Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Exampli Gratia

Because the previous two posts (look down, dang it) may seem like more academic muttering, I've decided to give just examples of what happens when the world goes wrong and people, left in a mass, an undifferentiated and unmotivated mass, start to define their own clubhouses. Trust me: I'm not being fey. This is important in its consequences, even if there is nothing apparent in the way of solutions. (That said, it's always nice when you know what the real causes are, because only this will prevent the unforgivable hydroencephalitis of mounting a crusade against "PC" or "fundamentalists" or other persons who are merely being persons who have retreated to the safety of their tree forts. (If I never close my parentheses, I can never die.)

I regard any other web or computer identities I might have as irrelevant both to my life as I live it and to ideas and cultural history, and yet I have seen a perfect illustration of my point recently, and so I have to give in and mention the world of e-people. In general, I like dogs much more than people. ("History is more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than friends," as Alexander Pope said.) As little as I care about people, I care about e-people even less.

In this web encyclopedia, a number of rules have been growing for the last few years, and sometimes new behaviors show up that aren't covered. That has meant that some of the administrators react quickly, without consideration of any procedure, and do so because they know best. This has prompted other administrators to oppose them. The first group then set up an IRC channel simply to talk to each other. Since the group was founded on the basis of "the rules are onerous and get in the way of what's best," the discussion in that IRC channel is propelled by presitge earned by showing greater and greater scorn for the opposing administrators and regular users. Because it came into existence for people who think they know best, the participants have to know better than the best of each other, have to keep moving the down marker, keep saying worse and worse things about regular folks and acting in more and more outrageous ways.

Or, let's consider a college, or even a church, set up along the lines of being "real Christians." The very definition is contrary. It is built on not being like the others -- the others being the "false Christians" or the "humanists." Therefore, one moves up in these ranks by being less and less in conversation with the rest of the society. It begins with disallowing Halloween celebrations, goes briefly to avoiding R-rated movies, and then cheerfully mows down all music not in the "Christian" rack, television, most radio, most novels, etc. Soon, greater and greater public avowals of religion turn to religiosity. It is spiritual pride that didn't start out with self-love at all. Instead, it started with rejection, with exception, with umbrage. It began not with any desire to make oneself the holiest, but rather a desire to be least like the plainly degenerate secular world.

I know it wasn't clear, before, so let me try one last time: When any group is founded on umbrage, on exception, on rejection, that group is going to gain momentum in its divergence until it ends in absurdity and frenzy.

The socialists began by rejection of the decadent capitalists of the everyday society, and soon they begin sniffing out counter-revolutionaries and insincere bourgeoise apologists. The feminists begin by being more free than the male dominated and masculine-identified world, and soon they are declaring that all heterosexual women are subjugated. If the founding principle is fear, disgust, or reform, the ultimate conclusion, if there are no checks, will be solitariness, harshness, and a competition to be extreme.

Perhaps I am being too general. Perhaps I am being hasty in saying that this must happen. However, it must happen to the degree that exception and umbrage are the only ideals and motives. If there is a normative value connected to the rejection of the wickedness, then frenzy may not result. If there is a utopia to distinguish from the dystopia of the real, then there is a chance that the group will become Shakers. It's all a question of whether fear and persecution are the only impulse or not and whether such rejection can achieve satisfaction without compromise. Even when excepting groups have normative and utopian visions, they have to fight against those who compete for negation.

There is no answer for this, by the way. I said that the answer is to ask the town what words mean, but there is no force on earth that can prevent people from dividing up into neighborhoods with neighborhood patrols. Therefore, the only answer I know of is an individual one. I can't stop the persecuted from becoming persecutors, and neither can you, but you can ask yourself, every time you find a new group that wants to include you or that you want to join, if the group offers something to be, or just something to not be.

No comments: