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Camaraderie – peer pressure by another name

November 2, 2013

Culture, that’s a funny word. Culture, like area, can mean anything as broad as a country and anything as narrow as a village. If space exploration ramped up to the extent where we spread out over a number of different planets, you can bet it would be defined by planet. I suppose living on a red planet revolving around a differently named star and at a greater distance from it fundamentally changes your outlook on the meaning of life, and what sort of underwear you’re wearing.

Culture is less space based these days. Since the internet, the thing that was once called by the rather stuffy sociology term “subculture” has taken over. You had goths and jocks before, but such things required seeking out an image; wearing all black, spending all your time in X place with X people. Now you have Channers (people who frequent 4chan) and Youtubers, the face of it has changed to represent interests rather than style.

Of course, hobby and work cultures have existed for a long time, well before the internet. You see it when you go to work in an office and people start using jargon. Jargon is the predecessor to text speak, game speak, internet meme speak, or Halo 1345 team speak. Around and between that are the cultures that develop around habit rather than hobby, and it’s those I want to talk about – primarily: drinking culture, eating culture, smoking culture, drugs culture and sexual culture (a sub strand of covers the hot-topic of “rape culture”).

Eating culture is probably the least harmful of these. Eating culture involves that day when you go out with a friend and they say “Are you having a pudding? Because I won’t get one if you’re not getting one,” or “Are you having anything? I don’t want to look like a fat bastard, sitting here eating on my own.” Both of those strongly encourage you to eat when you wouldn’t normally, eat more than you would normally, or eat foods that you wouldn’t normally. It is more harmful in its opposite form; if you’re worried about looking like “a fat bastard”, that feeds other people’s paranoia about eating and weight, as they are fed by the same influences and fear the same outcomes.

Our society obsessed by weight and food churns out more people year after year who can’t handle the stress and force of other people’s implicit evaluations of their food intake and body size. Publicly judging yourself is the same as judging other people, because they will naturally adopt the standards of those around them – as you did, when you arbitrarily decided that eating “alone” made you look “fat”. Understanding that repeating these ideas is unhelpful is a big step in making sure we nip them in the bud and maybe stop accidentally forcing people with body image issues to think about them constantly.

The other infinitely less harmful but slightly more irritating part of eating culture is when disproportionate significance is placed on specific foods and associations with them. Just try telling your “takeaway buddy” or “burger buddy” (everyone has some variation of this at some point in their lives) that you intend to give up fast food and see what kind of reaction you get. I remember telling my own burger buddy that I had turned vegan, and she looked despairingly at me and exclaimed “But… We’ll never have burgers together again!” I should not have to explain to a full grown adult that the enjoyment we shared was not thanks to the accumulated 58 kilos or so of vastly inferior patties made of minced horse lung, but rather the times we spent together and the memories we made.

Whereas in this case, all that happened is I kept right on at it with a faint twinge of annoyance, this view is a feature of all the other cultures. There, it has an altogether different effect. Drinking buddies of alcoholics freak out that their friend is going teetotal. There may be a sort of self-consciousness going on there (if they’re an alkie and I’m matching them drink for drink, does that mean I’m an alkie…?) but sometimes it’s a case of them honestly not knowing what kind of relationship they will have with their friend now that they don’t drink.

They spend all their time shitfaced, assume everyone else is equally shitfaced, and forget how to wind down without being shitfaced. They may not be out and out alcoholics themselves, but they certainly have a hidden dependency. But if you can’t have a cup of tea with friend when they’re having a pint, there’s something wrong with the friendship. If you can’t be sober in a friend’s company without being bored off your tits, then there’s certainly something wrong with the friendship.

We do have a heavy drinking culture in this country and we shower approval on people who adhere to it. Just sicked all over yourself? Retweet. Got of your eyes rolling in the back of your head as you lay flat on the ground with your arms spread out? Lol, thumbs up for that pic. What we’re expressing here is empathy in some twisted form; it’s the mentality of “we’ve all been there”. I guess I’m old before my time, because if I walked into a lecture obviously hung over, I’d expect to be… Well… Lectured. My classmates do it all the time and my lecturers tend to laugh that stuff off, without regard to the obvious insensibility of drinking on a Monday night.

