The Need to Categorize and Set Apart

Why so many people feel the need to call out the validity of their specific group to those around them and how this has been a habitual thing seen throughout time.

Something that has always befuddled me growing up is the term ‘gateway fan’. This typically refers to a person that stands at the front of a certain group, show, or fandom and tries to deny entry to anyone that does not match the list of requirements needed to be considered ‘one of the group’. Sometimes it can be a singular event, where it is just one person calling out to everyone around them the rules of their domain; other times it is a complex situation where multiple people have agreed between themselves what constitutes a true member as they systematically turn away anyone that does not fall in line. This is not a new phenomenon, though; such groups and people have existed for millennia.

In Ancient times, many such groups were called ‘mystery cults’ where various people got together and performed initiations where they would worship a specific god far away from the prying eyes of the world around them. The Cult of Isis, the Eleusinian mysteries(focused on the Greek Goddess Demeter), the Dionysiac mysteries, etc.. The popularity of such groups that exist now ties back to these Grecian and Egyptian mystery cults that existed for centuries and influenced much of Western Culture. At its root, it makes sense. In order to create a sense of community, one must know what sets their group apart from others. What makes us European? Asian? Black? White? Christian? Muslim? Rich? Poor?

People love to compartmentalize and categorize and always have- its a natural human instinct. In terms of humanity, we also like to be surrounded by those who are like us- whether that is something mental or physical. Sometimes, this can be a harmless thing that leads to new friends, acceptance, and love- other times, it leads to awful things like war, racism, terrorism, and extortion. Like many things in life, there are two sides to this situation. It’s a fundamental part of our existence in order to survive and live, yet it is because it is so necessary that it has been so easily corrupted and turned nefarious, making it incredibly difficult to root out and destroy.

Many groups are so focused on the existence of their community, that they view all those around them as an actual threat to their livelihood. They could be hundreds of miles apart and yet still feel threatened by the words and actions of a separate group enough to erupt into violence. A quick glance at history shows this to be common: from the Crusades to the French Revolution to the First and Second World Wars, humanity has a ridiculous tendency to pick fights with or attack those who are not like them. It’s a bitterly unfortunate thing and yet it is not something that the individual can even begin to stop, especially in regards to things that reach a global scale.

Like many things, it starts out innocent with good intentions- to create a new country, new religion, new class -yet it can slowly deviate from that path, snowballing into something terrible. Of course, hope is not lost as even these dark groups can be destroyed alongside what they have reaped and oftentimes some truly incredible people and groups have risen in opposition or as a result of their actions: the Magna Carta’s creation due to the actions of King John, Francis of Assisi’s action’s during the Crusades and his creation of the Franciscan Order, the Declaration of Independence/Constitution being created during the American Revolution, William Wilberforce standing up to abolish slavery in 19th Century England, the creation of the Red Cross in the 19th Century due to wars in Europe and America, Martin Luther King Jr. in the face of the Jim Crow South, etc..

And yet, oftentimes we still wish that such actions were not needed in the first place. We wish that such corruption did not occur, that so many did not have to suffer due to the decisions of the few, that awful people were not given positions of power that they used to control those they saw as threats or inferior. We wish that good could always outweigh or defeat the bad in the world, wish that less people stood quietly as cruelty was beget, wish that something was done sooner. But, such wishes do nothing in the end, only leaving us wallowing in sadness and tragedy. Instead, we must learn from such tragedy, see what the cost of division and separation has been, and work forward in order to stop such actions from occurring again to the best of our ability.

What separates us is important, yes, but it is not the end all, be all of it. It is not what truly matters and should not be held onto as tightly as it has been in history. We are all more than what we choose to define or label ourselves as. I am more than just an American, a Christian, a Woman, a Millennial- and I should never use any of these as a battering ram to harm anyone else who may have different or even the same labels. This is something that we all need to say to ourselves and remember- that we are more than the sum of our parts and that no group is worth more than our humanity for that is what we all are at the end of the day: humans, just trying to live our lives as best we can, trying to understand why we are here, trying to make our mark on the world and we do not need to beat down others in order to make that legacy everlasting.