Groups and Subcultures

Thought reform and subcultures

Noting for future reference Robert Jay Lifton’s Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, whence the origins of the “Eight Criteria for Thought Reform” and the concept of the “thought-terminating cliché.” I’m alarmed that I recognize some of the eight criteria from some of the subcultures and cliques I’ve mucked around in. And some of the more public and dramatic dust-ups on LiveJournal — not naming names or citing examples, but the word “fail” comes to mind — seem to be manifestations of criteria three (“demand for purity”) and four (“confession”). It’s not the people who are diametrically opposed to your point of view that are most singled out for opprobrium, but the people who self-identify as belonging to the same group as you, but who are only 98 percent on the same page. For that remaining two percent, however, they must be flamed, and flamed good, until they repent their errors or leave the compound.

Women and amateur science

Last month, Reptile Channel’s Russ Case posted a blog entry on women and reptiles — specifically, on the growing presence of women in the amateur herpetocultural community. Whereas once reptiles were “usually considered a guy thing,” Case argues,

Somewhere along the way, things changed. The next time you’re at a reptile expo, pay attention and you’ll notice just as many women wandering the aisles and enthusiastically examining the reptiles on display as there are men. And they’re not just in the aisles — you’ll see plenty of women vendors selling reptiles and amphibians, too.

It’s something I’ve noticed as well — not the trend, because even after 11 years, I haven’t been in the community long enough, or paying attention to it enough, to be aware of the trend — but the presence of women in the herp community, wrangling frogs, snakes, and lizards with the best of them, and I was aware that it was counterintuitive insofar as common sense or received wisdom was concerned. I’ve also met women who were bolder and less afraid of snakes than their male partners (which I found very interesting).

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When hobbyists aren’t helpful

This thread epitomizes something I’ve seen very often on photography discussion boards: a beginner asks for advice, and receives advice completely inappropriate for beginners. Someone asking for “the top five must-have lenses for a starting SLR photographer” gets recommendations for lenses that even pro photographers would have a hard time affording. Instead of beginners’ lenses, she gets dream lenses.

It’s the same as if someone asked what the best snake for a first-time snake keeper would be. (The correct answer is always “a Corn Snake.”) And it’s often happened that the recommended first snake is something that is not only obscure and expensive, but more difficult to keep. I can’t remember what it was that someone recommended, but I’ve actually seen this happen.

What’s going on here?

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Rules and borders

It’s been a while since I posted my blog entry arguing that an organization’s volunteers are rarely the most qualified people available, but rather the most devoted: that groups are run by people full of committment but lacking crucial skills. That entry was meant to be the first of a three-part series on volunteers, hobbies and small-group politics; obviously I’ve been a little sidetracked.

This entry is part two. It asks: If a group’s volunteers have few or no useful skills, what do they end up doing for the group?

In that last entry I said that a club may never reach its full potential, or fall apart, if those in charge aren’t up to the task. In the real world, of course, no volunteer board is ever composed of nothing but fuckups or competent men; most people bring at least something, but not everything, to the table. Some people, however, bring very little, and have to be kept busy — or they bring their massive egos along with whatever else they bring to the table. The problem, you see, isn’t so much the work, it’s the authority — it’s when volunteers use their small duties to transform themselves into little tin gods. And, as I said last time, for many volunteers, the group is an awfully big part of their lives.

What they do is throw their weight around.

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FIAWOL’s in charge

Science fiction fandom has a couple of useful acronyms: FIAWOL (fandom is a way of life) and FIJAGH (fandom is just a goddamned hobby). They’re applicable beyond fandom, and in fact are relevant to most hobbies, especially those engrossing enough to become subcultures.

I’m firmly in the FIJAGH camp, simply because I have too many interests to obsess over just one. I cannot live and breathe reptiles, for example, because I’d then have to give up my other interests. The end result is that I’m not as far into that hobby — or my other hobbies — as I might otherwise be. I simply don’t have the time.

But many hobbyists are a good deal more single-minded: they make the time. These people are usually the most visible and the most vocal participants in their subculture. They’re the ones that keep clubs going, who donate their time unflinchingly, and who live and breathe their hobby. That’s FIAWOL.

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Putting the culture into herpetoculture

Three more articles are now available on this site: one is new, two are old; all three deal with the social aspects of reptile keeping.

The Art of War on the Online Forums was my editorial for the September 2000 issue of The Ontario Herpetological Society News: it was a response to the flaming and nastiness on what was then the most popular reptile board, at least among my reptile-keeping friends and colleagues. I tried to parse out some of the more common causes for antisocial behaviour. (Since then, there has been an abundant literature on moderating online misbehaviour, but if it existed then, I wasn’t aware of it.)

How Volunteer Organizations Work — And Why They Don’t, my December 2000 editorial, was me using my bully pulpit to make a point about the OHS. A club needs to earn its membership: you can’t expect people to join your club without giving them a good reason to, I argued. It was a warning against inertia. Prescient, I suppose, because the OHS folded a few years later, pinned between volunteer burnout and membership indifference.

How to Write an Article for a Herp Society Newsletter is so new it hasn’t seen print yet: Bob will probably publish it in Chorus, the OARA’s newsletter, in the fall; I couldn’t wait that long, so here it is. In it, I identify some of the more common mistakes I’ve seen reptile hobbyists make when trying to write newsletter articles. As a newsletter editor, I always wanted more articles, but getting people to write them was hard. Getting good articles was harder.

There is a reason for posting these articles: I plan on doing some more writing on the theory and practice of amateur herpetological societies. Given how far behind I am on all my projects, I can’t say when I’ll have more to say on this subject, though.

Note: Entries prior to November 2003 did not have categories assigned to them, and are not included in category archives; please consult the monthly archives.