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The Sandbox and Polarization in America

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  • The Sandbox and Polarization in America

    The following is a rough draft of a section from my forthcoming book. I am looking for helpful and constructive criticism from the group I am trying to describe.

    Dr. Strangelove
    www.strangelove.com

    "It may be true that on many issues Americans are only divided by a few percentage points in the polls, but this tells us nothing of the manner in which Americans hold their opinions. Small differences among people can be imbued with enormous social meaning. Even if there has been no substantial growth in opinion- or group-based differences among Americans over the past century (as some sociologists argue), this still does not tell us if the manner in which Americans express their differences has changed. As the anthropologist Wood notes, ‘opinion surveys are a weak way to get at some of the deep disagreements in American life.’

    One of the most common patterns I have observed within America’s online discussion groups is a tendency for a group to manifest a left/right, Democratic/Republican split among participants. James Q. Wilson’s definition of polarization as ‘an intense commitment to a canditate [of a political party], a culture or an ideology that sets people in one group definitively apart from people in another, rival, group’ well describes what can be found throughout America’s online political and social conversation. An example of this polarization can be seen in a online forum called the Sandbox. This forum is part of the Web site, TacticalGamer.com. Tacitical Gamer is home to a group of young men and a few woman, mostly Americans, the majority of which are 20 to 35 years old, who have in common a love of online games such as World of Warcraft and Battlefield 2. The Sandbox is a discussion form for general events, satire, and humour and contained almost 3,000 threads that had generated over 53,000 individual messages. Conversation is carefully watched over by moderators and thus is kept civil although the tone of the debate can degrade and threads have been locked (closed) by moderators to put an end to a hostile debate. It is often amply clear that individuals have little respect for other points of view. With each topic that has any social or political significance can be seen a clear split between liberal and conservatives points of view which generally reflect the values held by Democrats or Republicans. Other political points of view are seen, such as libertarian, but they remain minor voices in the debates. Time and again the same individuals can be seen lining up against individuals in the opposing group, each taking positions that are typical of either political worldview. Overall, the Sandbox effectively provides a broadly drawn map of the main belief systems that compete within the American social order.

    Describing this forum as polarized does not mean that the groups fail to interact. Indeed, it is because they represent competing belief systems within the same social order that they express disagreement. Each side’s opposing position is well known to the other side. Each side is familiar with the issues and has ready answers that are often seen widely duplicated throughout the American Web. Agreement between the more prolific voices on either side is rare, and usually no point made by one side is allowed to stand unchallenged. The Sandbox represents a microcosm of American society, with its major political positions engaged in an ongoing struggle. This microcosm certainly is not complete. The group mainly consists of well educated, white males. Yet this rather homogeneous group manifests extreme disagreement on many of the issues that presently occupy America’s troubled mind. Two dominate groups arguing over many of the issues of the day mirror the two dominant positions that make ‘Red State’ and ‘Blue State’ meaningful metaphors for contemporary America. This clash of dominant belief systems is one of the most commonly seen characteristics of America’s online discussion with itself. It is not a conciliatory meeting of minds, but an expression of largely intractable differences. This is polarization in America unfolding before us in the nation’s passionate and opinionated online discourse."
    Last edited by E-Male; 06-19-2007, 05:00 PM.
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  • #2
    Re: The Sanbox and Polarization in America

    Libertarian viewpoints have much greater presence than you say. Look at the Drug Prohibition threads for one clear example. Look at the gun control / knife control for another example which is made less clear by the fact that Republicans happen to be libertarian on that particular issue.

    It's overall good though. :]

    Although I would take issue with the point you may be driving at, that Americans are somehow more divided or more extreme in their divisions than they were in many of the years past.
    A policy of freedom for the individual is the only truly progressive policy. -F.A. Hayek

    "$250,000 a year won't get me to Central Park West."

