People like us

By David Goodhart, Chair of the Advisory Group, Demos

Group attachments of many kinds remain strong in modern Britain, indeed are hard-wired into us. Societies are composed of people who come from somewhere, speak a certain language, have certain traditions and ways of doing things.

The idea of ‘people like us’ whether in class, regional or ethnic terms is a simple reality of life. Modern liberalism demands, rightly, that everyone be treated the same; but that does not mean that everyone is the same. And that raises issues about how we live together: about communities, about integration/segregation, about contact, trust and familiarity across ethnic, class and other boundaries, about areas people feel comfortable living in and areas they don't.

When people think about integration, people of all backgrounds tend to have ambivalent feelings. On the one hand they recognise the reality of ‘people like us’ sentiments and the right to live differently in a liberal society but they also acknowledge that a good society is one with lots of contact between citizens and a sense of mutual recognition and interest.

If you want to reduce what Trevor Phillips has called ‘comfort zone segregation’ you do not just preach the importance of tolerance, you need to promote contact and interaction and a common in-group identity. As the American social psychologist Jonathan Haidt puts it you can make people care less about race and group identities ‘by drowning them in a sea of similarities, shared goals and mutual interdependencies.I look forward to supporting the Social Integration Commission as it seeks to develop new and creative ways of promoting this positive contact in our diverse communities.

David is a member of the Commission's Policy Working Group

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