We think of cultural diversity and division as something that happens between geographic or ethnic groups, but that’s a small part of the truth. The reality is that we need to deal with culture conflict every single day.
Steve and I spent quite a bit of time yesterday talking about the differing cultures we’ve been parts of and how they reckon status. There is no culture that is free of status, but how you achieve high status is something else. Cultures interweave within and through each other, often not understanding each other’s symbols. (This is also something to remember for world-building in fiction. Cultures are not monoliths but contain intersecting cultures within them.)
Next week we will be at Superstars Writing Seminars. Because some of the trappings are similar to academic conferences (business cards, conversations about books, notable speakers, etc.) Steve has been mentally preparing himself in a similar way for the types of status questions and assumptions people at academic conferences have. He’s prepared himself to be challenged as a military historian.
I understand this impulse. When I first went to Superstars, I latched onto the word “professional” and thought it would be similar to the professional conferences I’d been to in IT and Multimedia. I obsessed over all the wrong things. I thought people would judge me on the cutting edge nature of my devices and my clothes. But which wardrobe? Business IT? Or the business casual pants and sly insider t-shirts of programmer IT? Neither, as it turned out.
In the business world, money and position are status. So people dress and display tokens demonstrating wealth to reassure others of their status. It’s not that they necessarily want these tokens (fancy car, designer clothing, etc) but that it is hard to be taken seriously without that quick demonstration of success.
In the academic world (from my position as an outsider) it looks like status is achieved through pedigree (who was your mentor? Who have you mentored?) and demonstrated narrowness and depth of research. So the questions are about your school, your mentors, and your current work in progress. Some fields are more prestigious within the academic specialty than others. Military History (Steve’s field) gets sniffy comments from other historians. (I’ve seen this for myself and have been shocked by the rudeness.)
Superstars appears to be that rare thing in the world: a generosity culture. People give what they can and givers are admired. Along with that, people who have published many books and whose books have done well enjoy admiration and regard. It feels like a refuge to me.
But like any society, Superstars also has rules, both spoken and unspoken. One that should be obvious for any generosity culture is “Don’t be a jerk.” More subtly, it discourages topics that will cause dissension. There is an impulse toward compromise and honoring others experiences. In this way it is quite different from academia, which lauds rhetorical battle, seeing it as the the fire that forges sharper ideas and business culture, which often sees jerks as people of higher status.
I look forward to Superstars not just to learn from some of the best people in the publishing/writing business, but also for the culture. Someday I hope to be able to give back as much as I receive from this amazing group of people.
I hope whatever culture you find yourself in, it fulfills something important for you.
Be well, friends!