Ingroups bullying Outgroups: changing targets, consumerism and personal boundaries

On the vilification of rail enthusiasts and what this tells us about contemporary society:

In an age in which the traditional forms of ingroup hatred of outgroups (based on tribalism, race, nationality, religion, and so on) are no longer socially acceptable on a wide scale, are people seeking new outlets (albeit on a lower level) for the same old hatreds? In the case of the vilification of rail enthusiasts this is arguably the case, and other groups also find themselves in a similar position of being victims of socially tolerated kinds of bigotry, as witness the insults, bullying, and contempt experienced by ginger-haired people in the UK.

The contempt expressed towards rail enthusiasts cannot be solely explained via an ingroup/outgroup model, as there are a number of minority interest groups who do not experience the same kind of bigotry, but there does seem, overall, to be a growing tendency to view traditional hobbies and pastimes in a negative light, and arguably this can be closely linked to the growth of a consumer culture.
When people move from defining themselves by their values and their interests to instead defining themselves by the products they own and the ‘entertainment’ they fill their free time with, there is little space for an understanding of hobbies and interests, or of those who engage in them.

The conclusion I have reached regarding the vilification of rail enthusiasts is that it represents the meeting of two of the worst aspects of our society: the still-present desire to hate and persecute those who do not ‘fit in’ to mainstream culture, and the descent of that mainstream culture itself into a state of mindless consumerism and anti-intellectualism.

There’s a few problems with the article – the author certainly has contempt for online interactions (“obsessively updating one’s Facebook status or‘Tweeting’ the day away”) – and one commentor challenges the author on that and also on his assumption that earlier generations’ apparent veneration of the intellectuals in their midst (a point the author made in comparison to contemporary anti-intellectualism) was a given, and to the extent that it was whether that ever had much to do with any actual respect for knowledge qua knowledge, noting that social status alone of the the educated classes at the time, and the deference they expected thereby, might more plausibly account for it.

as a young person in particular, and as a young person who found myself thrown a lifeline by the internet in a hostile, anti-intellectual environment several times over while growing up, I feel a certain obligation to point out certain benefits of the modern era. If you have an interest which is rare, arcane, or even socially frowned upon in your community, you now have far more ways to find out about it, and to share that interest with others [online]

However, I think the author made some effective points. We’re societally now far more comfortable hurling Culkinesquely gobsmacking slurs at political rivals or sporting opponents, for example, than we are expressing more traditional bigotries (ethnic tribalism, race etc (at least in public)), in effect creating new forms of associative/voluntary tribalism; and in a world where it’s becoming commonplace (at least in major cities) to hear talk about people “branding” themselves to further their careers, many traditional hobbies that require time and effort expended on unbranded objects (thus no bling-bling bragging rights) are being classified as at the very least “quaint” and more often as “boring”, “uncool” or (ableism alert) “lame”. Or else they’re being re-versioned as a consumerist pursuit – just check out the scrapbooking accessories aisle in the stationery department.

As a corollary thought, I wonder about where boundaries end and in/outgrouping begins. I’ve seen people who are protecting their own emotional or physical-safety boundaries be accused of “ingrouping”, for instance, asserting that self-protective barriers against stigmatisers are the equivalent of ingroup bias against outsiders. The accusation of being exclusionary is a potent one, and while the effect of shaming people into at least a display of tolerance can be an effective strategy in a social justice context, it can also be a manipulative ploy in the hands of vexatious boundary-pushers (or an obtuse display of self-entitlement in the hands of oblivious boundary-pushers). It’s important to remember that some degree of ingroup favouritism (e.g. towards those we trust to not harm us) is not the same phenomenon as ingroups bullying outgroups.

We see it quite often online when reflex contrarians attempt to derail discussions with flamebaiting arseholery (a la the many examples of #mencallmethings) and then claim that the subsequent pushback is denying their free speech and just creating an echo chamber and squelching dissent etc etc (remember the guy who tried to shame me as an “acceptance nazi”?).

I find it easy to define and defend my emotional/ethical boundaries against the overtly obnoxious, but not all of those who push against my boundaries are doing it as a tactical exercise – sometimes the contrarianism is due to unexamined socialisation baggage regarding traditional mores or current media tropes. It can be much harder to hold firm against the obliviously entitled and their belief in the magic of good intent – especially when consciousness-raising is something that might actually work with such folks if you do it just right (not that I feel I always owe the oblivious the time/energy/passion/patience required to undertake that degree of teaspooning, of course).

It’s a truism that we all have different boundaries, but what’s also true is that there is a strong drive towards conformity regarding where the line falls on acceptable/unacceptable behaviours, even though that line is not only fuzzy but also in constant flux (and often in some degree of tension with fashionable/unfashionable behaviours). I’m not entirely sure what the answer is, and I’m constitutionally suspicious of most claims to any One True Answer anyway, but the question of where we as individuals, and also as the groups with which we identify, draw our boundaries regarding Our Kind of People vs Not Our Kind of People, and where those boundaries intersect with Just Protecting Myself vs Nya Nya Nya Not Listening To You, and probably a whole lot more, is always going to be worth examining.

Index Thumbnail Image Credit | The Love Of Hating:The Psychology Of Enmity

Categories: ethics & philosophy, fun & hobbies, relationships, social justice, Sociology

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2 replies

  1. In these sorts of conversations, I’m always reminded of the time that some friends and I attended a con. We were close to newbies, we were a bit intimidated by all the old-timers chatting with each other, so we stuck together quite a bit. Some time after we got home, we discovered others had interpreted our behaviour as being a snobbish clique.
    I think I’m reminded, because I can never figure out how else that could have gone, and if I could, I think I’d be a good way towards reducing the in-group/outgroup problem at least in my own life.

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