Tuesday, April 21, 2015


A lot of stuff has been going on and I want to walk around some of the ideas that have been lobbed in my direction, because I don't think I really learn anything until I've had the chance to slow down and think about it. That's one of the ways in which I differ from my brilliant friends: I can get stuff, and get it quickly, but I can't get it right away. Which is why it's hard for me to argue unless the subject is one I've already thought about a lot, and one for which I've anticipated major counterexamples.

Overrated - Three Days Grace

Foremost on my mind is a problem I thought I had left behind in high school: perception of my group by the more socially-normative and extraverted people. At lunch on Saturday some people in my dorm were talking smack about my hall, saying that "nothing happens there" and that it's "irrelevant." And I'm not sure how I feel about that. On one hand, these people don't matter to me on a personal level so why should I let their opinions affect me? On the other hand, I feel honor-bound to defend my family. On a third hand (the rhetorical octopus is in today) I don't think that what I said in defense made any sort of impression.

We were talking in my German culture class today about the difference between Enlightenment and Romanticism and how the Enlightenment focuses on the qualities or values that are generalizable. Reason is universal. Whereas the Romantics acknowledge that some things cannot be adequately communicated from one group to another, and that you have to have had a certain set of experiences to really "get it," whatever "it" is.

People who tell stories about wandering drunk from one frat party to another, who laugh about being drunk at the gym, who rush frats and sororities like it's their life, who are the model of what you think of when you think of Stanford student (confident, conventionally attractive, athletic, rich, white, heterosexual, extraverted to the max, loud, social, laid-back)--these sorts of people do not get my people, nor do we get them.

Of course, I cannot see into their minds. They are probably not as shallow as I think they are. We go to the same university. They will probably go on to great financial and personal success. Is there anything wrong with them? No. These people are not generally unpleasant. But is there something missing? I think so.

What we do in my hall is sit out in the corridor and do homework while talking to one another. In the latter days of the week when the homework rush isn't as strong, usually someone is building something for a student group. People wander in and out getting food. One friend in particular is great at moderating discussions about topics that I consider interesting (affirmative action, experience of race, personal philosophy). We have some athletes on our hall who don't really join us all that often. On hall demographics: over half engineers. Among the usual suspects, a statistically-unlikely percentage of LGBT+ individuals (my future roommate and I are both ace, whereas asexuals make up 1% of the population). Majority white but there is a critical mass of minorities to the point where I feel as though race is something we can talk about--and we do talk about it, as I mentioned.

What we don't do is drink, do drugs, roll out to parties and the sort of huge splashy #classof2018 events that we're supposed to. When we go dancing it's contra dancing. When we use the kitchenettes we clean up after ourselves. We have a critical mass of friendly introverts and we have attracted people from other halls who are also like that. Our collective idea of a good time is to hang out with one another and talk.

I could see how someone else might find that boring. Hanging out and talking can be terribly dull if you don't feel that you have anything to talk about with the people you're with. And of course it's fun to break the routine and do other things.

But on the flip side, I am incapable of understanding the attraction of loud parties with loud music and loud drunk people everywhere. When I tell people I haven't been to any frat parties they tell me I'm missing out--but on what? I prefer to interact with people when all parties are sober and can hold a coherent conversation.

Someone could tell me to have a more open mind. Tell the others to have an open mind as well. Sit down and talk to people, see what they say. Or do work in the same space as someone and learn to be okay with silence. In high school I thought I hated socialization because I thought that socialization meant selling out; but the kind of socialization I do now is more like buying in. And you have to buy in: buy into the idea that it is good just to sit and be with your friends.

I need not feel any shame over being upset when others called my hall irrelevant: that's my family they're talking down, and I'm offended that they don't find our different way of being worth the effort to think about and try to understand. Maybe they should be offended by me; but the majority, the dominant culture, need never feel truly under attack. I can think of them as shallow, and as socially unconscious (congratulations on landing that cushy CS internship; now when are you going to do something of social value?), as conventional, and they can dismiss me and say that I envy their success.

And I do envy the ease with which they navigate social situations, the confidence with which they present themselves. But I don't envy the way they can't derive enjoyment or even understand how one could derive enjoyment from the things we do, and I don't envy the flashy, showy sisterhood/brotherhood they get from their sororities/frats, and I don't envy the way they need to be seen.

They are just as irrelevant and boring to me as I am to them.


A note on the title: Socs was the term used in S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders to refer to the rich straight white kids who were obnoxiously rich and straight and white. It's short for "Socials," if I remember the book correctly. Not that I'm saying my group is greasers--we aren't--just that the cultural/social norm to which we are implicitly opposed is the same.

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