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Not so simple

This is largely a response to this Body Impolitic post, but the issue has come up recently in some other places I hang out too, so I am discussing it in my journal.

Albert Einstein is supposed to have said, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."

There are certain things that people try to make more simple than is possible.

Specifically, there is no "the [fill in the blank] community" unless you're talking about a single group of people who meet for one purpose only.

There's no "the fat acceptance community," "the poly community," "the Buddhist community," and so on.

People say "the FITB community" as a way of shorthand when they're talking about all the people interacting around certain ideas. But sometimes they seem to start believing in their own shorthand. Sometimes they seem to act as if all the FITB people will be forced to spend the rest of their lives together in a small confined space so they'd better all think a lot alike.

But if you're talking about many people geographically distributed who share an interest in a certain idea, and especially if that idea is complex, then they do not form a single unified community. They have multiple different relationships with the idea and multiple different ways of interacting with other people who are interested in the idea. For most ideas, that's not only OK, that's good.

When I embrace this understanding of how people interact around ideas, I feel a lot more relaxed. If I believe in X and Z, and someone else believes in Y and Z, we don't have to fight it out about whether the community should be either X+Z believers or Y+Z believers. We can both take part in groups interested in Z and retain our beliefs about X and Y. Then we might be able to discuss X and Y productively instead of feeling like we have to stomp out all those X-believers or Y-believers.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
supergee
Dec. 20th, 2009 11:55 am (UTC)
Excellent! Blogging it.
cakmpls
Dec. 20th, 2009 03:28 pm (UTC)
I agree with you, and I have the same objections to terms involving "culture" when they take in huge heterogeneous groups, such as "black culture" or "white culture." These simply are not groups of people who all share anything other than the single quality named in the description.
mdlbear
Dec. 20th, 2009 06:56 pm (UTC)
I'd have to disagree with you here. "Community" covers a lot of ground, and even in a small town -- which would be a community by anyone's definition -- there's plenty of disagreement about everything except the geographical location and name of the town. And even there there's room for disagreement.

Similarly, it makes sense to talk about an LJ "community", the "filk community", the "Ubuntu user community", and so on while still allowing a wide range of views and beliefs. Again, such a community is defined by a web site, a musical genre, an operating system and its associated blogs, ... within which people who consider themselves part of the "community" interact.
apostle_of_eris
Dec. 21st, 2009 11:50 pm (UTC)
One of the flip sides of the coin is that we have to cut others a proper amount of slack when they generalize to a reasonable degree. Thought/language 'is' abstraction.
I had a nasty experience a couple of years ago. I was new to an online conversational circle which is very preoccupied with issues of race and representation. A context came along in which I made a couple of brief, general introductory remarks, tossing out a couple of my own opinions for illustration and triangulation. One or two were about my being Jewish; I feel good about the uses American Black culture has made reprocessing our stories. I got flamed for over-generalizing about one big homogenous black culture . . . which, from context, I hadn't done, and within two more exchanges I was barred from the group.
doctorpsycho60
Dec. 22nd, 2009 07:36 am (UTC)
I have certainly seen enough of this sort of thing in, for instance, home-schooling groups (the Evangelicals and the Hippies often have more in common than just wanting to teach their kids themselves, but there is plenty to divide them, too).
But the limitation I see on this is that you wind up supposing that you can just have an affinity group for every little interest and subdivision thereof, and have no need of a larger "community" or even of an encompassing "nation" or "civilization". This is the fallacy that Ayn Rand embraced (or rather, tucked under her arm and ran with, full tilt).
There is, indeed, such a thing as "the wider [ ] community". We just need to keep in mind what it is, and what it isn't.
leback
Dec. 30th, 2009 11:20 pm (UTC)
This is well put.

I've also been trying to be more careful lately about distinguishing references to people sharing a particular anti-oppression ideology from references to the relevant oppressed group. "The disability community" doesn't have to mean the same thing as "the disability rights community," and using the former when I mean the latter seems like potentially a good way to stir up the kinds of fights you're talking about.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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