It is the blessing and curse of humanity that we are social creatures.
It is a blessing because it’s a source of happiness. Some of the greatest sources of happiness as a human (no, really, I am one) come through connection with other humans. I know some of the specific sources of my happiness come through hanging out with the guys, or even working in my office and listening to them laugh in the next room (like yesterday, when I really had to finish something.)
It’s a curse because if you get humans together they immediately form two groups and start imagining their group is superior to all others.
I remember this wedding party which was not among our normal acquaintance, so I didn’t know anyone. I was, I think, about ten. The older kids separated off into a group and we into another, and we went and played in a field next to the party and we knew we were SO superior to the older kids who were playing at boy and girl stuff.
Or take middle school (please. I’m convinced if there’s a place of eternal punishment it’s middle school.) In elementary school I don’t remember having cliques, possibly because my graduating class was 12 and we had a junior class being taught in the same classroom, so we could always look down on them (though we took them under our wing, too.)
In Middle School there were cliques. There was the pretty girl clique and the rich boys and girls clique and then there were… us. If we’d thought about it we’d have called ourselves “the others” and if we’d been in the states every man and woman jack and jill of us would now be in science fiction. We were of an intellectual disposition, sometimes odd looking (my “boyfriend” looked like a dinosaur. No, I’m not exaggerating. There was something saurian to his face. Dan only knew him by that description, but when we met him years later in a train, he recognized him on sight. Of course he was also a brilliant mathematician. The middle-school boyfriend. Oh, and Dan too.) Most of us were tiny and skinny. Then there was me. I functioned as an attractor to the group, because compared to the normal run of my generation in Portugal I was what was technically known as a moose (And if you want to know what that was, at 13 I stopped growing at 5’7” and wearing a US size 7.) and I was not afraid of fighting and fought not just to defend myself but “mine” as well. That meant we got the lame and the halting and the slow too. Though most were quick in the mind, because we scared the others. But not all. We had people we protected because they were nice but kind of … well… not that smart.
Middle school is when teens try out for adulthood. I realize Portugal was a more conformist society than anywhere in the US. But I saw it with my kids and it’s not that different. In Middle School they try to teach you to “fit in” with the most possible people. Not on purpose, of couse, but that’s what happens when you throw a bunch of humans that age together. Tribalism rules, and if people aren’t in your group – because you are a kid and have no brakes – they’re likely to get hurt. Also, if people ARE in your group they must be watched for any sign of disloyalty.
So, what is this about, precisely.
Well, someone on the anti-puppy side has been screaming and throwing fits (okay, they all have, but this one is speshul. Read Amanda’s take down here.) about the sad puppies campaign “politicizing” the Hugos and how he demands anyone on the slate distance himself from the campaign or else.
[Steeples hands on desk. Looks towards the heavens.] Lor’ what fools these mortals be.
First of all there is about zero political content to Brad’s slate. There might be more if it were mine (MAYBE. I was talking at dinner with the boys about authors I like/enjoy and frankly, starting with Connie Willis and passing through Pratchett any number of them are not just liberal but openly so.) But Brad’s slate is “works Brad found he thinks are worthy” and we read them and agreed or just told people about his slate and that’s about it. Which is why he said “go out and read them.” The books had zero vetting for politics, and so did the writers. In fact, I haven’t read one of the books and I guarantee I’ll find politics that make me roll my eyes, though very few people who weren’t taught Marxism from Middle School on would see it.
It’s absolutely impossible this man looked at the slate and decided it was politically motivated. Absolutely zero chance. (It’s also impossible they looked at the slate and decided it was exclusionary of women. As for people of different orientations, I don’t think anyone knows or cares about the private life of the writers.)
So the noise is pure middle school clique. This man who is at best a hanger-on to the field is screaming and yelling “Look at me, look at me, I’m with” (what he perceives to be) “the cool kids.”
