Tuesday, March 22, 2011


There is nothing I dislike more than communities. They are places where reasonable, intelligent people come to dilute their individuality and reveal their worst characteristics. A community always mirrors its weakest members. You can have a thousand smart people and three idiots come together, and as a result you'll get a community of 1003 idiots. Individual voices always merge within communities to create one shrill, annoying, unintelligent voice. A community does not exist until it figures out ways to exclude some people and marginalize others. You can always reason with an individual but almost never with a community.

To give an example, I was recently invited to join a review program. I'm sure that everybody has heard of these programs where you get products for review as part of promotional campaigns. Knowing me, it isn't hard to guess which reviewing program I've been asked to join. I'm not supposed to discuss the specific details of this program, so I won't. All we need to know for the purposes of this post is that I found out about this program last summer and then took measures to be asked to join because of the type of product that this program mostly sends out for review. My strategy worked and I will now be happily reviewing these mysterious products.

Yesterday, I decided to check out the forum of this reviewing community. Oy vey, people, is all I can say about it. The amount of self-congratulation for being part of a group that has limited access and the almost hysterical attempts to make sure that the access remains limited were daunting. There is a strict caste system based on how long one has been part of the community. "Newbies" are put through a system of trials where they have to prove that they are worthy of being included. As a result of this hazing, poor new members engage in massive sniveling aimed at ingratiating themselves with long-term members.

I'm sure all these folks who make up the community are perfectly nice, reasonable, intelligent people. It's just when they get into a community that a tiny speck of jerkdom that every person has multiplies and transforms into one huge jerk-fest of a community.


Anonymous said...

One reason I don't join forums, etc., is that I refuse to be part of this hazing ritual either as an initiate or one of the old guard. Neither appeals to me.

Usually the more inconsequential the forum or topic, the worse this behavior is.


Rimi said...

Perhaps you'd clarify what you mean by 'communities' a little? You must mean a very specific kind to dislike it so intensely. I think a sense of community is a wonderful thing. It puts a lot of strain on my acquired social skills, true, but the immense returns -- the feeling of being a contributing member of an intangible but clearly perceived organic body of resources, that anyone can draw on at any time, plus the occasional spontaneous material aid in times of personal crisis -- it's wonderful.

This sense of community is another reason I'm so pleased to be back in India. The US has its own sense of communities, of course, but it's very different from mine, and I always felt a vague sense of being just a little bit vulnerable, a little bit at risk, while I was there.

Clarissa said...

No, my friend, I mean absolutely any community whatsoever. :-)

I agree that communities provide a sense of security in that one feels less alone in the universe. However, there is always a price to pay, and I find that it is always very steep.

Rimi said...

I'll keep believing, then, that we're used to very different kinds of communities. Even for a dedicated loner like me, my local communities are fabulous.

Pagan Topologist said...

Do you resent being by default a mamber of the Spanish Literature Research community?

Clarissa said...

There is no such community. We have competing little mafias and I'm excluded from every single one. Mostly, these mafias are formed on the basis of the country of one's origin, which means that no such mafia exists for me. :-) Or, there are also a few that consist of one bright star and his minions. (It's always a male star for some reason.)

Pagan Topologist said...

Interesting. There is one such group (I won't call them mafias) in my field which is headed by a female, who is still an icon, even though she is in such frail health that she does not attend conferences anymore. She singlehandedly invented the area of set-theoretic topology.

Clarissa said...

Why is it that brilliant people so often don't like to be around brilliant people? It happens so often that I see a luminary who has surrounded themselves with a court of fawning admirers?

maybe I need to write a separate post about this.

Pagan Topologist said...

We topologists really like being with one another. There is a lot of mutual respect, even when our areas are pretty distinct. I am really distressed when I must miss a topology conference. I have often wished that some anthropologists would study us as an ideal of how academics need to relate to each other. The kind of things that go on in other fields makes me sad to contemplate.

Clarissa said...

Is it too late for me to become a topologist?

Rimi said...

Has it ever occured to you, Clarissa, that your Followers and readers and fellow Tweeters all form a community too -- one you're very happy to be a part of ;-)

Clarissa said...

Yes, that, of course, is the only exception. maybe now everybody should leave their boring communities and head over to mine. :-) :-)

In a serious vein, a group of individuals becomes a community when it begins to impose conditions of access. When anybody can enter and leave freely at any time, that's hardly a community.

Rimi said...

Oh, I see! You define communities only as self-conscious formal organisations (self-conscious in that they're aware of their specific collective nature and seek to formalise it by setting down rules). No wonder you don't like them.

This definition, of course, applies only to subsection of entire structures contained within the scope of 'communities'.

Enlightenment, finally.

Clarissa said...

Exactly! Nasty places that seek to marginalize people.

Pagan Topologist said...

It is not too late for you to become a topologist, but you will need to either a) go back to grad school in mathematics, or, b) wait until you have tenure and then self-study the field and start attending conferences. :-)

Anonymous said...

Feels like in school, huh?

First, you were a very pleasant class of 20 people (12 male, 8 female), nobody harassing anybody, small 3-person groups each of which are (averagely) three close friends etc.

Now, someone new comes in. A tyrant to the core, a huge attention seeker.
After 2 months, his power has become great enough to put everyone in the class to the decision (that doesn't even have to be worded out loud)
"You can love me, or hate me. But be aware that if you hate me, you won't have much fun in this class henceforth."


Because of the "tyrant's" overwhelming (if not to say: oppressive) personality, he actually manages to draw 11 out of the 12 male class members on his site. Why? Well, they're MALE. They see a ROLE MODEL in that guy, since he behaves as the cliché of a male suggests: straightforwardly pursuing his path without mercy, and even sticking at nothing if only he gets what he wants.

Yes, your Maths still works, there's ONE guy that refused to subordinate to the "tyrant".
What will they do? Right on, BULLY the hell out of him.
Supposed one of the 11 sympathizers would take sides with the lone guy, you know well what will happen: he'll make himself another outsider in the class because he'll be dubbed an obstructionist, a "parasite".

That means: even the CLEVEREST guys in the class will continuously subordinate to the "tyrant", in order not to fall from grace.
It's horrid, but it's reality. Face it.