When any event or group kicks off, the priority is to get enough bums on seats to make it viable. New ventures haven’t formed identities yet and have little incentive; social or economic, to be fussy about who is ‘in’. Further, to be viable, they need to work for plenty of people, so new gatherings are often more tolerant and inclusive, or at least appear to be. When a group is established, this can change.
There are good reasons for changing – if something gets to big it can be the victim of its own success and lose its identity. That’s my impression of giant music festivals. An identity can form that needs holding carefully. Everything needs edges of some sort or you just end up with gloop.
Less useful things can happen. If something is desirable, you can put up the ticket price and perhaps force out the people who made it work in the first place. (Festivals, again). You can start demanding more conformity and if the group matters, people will conform to keep their place. A large group of people are an asset – be they customers, voters, your social kudos, advertising revenue sources or just a thwacking great ego trip. Having lots of people involved with, or wanting to be involved with your thing, has a value. A huge value. Large groups of people are easily exploited for money, status, and influence. Of course once you start doing that, you will also become afraid of losing your power, status and influence. Control freakery ensues – perhaps this is why Facebook is such a mess at the moment.
In creating a boundary, you decide who is in, and who is out. That’s inevitable, and it can be fine. Druid Camp is not going to be a good space for non-Pagans who hate camping, clue is in the name… and many such spaces tend to encourage unsuitable people to select themselves out, and as a consequence, everyone is happy. Exclusion can be a more painful process than this, from the one person in the village not cool enough to get a party invitation, to deliberately compromising people’s rights to participate in things like voting. We have responsibilities about how we handle the edges.
Perhaps most dangerous is the habit of defining group membership in opposition to some imagined other. Fascists do this. So do angry fundamentalists of all backgrounds. We imagine the hated other possessing all the qualities we abhor and do not want to see, and we feed that hatred, so as to feel better about ourselves. It’s not healthy. All those angry comments about what imaginary people do – imaginary people who are on welfare, imaginary Pagans… While it’s all about make believe and ego-trips it’s merely not doing us any good, but all too often what happens is that people who look superficially like the imaginary people we’ve hated on, become targets. We blame them, and if we do it as a community, people can and do die as a direct consequence of this process.
Hold your boundaries carefully, and hold them where you need them, but be alert to your own power. Think about who you welcome and who you exclude. Think about how you might be (even unconsciously) using your community as a power base. It’s all too easy to be complacent about such things, and when that happens, we favour growth at any cost, into ever larger and less wieldy groups, more need to control our groups and more risk of hating people we’ve put on the outside.