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I've been enjoying reading

Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind
and it has made me more sensitive to my tendency to look at myself and others as belonging to tribe-like groups. And how unlike the groups some people belong to, I belong to groups composed of (ahem!) virtuous people with enlightened values!


I often talk and write about "mainstream culture" vs. "alternative culture". These are super-abstract generalizations of the values and behavior of large numbers of people. A LiveJournal friend recently asked me:

"Is there a sharp line between your alternative culture and the mainstream?"
What a great question! I would like to answer it authentically, as a geek who travels in lots of cultures and thinks alot about these things. And then ask y'all to chime in with your notions about these things. Let me not presume you find this topic interesting right now.

I like to think that there is a very sharp line between mainstream culture and my favorite alternative cultures even though alternative culture people usually also participate in mainstream culture, and all people exhibit a mixture of all of my proposed distinguishing characteristics. The "sharp lines" I see are the principles and values which constitute these cultures; especially for alternative cultures, which have less historical inertia.

Some Distinguishing Principles for Alternative Culture

MAINSTREAM ALTERNATIVE
scarcity-based abundance based
zero-sum games unlimited sum games
dominance-model partnership-model
non-consensual consensuality and consensus
opportunities by social position opportunities by participation
prudish, pleasure-phobic body and pleasure celebratory
violence, injustice, war conflict resolution, universal human rights
a norm to conform to delight in diversity
organized religion spirituality
identity-based values-based
official truth and correctness multiple viewpoints, friendly criticism

These are not independent factors! The first line plus history accounts for most of it and I'm inclined to drop my use of the terms "mainstream" vs. "alternative" in favor of "scarcity-based" vs. "abundance-based". (This always makes me want to contrast "duality-based" vs. "non-duality-based" :-)

Some Resources for Alternative Culture

What do you think? What would you add or change?

_Greg

Date: 2006-07-14 10:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] scixual.livejournal.com
That describes *an* alternative culture ... and a lovely one at that.

Skaters, are "alternative" and don't necessarily follow any of those distinctions. Queers, goths, and many others may also eschew some of the goodstuff listed above.

But I like *your* culture, Greg.

Date: 2006-07-15 01:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] http://users.livejournal.com/_greg/
[ Scix, please don't mind me using your comment at face value ;-) ]

I'm not trying to describe a specific group, like "Skaters" with their own unique group culture. I'm trying to describe strong alternatives to what sometimes seems like a hegemonic value system supporting a status quo and an appearance that there is no viable alternative. This seeming hegemony is what I'm calling "the mainstream". Very little of the interesting facets of alternative culture I participate with shows up in major newspapers or television. When it does, it is so distorted, you have to have inside knowledge to recognize it. "Nothing here for you to see here, move along!"

What I seem to perceive is that scarcity/fear/status/dominance control and information structures cover most of the planet where there is perceived to be anything of economic value to the elite who benefit most from or identify with the status quo.

What I also seem to perceive is that there are common denominators among the many alternative groups I participate with, and those common denominators flow from a small set of core principles: abundance, non-zero-sum, partnership, etc. and then flower into cultural practices and expression which makes gives these alternative communities their vibrant life and produces such an impact on their participants.

The paradigm I'm distinguishing as the mainstream is historically valid, but is no longer a good fit for the current world which has plentiful resources but serious consequences for their misuse. Everyone would be much better off if we could shift the status quo over to the partnership model. The only way I see to do it, though, is through grassroots, bottom-up action. Since both the mainstream and the alternative worlds are made up of huge numbers of individual cultural threads, groups and individuals, it is not necessary to address "the mainstream" as if it were the big, strong monolith which it sometimes seems like. "Look, there's lots for you to see here! Explore and participate!"

_Greg

Date: 2006-07-22 05:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] luverika.livejournal.com
now that i am actually moving on creating the co-housing in my building in oakland - committed yesterday by starting the bureaucratic work - i'm getting a small taste of what it's like to by working toward a true fantasy. and it's awsome!! and terrifying!!

Date: 2006-08-07 04:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] naomifine.livejournal.com
Yes, Greg, I agree with your summary. It seems a good description, distinguishing characteristics, starting from at least hippy on forward. Identity-based vs. values-based is a tough one, though - grouping by identity is age-old and natural. Maybe that isn’t mutually exclusive though?

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