Huntsville and Palo Alto: Two Worlds

There’s not much in common between Huntsville, Alabama and the Bay Area

Lake at sunset in Harvest, Alabama

I’ve just returned to Palo Alto after spending two weeks in my birthplace of Huntsville, Alabama (Technically, we were mainly in Harvest, which is just outside of Huntsville). I took my children down there to visit my parents and my brother and his family. As a bonus, my other brother was also able to fly down from Boston at the same time. It was a relaxing visit, but now that I am back in the Bay Area, I can’t help but reflect on how it seems like a trip to another world.

In Palo Alto, Republicans are invisible. In Huntsville, Democrats are. I literally saw no bumper stickers for either Democratic candidate. I did see plenty of NRA bumper stickers, though. In Huntsville, society revolves around the military and church. In Palo Alto: not so much. Technically, Palo Alto is more diverse, except that are almost no African-Americans. Huntsville, is still pretty much just Black and White. Other than the usual chain stores and brands, there seems almost no point of contact between the two places.

Not much of a redneck yet

That’s unfortunate, because a little overlap would be good. There’s a great article in The Economist on the political segregation of America. It makes the point that Americans increasingly live in “Landslide Counties” where presidential candidates win by 20 percentage points or more. Huntsville and Palo Alto are prime examples of this phenomenon. Both exhibit a startling lack of political diversity, and we are all the worse for it, because (as the Economist notes) a lack of exposure to opposing viewpoints tends to increase the extremity of people’s views. Living in an echo chamber is bad for our country’s politics, and it is bad for each of us personally.

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