In a 1998 issue of Reason, cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken presents a reasonable case for plenitude. His essay centres on how our increasingly diverse society, politics, interests and beliefs have outdated the limited notions of “the left” and “the right”. He points to growing “speciation” — a fragmentation of sorts — that worries the right as being anti-traditional anarchy and that transcends the narrow definition of difference defended by the left. Overall, it’s an interesting take on how variety, diversity and heterogeneity play in politics.
Plenitude is everywhere among us, especially in our culture and our politics, where it is the source of gross misunderstanding and profound conflict.
We have long been accustomed to stuffing the social world into a handful of categories. We used to say such things as, “basically, there are two kinds of people in the world,” or to bundle the world into a typology: social classes, psychological types, birth signs, genders, generations, or lifestyles. But increasingly, the world won’t go along with our attempts to reduce it. Where once there was simplicity and limitation, everywhere there is now social difference, and that difference proliferates into ever more diversity, variety, heterogeneity.
In the late 20th century, there has been a quickening “speciation” among social groups. Teens, for example, were once understood in terms of those who were cool and those who weren’t. But in a guided tour of mall life a few years ago, I had 15 types of teen lifestyle pointed out to me, including heavy-metal rockers, surfer-skaters, b-girls, goths, and punks. Each of these groups sported their own fashion and listened to their own music. The day of the universally known Top 40 list is gone.
Gender types are proliferating. Whole new categories of powerful, forthright femaleness have emerged, while “maleness” is undergoing its own florescence. Gayness, which used to mean adhering to a limited number of public behavioral models, has rapidly subdivided into numerous subgroups. Many of these groups have developed their own literature, music, and even retail communities. They have become social worlds.
New species of social life can form everywhere: around rock groups (Deadheads); football teams (Raider fans); TV series (Trekkies); leisure activities (line dancers); means of transport (Hell’s Angels); sports (Ultimate Frisbee); movies (The Rocky Picture Horror Show); technology (geeks).
So various and changing is this new social world around us that we can barely keep up with the pace of transformation. The tremors of change can be felt everywhere: in our schools and in our grocery stores; in our courts and on our playgrounds; on our computer screens and our multilingual ATM screens; in our reading and in our fashion and in our families. Perhaps most of all in our politics, where plenitude is at the heart of continuing and sometimes bitter conflict. Both left and right have attempted to manage plenitude; both have failed. The reasons for their failure may help us understand the commotion around us.
(via Julien – thanks!)