Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Something I've been thinking about a lot lately is how people identify with groups. Most people try to find some sort of tribe or culture that they fit into and can identify with. Most anything that finishes the sentence, "I'm a ..." qualifies. There are countless classes that people fit themselves into, particularly for social reasons, but there are others that bear little to no relationship to how you interact with others. I'm going to examine some of the ones I belong to.

On a general level, I fall into the "geek" subculture. While the rules and variations are ever-changing, geekdom generally involves bright people who obsess over stuff that a most everyone else just doesn't "get". It includes gamers of all stripes, though board/war/card/and role-playing subtypes form the core; science-fiction and fantasy fans; anime and cartoon fans; comic fans; and a whole host of other interests that are considered a bit weird. These groups are highly interrelated and cross-populate with ease, though hierarchies exist (click here for an example). For a long time, geekdom was an underground sort of thing; while you were probably easily recognized as one, you kept it to yourself, and quietly sought others with which to associate. Not keeping it quiet of lead to beatings in the younger set. Then, the geeks grew up and made assloads of money, and suddenly we are much more socially acceptable. Geekdom has its bitter rivalries, but as a subculture, it has gown to a high level of recognition and acceptance.

I also identify as a skeptic. Please note that this is different than "cynic". I like evidence for outrageous claims, no matter their origin. Skeptics like science and the scientific method, because it is an effective way of examining the world around us in an orderly manner. Skepticism is still fairly embryonic as a movement when it comes to numbers, despite concerted efforts over the last several decades (not to mention the Enlightenment), because while most of us are pretty happy people, in awe of the natural world and just how amazing it is, being a skeptic entails stripping away illusions, even if they are nice ones. Most find that the truth is a far more amazing thing to behold, in the end, but it's still a hard sell. As I read on a blog recently, "The truth will set you free, but first it will probably piss you off." Skepticism has a strong online presence, so it is easy to find like-minded folk to converse with. Finding one in meatspace is often a bit harder, but regular conventions (and even weekly drinking bouts) are constantly being arranged. Skepticism attracts a wide variety of people, but a random sampling will pull a lot of white males, along with a disproportionate number of magicians. They are a prickly bunch at times, and getting them to agree on anything outside of a good skeptical investigation is like herding rabid, science-oriented cats.

There's a high amount of crossover with skeptics and atheists, although by no means should the groups be conflated out-of-hand. Skeptical thinking about, say, psychics, often leads to the same about religious claims, and vice-versa, but the same results are not always reached. As a community, though, atheists are even more wildly disagreeable with each other than skeptics.

I'm a Republican, although I don't know for how much longer. I don't identify with my party like I did when I signed up. I have no desire to tie myself with the flailing impotence that is the Democratic party, and I'm not nearly batshit crazy enough to be a Libertarian. It's probably the Independents for me, after this election cycle, and we can probably assume that they don't have a far-flung organization or ideology.

Honestly, and this comes as both a surprise and no great revelation to me, I identify very tightly with my home state of West Virginia. Most of us in the Hillbilly Diaspora do. Most people leave West Virginia for better opportunities, not because they dislike the place. Let's face it, though; outside the scenic vistas and unique history, a lot of the place is a dump. It is, however, a dump that engenders a fierce pride and militant defensiveness. West Virginians are used to being the butt of the national joke. If you're talking about inbred, toothless, shoeless, musket-firing rednecks, why you must be talking West Virginia. Hear those dreaded banjo notes from Deliverance? That was Georgia, you idiot, but no one seems to remember that. We have a direction in our name, but it isn't "North" or "South", nor is there an "East Virginia" to accompany us. Correcting someone who says, "Don't you mean Western Virginia?" often involves a punch. There are a lot of people in the hills of West Virginia that just scrape by, but they do it with hard work and determination, and an attitude that says, "Bet you can't do it." Hell, when's the last time a solid chunk of your state shut down because management and labor were shooting at each other? It's been less than two decades for West Virginia. Like many cultural and economic underclasses, an extremely tight and insular bond has developed. We are loyal to a fault, and hold others accountable for the same.

A good example of this was the recent defection of the WVU football coach to Michigan. This was a hometown boy made good, consistently coaching his alma mater to the top of the ranks. Bigger schools tried to woo him a year before, and he turned them down. This year, he bolts after a blown game keeps him from the national championship, and the venom still hasn't stopped. Lawsuits, defacement of signs and statues, threats to his extended family, and recommendations that he hire movers rather than set foot in the state to retrieve his belongings are some of the milder occurrences. If West Virginians invest trust in you, discarding that trust is a dangerous proposition.

As a group, we don't necessarily relate to each other well. It is best not to cross one of us, though; you might just get all of us.

These are just a few of my group identities; I didn't even begin to write about who I actually am as an individual. I think, though, that an examination of belonging is just as important to knowing yourself as anything else, and it's sometimes amazing what you can find.

Friday, March 7, 2008


I try to avoid writing about work too much, for various reasons. One is that so many people get burned when they write about something unflattering, or even proprietary, and then post it in a public space. I don’t think anyone at work knows about my blogging, or even cares, but it would be easy enough to figure out my screen name in one way or another. Given that I use it all across the interwebs, it’s feasible that a search could be constructed to pop me up (although my various self-Googlings generally show otherwise) and cause me issues. Another reason is that I generally get the bug to blog about work when I’m at work (Like now. Shhhhh.). Bad practice, that; aside from using business time and resources for personal use, I run the risk of being keylogged or running afoul of other corporate security measures. I feel guilty, but only a little.

Anyway, my work situation has changed somewhat. I’m still at my same level (lower management, woohoo!), but now I have an office in our new, shiny production facility. I like the office. It runs about two-and-a-half times the size of my old cube, though I am now lacking shelf space and filing cabinets that were built into the old locale. My desk is arranged such that I have screen privacy, at least. I was moved because the majority of people and functions that I cover are now at this building, leaving a couple at the other facility that I will now manage mostly at a distance, until one of them moves and the other is absorbed by another manager. Overall, it’s better for me in terms of work and career.

On the other hand, I miss the people a great deal. I’m a well-established geek, and the lab folks provide a much greater wealth of conversation in that vein than do the office or production crews. I’d share and discuss books, rant about movies, or even talk comics and gaming with a few. Now, I’m unlikely to see them with any regularity. Hell, even the guys I talked sports and did fantasy football with aren’t going to be moving at any point in the near (or even middle-distant) future. Being that real social interaction has never been my strong suit (I can work my way through a gathering, but chit-chat is not my style), this break represents a solid loss to me. I don’t have a lot of close friends. Hell, the number dropped by a quarter a few years back when one couple dropped out of the picture. Even, “positive acquaintances” have been hard for me to come across, but this group represents a big mass of my comfort zone.

This all makes me sort of ambivalent about the move. Sure, my work will generally be easier, and I’ll have a lot more contact with the corporate side of things. I’m likely to advance faster and produce better solutions overall. The problem is, though, that I don’t value those things quite as much as I could. I’d get there anyway, most likely. I want convenient access to my friends, dammit. They’re harder to come by.