Groups Always Already Have Others

To create a group is to create an inside and an outside. To create a group is to say “these things have something in common with one another that differentiates them from all other things.” There will, necessarily, always be a thing excluded from a group. A good example is in grouping any set of objects by color: all blue things are different from all non-blue things in at least one way. However, this leaves the semi-blue things in the lurch, as neither group accepts the semi-blue as “truly non-blue” and certainly they are not “completely blue.”  In philosophy of science, this is a primer for the problem of natural kinds. In sociology, it is an introduction to social stratification. Either way, to group is create inclusion and exclusion.

Much of the discourse in today’s circles on gender and race theory rest their arguments on notions of “inner” and “outer” groups in society (white males are “inner,” pretty much any other identifiable group is an “outer”). However, this distinction leaves out those who may straddle lines, as well as may not occur to discussion participants. A current trend is to describe the problem in terms of “privilege,” which is loosely understood to signify the powers, prestige, and capacities afforded the in-group that are denied to the out-group.

It may be that this problem can be reduced to a fight between Hegel and Kierkegaard, which I referenced in my post on the Subjective vs. the Objective. Hegel would approve of speaking of society in terms of groups- race, class, gender, orientation, etc. Kierkegaard would not. For him, people are individuals, and we cannot take seriously attempts to lump them together into such sloppy, and ultimately meaningless, groups. This raises a fundamental problem for many of today’s social theorists addressing these issues: is it even sensible to speak of people in terms of broadly defined groups? Is there a potential problem of infinitely dividing the boundaries between each set of groups into yet smaller groups whose boundaries perpetually yield another generation of new groups?

I find it interesting that each group manages to make persuasive arguments that they are, in different yet meaningful ways, oppressed. The “Emo” subculture was and is heavily mocked as the complaining of those with nothing to complain about, yet (in a paradoxical twist we sometimes mistakenly call a “First World Problem”), the lack of something to complain about is something for humans to complain about. As I think Kierkegaard would describe it, any feeling of alienation, anguish, despair, loss, isolation, and anxiety is the oppression of the human condition. I wonder if sometimes people are too busy focusing on their (and their groups’) own distinct and artificial oppression that they miss the universal and natural oppression that bonds us as humans.

Why would I write about any of this on a blog primarily about videogames, law, and IP? Because understanding these issues and the way they are discussed is crucial to approaching issues like violence in videogames (vis-à-vis gun violence in America), gender and race in videogames, legal protections and requirements of studios and developers with respect to these issues, and so on. I became interested in entertainment and IP law because I saw important intersections of social issues and technology along these legal avenues. Entertainment (and by extension, the law of it) is aimed at enhancing human life. Intellectual property law is aimed at incentivizing and protecting invention and artistic endeavor. If these things aren’t, in the end, making life better and making people (meaningfully) happier, something is wrong. This forest of broader human context ought not to be lost for the trees of technical and legal particulars.

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