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I just posted a long reply to [livejournal.com profile] crystalpyramid here about why bring from the Midwest explains why I avoided SWIL at first, along with some other sweeping generalizations about the Midwest, and upstate New York, and other things. But it was enough of a monologue that I thought it would be nice to post it here too... (Following in the tradition of my first LJ post, which was also copied from a long introspective comment about SWIL in someone else's journal...)
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Well... I'm mostly thinking of the Midwest (or at least St. Louis, or at least my family, but I think it's more than JUST my family) being really conformist, and thinking that it's a really bad thing to be defined as "weird". (It's interesting to notice how my grandma, who I'm closer to than I am to anybody else in St. Louis, is uncomfortable with the idea of me being comfortable with being "weird". And I still sometimes use weird as a fairly strong pejorative term without really thinking about it, even though I realize that it doesn't actually work with my thinking weird people are interesting. But I guess I am still a conformist, in that I don't like being completely separate from the group; I'd rather find a group where I could fit in without having to try too hard, which was why I liked SWIL. This is also why it bothers me to see how SWIL has been changing to be such a closed clique of '08ers, but I guess that's a different can of worms... (I should also say that I don't think SWIL is/was actually a completely compatible social group for me, but it was definitely still better than most others that I've found... And one big reason was that I never had to worry about feeling unwelcome with SWIL.)

But back from that digression... Besides wanting to conform to social norms, the only kind of social groups that I saw in St. Louis were...well, not places where people talked about random, interesting ideas. Like Ronni was saying at Swiloween, people in the Midwest generally aren't as open to talking about abstract ideas. (Actually, I think Ronni can actually make a more fair comparison between St. Louis and Swarthmore than I can, because she knows a lot of people at Wash. U. and went to Ladue High School, which is in an area of St. Louis that's...well, it's known for being rich, but it's also the older rich area, not the area that's full of rich yuppies, which means I would think if anybody would value intelligent people discussing abstract ideas for their own sake, it would be people there. Wow, that sounds incredibly elitist, so, um, I'll acknowledge that before anybody jumps in to point that out and I end up getting offended. But I definitely think the people Ronni's been around in St. Louis would be a lot more open to that kind of thing than the people I was around in high school. My parents live in a blue collar neighborhood, and I went to elementary and middle school there, then the magnet schools I went to for 8th grade and high school were mostly kids from the city. There definitely was a group of smart kids there that I, eventually, became friends with, and actually, if I hadn't been socially inept, I probably could have been better friends with them. But even most of the smart kids I was friends with in high school are a lot less idealistic than I am--they want to do well so they can make money and be happy, not so they can come up with some brilliant new ideas for the world. Which isn't a bad thing, I guess, but it's not what I idealize as much... And then there was my Jewish youth group, which was made up mostly of kids of yuppies, who also weren't exactly the type of people to have the conversations that happen at SWIL table. And, for the record, having conversations about random intellectual things at SWILtable was the thing that I really liked best about SWIL, and Swarthmore. It could be said that I'm comparing apples and oranges trying to actually make a comparison between the Midwest and the East Coast based on that, because obviously, Swarthmore is one of the places on the East Coast where you're most likely to find people like that, where there are places in St. Louis where I wasn't where you might be more likely to find that. But that's why I think it's interesting that Ronni would say the same thing, so maybe I'm not completely crazy making a big sweeping generalization like that.

I also should say that this is what I was talking about at SWILoween when I said that upstate New York is really different from the Midwest. Because for some reason, it seems like a lot of the people I know who are from upstate New York are people who I really admire for knowing so many cool, interesting things, and also being really nice, unpretentious people, but if anything, I don't feel entirely comfortable around them because I'm not as interesting as they are. That would include you (Jillian), Viva, and Rachel Kobrin (the Jewish advisor my freshman year who I constantly talk about as what Jewish advisors should be like), as well as my favorite relatives, my cousin, who's grew up in St. Louis but lives in Rochester now, and his wife, who's a native of Rochester. Of course, I think this cousin is also the only academic in my family, which I also like (he's a professor at SUNY Brockport, although he ended up deciding that the students there were really stupid, so now he does more computer stuff and almost never teaches... And actually, the last time I saw him, in June, I actually didn't have as much to talk to him about as I thought I might have. But I still think I can read something into the fact that I always really enjoyed seeing him more than any of my other relatives.) Actually, after I was thinking about that at Swiloween (and wanted to finish that conversation with you, but never did), I looked up University of Rochester, and was really disappointed to find that I think their psychology department is the exact opposite of what I want (they're the only ones I've seen who split social/personality psychology and bio/cognitive psychology into completely separate DEPARTMENTS, where I want to do something that merges them in the same research program). Because I think I would really like the people in upstate New York, if the small sample I have says anything... But hmm, now that I'm thinking about it, maybe California is similar, because there's also a few Swatties who I enjoy talking to who are from California (Arthur, Rachel, Misha Predmore) who have sort of similar traits. But why would California be like upstate New York, when upstate New York is shaped by being cold and snowy, and California is defined by being warm and laid-back? Well, I don't know...

But anyway, where I tend to find patterns where I like people from upstate New York and California, a decent number of the people at Swarthmore who I really don't have anything in common with or who really bother me philosophically are the ones from the Midwest and the South. Well, if I'm thinking of specific people, maybe more the South or middle-of-nowhere places in the Midwest, rather then the Midwest as a whole, because there are some people I like from the Midwest. So maybe it's just that I don't have anything in common with people from red state areas, even if they themselves aren't exactly typical of those areas, which maybe shouldn't be surprising.

But I think that does go back to what I'm theoretically talking about, that the kind of social dynamic I was used to in St. Louis was something where a group like SWIL was something to be avoided, not something to join. So it took me a while, and some dragging, before I realized that I should drop those prejudices because I actually would be happier around the kinds of people in SWIL than around the kinds of people I was used to being around in St. Louis.

So hmm, hopefully this will actually make some sense, and doesn't ramble too too much... (Hmm, while I'm at it, maybe I'll copy this into my own LJ...)
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Michael

November 2010

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