The squad, the group chat, the enfants terribles wherever they are, girlboss mentors and whisper networks, the found family, et cetera. In a hypothetical context where you were grown in a tube and any other sort of activism, collective action or social infrastructure besides your nuclear family (who has to like you) and the people around you who happen to like you, doesn't exist on your radar, sure, I can see this seeming like some radical and novel way of organizing power. I joke, but this is also kind of the situation I grew up in, where the American school system, the nuclear family, and the church were basically the only three sites of social connection available to me.

So maybe that's why stuff like this seems especially bullshit to me, like, not only does it gloss over things like crypto, homesteading, and finance apps as... maybe good actually??? with the absolute minimum intellectual effort, it primarily coasts on the good feeling and clout distribution structures of the back end that sticks its face into public as so many niche meme accounts, podcasts, and like basically the whole publishing industry at this point fuck it lol, without much of a sense of what they could produce beyond in jokes and paypal pools. Behaviourally, it naturally prioritizes cliqueish (forced) harmony, there's no real plan for what to do if your squad tears itself apart for a variety of reasons, or if they're just kind of annoying, or suck.

These sort of groups are familiar to me, they're the shitty local MLM economy that pulls everyone involved deeper into debt and forcing useless tat onto their friends and family, the blatantly evil “prosperity gospel” church groups, the kids you self-efface yourself into a black hole to have someone to sit with at lunch. It's unhealthy, hierarchical, mean, and susceptible to becoming some sort of pyramid scheme or personality cult, precisely because all of its norms and rules are developed socially and largely only implied. And of course there's no easy escape route. Dependency is the whole point, and this is especially dangerous/effective at a time when more people than ever are un- or precariously employed.

As an antidote, Jo Freeman's appropriately scoldy The Tyranny of Structurelessness is brilliantly boring and basically correct. She aptly analyzes why so many women's groups floundered or even became self-destructive when they originated as vaguely-defined “consciousness raising groups” who, in bonding over their supposedly shared oppression would tend to produce an unspoken inner circle of people with the most in common, who would basically use the group as an extension of their personal socializing, while everyone excluded from this understanding had no idea what the fuck was going on. This was not a formation that could do anything other than reproduce itself, and it tended to have no interest in making broader connections or acting in solidarity with anyone. Of course, the solutions to this are boring and generally despised, transparency about decision-making, rotating roles, accessible information and ready diffusion of resources. They're not sexy, but they work.

I think it's important to think about this, because I've been primarily socializing in game dev communities or tiny, non-hierarchical online spaces like Zone, especially since the pandemic began. The history of forum drama is also a particularly depressing and reliable record of the way that any perceived clout in the water will literally make some people edge others out for it at any cost and start talking like some sort of Final Fantasy villain in the process half of the time. The lesson to take away from this is that these spaces need to be grown deliberately to avoid this sort of consolidation and competition, not try to act like it couldn't happen, like everyone can be the inner circle, or refuse to acknowledge it at all. Otherwise, what's the plan? To say “come on, we're all friends, right?” as a sort of veiled “shut up?”

One of the most beautiful moments of Ursula K Le Guin's The Dispossessed, to me, is Shevek eating by himself in a mess hall on Anarres. It's such a simple but moving scene. Shevek is a bit of a loner and an asshole, in the dialectical format of the book he represents the trouble an individual with outre or novel ideas would have in a collectively run society, and at this point in the book, he has pushed a lot of that society's limits. No one in that mess hall probably likes him terribly much, and on that basis, I'm sure a lot of people would argue he doesn't deserve to come in and eat a meal, no questions asked. But that's exactly what happens, because that's the society that has been built on Anarres. It's basically a non-event that simultaneously also reveals the hard-fought values of their culture.

No matter how much hyperbolic raving goes into the idea that your squad, your sisterhood, your whatever is a radical formation that will save you, we have to throw cold water on such an idea. Fascism is not purely individualistic, in fact, the protection of the family (or any other sort of imagined harmonious norm) has often been its base unit and building block. Family ties won't do, even if they aren't strictly by blood. As anyone who's had a job that's “like a family” been a part of a close knit friend group that schismed can attest, “family” in any context is a mad scientist's laboratory of normalizing abuse, manipulation, and social discipline, and it's indifferent to whether these connections are biological or not.