Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Parable of the stamp collecting community

Once upon a time there were some people who collected stamps.

They got together on discussion forums, organized small conferences, and had animated discussions about their stamps and their stamp collecting.

One day, at one of these conferences on stamp collecting, a speaker (who, unbeknownst to others, wasn't that keen on stamp collecting) decided instead to start attacking email and those who use email. And proceeded to assert that email users who collected stamps were creating a hostile environment for non-email users in the stamp collecting community.

Much consternation ensued, both in the conference and the online discussion groups. Shortly after, a well-known figure in the stamp collecting community, the best-selling author of "The Franking Machine Delusion" posted a sardonic dismissal of the original speaker's concerns with email, by comparing it to the plight of stamp collectors in lands where franking is mandatory.

This was taken by some in the community as a direct personal attack, while others thought that the side of the original speaker was the one that had opened up hostilities. Soon after, the then-nascent stamp collecting community broke into three camps, though only the first two were clearly visible:

• The augmented stamp collectors, who believed that in order to be a stamp collector one also needed to have a position on email, that position being against, and -- for good measure -- positions on a dozen or so other issues, some as far removed from stamp collecting as the price of tea in airport cafes.

• The orthodox stamp collectors, who, despite asserting their focus on the stamp collection part of stamp collecting, also took positions on many of these other issues, usually in the opposite direction of the augmented stamp collectors. And, like the augmented stamp collectors, the orthodox stamp collectors spent all their energy and time on these other issues, justifying it as defending the community against the augmented stamp collectors.

• The people who just wanted to collect their stamps in peace, who therefore ignored these two groups, stopped frequenting the discussion groups and conferences, and generally lived a much better life, though with the loss of community. This was by far the largest, though the least visible of the groups.


Several years later, an outside observer remarked that the stamp collecting community appeared to be entirely made of people who didn't collect stamps, but had very strong opinions about email and other non-stamp issues. In fact, they had conferences notionally about stamp collecting that were one hundred percent about these "other" issues.

Meanwhile, some people who didn't belong to the "official" stamp collecting community were happily getting together to admire each other's stamp collections and celebrate their interest in stamp collecting. They just had to be careful to avoid letting any member of the "official" stamp collecting community know about these gatherings.

Otherwise they too might end up with "stamp collecting events" that had nothing to do with stamps.

- - - - - END OF PARABLE - - - - -

When people are brought together by a joint interest in something, they tend to drift apart when that something is superseded by other, unrelated, matters. Social parasites don't care, they jump from community to community, feeding off the attention (and sometimes more tangible rewards) of the communities as they kill them.

This lesson is always learned too late by the communities they invade, exploit, and eventually kill. The communities that survive are those who police themselves against invasion of unrelated matters. The ones that don't die a slow, ugly, contentious death.

On a totally unrelated topic, how are those skeptic/atheist conferences doing? I'm asking for a friend.

By the way, a quote that's all-too-apropos these days:

On this hill!? On this hill you choose to die!?