Ramblings and thoughts from September 16, 1994

Ramblings from September 16, 1994

I've just been re-reading Orson Scott Card, in particular, his novels Ender's Game, and Speaker for the Dead, and his short story, The Originist (available in Foundation's Friends ed. by Martin Greenberg, or in Flux, an anthology of Card stories). They've been provoking/reminding me of many thoughts I have had about community and identity etc.

I think that I must have gotten a lot of my thinking in this area from Card, although I didn't realize til this last re-reading. But in Speaker for the Dead, one of Card's characters tells another "Every person is defined by the communities she belongs to and the ones she doesn't belong to. I am this and this and this, but definitely not that and that and that. All your definitions are negative. I could make an infinite list of the things you are not. But a person who really believes she doesn't belong to any community at all invariably kills herself either by killing her body or by giving up her identity and going mad." This rings really true to me. There is almost no way to define oneself without resorting to specifying which communities you belong to. I am a male, human, physicist, TEP alum, member of my family, etc etc. One can make other definitions (such as classifying oneself as romantic or artistic or whatever), but I think that they all boil down to including oneself as part of a group of people with those characteristics. Perhaps I oversimplify. This was the basis for a paper I wrote for one of my philosophy classes. It's a bit wordy and high-flown, but that's always what philosophy profs want. Although I think I don't quite agree with everything I put in there at the time, there are a lot of points I still like.

Another interesting idea is brought forth in Card's story, the Originist. I just read the section where one of the chars says "I know that my theories of community formation are true. That the vigor of a community depends on the allegiance of its members, and the allegiance can be created and enhanced by the dissemination of epic stories." Wow. what more needs to be said. One of the coolest things about TEP, and I think one of the things that makes it so stable is the oral history. The upperclassmen sitting around, flaming, saying, "Do you remember the time that...", and the underclassmen remember the stories. they may not remember the names of the people involved, but they remember that TEPs did this once. I know I certainly remember a great number of such stories, not even including the ones I was involved with (some of which are documented in one of my other pages.). But it's the story-telling, as well as the creation of stories, that is one of the things that keeps TEP as vital as it has been. Or maybe I'm just stretching too far in support of my point.

I think one of the other key aspects about communities which Card doesn't refer to directly but shows through his stories, is the inability for them to exist without some sort of investment by the members in the community. The members have to care about the community or it just falls apart or they can not be considered members. This is also touched on in that philosophy paper where I use the term bestowal to refer to such an investment because that is the term the professor used. but it all remains the same concept. It's one of the reasons I suppose I don't feel like I am at home yet here at CERN. I haven't made any significant investment into any of the communities here, from the physics community which I don't feel qualified to join, to the other grad students, to other activities/clubs etc. So I feel like, and am, just a transient here, waiting for my year to be over to return to more familiar stomping grounds and communities.

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