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social groups by Vincent H. '23

a different angle on the 'i found my people in college' trope

the notion of squad wealth has been increasing in popularity recently and it’s something i struggle to understand. the claim is something like: we can replace traditional capitalistic and commodified forms of value and support by organizing into small squads of people that hang out a lot and share social, economic, and financial resources. which sounds nice and all, but this is an idea that is hard for me not to be doubtful of due to the inevitability of group conflict and breakup, and because most close-knit groups of people i’m aware of don’t actually support each other or coexist in the manner the article describes. to be honest, the entire piece reads so much like a meme that i can’t tell if i’m just taking it way too seriously, but a lot of my friends have recommended it so i’m inclined to believe it has a substantive message

anyway, the idea that a group of people can form a legitimate support system is just incredibly foreign to me. the problem is not that i am unwilling to ask other people for help or participate in groups; when i happen to be in the midst of communities that i respect, like the group houses i lived in or the relevant subcultures of mit, i do actually take on group identities and it usually turns out okay. i think the real conflict here is that i’ve spent much of my life having no close friends, so i have internalized the fact that there will be times when i have hard problems to solve and nobody available to help with them; i’ve also spent enough of my life having exactly one close friend to understand how overreliance on a small set of people leads to unhealthy power dynamics and propagation of negative feelings like stress and sadness when boundaries are not set well. so i guess i just feel like support systems are a luxury you can indulge in if you have them, but you should also be prepared to survive on your own if and when they disappear

sometimes people tell me i need to chill and that my standards for myself are too high. standards such as — i must be intelligent and financially independent and socially competent and both externally and internally perceptive. i must be emotionally stable and physically strong (i’m not yet, but working on it). i must adopt a bias towards action and be good at making stuff and so on. and i feel the need to be all these things not because of self-esteem problems or theories about what constitutes a “good person”, but because i believe in my bones that chunks of my future will be incredibly difficult and lonely and that i therefore must become extremely competent to rise to the challenge. i can’t guarantee that anyone in my life will continue to like me or continue to enjoy interacting with me in the future, and so i must develop the capacity to be as self-sufficient as possible, not because i prefer it, but just in case i ever need to be

this is why the philosophies of self-care and self-help and stoicism resonate so strongly with me; they primarily concern the actions within your control that you can take to preserve your well-being. this is also one of the primary reasons for why i work hard, why when i have free time i reflexively assign myself optional tasks and then treat them as mandatory eg. working through the material for classes i’m not in or ideating new projects to work on, and why, despite my current courseload being the easiest it’s ever been in my time at mit, i am more occupied than ever. (the other reasons are that i enjoy most of the work i do, and that i want to be good at a lot of things out of personal interest and potential societal impact and so on)

when i see people fully immersing themselves in groups or squads or relationships or whatever the proper term is, i can’t help but wonder if their primary motivating factor is actually love for the people they’re around or if it’s really just hate for the person they become when they’re alone. finding people you really Love is super hard, like, i think it might have happened to me one to three times in the first twenty years of my life, and so when i see everyone in college supposedly with people they love, i can’t help but be skeptical. regardless, the notion that you’d willingly give up your identity despite not hating it just feels absurd to me, and i wish i could understand what it felt like to have that mindset. every day i realize another dimension to the fact that, despite their best efforts to communicate it and my best attempts to empathize, i ultimately know nothing about what goes on in the brains of people different from me. if you disagree with everything i’ve written in this post and don’t understand how i could possibly have converged onto the beliefs i currently hold, well, that’s probably how i view you as well

i’m not sure how i feel about any of this. i don’t know if i want to change or in what directions i would. what i do know is that you won’t convince me to change by disproving the assumptions i hold – if you try to prove that life isn’t impossibly difficult i’ll just list the people i know for whom it has been; if you give me examples of people at peace in social collectives i’ll just point out the ways in which they hate themselves and are trying to escape that hatred, because everyone is to some extent; and so on. you can’t disprove assumptions about these kinds of personal values because there is an abundance of data to support any hypothesis you want; you can only change peoples’ minds by convincing them that an adjustment to the lifestyle they lead would increase value under the value system they presently hold. and so far nobody has successfully done so with me on this specific subject, but i’m posting this because i guess there’s a first time for everything