Declaration of Independence

Increasingly, I am aware of the "communities" to which I don't belong. An overused word in the humanities, "community" is more than a group of people with some minor similarities. A community has to have some manner of unified sense of purpose.

I belong to several organizations without any desire to interact with other members or associates. I don't attend any regular meetings of any organization. When I attend conferences, I try to arrive close to when I am scheduled to speak and then depart as soon as possible.

Bluntly, people often annoy me. People are cliquish. They want to be around people like themselves, which means I find myself outside most "communities" to which I am expected to relate.

When my wife and I first moved, I tried to attend one social gathering of an organization -- but left before the event began. I couldn't tolerate the setting, which was a restaurant with a decidedly political decor. Maybe that doesn't matter to most people, but I don't want to read political slogans at dinner. A non-political organization should not meet in a political setting.

I spent the last four years avoiding my academic department, even working remotely when possible. The political tribes were upsetting, especially during a difficult transition time on campus due to budget cuts. I didn't want to choose sides or try to determine who might win or lose in various power games.

Academic conferences in the humanities are notoriously political, while I would rather focus on how best to teach. I've been to conferences with presentations including "Dropping the F-Bomb" and "Interrogating the White Student." These were not about teaching; they were small political rallies.

People hijack events. They take over conferences or meetings to make their points, even when entirely inappropriate.

Autism gatherings are tribal. I don't like that or need that. I want to work on teaching and helping students with special needs. I don't want to have to determine which cliques are the "right" cliques to join.

Even technology gathering descend into the tribal: Apple vs. Microsoft vs. Linux (vs. other Linux); PHP vs. Perl vs. Python; MySQL vs. PostgreSQL vs. NoSQL; HTML vs. Flash; and so on.

Debate might be informative, but tribalism and argument are not reasoned debate. If I'm at a presentation on HTML5 and AJAX coding, I'm not interested in a debate about Flash -- I want to focus on coding techniques for JavaScript.

The best option increasingly is to stay home. I like my wife, my cats, and books. I don't need to waste time trying to decipher idiotic tribal rituals.

I booked a much-to-long stay at the ASA conference. It was about price, when I should have considered my lack of tolerance for people. Thankfully, I can sit in a hotel room much of the time, writing and reading.

A tribe of one.


  1. A tribe of one. I like that. Conferences are a chance for me to get together with friends I've met over the years. Mixers are tough. I went to a Meet the Experts lunch last year (for reasons that escape me, I'm considered one of the experts). Not fun. Doesn't help that the students at my table were there for a free lunch. I can't complain. Back then, I would have been there for the free lunch.

    I don't entirely get societies, but they're a professional credential, so I play along.


  2. Indeed, FB. A tribe of one is about the right size.


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