It’s the beginning of the summer (which also means it’s the end of the school year) and that means it’s a time of transitions. It’s the season for graduations, promotions, weddings. It’s a time for festivals and conferences and (if you’re lucky) some R & R.
It’s also been a bizarre year. And we’re only half-way through it.
Events in the world and in my own life have gotten me thinking about “culture” and “norms.” For example:
- The culture (and cult of personality) surrounding Trump
- Different groups that define themselves by how they respond (or don’t respond) to the gun control debate
- The continuing friction between different factions in the scifi writing community (1)
It’s not just these larger manifestations of “culture” that have me thinking and scratching my head. I’ve also been seeing the ways in which micro-cultures manifest in our individual lives. At these transitional times in particular, when so many people are so invested in maintaining the norms of their micro-cultures, clashes between those who maintain power in groups and define the norms rub against those who defy them (either intentionally or by ignorance.)
Perhaps it’s the sociologist in me. I can’t help but step back to watch and analyze as I see so many people scurrying around to protect their culture, their domains of influence, and the norms of their communities.
This isn’t a bad thing, in and of itself. We are social animals, with a built-in need to be parts of a greater whole. We want to belong. And those who hold the strings to power structures are inevitably at risk of abusing them if they choose to manipulate, control, and narrowly define rather than provide a means for members in a group to co-exist, and deal with inevitable group pressures in a healthy way. These bearers of the power-structure-strings wield what the Sociologist Michael Mann has defined as Ideological Power. “(It) derives from the human need to find ultimate meaning in life, to share norms and values, and to participate in aesthetic and ritual practices with others.” (2)
And many people are so desperate to “fit in,” that they will go along with choices and ideas that are objectively harmful to others. The need to “belong” is strong. Inside many of us, that awkward preteen still resides.
I’ve been amused (at best), dismayed, and at times appalled when I see how power-wielders behave. Especially those in positions of power over children. We teach our children how to treat others–share, don’t say anything or do something to anyone you wouldn’t want said or done to you–yet as adults, so many ignore those rules. So many adults revert to childish behavior. So many adults in power over children reward popularity or parents’ checkbooks over the more important qualities that individual children possess.
Unfortunately, none of us can really change the “status quo” of an established group or power structure. And honestly, not all of us have the fortitude to do so, or the energy to fight an uphill battle. Some will never “see” that a power-holder is abusing their power, either because they don’t care (or are benefiting), or because they are too enmeshed in the dysfunctional norms of the group to see through them.
Luckily, there will always be a few who see things as they really are. They will speak truth to power, and there will be repercussions. But there is always another group, another set of ideologies to seek. There are other power-wielders who will do things the “correct” ways.
It’s all about finding your own tribe, and not rewarding or throwing your hat in with those who don’t share your values.
I’d be happy to hear YOUR stories and insights on this topic…
(1) The article is a year old, but gives a good overview of this debate within the scifi community.