Monday, November 29, 2010

Pointless Subdivisions, Internet Cults, and Self Identification

In my years of prowling the badlands of the 'Net, I've found that people will identify with a particular thing, and then go about defending that thing with unparalleled vigor, even to the point of drawing the ire of everyone to which they come in contact. This behavior pattern seems to be the same regardless of the subject matter, or whether more than five people in all the world care about the argument. It could be a favored band, type of music, diet, exercise regime, anything.

Here is how you're likely to encounter this phenomenon:

"This is the thing that I (use/like/do/listen to/subscribe to): It is right, all other ways are wrong, and anyone who doesn't agree with me is a no-nothing !@#%!%."

In person, these individuals may be more circumspect in their assertion of their correctness, but on the 'Net, where one needn't be nice, or even engage in conduct generally becoming of a mammal, things can get ugly.

The sad thing is, the more obscure the issue, the more that these individuals distance themselves from those who might "dig" what they're talking about. It seems that the internecine violence and trash-talk grows more intense with the level of not-caring that is present in the average person. For instance, there are bloody religious wars about which plain text editor people like to use in Linux (.5% of the populace cares). There are terrible flame wars about which Black Metal bands are "true to the ethos" or "appropriately cold sounding" (most people are horrified within the first ten seconds). I don't even need to go deeply into actual religion, politics, or philosophy to illustrate this point, I shouldn't think.

Now, the most recent spate of this behavior that I've been seeing is in regards to the methods in which people choose to exercise. Specifically, the "style" of resistance training they choose to do. The power lifters give the Bronx Cheer to those who do arm curls. The Olympic Weightlifters lament the useless brawn of the power lifters. The bodybuilders shake their heads at the lack of aesthetic beauty and symmetry in a strength athlete. The guys slinging kettlebells are sure they've found "the way". The strongmen flipping tractor tires talk about "functional strength".

All of them are right, if what they're doing is meeting their goals and giving them peace of mind. All of them are wrong if they think that the answer that works for them will work for everyone. Everyone's body is different, everyone's goals lie in a trajectory only they understand. You don't like arm curls, and think they're a waste of gym time? Great. Don't do 'em. For others, maybe putting beef on their biceps is exactly what they want. Are they wrong? We don't get to make that choice. We should be happy that people are enjoying hoisting a weight, no matter why or how they choose to do it.

The same goes for music, or diet, or any of the thousand things that people champion on the 'Net. Hey, don't get me wrong. I think we should all be free to talk about what we like, what we do, what works for us. Someone looking for a new way of thinking or acting might read what we say and be swayed toward something that will be come "it" for them. We have the obligation, though, to put our ideas and beliefs forward in a positive way, with reasoned arguments in their favor. Regardless of what some people would have you believe, it IS our responsibility to act well on the 'Net. Flaming someone who thinks differently from you is NOT acceptable behavior.

I think this all comes down to wanting to belong, to self-identification. We are in a big world, with a great deal of information coming at us every day. We want to have a set of touchstones, our articles of faith, with which we can protect ourselves and cut the world down into edible segments. It's the remnants of the cave-folk from which we sprung. We decide what we believe, and that makes it easier. We fashion an "us" and a "them". It's a dangerous path, though. We shut too much out, we reduce things to the point of absurdity. We act as the agents of our own stultification.

If you find yourself on the verge of a cranky rant about some fine point of an obscure topic, think about it for a moment. If you were about to say, "Only wimps and poseurs would use the Smith Machine to squat," or, "real Black Metal sounds like Transylvanian Hunger," maybe you should step back, count to ten, and just be happy that someone else actually has an opinion about the topic you hold dear.

On that note, my own cranky rant is now concluded.


Anonymous said...

Your thoughts on the rights to be individual are special. I wish more people could read them, and that more people would heed your suggestions. Thanks. M

Anonymous said...

Well said!! I see a lot of people blasting someone who likes PSE bows over Mathews or Hoyt or whatever brand. To what end? They're all good bows. What's best for the user is for them the right choice. Might not be the best for someone else though. No big deal! And you're right! Those who might not be so confrontational face to face are often excessively insulting on the internet. Frankly, I don't get it. I commend the guy whose Mathews Monster XLR8 is, for him, the greatest bow ever made. Just let me feel the same way about my PSE Omen. No chest pounding, no my bow's better than yours, just a contentment with what we each chose. Bobby-T