Friday, June 29, 2012

Random 1

Mister Orphan is out this week and the next due to a condition known as "on vacation." I'd like to say I'll be filling in for him, but as his own posting regularity is somewhat erratic and mine is even more so, our five or so readers are more or less boned.

This week you get random musings, which may subsequently turn into larger posts.

On group identity, then. Orphan has written extensively about this before, here and elsewhere, so you get a second (or third) dosage here. "Group identification" refers to the tendency, inadvertently or otherwise, of people to label themselves or place themselves directly into groups. That's hardly a complicated or insightful comment, of course, since we're all pretty damn familiar with this tribalism thing, anyway. Labels are useful things, allowing people to convey concepts and amalgamations of ideas under a single or a few headings. So, of course, we have "liberal," "conservative," "libertarian," and so forth in the political / economy arena, and as pretty much every living, sentient being trying to engage in debate has discovered, labels also have the curious property of extending all attributes of themselves, perceived or otherwise, onto the labeled entity.

Self-identifying with a group is an extremely stupid thing to do. That's not just generalization; I'd argue it as fact. I would be more than a little surprised if there is a single person identifying with a group who accepts all characteristics associated with that group as befitting himself. When someone describes himself as a "liberal," I don't dismiss his viewpoint because of what that perspective entails (though it surely does not help his case), but because of what a horrific simplification that is. I probably cannot find two self-described "liberals" holding the exact same views as one another. Someone providing a single word to sum up the entirety of his principles, opinions, beliefs, and whatever other fucking synonyms you want to tack onto that list is evincing either a disinterest in disclosing his views to you or a staggering level of ignorance.

But, of course, this is all well-known. Every member of any group is aware of this on at least some level or another. Yet people still seem more than happy to describe themselves this way. I haven't quite figured out the appeal of that.

So, it goes without saying that quite a few people then refuse to identify with a group, which is fine. The fun part is trying to have a discussion with someone who cannot grasp this.

I run into this most frequently with "conservatives" (self-described, of course), and it usually starts with a phrase like, "You libertarians..." I dismiss these people out of hand now; I've found it isn't worth my time or the effort of typing to try and disengage them of these ideas. I really have no interest in arguing with someone's characterization of me which happens to be based on a few labels pulled from his ass.

This rambling, incoherent mess doesn't have any direction, of course - I did state that these were random musings. I'm giving you quantity, not quality, and I think you'll find that the quantity is pretty spare, too.


  1. Agreed in theory, if not so much in practice.

    In so much as I think it's important to recognize that individuals within a group are not necessarily in lock-step with every single stereotype of the group as a whole, I think it's still useful and often prudent to make assumptions about someone based on the groups they self identify with. After all, who would self identify with a group with which they disagreed with on a majority of the issues? When making *general* evaluations of someone, be they a political figure or whoever, seeing them through the lens of "the group" can expedite the evaluation process - as long as you recognize that there *are* variations from the mean and as long as you aren't getting the characteristics of the group as a whole wrong.

    Getting the attributes of the "group" wrong is another matter entirely. For instance, looking at a self described libertarian and saying "You Libertarians don't support military action at all," is a total cock-up because that's not an actual Libertarian stance to begin with.

    I see group identification as an extension of a survival mechanism in place since the dawn of mankind. You do occasionally find stories, for example, about killer whales "rescueing" people lost at sea. It happens. There are individual killer whales that apparently look kindly upon spindly humans flailing in the water. I recognize that there are individuals within that group that may not present a danger to me as a swimmer. As a whole, though, I don't think it would be very useful or wise to look upon the presence of a Pod of Killer Whales in the water near my boat as an invitation to go swiming.

  2. "I think it's still useful and often prudent to make assumptions about someone based on the groups they self identify with"

    I agree with this, but I disagree with the tendency of people to self-identify with groups to begin with. What you appear to be addressing is the concept of stereotyping, which I would also agree is a very useful, albeit easily misused, act.

    I do not understand the motivation of someone to self-identify with a group. I understand that people do, and do so readily, and may also (un)consciously signal membership to a group (clothing, for example). The ability to evaluate this behavior is probably rather crucial to social interactions.

    Really, the only point I would disagree with you on is this:
    "Because that's not an actual Libertarian stance to begin with."

    The problem is that there's no official classification of the Libertarian position. Except in particular cases of formed groups acting under protection of a title via trademark or similar, I would surmise that there are very few labels that are concise and well-defined.

    Without a mechanic within a group to reject a person claiming membership to it, all groups and terms for those groups are subject to the pollution of their labels and original stances.. Rand made a point of excising people from "Objectivism," her philosophy, for I suspect very much this reason.

    If my definition and understanding of libertarianism differs from that of a self-described libertarian, then my correctness in the matter sadly only lasts as long as the integrity of the label. Words and the concepts they embody change considerably in definition (too many people, like George Carlin, could not fundamentally accept this, and their tirades on the matter would be as equally invalid and ignorant juxtaposed against 17th century English as what I write today), and so does, effectively, group identity.

    The fact is, I've met *many* self-described libertarians who don't support military action, either explicitly or simply by failing to acknowledge the concept of foreign policy altogether. I can't find a basic set of principles or a singular ideology to describe what a libertarian is. If someone says, "You Libertarians don't support military action at all," and he's run into fifty self-described Libertarians with precisely that view, I couldn't fault the perspective whatsoever.

    I'm somewhat rambling about something different altogether, though, which I guess you could probably summarize as "concept pollution."

    The crux of the matter is, though, that if you self-identify with a group, you get all of its characteristics, *imagined or real*.

  3. To clarify, I'm not saying that words are infinitely variable (I'm not the damned Cheshire Cat, after all), just that in the context of group identification, such things are inherently ambiguous.

  4. "The crux of the matter is, though, that if you self-identify with a group, you get all of its characteristics, *imagined or real*."

    Agreed, 100%. Very well put.

    I'll confess that the main reason that I bother with identifying myself as a "conservative", on the occasions when I do, is out of sheer laziness. There are a billion different issues on which to have a point of view. Self identifying as a conservative sums me up pretty well (if not perfectly). I used to self identify as a Republican, but Republicans irritate me almost as much as Democrats do so I had to give it up :)

    What's that old line?.... I wouldn't want to join any club that would have me as a member :)

  5. Politics is about signaling. If your a liberal, and you meet another liberal, and you talk about how dumb GWB is, now you've bonded and are maybe friends. No different then the same conversation about local sports team.

    Politics can also be about signaling to yourself. For instance, let's say your a jerk. But you support political policies you feel make you not a jerk. Now you can be a jerk in your real life, where your decisions matter, and use your political opinions to feel less guilty even though they don't matter.