Is there a science of division?
November 9, 2012 9:52 AM   Subscribe

Is there a science of division? (i.e. Models of the phenomenon that communities often split into two blocs with some degree of mutual antagonism. And/or empirical data that such models could be compared against.)

Interesting models and data would give insight into questions like:

- Is this really a common phenomenon? Or just something we tend to notice, but which is not any more or less common than other patterns?

- Why usually just two big blocs, with maybe a few smaller ones? Why not other kinds of distribution?

- Are there circumstances that would tend to give rise to this?

- Is it something that occurs more in Western culture than other cultures?

- What is the life cycle of the pattern? How does it typically form, evolve and dissipate over time?

- What factors determine the degree of antagonism between the groups?

As you might guess, the question was raised in my mind by current US politics, and specifically a recent Mefi thread that mentioned the Median Voter Theorem. But the kind of "science" I'd like to hear about would be much broader than politics in modern democracies.

It might for example encompass the Protestant/Catholic or Sunni/Shia dviide in past centuries, tribal divisions in Rwanda, or for that matter Emacs vs Vi and Mac vs PC culture wars.

An example of the kind of thing I'd find interesting are complex systems models of urban segregation, which try to explain some ways that people can end up clustering physically. I'm envisaging that there might be similar models that try to model "clustering mentally".

Any models or data that give insights into the kind of questions above would be great though.
posted by philipy to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You could pick up a copy of "The Tipping Point". It references both real life examples of communities which intentionally limit their size to about 150 members and divide up when that number is exceeded and brain science stuff which talks about a certain part of the human brain being sized to mentally handle a "tribe" size of roughly 150 members. It varies from person to person, but about 150 seems to be the human average. That might give you a place to start looking for where else to look for the kind of info you want.

My son reads a lot more science than I do. From conversations with him, my understanding is that the either/or (dichotomous) nature of human framing is likely rooted in the fact that our brains have an electrical component. So, like computers, we tend to default to a Zero or One option. We have sayings like "If you aren't part of the solution, you are part of the problem." I don't know where he read this stuff, but I would look for research into that aspect of the human brain and how it impacts the way we frame things.
posted by Michele in California at 10:24 AM on November 9, 2012

Yes. But I don't remember where I saw this. There are models+simulations, I think, of how moderate groups tend to polarize into two extreme camps over time. (I hope this 2c is slightly useful. Sorry for lack of detail.)
posted by zeek321 at 10:32 AM on November 9, 2012

My comment is also perhaps not too helpful but I recall reading an article in Harper's Magazine sometime within the last year or two that described how a simulated, integrated village would separate into two segregated groups over time. I've been searching the Harper's Archive for the past half hour trying to find the article but I am the World's Worst Searcher (tm) so no joy as of now. Will keep looking.

(Help crafting search strings welcome.)
posted by hapax_legomenon at 10:37 AM on November 9, 2012

You may be interested in this MeFi FPP about the work of Thomas Schelling.
posted by jedicus at 1:49 PM on November 9, 2012

An interesting question, one which I have been personally trying to answer in my life.

Philipv's comment about how are our bodies are wired to think dichotomously rings true for me. It is also interesting that dichotomous thinking is part of the required frameworks for teaching K-12 education as students are required to use a dichotomous key.

Pluralist thinking allows truth from both sides, or all perspectives. Once that idea is discovered, one begins to see truth in all perspectives. The implication is that both democrats and republicans are right. Another example is that both pro-choice and pro-life positions are right. My favorite example is the story about the seven blind men and the elephant. The links previous discuss the middle ground, though not specifically mentioning pluralism.

Unfortunately most empirical research is by definition dichotomous thinking, so you won't find much in science about pluralism but you will in philosophy and spirituality. However, quantum mechanics is now unveiling a nature of reality that is very subjective and may in fact include discussions about pluralism.
posted by lake59 at 11:49 AM on November 10, 2012

Sorry, I cited Philipv and should have been Michele in California
posted by lake59 at 12:36 PM on November 10, 2012

There are actually 2 different characteristics to your question:
one is population growth and decay covered by calhoun's Universe 25
the other is a matter of feedback loops generally researched in terms of public health but in your case as a matter of political science. As in this article from Wired.
Interesting topic. Enjoy.
posted by ptm at 3:19 PM on November 10, 2012

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