so many of us are so absolutely convinced that the way of life in our bubble is the only way – and that laws should be enacted to force “our” way on others, whether those laws deal with abortion and restricting free speech in the United States or insisting on strict Sharia law in the Middle East or… [fill in the blank].  All too many nations, if not states and regions within those nations, seek to not only change their neighbors and their enemies, but also to restrict the rights of those within their own societies… and I’m not talking about civil order, but more basic rights, such as the rights to free speech, the rights to believe in whatever Deity the individual wishes (or not to believe), the right not only to own property, but the right to buy or sell it, regardless of faith or color…

Paraphrasing the Bard…

Double, double toil and trouble,
Fire, burn; and caldron bubble.
Legislate all into our bubble,
Turn the world to strife and rubble.


24 thoughts on ““Bubble” Cultures and a Shrinking World”

  1. Derek says:

    Just wanted to let you know, your latest series of blog posts are some of the most insightful and relevant commentaries on politics available on the web right now.

    You’re on a roll sir, keep up the good work.

  2. Thank you. I’m just trying to raise sides of issues I don’t see being addressed except with the same old rhetoric.

  3. Wine Guy says:

    Watch out, Mr. Modesitt, I might have to write you in for some office or another when November comes around.

  4. Please don’t. Nearly 20 years in and around politics in Washington, D.C., was enough punishment for anyone.

  5. Joe says:

    Most civilisations collapse because of war or environmental degration. In the latter case, it’s not that people don’t see it coming, it’s that they don’t want to.

    Cognitive dissonance is so painful that most people simply avoid it without noticing. Although people believe thinking is easy, it is actually very hard, and without training few people can push their bubble’s boundary. What passes for thinking for most people is simply justifying what they believed previously. For a scientific society, remarkably few people could design, perform, and statistically test any hypothesis. If you’re doing it right, thinking involves staying open to facts that shake the foundation of your belief system, and very often shows you that what you believed was wrong.

    People have always lived in bubbles. Although most peoples’ belief systems have never matched reality, reality did not protrude too harshly into the majority’s illusions. The fact most people were illiterate, there was no mass media, and the Church told you not to think too hard helped. Your world was limited to your village, and perhaps the neighboring village. Even work did not change much from generation to generation.

    Nowadays, globalisation and the pace of change mean people no longer believe their bubble is all there is or even that it is the dominant one. However that does not mean that they know how to relate to other bubbles. They still suffer culture shock, and the fear that they could not survive in a different society. Many even fear they will not survive in their own society in the future (Future shock). People try to bury the cognitive dissonance and fear that aspects of one’s entire belief system might be flawed, that things might not turn out ok after all. To avoid this pain, it is easier to simply force one’s ways on the other.

    Reality is protruding much more harshly into everybody’s illusions everywhere. Consider John Doe, a white middle class american. He’s been brought up to believe that as long as he works hard, there’ll be a job for him, and that only losers don’t provide for their family. Suddenly he finds himself without a job, and unable to get another one. Is he likely to understand that his job has been replaced by automation and offshoring, and that he may never get another job? Or is it easier for him to believe that evil people in the White House are conspiring to prevent him from getting a decent job in “energy production” because of some environmental hoax? Similarly, does a grieving mother want to learn that the US went to war in Iraq to ensure that the world economy was not disrupted by long term constraints on the oil supply (as Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan said) , or would she prefer to believe that her child was defending us against another 911?

    Even when people try to think past their bubbles, the truth is often far from obvious. Was the green revolution good (fewer hungry children, more people freed from dull agricultural work) or bad (even more people who now need to be fed, want children, and cannot find work in agriculture)? Will GMOs help humanity survive climate change or simply monopolise more power to the few, causing genetic pollution of wild seed stocks? Are computers bicycles for the mind (Steve Jobs) or just cheaper alternatives to the mind?

    Moreover there are plenty of people who will encourage people to join or stay in their bubble. For instance, leaders of corporations which would lose business if the causes of climate change were regulated have a direct interest in convincing people that climate change is a hoax. Religious leaders with larger flocks gain power and support. All these people, would prefer it if you never learnt to think, and supply “facts” to solidify flawed belief systems. For instance, Fox News viewers are less informed than people who don’t watch the news according to Fairleigh Dickinson University. It is a lot easier to accept a “trustworthy” person’s answers to all your questions, giving them power, than it is to relax in uncertainty, especially if you’ve never learnt to think.