Once again, it works the other way; I had a while back friend who was having some alcohol troubles and was trying to quit smoking. I forget which one she was going for, it could have gone either way, but she updated her Facebook status to say she had “Fallen off the wagon.” Within a second, she got a commentless thumbs up. I thought it was dodgy at the time, though I’m only just beginning to figure out why; there’s no call to express approval for the fact that someone has failed in their sincere, and indeed highly recommended, attempt to quit a substance that is causing them harm.

You don’t need to shame them about it, but acting gleeful or amused by it is a different kettle of fish. It positively reinforces giving up, and any behavioural psychologist will tell you that’s bad news. The “liking” system is very effective because it gives fast (if not actually instant) gratification for something that is easy. It is easy to update your Facebook status, hence why people do it all the time; and it is easy to give up on giving up. Hence, why people do it all the time.

When you are fragile and you are about to undertake something difficult which you don’t really want to do, the last thing you need is for somebody you like and respect to nudge you into thinking that you are wasting your time by making an effort. Want to be a really good friend? Tell your friends to take the job, even if it means they’ll move away. Tell your friends to go onto that college they were thinking of applying for, even if that means they’ll have less time to spend with you. And tell them “good luck” for giving up smoking, even if that means you’ll be the only smoker left in your group of friends.

If they fail, you don’t have to be all like “Lol, I knew that would happen. That’s just like you,” which is going to stop them trying again and think there’s no point because they aren’t capable. Similarly, if you go too far the other direction and start telling them off for failing they’ll just think it isn’t worth the hassle. If it were me (and I wish I had thought of it at the time) I would simply have said: “Ah, that’s a shame. It happens. Better luck next time!”

Sexual pressure is more complicated. It’s a tricky issue because it concerns consent, or lack thereof. The general consensus is that, if you make out that someone is doing something wrong by refusing to to have sex, and then you have sex with them when they are not sure, you have raped them. But, what about when it is friends that are doing it, rather than the participants themselves? I LINK have a lot to say about pressure to lose virginity. It can sometimes take on jocular forms, but is still a form of pressure. You never seem to be allowed to take your time over it, as apparently to be sexual enters you into this new mystical world of ultimate adultness and happiness or something.

Our problem is that we don’t realise how selfish “camaraderie” is. When these situations pop up, it shows that camaraderie is often not about the group at all. It’s about individual personal preferences. Camaraderie is a prominent feature of the institutions that have historically most favoured hazing. Far from being about embracing someone as one of your kind, it forces people who wish to be to adhere to the rules already laid out. If they can or do not, they will face ostracism as severe as merciless derision from all sides, or the rather more mild: “We’re just going on to a club. Are you all right to get home?”

Camaraderie comes from culture, but from the types of culture that change and fluctuate. You may hear people in proper cultures (fuffufffufu…) utter variations of “You’ve changed, man,” to those who appear not to be behaving consistently with the values and wishes of the group. It’s supposed to be significant because culture gets confused with personality and personality is not supposed to change.

Of course, it does, and since culture is a construction of your surroundings, it changes even more. It changes in accordance with them. If it didn’t, you’d always be a weirdo. The “uncultured” are not simply people who don’t drink red wine on the veranda while talking to an old Bach vinyl, the uncultured are the people who stick out like a sore thumb. Most of us aren’t all that willing to be the person who sticks out and most of us have a choice to dart and dive back in whenever it gets too uncomfortable. The question is why it should be uncomfortable for there to be a minor difference in habits between you and a friend.


From → Gender Politics

  1. Eh, conformism is a subconscious safety net. Even in an ideal individualist society, we would still have to make a concerted effort to be ourselves. It’s sad, but true.

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