Thursday, November 29, 2012


I am genuinely fascinated by the need for affilliation. So genuine, I probably shouldn't write about it, because I simply don't understand it.

I understand it in the universal sense, the Maslow-heirarchical(?) sense, that we all crave a sense of belonging, friends, family and partners. Although obviously there's a spectrum of desire even in the universal sense. But even the anti-social people that occupy our prison systems are punished with solitary confinement, everybody fears isolation.

But like, I went to a thing last night as I often do, and I knew people there but I turned up by myself. The plain fact of the matter is that if I only went to stuff if I could arrange a friend to do it with me, I would not go to anywhere near as much stuff or I would wind up doing the same stuff over and over.

But yes, if I see a facebook event that says 'you and 7 of your friends are going' it is a safe bet that me and two of my friends will be there. And this is because for the average gig, I am generally facebook friends with at least two band members. Why don't other people turn up? Is it because they need their hand held? Is it because they have better shit to do?

Then on the weekend I was introduced to the concept of 'FOMO' or 'Fear of Missing Out' the absence of which is apparantly an advantage of using twitter. Facebook apparantly comes with much anxiety built into it, and one of these is apparantly FOMO. Firstly fear is bad only if it is irrational, otherwise it can be quite useful. And FOMO sounds like a highly rational fear. I would count it to facebook's credit that it actually lets you know the social cost of spending a saturday evening in and online. But I think FOMO's roots are in that human need for affiliation, you see all your friends RSVP to some event, then worry that you are being excluded from the good times and more concerningly may be ostracised from the group.

But if you ever attended an event you were invited to on facebook you hopefully know facebook RSVPs are worth dick, or roughly 30% of the reported turnout. So while you certainly are missing out on good times, you probably aren't being ostracised from the group as most of the group won't show.

Then like fashion, the need for affiliation is expressed most obviously in fashion. We are a long way from Louise the Sun Kings court of Versaille, but the fear of being ostracized on account of our wardrobes still seems to hold sway. Just walking around the street yesterday I walked past a bunch of stores selling all-over-print garbs the most popular of which seems to be aztec, this is this seasons 'out of uniform, uniform'

Since I was a teenager I was always perplexed as to why the youth the moment they are offered the opportunity to not wear a school uniform all dressed alike in surf clothes (this dominated rural youth fashion in the 90's, I suspect increased internet access means the kids all dress like city kids nowadays). Being free of the constraints of a uniform is supposed to be our opportunity to express ourselves through the communication medium of clothing, and yet generally what is expressed is a desire to fit in, tow-the-line etc.

The question isn't answered but is asked more compellingly by exactitudes it goes further, why do people who expressedly set out to express themselves wind up dressing identically as if following a set of rules?

I don't even understand how the process works.

I suspect my attire reflects the rules adopted by African American youth in New Orleans whom have recently returned from a holiday in Taiwan, I am probably no exception to the rule except that I don't look like the other people in town who dress like me, being the Asian international students that play on the basketball courts on weekends. But even while a bunch of sub-tribes go about signalling their membership through attire, the vast majority of people adopt what approaches a monoculture of fashion.

My friends former housemate was a writer for Frankie magazine and thus a self-proclaimed expert on 'Hipsters' and described their defining trait as 'creativity'. And yet, I was at a party months ago and a particularly unpleasant to talk to girl asked the same friend and I to define a hipster and he immediately started describing the hipster uniform - brogues, brill-cream, glasses, ironic facial hair...

She objected to defining people simply by the way they dress and had some emotional investment in their being more to hipsters, but the rules work, Hipsters are after all a group, a tribe, hence we have a name for them and membership is denoted by wearing the uniform. But clearly this is not 'creative' in either the sense that such uniform attire is created by the people who wear them, nor is it an expression of individuality or original thought. To say hipsters are defined by their creativity is as valid a claim as Emo's were defined by their exceptional emotions, or grunge kids were defined by their apathy.

These movements are defined by their consolidation, their predictability, the more creative, the harder to label.

In marketing the mystery of the need for affiliation was in part answered for me. What perplexed me is 'why I don't feel it.' I never have, I doubt I ever will. I still can feel awkward not being dressed like everyone else in certain contexts, but for me this is a very overcomeable level of discomfort, self-consciousness is easy to repress and the rewards of doing so reinforce the practice of doing so.

But basically marketing said 'you have two kinds of people in this world...' and those two kinds of people are 'opinion leaders' and 'opinion seekers' or something. I only really remember the opinion leaders for sure. Now not to make a joke of a soft science, but two guys walk into a store to buy themselves some jeans, the assistant tells each upon handing them a pair of jeggings 'that's how they're wearing them these days.' the opinion seeker says 'oh cool!' the opinion leader says 'I don't care, I like my jeans loose and flaired at the bottom.'

Which isn't to say opinion leader is 70's Eric Clapton, but to say they are defined by their need or lack there-of to fit in with the group. This isn't an introvert/extrovert divide. It's like a group-esteem vs self-esteem thing. But the discussion was not comprehensive, we simply know these two types of people exist, or as my beloved ex-brother in law loved to say sardonically 'I'm a rebel, I don't care what society thinks.'

Anyway I don't know, I honestly don't know if it's a nature vs nurture thing, which is it? I don't know, was a born with a low need for affiliation compared to the norm, or is it the biproduct of being left handed and never being able to be the norm, or is it simply the result of my parents parenting raising me to big-note myself and look down upon others?

Then there's evolution, we are a society that is predisposed to follow leaders, put a group of people in a room they never emerge as a committee, I'm sure Dawkins or somebody could explain this phenomena in terms of some Evolutionary Stable Strategy about what proportion of people posess 'leader' genes and what possess 'follower' genes and this gene may or may not functionally impare or allow the chemical feedback mechanisms that drive our relative desire to fit in with a group.

I honestly, don't know. Isn't it fascinating?

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