An Aversion to Affinities

"What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a new master. You will get one.” — Jacques Lacan

I've never been into affinity groups where my membership is based on superficial demographic or physical criteria in which I have no control over (e.g. being a woman).

The reason I've avoided such associations is that, from my observation, too much of a participant's identity becomes defined by the group. Your beliefs, opinions, mannerisms and behaviors become subject to groupthink. It's hard to distinguish your unique values (as well as any strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats) from those around you and the "cause" you've collectively committed to.

So, then, you come to classify yourself as a "women in business" or "gay man in America" and that's the richest description you're able to garner when posed with the question who are you.

There's no way that gender, skin color, sexual preferences, or any other physical attribute can explain the complexities of who we are as individuals. Joining affinity groups, without first having a good grasp of self, can be fruitless at the least, reckless at most.

However, my biggest concern about affinity groups is what's missing when they rally around a cause. Typically, the purpose of the group is to build bonds and gain support in the midst of a society that shuns and oppresses. And, that's ok. However, an ever present item on most agendas (at least ones dealing with the controversial topics of race, gender, sexuality, etc.) is the call for solidarity around societal change.

But what kind of transformation are you actually bringing about, individually or collectively, in the absence of self-realization? And even if/when the group makes progress on its plan where does that leave you personally?

Jacques Lacan called out a critical flaw that I also see when we create movements but completely miss what is actually necessary to catapult us to higher ground.

We join the affinity groups, the groups speak out for regime change, they strive to overthrow the person or institution in power that fell short, and if/when successful they swap in someone new who is supposed to be a beacon of change. But when (inevitably) expectations are not met, the cycle repeats itself.

You can interpret Jacques Lacan's quote in different ways. What I draw from it is that in spite of our love for organizing around commonalities we have a tendency to look outward for solutions. We put the onus on someone else (often not even apart of the group) to bring about the change we want.

Of course, trying to bring about any change in isolation is a vain effort. But you definitely aren't going to change the world if you can't even understand or improve yourself. Before I become an activist or hitch myself to some revolution, I'm starting with self-mastery. That is the only way I can prevent someone else from ruling over me. 

Ev eryone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. — Leo Tolstoy 

SocialAja Nicole Edmond