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    • #3
      Re: The Sanbox and Polarization in America

      Dude... you got the website wrong.
      [volun2]
      NS Game Officer. TF2 Admin. BF2 Admin / Scripter. PM with issues.
      Tempus: Pokerface is nailing it right on the head. Everyone who is arguing against him is simply arguing against reality.
      <anmuzi> it is not permitted to have privacy or anonymity
      <LazyEye> yeah when I play on TG the server digs though my trash

      Arm yourself with knowledge: TG NS TF2 BF2

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      • #4
        Re: The Sanbox and Polarization in America

        Originally posted by Pokerface View Post
        Dude... you got the website wrong.
        Corrected -- thanks. It is the nature of a draft to be filled with errors ... (or as a another writer once said to me, 'we don't write, we rewrite').
        sigpic

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        • #5
          Re: The Sanbox and Polarization in America

          Originally posted by E-Male View Post
          Corrected -- thanks. It is the nature of a draft to be filled with errors ... (or as a another writer once said to me, 'we don't write, we rewrite').
          And there are more ('form' instead of 'forum' for example) but I'll trust that you or your editor will catch those. :)

          Similar to the website change, the community is "Tactical Gamer".

          I don't know where exactly the rest of the chapter/book is headed, but I feel it's worth pointing out that despite the polarization that the Sandbox can offer, very few of us care how opposed others are politically outside of the sandbox. We play games, we talk like friends, we even sometimes barbecue together.
          [volun2]
          NS Game Officer. TF2 Admin. BF2 Admin / Scripter. PM with issues.
          Tempus: Pokerface is nailing it right on the head. Everyone who is arguing against him is simply arguing against reality.
          <anmuzi> it is not permitted to have privacy or anonymity
          <LazyEye> yeah when I play on TG the server digs though my trash

          Arm yourself with knowledge: TG NS TF2 BF2

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: The Sanbox and Polarization in America

            Originally posted by xTYBALTx View Post
            Libertarian viewpoints have much greater presence than you say. Look at the Drug Prohibition threads for one clear example. Look at the gun control / knife control for another example which is made less clear by the fact that Republicans happen to be libertarian on that particular issue.

            It's overall good though. :]

            Although I would take issue with the point you may be driving at, that Americans are somehow more divided or more extreme in their divisions than they were in many of the years past.
            Great feedback -- just the stuff I am looking for here. The issue of whether or not America is more polarized is intensely debated among sociologists today. I am not making an argument about MORE, but looking at how the Internet effects the expression of polarized attitudes (vis a vis anti-American accusations), but I do not want to give the whole show away here -- still researching and writing.

            Thanks,
            sigpic

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            • #7
              Re: The Sanbox and Polarization in America

              Originally posted by Pokerface View Post
              And there are more ('form' instead of 'forum' for example) but I'll trust that you or your editor will catch those. :)

              Similar to the website change, the community is "Tactical Gamer".

              I don't know where exactly the rest of the chapter/book is headed, but I feel it's worth pointing out that despite the polarization that the Sandbox can offer, very few of us care how opposed others are politically outside of the sandbox. We play games, we talk like friends, we even sometimes barbecue together.
              Edited changes as noted -- thanks.

              Yes, an important note. It is reflected in an old saying, quite often heard in the USA, about not talking religion or politics in certain settings. We tend hold certian beliefs as semi-private matters, allocate certain times and places for certain types of expression, and generally get along very well in day to day affairs. The book will only mention TG in passing, as its subject lies elsewhere.
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              • #8
                Re: The Sanbox and Polarization in America

                Interesting intro, E-Male. Will you be discussing self-identification as a factor in polarizing the side of a debate? It is my experience in many forums that the actual ideological "lines" between the factions are fairly fluid, and many people simply react to what they perceive as an opposing viewpoint, even if the original poster is inclined to agree with the respondent on a variety of topics. There are also a lot of people who claim to be of a certain political mindset as simple tribal identification, but then go on to describe views consistent with a different, even opposing mindset.

                For certain, the battle lines are not as firmly set as you make them out to be, are they? There can be quite a lot of overlap.

                Also, isn't it a conflict of interest to post research material in the very forum which you are attempting to research?

