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24 January, 2013

The Fractal American Moiety

From the Olympia Co-op Blog, a beautifully colored American small-scale moiety.
I'm out of my depth when it comes to anthropological theory, but this is just a blog and on this blog I've thrown around the term "moiety," so much so that it has it's own label. Here I go again, so maybe it's time to explain my loose use of the word.

In old school anthropology (and maybe today for all I know), students were taught about "moiety" in context of kinship. It means a society divided into two--not one or many, but two--kin groups. The US cannot be divided into two kin groups, but if you replace physical procreation with cultural and political affinities, you can see a dichotomous framework that looks like a moiety, right down to the use of identifying symbols. Is your state Red of Blue? Is your totem the Donkey or the Elephant?*

In our moiety system, Americans do allow for a third group of unaffiliated folks like the "independent voters" who may bend one way or the other with the winds of change, but we do not tend to abide true Third Ways. In the political dimension, for example, third parties remain too small to be important and persistent; they don't even hold the coalition-building power that small parties enjoy in some democracies. The American moiety does allow individuals to switch groups, the "convert" is a well-known character--admired by the new group and apostate among the others--but usually a more powerful figure than the iconoclast or would-be leader of a third group.

So why the pie chart depicting a vote within the Olympia Food Co-op? Aren't they Deep Blue, the Donkey's left flank? I'm not insinuating that there is an NRA sleeper cell in this august progressive co-operative, am I?


I'm realizing that the American moiety may behave like a fractal. Specifically, it has the quality of self-similarity, meaning that the pattern repeats at any scale. On a national level, we may be red or blue. Washington state replicates that divide (blue has dominated for a while--nothing requires a moiety to be equal), even if our hues differ a little from the national average. Locally, as this graph so beautifully represents, even a liberal community can find itself divided (about evenly, assuming the "medium cost" group does not come down too far one way or another) along a dipole framework with "any cost" at one end and "no cost" at the other.

The national divorce rate suggests that a group of two experiences difficulty maintaining a functioning analog to a moiety, although it does happen. Between a group of two and a nation of 300 million or so, the affinal moiety shows up again and again.

* DISCLAIMER: Of course I don't hold that the moiety is total, or that it is even useful for all anthropological-ish musings. Like many theoretical concepts, it typically dissolves under serious examination, it can be simplistic and absurd. In other words, perfect for a blog.

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