(this could either be an intelligent post, or a stupidly cynical one; the best part is, I have no idea myself!)
I went to a Gender and Feminism Society discussion today (admittedly on a whim, so I had no idea what we were talking about and so was able to say absolutely nothing) and one of the points raised was that people in minority groups have their identities shaped and distorted from two sides: if they are the only member of that group within a larger group – such as the only black worker in an office of white people – they become representative of the entire minority group to those who are in the majority; equally, they can be marginalised from or bullied within their own minority group if others feel they do not conform to the expected traits of that group. Overall, these individuals can end up being stereotyped out of ignorance when outside of their community, and stereotyped out of fear of misrepresentation when inside their community, which is an interesting problem to have.
And while various reasons for this dual pressure were discussed I, having had the benefit of a few hours’ consideration and some lunch, now feel in a position to comment; this crap occurs because we, as a species, have multiple communities. And they suck.
While there are certain advantages to groups of similar people, such as feelings of familiarity and confidence, especially in new scenarios and circumstances, the ways we create these communities is pretty godawful: why the frak is there a ‘gay community’, when sexuality bears no relation to things we are interested in, or the people we are friends with, or any of our opinions on anything ever? Why are there nationality-based societies here at uni, which suggest that it’s okay to divide people based on which desolate bit of rock they were coughed out into this world on (a fact they didn’t themselves choose, may I add).
We don’t notice the peculiarities of these groups because they’re minority groups, they’re somehow different to the majority of us, but if this were a valid system, you should be able to apply it to majority groups with the same success, no? Well, I don’t see how a universal ‘straight community’ can be useful, if it’s supposed to include 5,600,000,000-odd people; I don’t see how a ‘British Society’ here at uni can sound like anything more than a National Front splinter group.
Surely a more helpful means of creating multiple separate communities – if this is a necessary thing – would be to base it on interest, or opinion, you know, things people can actually influence themselves? Stuff like the Harry Potter Society, or the Marxist Society are far better ways of uniting people based on interest, rather than arbitrary things like gender and race. I know that dismissing those two things is a rather idealistic view, and the fact that those divisions aren’t non-issues is a rather sad reflection of our superficial and judgemental society, but this post consists of words on a screen, I’m under no obligation to be in any way realistic.
But communities – plural – suck more broadly than these individual examples; even dividing people based on interest, or opinion, can be harmful as it suggests that ideas themselves are exclusive, that you can’t hang out with certain people because you don’t fix your flag to this particular ideology or that particular genre of music. I have many friends who are part of the Harry Potter society for instance, and I’d love to hang out with them, but I’ve not read and do not intend to read the Harry Potter series. I know that we can meet up outside of this society, but its existence still sends a message that, at least for two hours every Tuesday night, I’m not welcome around my own friends because someone somewhere decided you need to have a frakking Sorting Ceremony to be let into this particular club.
Again, my solution is hopelessly idealistic; I’d love to sit in big-ass circles with everyone I know (or with 31 other people in a Skype Call so we can make the dream international) and talk about books, and The Apprentice, and the surprisingly addictive Mount & Blade by Paradox Interactive (get it off Steam for fifteen quid now!), with people who are interested in those things, but never in separate communities, where those interests are divided. There’s no reason, as far as I can see, for us to talk about music and poetry and film and video games as qualitatively different things, when they’re all just people expressing the fact that they’re people; I’m a student of literature, and my favourite quote comes not from a novel, but from a ‘loud obnoxious punk band’; I like science-fiction, but my favourite thing in the genre is the game Mass Effect, not the epic Battlestar Galactica.
As sentient organisms, I reckon we’re all one large community with the potential to be united, as opposed to millions of smaller communities split up by things we can’t change, as well as things we can. But that probably won’t happen for another million years or so, so I’ll just keep bitching about it until then.
‘Cause when we’re all just ghosts
And the madness overtakes us
We will look at the ashes
And say, “People lived here.”