                And where is the "Sanbox?" Sounds like a neat forum.
                In game handle: Steel Scion
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                • #9
                  Re: The Sanbox and Polarization in America

                  You can hear me say "I don't talk politics at work" anytime the subject(s) come up.
                  A policy of freedom for the individual is the only truly progressive policy. -F.A. Hayek

                  "$250,000 a year won't get me to Central Park West."

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: The Sanbox and Polarization in America

                    Originally posted by Steeler View Post
                    Also, isn't it a conflict of interest to post research material in the very forum which you are attempting to research?
                    Not at all, at least not from an ethnographic point of view (many contradictory methodologies for this sort of thing).

                    This approach challenges the authority of the author, brings the community into the analysis of the community. Anthropologists have been doing this for decades. A good correction to the subject/object dualism of 'objective' research.

                    Yes, lines are always fluid, belief systems internally inconsistent and contradictory. The subject is the text-as-it-is-written, less than the author's intent (a bit of a black box here). What does the conversation manifest? How do individuals respond to each other? These are in the text itself (the dialogue) and form public opinion -- visible. Miscommunication is a constant.
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                    • #11
                      Re: The Sanbox and Polarization in America

                      So, does this mean we're gonna be published? In a journal? 'Cause I want second author ;)

                      EDIT: Wait I glanced at your website, so it looks like an actual book (like you said). Okay.... Hmm, well if I can't be second author, could you at least dedicate your book, "To Natalie" Thanks!
                      ~~ Veritas simplex oratio est ~~
                      No matter how far a wizard goes, he will always come back for his hat. --T. Pratchett

                      <---- You know you're getting old when you rely on your forum meta-data to remind you how old you are.

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                      • #12
                        Re: The Sanbox and Polarization in America

                        I agree with Steeler, although some people clearly stand on one side of the "aisle" or the other I am constantly surprised at how wrong my perceptions were of someone's stance on issues which are normally seen as right or left politically.

                        Originally posted by E-Male
                        These are in the text itself (the dialogue) and form public opinion -- visible. Miscommunication is a constant.
                        This is the human psyche at work here, not anything unique to American politics, or especially the TG sandbox. Written text is rarely received as the author intended. Hell, I'd be rich if I could talk to my clients instead of an e-mail to start a relationship.
                        New to TG?

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                        • #13
                          Re: The Sanbox and Polarization in America

                          depending on where you publish this, I would think you need some citations for several of your statements.

                          “Up, sluggard, and waste not life; in the grave will be sleeping enough!” Benjamin Franklin

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                          • #14
                            Re: The Sanbox and Polarization in America

                            I think a big piece of Sandbox discourse (or lack thereof) is the ability to give (positive or negative) Rep as an incentive to wax political, or not. I've never had such massive boosts in rep points as I did when I first entered a few politically charged threads in the sandbox. Some were along the lines of "way to be civil and provide citations", but most were from people that agreed with me politically, for "stepping up" to others that were dominating the conversation.

                            The rep system provides a powerful (polarizing?) incentive in the sandbox. I myself have given it countless times to people I agree with that I think articulated my perspective well. I think the analysis is missing a significant point, sociologically unrelated as it may be, if it's not mentioned.
                            Beatnik

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                            • #15
                              Re: The Sanbox and Polarization in America

                              Well, I think this thread offers me the answer I was looking for on my last question to you. We're a test subject for you. I guess informing the test subject that they are being observed will contaminate the experimental results, and can't be done ahead of time, right?

                              Aside from my annoyance at being a test subject, I think you've got something worthwhile here. Nice start, but this one sentence grates on my sense of syntax. Can I offer a revision?

                              Originally posted by Original
                              With each topic that has any social or political significance can be seen a clear split between liberal and conservatives points of view which generally reflect the values held by Democrats or Republicans.
                              Originally posted by Revision
                              A clear split between liberal and conservative points of view can be seen within each topic that carries any social or political significance, generally reflecting the values held by Democrats or Republicans.
                              There might be a better way to say that. The "with" really wants to be a "within", but "within" doesn't sound right at the beginning of a sentence, so I tried moving it to the middle.

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