Subcultures aren't dead

I disagree with David Chapman's MOP theory. Neither are subcultures dead, nor is their lifecycle that simple. The theory's xenophobia smells and is, in my experience, unjustified.

Who am I to disagree?

I've talked and listened to many people who run their own communities, large and small, and learned from them. I've run some myself, some successfully, some less so, and been everything from consumer, curator to creator and user, moderator to admin. Many of my years online, I've been thinking about the dynamics of "my" subcultures and communities, and testing theories created this way.

What I see happening instead

First: Subcultures aren't dead. Counterexample: Imageboards. In the anglosphere, this means 4chan and a long tail of alternative boards. They are the best example I've been a part of, but definitely not the only one. A mature (well over ten years old now) and lively online subculture, they exercise a lot of influence over Internet culture at large - on the day you're reading this, you may have used slang that originated there. Interestingly, they have their own variants of the MOP theory (one being "wherever they go, the chads drive the betas out") and their constant bitching and moaning about clueless newbies has given us the very word "newfag". But fear not, they've been clamoring since their first days and are still around. Second: Subcultures have generations, but not a one-shot lifecycle. On imageboards, people join, sometimes become prolific members, and usually leave after a few years. Maybe they've become bored, have "grown out of it", burned out, or too many of their friends have left. Some stay for more than one generation to become oldfags, the cultural backbone. It's hard to follow the change of generations due to wide-spread anonymity, but apart from simply knowing people, you can sort of watch the turnover from the outside as well: Every now and then, Anonymous and/or parts of the wider imageboard culture get into high-profile fights, the main ones being Chanology (2008-2009), Anonops (end of 2010-2011), and arguably Gamergate (2014-2015). In my experience, there is very little personal overlap between the communities that organize here, the activists of the last cause are usually either set in their ways or have become cynical about higher causes. Each cause uses mostly fresh people while the culture that spawned them has prevailed. (Prediction: around 2018-2020, we're going to see another of these kick off) Subcultures have only one lifecycle? I doubt it. Third: Tribal fears are a very subculture thing, but often unjustified. The MOP theory feeds on these. The MOPs and sociopaths: outsiders who show up to ruin a thing. The geeks: exploited natives. A compelling narrative, but I've seen too many newcomer outsiders, even fishy/difficult ones, turn into brilliant members to still believe it.

Why this disconnect?

To be honest - If I hadn't known Chapman, I would've taken it for the sort of eloquent but misinformed parting post that people who have grown out of a community often write. The kind that says "this community is dead" and that you sometimes look back on with a smile four years later when that same community is still going strong. I've kind of lost count - it's easy to declare the death of something you're no longer part of, to confuse "the people that make this culture good" with "the people who became my peer group when I joined". But I believe Chapman is neither stupid nor badly informed, so why is there such a large disconnect between our experiences? Are offline age subcultures fundamentally different, have online ones maybe evolved healing mechanisms? Or is he thinking about, say, Burning Man in particular and simply not generalizing enough[1]? I myself have seen communities and their cultures ruined by large influxes of clueless newbies. The pattern exists, yes, but is far from all-encompassing, more a failure of integration than a biblical deluge to swallow those with the hubris to become popular.

What to do about membership crises

Any community or subculture that wants to survive needs to acquire new members, and those to be integrated by older members. Failure of the former leads to stagnation and eventual heat death, failure of the latter leads to dilution. It will alienate older members as, in absence of strong examples, the newer ones redefine their culture. The former is a death sentence. The latter can be mitigated. Newbies are good for you - if you integrate them properly. To counteract heat death, get new members and don't scare them off immediately. To counteract dilution, teach your newbies. If there are too many, either limit your intake or teach harder. Make yourself look "uncool", reward mentorship with status, or tell people to "lurk more". If yours is a creative subculture, culture size is very strongly correlated with the amount of creative output, at least in my experience. This should usually be something you want? If you're not in a position to enact global changes (not an admin? not an influential writer?), try local ones: Create. Help others create. Be a good example. People all eventually leave a subculture for one reason or another. You'll find yourself without a peer group one day if you don't make new peers. The absence of one's friends is what will make near any enthusiast leave, not the "death of cool". So make new friends, and yes, it's hard sometimes. [1] I am not an insider to this specific subculture and I will not declare its death because that'd be presumptuous of me. But given its ongoing popularity, growth, and the number of people I see complaining about rich libertarians flooding/gentrifying the event, it's a likely and fitting example. published: Sep 01 2016. epistemic status: comment.