    Unfortunately, population pressure, environmental degradation, and technological advances suggest to me that more and more people will be disenfranchised, and will take refuge in some kind of zealotry. Why be rational, when rationality tells you that you no longer have any role to play in society? The last time this happened in a small part of the world (Germany), we had a world war.

    1. Derek says:

      Clarify, last paragraph there…?

      1. Joe says:

        More people means more mouths to feed: each person’s probability of being fed goes down, unless food production surges to meet demand. That’s not happening. The gains of the green revolution have stalled out, and so far GMOs are proving themselves less rather than more productive.

        Climate change suggests more extreme weather events which is wiping out food. One of the main triggers for the Arab revolution was Russia no longer exporting wheat to arab countries after devastating droughts in Russia due to… climate change. Hungry people also tend to loot their environment causing more environmental degradation. (Think arsenic in well water in Bangladesh).

        I expect technology will cause more productivity, i.e. fewer employees. Norway produces more fish than it did 20 years ago, with a tenth of the fishermen. That leaves remote communities with an employment problem.

        Not having the social and financial benefits of a job, and finding food harder to get causes people to take refuge in extreme ideas. Churchill predicted World War II at the end of World War I because of France’s insistence in the Treaty of Versailles for reparations. France had promised its population that “Germany would pay” all through World War I. Having won, their politicians could not backtrack, and imposed very hefty reparation payments on Germany. France even invaded the industrial area of the Ruhr after World War I to force repayment. However these payments caused the German economy to suffer, and many Germans to be unemployed. The democratic Weimar republic (full of less extreme, more rational people) was weak because of the French yoke. Unemployed Germans took refuge in National Socialism which promised them employment, renewed pride and a strong nation. Although many Germans disagreed, and ended up suffering the consequences (not just Jews suffered), a sufficiently large minority joined a bubble of zealotry and rewrote German and world history.

  6. Steve says:

    The difficulty is that we are never free from influence or influencing others. You will commonly hear people say that the rights of others stop when they affect/hurt another. This is usually interpreted as physical harm or trespass. The truth of the matter is that everything we do affects others. This is why we try to surround ourselves with like minded people. We feel less influenced (or more free?) when in our ‘bubble’.

    Assuming a person is making an informed choice to be in a bubble, isn’t that decision as valid as any other? If a majority would like to be part of the bubble without forcing others to participate shouldn’t the minority be respectful?

  7. The key is “without forcing others.” Right now we have too many people insisting that everyone be in their bubble and attempting to use laws to restrict behavior to fit in that bubble.

    1. Steve says:

      Agreed. That is why I contacted Todd Kiser, the representative for my district about HB 363. I hope you send an email to Evan Vickers, who I believe represents you. evickers@le.utah.gov As an aside, I appreciate that you take the time to interact with your readers. Thank you.

  8. Evan Vickers is a nice enough man and a good pharmacist, but he’s a former LDS bishop and extraordinarily doctrinaire, and almost never votes against the GOP “moral” line [I don’t know of an occasion when he has, but I haven’t checked all his votes], although he’s gone against the leadership on a few health issues, but not on H.B 363. I’ve often talked to him about pending bills, and he isn’t about to change his mind on this one, not after what he’s said so far. Unhappily, unless the governor vetoes the bill, there won’t be another vote. But I did email Evan to ask him not to vote against a veto, should the governor show principle and courage… although I have my doubts about that.

  9. Carl says:

    Great blog post. I used to live in a bubble.

    But don’t forget people’s bubbles are usually based on a grain of truth. While it’s necessary to teach sexual education, people do have legitimate complaints about sexual education courses. When I went to school they were little more than liberal propaganda courses that made people feel bad if they weren’t having sex and using drugs.

    And don’t you live in a feminist bubble yourself? Or is the feminism in your books just a fantasy based on what you know readers like? (And yes, I do like it in fantasy books).

    Anyone who thinks Republican and Muslim fundamentalist views on women are the same for all practical purposes, is either firmly stuck in a feminist bubble or clinically insane.

    The Japanese are no more xenophobic than normal. Every culture in the world except one is xenophobic. Westerners are just abnormally xenophilic to the point of self-destruction.

    The reason every problem of U.S. black culture and subcultures must be blamed on the “whites” and slavery, is that the other alternative is to recognise that black people’s problems are genetic, and a result of their 1 standard deviation lower IQs, and more aggressive personalities. It would mean understanding that only people who evolved in harsh winter climates evolved to plan for the winter. And that would be the ultimate sin.

