Wednesday, March 07, 2007

First Plural is a Perfectly Cromulent Person

Jomama links to an article by Jim Davies:

The gravamen of the article is that tribalism is bad, any form of tribalism, and that anarchists seek to live as individuals and to see others solely as individuals.

I reckon tribalism can be bad and often is, but it doesn’t have to be. Voluntary associations of people can be a good thing. I am happy to be part of a family, and I voluntarily choose to participate in family life to some extent. I am happy to be part of the church and to assume responsibility for the welfare of my coreligionists as long as there is no compulsion involved. I am happy to live among cooperative and friendly neighbors and to be part of a neighborhood. I am lucky in that my coworkers are mostly amiable, and I am happy to serve in harness with them. When I have been on sports teams or in clubs, I have been happy to do so. I love being in the choir and singing together as with one voice.

The key is that I am not compelled to do any of these group things. The relationships are largely negotiable, but I accept that participation may give rise to certain kinds of claims on my time and resources. These are voluntary groups, and what makes them work is love, not compulsion. The introduction of violence into any of them would render them valueless and a misery.

Davies’ article focuses mainly on what are more properly called “categories”, i.e. collections of people sorted on the basis of one or more characteristics but having no organization or function as with a “group”. Races are categories, not groups. It is more proper to speak of ethnic categories instead of ethnic groups. Gender is a category. American is a category.

Manipulative bastards work to reify categories and to base claims on them, to imbed the notion of category into individual identity. My nationality is American, but that does not mean that I have any particular duty to or expectation from anyone else having the same nationality solely on the basis that we are subject to the same rulers. I do not regard an American as more or less valuable than any other human being. The same may not be said of voluntary associations. I hold my kinsmen in higher esteem than others. I have special affection for my coreligionists and fellow choir singers. They are my friends and family, and we share more than a set of arbitrary characteristics.

It is okay to speak in the first person plural when you are talking about the groups you belong to. Here are some more examples of the category/group distinction:

Category /Group

Irishman/ Michael Flatley fan club
Women /The Junior League
Christian/ The church
Veteran /VFW Post 1217
Anarchist /East Fishkill Anarchist Society
African-American /NAACP
Dog owner /Friends of the Yonkers Animal Shelter
Cheese eaters /Danbury Cheese Lovers Club
Working Class /UMWA Local 12
Children /The Lee Family
Actors /Cast of Battlestar Galactica
Old people /AARP

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