November 26, 2008

Any club that makes you do something you don't want to do is dumb.
- from Arthur the Aardvark, a children's show

A club is a social organisation, nothing more, nothing less. It shares virtually all of its qualities with any number of other social organisations which go under different names, such as sports teams, cults, fraternities, medical residency, organised religion, the military, even school itself. In every one of these, to belong, people have to do things they don't want to do: life-threatening things, some of them.

Yet some of these organisations are acceptable, some are to be rejected, some are to be highly desired, and some are even mandatory. It has nothing inherently to do with the purpose of the group's existence. (Consider as one example the reaction to any education organisation which happened to reject mandatory testing, however skilled and gifted and exceptional its graduates turned out to be. Heck, consider the societal reaction to any family/marriage group which does not match one- or two-parent norms, no matter how healthy and well-adapted the resulting children.) Even among those organisations where the end goal is nothing other than evolving a social clique and network, fraternities are found acceptable, while even the most innocent of gangs is not.

It would seem growing up is all about fitting into the "right" kinds of groups while avoiding the "wrong" kinds of groups: "right" and "wrong" to be determined by others who have already been found acceptable by greater society.

Thus, what is really meant by the opening quote is that any club that makes you do something you don't want to do which has not been parent/authority pre-vetted is unacceptable -- or, in kidspeak, "dumb". (Or, in increasing grownup-speak, "stupid".) And what differentiates a "dumb" club from an acceptable one is only whether or not the authority is seen as an acceptable one by the dominant sector of society.

How many children wonder how old they will have to be before their opinion matters? How many children realise that even adults are not free of the crushing weight of acceptability and how things are done? How many children even suspect that the ultimate purpose of growing up in a structured society is to internalise the pre-existing values of that society until there is no longer enough separation between person and value to find room for questioning?

Of a similar vein is a curious contest extension which claims:
The contest that ends on November 25, will remain in the "Awaiting Calculation" mode to allow for enough ratings to occur through the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
(I do have to laugh when I see grammatical errors on sites which claim to promote high-quality writing.)

Given that this is a site which claims international peer ranking and a democratic objectivity as the basis for what constitutes "quality", I do have to wonder at conscious choices which always act to magnify American imput. After all, the same kinds of extensions are never put in place for other countries' holidays. When the subject of a July contest was France, there was no extension for Bastille Day. British history saw no extension for Victoria Day. The Canada contest was actually cut short during the Canada Day weekend. Yet each and every contest, on each and every subject, sees extensions for every major American holiday "to allow for enough ratings".

Enough ratings dominated by acceptable authorities and value structures, perhaps?

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