    The rights you want can never exist. Because believing in things that aren’t true has serious consequences for the people around you, such as Sharia Law, treating women as objects, no sex education, etc. And it makes a lot of sense to restrict which races and faiths can buy and sell property, otherwise you get war between people in different bubbles trying to live in the same place.

  10. Doug A says:

    Oh, dear. I truly hope “Carl” was being deliberately sarcastic. Otherwise, I fear we’re seeing direct evidence of the “Fox News Bubble”

    1. I took his words literally… they seemed too blunt to be sarcastic… but that’s one of the problems with email and text communications. Often, irony and sarcasm don’t convey well.

  11. Carl says:

    I was being literal.
    And I’ve never watched Fox News. I’m not even American.

    Actually I’m a former socialist revolutionary activist. And what changed my views was reading academic journals with Google Scholar. And just thinking about the world around me rather than relying on dogma like I used to.

    I’m not opposing full sex education, just pointing out that the criticisms of it do have some validity, at least where I come from.

    And there is several orders of magnitude difference between Republicans and Islamists. It’s like the difference between a translation tube from Tempre to Hyalt and a tube from Ifryn to Acorus.

    The feminist views expressed in your books are obviously false (except those of the Matrial, who understands the biological difference). Men and women may have similar levels of intellect, but there are huge differences in their drives. Which is why men invented 90% of things, and did 90% of other notable things. It’s fun to read about the other 10%, but they aren’t representitive of women as a whole.

    But I’m glad you understand global warming.

    And you seem to be genuine about free speech.

  12. I’d be interested in what you mean by my views being “false.” You could claim they’re incorrect, with which I’d disagree, but “false” would imply I don’t believe them, which is incorrect. Perhaps I live a bubble of sorts, but the women in my life have achieved as much, if not more,than the men,who have in turn achieved a great deal, and this leads me to believe that the “differences in drives” you mention is not just biological. Recent studies tend to suggest that there’s close to a 50/50 balance between biological and environmental factors in human development, not the 90/10 scale you mention. Remember, it’s damned difficult to do “great things” when you don’t have either education or resources… and women, even in the west, haven’t had much of either until the past century.

  13. Derek says:

    For some people, Carl in this case, statistical trends exist in a vacuum. Equating violence with race, race with IQ, gender with achievement, these things develop the identity of a supremacist as the superior being by merits of their own race and gender.

    I remember a former poster here trying to use FBI statistics to prove that minorities, particularly Hispanics, were more likely to commit crime. He did so without taking into account obvious socioeconomic factors, such as poverty. I believe said poster equated crime with ‘illegals,’ without realizing most crime committed that is associated with ‘immigrants,’ can be shown to stem from second generation dissatisfaction with their new culture that for the most part disenfranchises and marginalizes them (poverty, hegemonic bias, subconscious discrimination), turning to organized criminal groups such as gangs to develop a new identity. I too have read studies, and like Carl, I do not feel the need to cite myself today. These studies I do not cite never associated the issue of second generation crime rates with race, and provided examples from every immigrant community.

    Socioeconomic issues are compounding, maybe that’s why the supremacist does not wish to look at them. It implies a need to change and reform, whereas supremacy places the blame at the feet of some racial archetype.

    I went a little long winded there, and I hope I have not detracted from the discussion. I don’t throw “socioeconomics” around to imply that there are no other factors, but it’d be nice if those of the supremacist inclination would accept that maybe, just maybe, there are other factors than the simple race-based theory.

  14. Mayhem says:

    Another point is that while there might be stark differences between how ‘Republican’ christian conservative fundamentalists and ‘Sharia Law’ islamic conservative fundamentalists go about their goals, there are also a lot of underlying similarities in what they wish to attain.

    The key is in the *conservative* part of the sentence.
    Most of their actions are designed to keep the reins of control firmly within the group of approved leaders.
    All three abrahamic religions are heavily patriarchal, and all have a common aim to ensure that the up and coming members of their community are educated in such a way that their views will naturally reinforce those of their superiors. Mass education and emancipation of women generally runs contrary to those aims – it doubles the potential pool of troublemakers while halving the potential pool of available jobs.

    If you look at the history of religions, you’ll see that every major schism has been based on one faction wanting the freedom to do something their religion prohibits. Since they like the rest but reject that particular creed, they form their own religion. See Anglicans – Henry 8 & Divorce, or Shia vs Sunni, which was originally predominantly over who got to rule.

