The Truth About Divided Communities


Tuesday, 9.13pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It doesn’t matter. Most things people believe about the world are lies – Olunike Adeliyi in American Gods Season 2, Ep 1: The Beguiling Man

Sometimes you hear a news item and feel a visceral sense of unease – because you know what is seen and what is unseen, but don’t know what could happen as a result.

Take the coverage of a certain politician’s claim that Oldham is a “divided society”, as different races live separately.

The comments get immense coverage – perhaps that’s the point.

Some people dislike them instantly, seeing them simply as overt racism.

Others argue about the substance and accuracy of the statements – and whether the speaker is justified in making them or not.

Either way, emotions run hot.

There are two things that are interesting about the whole concept of divided communities.

The first is that segregation almost seems like a default mode of operation.

The Shelling Model Of Segregation shows how simple rules can result in a segregated society.

Take the animation above, for example.

You have red people and blue people.

Red people are happy when they’re mostly surrounded by red people and blue people are happy when mostly surrounded by blue.

Say you place red and blue people randomly on a grid.

You then play a repeated game with a simple rule.

If a red person has too many blue people around, then they can move to a square nearer red people and vice versa.

What happens if you do that?

Within a few turns you find divided communities as people migrate to be closer to people like them.

What this model says is that it takes effort to integrate – to have people of different types living together.

If a politician points to that division as a problem – that then is a problem of a lack of effort of the system to encourage integration.

Which in turn is the fault of the politicians – not the people that make individual decisions to keep their families in familiar and safe situations.

But which politician cares about the maths of the situation – they’re more interested in the votes of the people that matter.

Their audience.

Which takes us to the second point.

The sketchnote below is from a talk George Monbiot gave in 2014.


The important message is in the bottom right.

Let’s say you think the politician and his supporters are wrong.

How do you convince them of that?

The answer is you don’t.

You follow a three step process:

  1. Equip, resource and organise your followers.
  2. Win the undecided.
  3. Ignore the opposition, don’t appease them.

That’s something a particular breed of vitriolic and xenophobic politician understands well.

They feed on fear and mistrust and speak only to those that believe what they peddle.

You’re not going to change that.

The opposition need to get better at playing the same game.

And one can only hope that more people get to know the truth.


Karthik Suresh

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