This joined with a discussion last night on facebook with two people much younger than I on the precise gradation of “Latino” and “Hispanic” and the exact parsing of the need to belong.
I am one of those people who are pathological xenophiles (no, really, in the stone age, I’d probably have been killed one way or another.) When I was an exchange student, lines of friendship in the groups parsed along blood lines. Portuguese would (of course) be friends with Portuguese. If there wasn’t one, then Spanish or Italian, or any flavor of South/Central American.
Me? My best friends were British and Japanese. I hung out with the Swedish guys. And – this will shock you – I REALLY liked Americans which meant I often didn’t hang out with exchange students at all.
So to me the whole “belong” thing is a little hard to understand, except in the sense that all humans (even me) seem to want a tribe (mine tends to be the rag tag oddlings.)
And we all try to fit in with our group, be it in clothes, hairstyle, mannerisms or the way we choose science fiction awards.
And that’s fine if it’s for clothes, hairstyle, etc. Not so okay if it’s awards.
The work of civilization – the undertaking that’s got us from the pyramids to where we are – is a work of defeating tribalism or at least of harnessing it towards the larger world and larger, more worthy endeavors.
Deciding literary or even just story worthiness requires dispassionate examination and discussion that cannot happen if it’s all “I wanna belong with them.”
To take it back to tribalism and the cool kids who get to have the award because they’re cool is the opposite of civilization. It is a regression to barbarism.
It is, unfortunately one that is everywhere in society at large, partly encouraged by Marxism which is a barbaric philosophy, treating people as widgets, that is interchangeable members of a group (and the group mostly due to inherited characteristics). It is little wonder that Marxism usually leads to barbaric “kingship” systems like in Cuba or North Korea. That is what it is. Barbarism cleaned up and made to sound “intellectual.”
As for belonging…
I will confess to feeling a cultural kinship with lots of Latin people, particularly when we recall childhood incidents or maxims. This is not unusual. Some of the just-so stories I was taught in childhood date back to Rome, and the religious underpinnings have been changed in the telling, as I found out when I learned Latin and read the stories in the original.
I do not however feel a need to alter my behavior to fit in better with an imagined cultural identity. I accept that I have some, possibly genetic, possibly cultural and learned in childhood (though that doesn’t explain some that show in the kids, not me) legacy of my ancestry. That’s fine. I don’t suppress them. (The “feisty” thing, for instance.) BUT I also don’t encourage them to be more Latin. I just am me, as I am.
I find kinship and friendship and amusement in belonging with British ancestry people too, and anyone who knows the North of Portugal will understand why (seriously, we were where the Brits sent their disappointing sons before they had an empire) and know that it permeates the culture to a great degree. I found when I went to England and saw for the first time the landscapes I’d read about that it was sort of a lost homeland of the soul. There was something to the light and the layout of fields and houses that evoked a homesickness for a place I’d never been. (though there were traces of it in the North of Portugal.)
What I’m trying to say is that I channel my “tribalism” to “belonging.” I don’t try to conform to a tribe, but I’ll accept as brothers and sisters those who share some part of my sense of self. Needless to say, every American who loves the Constitution is definitely close kin, too.
But I don’t try to conform. I don’t try to be what people expect.
I try to be me as hard as I can. I have taken the full scope of who I am, changed what I could change that displeased me (or work on it on a day to day base) and encouraged the virtues and talents I like. I take no reference of what other people expect me to be (except my family, of course. I try not to be too hard to live with, after all.) I take reference of who I am, who I want to be and what I want from life. Not what other people want, not even what other people want me to want. Just what I want.
Do I have friends? Of course. I view friendship as an important bond involving mutual obligation.
Do I have a tribe? Well, yes. My friends tend to sort of be that.
Do I have a tribe that demands I think as they do as dress/behave/like what they do? No. You see, my tribe is odd and we’re each one our own.
I like it that way.
It must be scary to live in a world where Middle School never ends.
It’s also wholly inadequate for the work of adulthood and civilization.