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.

1 comment:

Coralius said...

Speaking of fierce home-town pride, it must be something to do with mountain culture in general. After all, don't the "Highlanders" of Scotland feel the same way? That's a running joke in some parts of the world.

I think something about the isolation and difficulty of travelling in the mountains creates that kind of "us versus the rest of you bastards" mentality.