Last week in my blog about Unconscious Bias I mentioned the human need to form groups: to have in-groups and out-groups. This got me thinking about my own in-groups.
There are probably numerous groups that we associate with to some degree or other, but some are more important and come to define us more than others.
I would like to say that the groups that most define me are based around worthy, significant things: things which speak to my core values and moral beliefs. Sadly, however, this is not the case.
Arguably groups are most important in our formative years, and the most significant for me was based around music.
This was perhaps surprising, because in my early childhood music was of little interest to me. My parents had no musical interest to speak of and what I was exposed to was old-fashioned and dull. When I started secondary school in the late 1970s, therefore, I knew nothing of music.
I was one of only two boys from my primary school to go Saintbridge, an all-boys school, and it quickly became obvious that I would need to pick a tribe to survive. As I wandered around the harsh, dangerous environs of the school playground in the first few weeks, I found myself attracted to a group of disreputable boys who habitually gathered in one corner of the playground.
These boys wore leather jackets and cowboy boots, they grew their hair long and they listed to loud music which was entirely alien to me. They were collectively known to those outside the group as ‘Greebos’. I decided that I was going to be a Greebo.
Luckily there were some boys in my year already versed in the music and I started the long and difficult process of learning about bands such as AC/DC, Motorhead, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Also, confusingly, more mellow things like Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac; but not The Who or The Jam, because although the music sounded pretty much like rock to me, they belonged to the Mods. And Mods were the enemy.
And that was the thing with joining a tribe: now everyone outside the tribe was the enemy. You weren’t friends with them and you couldn’t like what they liked. Ska came along and I quite liked Madness and the Specials, but I didn’t dare to admit it.
Although the image very much came before the music in those early days, rock music has continued to be my preferred type of music. As I have matured in years, however, my tastes have broadened. I have accepted other musical genres, no longer concerned about being ostracised by my tribe. Apart from a continued snobbish distaste for ‘manufactured’ music, I am now willing to accept that there may be merit even in music that I don’t personally like.
It seems to me that this is a healthy approach to life.
Not everyone shares this tolerant world view however.
In recent years I have started riding a motorcycle again. A love of motorcycles was also part of the tribal affiliation of the Greebo, and I rode a series of cheap crappy bikes throughout my youth. I stopped riding for quite a while before getting back into it recently, only now, with my advanced years, I can afford something better.
What strikes me, however, coming back into the motorcycling world, is that tribes are still alive and well and every bit as demarcated as those earlier playground tribes.
Within the motorcycle fraternity you have people who ride Harley Davidsons, who look down their noses on people riding Japanese ‘rice burners’, whilst everyone else looks down on Harley riders as drivers of ‘agricultural vehicles’.
People on tourers think sports bikers are stupid and reckless, whilst the sports guys think everyone else is slow and boring. BMW riders are stereotypes as old gits, whilst Honda riders’ sexuality is called into question (which, as a Honda rider, I have to say is totally unjustified!).
Even within a genre you can have division: cruiser riders on Harley Davidsons looking down their noses at the Japanese ‘Harley wannabees’, whilst everyone else looks down on all of them as poseurs.
And then you have the bike clubs: the MCs and the MCCs, who frequently don’t get on. MCs especially will fight to the death: Hell’s Angels and Outlaws killing each other despite the fact that there is far more that unites them than divides them.
And, unlike the playground tribes, these people are all old enough to know better.
If we are going to fight, kill and die over a motorcycle club patch, a motorcycle marque or a musical genre (or, in a different world, a football team) what chance does the world have when it comes to political, religious and ethnic differences.
We are a strangely self-destructive species…
*Note to any Citizen journalists: please do not use this article in printed form. Thanks*