Aggregaphobia

Who likes being categorized, unless the category flatters them in a way that agrees with their soul’s sense of who and what they are?

Woody Allen famously said* (in the great Annie Hall), “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member”. I see that statement (do they get any more ironic than that?) as a twisted corollary to Category Error Discomfort (let’s call it CED), which is what we sometimes feel under labels others give us, even when the label isn’t wrong.

My earliest CED came in First Grade, when I was put in the slow reading group, because I couldn’t stand reading out loud. After that I lived with the syndrome — thanks to no achievments at all (or worse, the opposite) in academics, sports and dating — until I was a senior in high school. That was when I put on my suit and tie, walked down the street to the dorm of the prettiest girl in the neighboring college, and successfully asked her out. (It didn’t go anywhere, but it didn’t matter. I was now qualified — among other things — as a breeder, which I began to prove only four years later.)

As Dr. Weinberger writes, Everything Is Miscellaneous. I don’t know if he treats the exceptionality in every human’s nature as something equally so (I don’t have his book around here to check against, though I should), but I believe Everybody is Miscellaneous as well. (A phrase that so far comes up with zero on Google… surprising.) Except for that, we wouldn’t have CED.

Anyway, as “social media” (a too-inclusive kinda non-miscellaneous label) , and a zillion groups aggregate (clot?) all over the place, we are faced not just with too many “friends”, but too many choices of virtual clubhouses and too many labels laid by others on who and what we are, might be, and ought to belong to. Kinda brings out the CED in all of us.

So that’s what I was feeling last night, still with a mild fever and lacking sleep, when I blogged a peevish reaction to being labeled and grouped among “” at Guy Kawasaki‘s new site.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, except toward exceptionality: that which in each of us is unlike anyone else. And that isn’t just ego. It goes deeper than that, to who and what we are — to our soul.

What we call integrity is more than just consistency, or what geologists call competence when they talk about sturdy rock. It’s an anchor in our own souls.

I don’t know how to make that relevant in the social storm currently raging over Web X.x. Perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps it’s in territory so personal that only Whitman can make sense of it.

So I guess we just keep walking on our clay feet, just because it’s the only way to get around.

* As Dr. Weinberger points out below, Woody was actually quoting Groucho Marx.

9 comments

  1. dweinberger’s avatar

    Doc, nicely put, as always.

    First for the smallest, most annoying sort of comment: Woody Allen was quoting Groucho Marx.

    Second, “everybody is miscellaneous” (how’d I miss trademarking that, you bahstahd!) is a great point that calls out a difference in how we categorize things and how we categorize people.

    So, “everybody is miscellaneous” is important to remember as we’re being aggregated in ways that cover up differences that are important to keep in mind. But, don’t you think there are also times when we’re being divided and we want to say “But we’re in this together!”? There are commonalities that bind us conceptually, socially, economically, politically, morally, spiritually.

    Everything is misc because there are innumerable attributes by which we can cluster stuff, and which ones we choose depends upon our culture, language, and interests at the moment. The same is true for how we cluster people, but human groups develop a reality that goes beyond the mere commonality of attributes: We grow to know one another beyond the mere point of similarity and our groups take on a life that a mere conceptual clustering of things does not.

    The miscellaneous is a conversation??

    – David Weinberger

  2. “Everybody is miscellaneous” | Everything is Miscellaneous’s avatar

    [...] Doc has a nice post about the fact that everybody is miscellaneous (to use his phrase), and why being lumped with others gives him aggregaphobia (another nice turn of phrase). [Tags: http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/doc/2008/02/10/aggregaphobia/ ] [...]

  3. Richard Carter’s avatar

    I would bet my back teeth that the “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member” quote was Groucho Marx. I’m totally sure (well 99.9%) that I read it in his collected letters.

    Every funny remark ever said will ultimately be attributed to Groucho.

  4. Jeff Schmidt’s avatar

    Seems to be that Guy labeling a bunch of top bloggers under the heading “Egos” aims for a very intended consequence.

    working?

  5. Rex Hammock’s avatar

    Page 321 of Groucho & Me, by Groucho Marx (via Google Books – http://tinyurl.com/3dk7xw)

    “The following morning I sent the club* a wire stating, Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”

    *The Friars Club of Beverly Hills

  6. Guy  Kawasaki’s avatar

    You can attribute this quote to me: “Anyone who requests being removed from Egos is someone we would want to keep. Anyone who requests being added to Egos is someone we would not want.”

    Which means we want to keep Doc. :-)

    Guy

  7. major fun’s avatar

    I, on the other hand, would not want to belong to any club that wouldn’t want me for a member.

  8. Jim Russell’s avatar

    The full quote from Annie Hall does acknowledge Groucho:

    The… the other important joke, for me, is one that’s usually attributed to Groucho Marx; but, I think it appears originally in Freud’s “Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious,” and it goes like this – I’m paraphrasing – um, “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.”

  9. Adam Fields’s avatar

    “Anyone who requests being removed from Egos is someone we would want to keep. Anyone who requests being added to Egos is someone we would not want.”

    Anything not attributable to Groucho may be attributed to Douglas Adams: “Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”

Comments are now closed.