Communal Life Versus

15 thoughts
last posted June 27, 2016, 5:50 p.m.
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Disjointed thoughts on my personal difficulty accepting, and finding acceptance in, various communities (both online not-online).


This stream is occasioned by two separate problems I have been pondering, and by the fact that I now suspect (though I'm by no means sure) that the two may be related.

The first is my fraught relationship with churches. The second is the tension I constantly feel between leaving Twitter and sticking with it.


Some might laugh at the implication that Twitter and church are at all comparable, but I don't find it ridiculous.

Of course, by "Twitter" you must understand "the amorphous circle of people that I specifically interact with (using Twitter)." That is, "Twitter" is shorthand for a group of people who recognize each other and share an ongoing history of conversation. No different from any other community (in that one respect).


Vankat Rao makes a good argument that an online community is actually less of a filter on reality than a local religion.

I think all such citizens of contemporary escaped realities are in for a reality shock when things like VR and AR go mainstream — they will expect to find more escaped realities when they put on their headsets, but will find themselves dumped into less escaped ones. They will imagine they are jacking into the Matrix, and will find that they are actually crashing out of it.

It happened before with online communities. Plenty of people are still in denial about the fact that that is in fact what happened — they agonize about online filter bubbles while ignoring the fact that geography is a far stronger filter bubble than the Internet. It will happen again with our newer virtual realities.

(On the Design of Escaped Realities)


My history with church is not simple so I won't go into it now.

At present: I do not attend church. I grew up attending churches of various stripes and styles. My understanding of what actually goes on in them has changed such that I feel further involvement is, on balance, not worth the trouble for me personally.

However, I believe I would benefit, and that my children would benefit, from more communal life, and I don't really know where else to get this other than in a church.


I guess my history of church is relevant in one respect: my experience of it growing up was a repeating cycle of developing strong attachments to a community of people, then having those attachments severed for personal-religious reasons, leaving and moving on to the next church.

This aspect of my history with church seems relevant in that it feels a lot like my history of online communities: a strong attraction-repulsion cycle of becoming involved, and then getting fed up and wishing to have done with it.


Regarding church: perhaps because of those experiences, I do have a kind of deep-seated belief that today's community of friends is inevitably tomorrow's set of alienated strangers.


In my head this is quickly becoming the story of opposing forces of attraction and repulsion, so maybe I should start laying those out.


In regards to church, I am attracted to the communal expression of love and acceptance, and to the opportunity to reciprocate the same; singing, conversing, aesthetic expression; imagination and meditation on the extraordinary.

I am repulsed by the constant and insistent transformation of the extraordinary into the banal; by what J.D. Vance has called the "projection of complex problems onto simple villains"; by cults of personality and the thousand ways the communal attention is needlessly concentrated onto one or a few leaders; by the shameless way in which churches band themselves out from the population by skin color and class.

In addition there are repulsing forces that probably have more to do with me than with church: my own reluctance to go out of my way (it's much more relaxing to stay home than to get up early and wrangle children). Also I feel that I have nothing to offer that others need or want from me; my absence leaves no real gap in the community.


My understanding of the attraction/repulsion forces I feel with Twitter seems different, but they might very well be the same thing at bottom.

On the attraction side: There are circles of people online that I want to feel "in" with. I also like the "hit" of suddenly getting lots of positive feedback from something I have said or written online. If I'm honest, I might just like these feelings purely for their own sake; they may have little or nothing to do with the actual people involved.

What repulses me is the gap between the acceptance I want and the acceptance I actually get. Also the gap between my non-knowledge of a topic or set of references and the educated way in which the cool, connected people discuss them. Finally, the unlikelihood of my ever being able to affect either of these things in ways that will actually improve my standing.


For both church and Twitter, I guess there is this overarching tension between a) the desire to quit and give up and leave and relax, and b) the desire not to be a quitter, not to miss the opportunity that will usher me into this or that Inner Ring.

It's just that on the church side (where the time/effort price of participation is high and there is no Inner Ring I would wish to be a part of) I have come down on the side of Quitting; and on Twitter (where the price is low and the intellects are more attractive) I have come down on the side of Hanging Around For Now.


With Twitter the best approach I can come up with, in practice, is simply to try and hold the thing loosely and at more of a distance; to participate but sparingly, in such a way as to try and keep it from feeding my craven appetite for attention.


Thing is, I have tried doing that kind of fence-setting with other online communities as well -- two that I can think of -- and the result in both cases was that I ended up just leaving, quietly and permanently.

Because when you don't have a deep personal connection with those involved (and especially when others there seem to share a connection that you don't), "participating sparingly" just exacerbates the problem that caused you disappointment in the first place.

And in fact, this was how I phased out of church attendance as well.


Another dimension of comparison: the ways in which I intuit (rightly or wrongly) each activity to be healthy or unhealthy for my personal development.

With Twitter, there is this great Unease (in which many of us share) that the actual activity of Twitter is both addictive and destructive of one's inner life, regardless of who you interact with. On the other hand, I have also found my thinking challenged and broadened by reading and interacting with people I'd ordinarily never hear from.

With church, it's sort of the opposite; I understand the activity of weekly communal worship and eating itself to be fundamentally (profoundly) sound; but that there are also Problems caused by tribalism among the particular people you might find yourself with.