    It is notable that very few wars in the polytheistic orient were fought for religious reasons.

  15. Mayhem says:

    As for Japanese Xenophobia, it is very much true – they are extremely wary of foreigners and very slow to open up. Much of that probably dates back to the Sakoku period where the leadership did everything they could to keep foreign influences out of the country and preserve their way of life. The breaking open of the country as part of the Meiji Restoration was a huge blow to national identity and pride, second only to that following the second world war. That being said, there are also long standing issues with certain low caste industries, and with the descendants of those brought in as slaves, particularly from Korea.

    At the end of the day, very few countries have clean hands, but how one country acted is no excuse to not look critically at how your own did…

  16. Carl says:

    In your field (writing about magically sensing people’s feelings when they speak), “false” means they don’t believe what they’re saying. But in my field, “false” is a boolean mathematical constant, the opposite of “true”, which is what I meant.

    I’m sure the women in your life are like that. When I read your books I was thinking you must have an amazing wife. (I was also guessing she must be an accountant). But those women were carefully selected, not random, and their advantages were most likely genetic.

    You have it backwards. You should say “Remember, it’s damned difficult to have either education or resources when you aren’t driven to do “great things””.

    The problem with your theory (and this also applies to race) is that you are then stuck with the problem of explaining WHY women (or black people), even in the west, haven’t had education or resources until the past century. Which makes no sense if they’re biologically equally driven and equally capable. They weren’t outnumbered, so it makes no sense to blame men (or white people). And it can’t be random, because it’s consistent from country to country.

    But when you recognise that you had cause and effect around the wrong way, everything suddenly makes sense. Women weren’t educated because women preferred to think about small domestic things, not the outside world. Women didn’t have resources because they didn’t want to create resources.

  17. Carl says:

    Derek’s just saying that because he knows the statistical trends prove him wrong and me right. If the statistics showed the opposite he’d be defending the use of statistics and laughing at those who won’t acknowledge them.

    How can I get the benefits of being recognised as a superior being because of my race, when I didn’t tell you my race? Or are you guessing my race from the fact that most other races don’t read books, can’t understand statistics, and are incapable of saying nice things about white people or recognising their own race’s flaws? Here, I get the identity as a superior being by having superior arguments.

    Violence, IQ, and achievement are all genetic. And those genes vary by race and gender.

    “Minorities” don’t commit more crime. North East Asians commit a lot less crime. White people still commit less crime when they are in the minority. It’s all the third-world races that commit more crime.

    Hispanics ARE more likely to commit crime in the USA. FBI statistics do prove it. That’s a simple proven statistical fact (that we’re banned from noticing) that you can’t deny.

    Hispanics are also more likely to commit crime in their own countries (although you can’t tell that from FBI statistics). That’s because it’s genetic.

    Thank you for not citing the studies, and recognising that I know those studies well already.

    Can’t you see how absurd it is to complain about criminal invaders being disenfranchised and marginalised? They can’t be disenfranchised somewhere that they never had any claim to a franchise. They don’t fit in because they barged into someone else’s country which already had a culture of it’s own. If people who don’t fit in are inevitably going to turn to organised criminal gangs, then that’s an excellent reason to keep them in their own countries.

    Crime, stupidity, and laziness cause poverty, not the other way around. Socioeconomic issues are caused by the genetics of races. And race realists love to talk about them.

  18. Carl says:

    “while there might be stark differences between how ‘Republican’ christian conservative fundamentalists and ‘Sharia Law’ islamic conservative fundamentalists go about their goals, there are also a lot of underlying similarities in what they wish to attain”

    That’s complete and utter nonsense. You live in a very opaque bubble.

  19. Carl says:

    “As for Japanese Xenophobia, it is very much true”

    It’s true of every country except white ones. And it’s genetic.

    Of course, the North East Asian race (Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans) are the best-behaved, and second smartest race in the world. The smartest is of course Ashkenazi Jews (who make up half of the great scientists in the world). So they earned the right to look down on other races. White and Vietnamese people come in equal third.

  20. We’ve been through this set of racist/genetic superiority arguments before. I’m not about to go through the whole sorry business of refutation once more, because true believers never believe anything else, and the arguments will continue ad infinitum.

    We’re not doing it again. Comments are closed.

Comments are closed.