Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Damn Groups

I got to thinking: I really don’t like people. I can like a person. Hell, I can love a person. Yet, I hate people.

There’s just something about a group of people that really upsets me. To make matters worse, I love humanity (it’s the worst kind of love: the unrequited variety). There is something about the individual and the collective whole that I appreciate, while at the same time I am sickened by the little groups we partition ourselves into.

For a long time, I considered myself a misanthrope in the truest and most literal sense of the word. Social gatherings bore me, with their long periods of silent observation or loud music, both of which act to discourage conversation and the free exchange of ideas in favor of mindless ritual. I feel little in common with people unless we are in a calm, quiet setting where we may talk openly, without much distraction.

It’s easy to see why I might like a person. You can talk with a person, get to know them. They share the interesting things of their life experience, which causes you to rudely interject with something about yourself, which inevitably reminds the other person of something about themselves. There is an exchange of mutual experience accented by hints of novelty, and each of us is reminded that even though we are different, we are not alone (in both the physical and philosophical sense).

Whenever I witness people, I am appalled. Groups are a paradoxical atrocity; they are the collective selfish will of a group of people.

The only aim of a group is to benefit the members. There is no other reason to form a group. Even the simple formation and existence of the group designates the first trait of that group: a central commonality provides a feeling of belonging for the members. In this respect, groups are harmless. However, groups never stop here.

Groups all seek to exclude others. Any number of criteria may be used here. It should also be noted that while a group may be open to any who wish to join, it can still engage in exclusionary tactics. For example, Christianity and Islam pride themselves on accepting any convert, but they will exclude even those who want to be in the group if they deviate from certain rules. Everyone may be welcome, but anyone can be kicked out.

Besides being difficult to remain a member, a group can also create barriers of entry that cause it to be difficult to become a part of the community. Initiation rituals and hazing are the most basic examples. It is important in a group for membership to seem meaningful, and this can be feeling can be manufactured through artificially difficult entry procedures, and is further reinforced through the threat of exclusion (which would be crazy to pursue after enduring the entry process).

The worst aspect of a group is what happens when the group achieves any kind of power. A group acts through the principles of the individuals’ shared id: the simplest of mindsets which can be deemed similar among all members. This is the “attitude” or ideology that a group adopts. The simplistic ideology of groups derives from their need to cater to the lowest common denominator in the group; while an individual’s understanding of a topic may be complex and nuanced, it is necessary for groups to have a simple, dogmatic view of things. This dehumanizes, oversimplifies, and ultimately misrepresents the individuals of the group.

It was not until I contemplated the whole of humanity as the only true group distinction that I came to understand I lacked true misanthropy. There’s plenty of groups I do hate: Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, [] Republicans, Democrats, anarchists, communists, the NRA, PETA, more companies than there are stars in the sky…

However, I have met many individuals from these groups whose presence I not only tolerate, but enjoy. What was it about an individual I found so compelling?

It is not that I dislike everyone who is a part of anything, I simply dislike the things people are a part of. The human race is the only group I wish I identify with; it excludes no one and has no agenda except continuation of the species, which is something I can support.

Groucho Marx once said “I would never join a club that would have me as a member.” Well, I wouldn’t join a club where I had to become a member to feel like I belonged, and I think any club that excludes anyone is doomed to systematic violence.


  1. I share an uncomfortable large portion of your traits. Yet with an interesting difference, I am not as deeply a misanthrope as yourself, and I have absolutely not love for the masses in the abstract. "Humanity" does not stir me at all. It seems I am temperamentally more of a individual libertarian while you are a socialist libertarian. It is good to understand ourselves -- and further, to understand that these are our temperaments and our temperaments form our philosophies (which we may comically happen to think are based solely our intellects).

  2. I actually agree a lot with this. To me, our group behaviour is a bastardised form of our natural 'pack' behaviour. Not too long ago we relied on a small number of people we could trust, had to trust, for our survival, mutually.

    With the advent of industrial society and large nation states, we have tried - or our rulers have tried - to turn that very small group or 'pack' concept, into groups including millions of people. Basically, it doesn't work because it's not how we are supposed to operate as biological organisms. It has made a hell of a lot of unnecessary wars though.


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