Friday, April 11, 2014

"The Inner Ring," or, I'm In With The In Crowd

"Bullied at boarding school by cliques, and later having the smug satisfaction of being part of the intelligentsia, Lewis knew both the hurt of being ostracized and the attraction of being accepted by 'the inner ring,' those groups that thrive on snobbery, and other forms of exclusion." - C.S. Lewis Institute

"The momentary satisfaction of being part of the in crowd, or the clique is never worth the compromise. It only leads to a loss of integrity and to an endless search for acceptance." - C.S. Lewis

This is really quite long but it is worth it.

After I got out of college I got a job as a newspaper editor in the Midwest. The city was the county seat, but it was nothing special. A Midwestern city with maybe 60,000 people. I saw something I had never seen before.

All the top jobs were reserved for graduates of "elite" colleges, such as MBAs from Harvard and Yale (I found them to be ignorant fools). They were literally an "Old Boy's Network."

If you weren't in their network you stood no chance whatsoever to be promoted. Start at the bottom and work your way up? Not a chance in hell.

Years later when I read this essay by C.S. Lewis I realized what he was writing about when he spoke of "Inner Rings." The members of Inner Rings want to keep the money and power for themselves and exclude everyone else. It's an absolute horror when they obtain political power, which is why we have The One Percent and The 99 Percent.

I am absolutely mystified as to how people believe that giving power to the government will improve their lives. It won't. Those in the Inner Rings of the government will suck you dry of everything.

I first had an inkling as a teenager of these Inner Rings when I saw brainwashed "patriotic" morons marching off to Vietnam while those who started it got richer and richer. This has been noticed for a long time, hence the saying during the War Between the States: "Rich man's war, poor man's fight."

The Inner Rings, when they gain political power, care nothing about you. They don't care if you live or die.

In high school we called these social groups "cliques" and I was mystified by them. Stephen King wrote a famous novel about them called Carrie. Carrie was Out, then In, then Out...then everyone who had done this to her was permanently Out...

"May I read you a few lines from Tolstoy’s War and Peace?

"'When Boris entered the room, Prince Andrey was listening to an old general, wearing his decorations, who was reporting something to Prince Andrey, with an expression of soldierly servility on his purple face. 'Alright. Please wait!' he said to the general, speaking in Russian with the French accent which he used when he spoke with contempt. The moment he noticed Boris he stopped listening to the general who trotted imploringly after him and begged to be heard, while Prince Andrey turned to Boris with a cheerful smile and a nod of the head. Boris now clearly understood—what he had already guessed—that side by side with the system of discipline and subordination which were laid down in the Army Regulations, there existed a different and more real system—the system which compelled a tightly laced general with a purple face to wait respectfully for his turn while a mere captain like Prince Andrey chatted with a mere second lieutenant like Boris. Boris decided at once that he would be guided not by the official system but by this other unwritten system.'

"When you invite a middle-aged moralist to address you, I suppose I must conclude, however unlikely the conclusion seems, that you have a taste for middle-aged moralising. I shall do my best to gratify it. I shall in fact, give you advice about the world in which you are going to live. I do not mean by this that I am going to talk on what are called current affairs. You probably know quite as much about them as I do. I am not going to tell you—except in a form so general that you will hardly recognise it—what part you ought to play in post-war reconstruction.

"It is not, in fact, very likely that any of you will be able, in the next ten years, to make any direct contribution to the peace or prosperity of Europe. You will be busy finding jobs, getting married, acquiring facts. I am going to do something more old-fashioned than you perhaps expected. I am going to give advice. I am going to issue warnings. Advice and warnings about things which are so perennial that no one calls them 'current affairs.'

"And of course everyone knows what a middle-aged moralist of my type warns his juniors against. He warns them against the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. But one of this trio will be enough to deal with today. The Devil, I shall leave strictly alone. The association between him and me in the public mind has already gone quite as deep as I wish: in some quarters it has already reached the level of confusion, if not of identification. I begin to realise the truth of the old proverb that he who sups with that formidable host needs a long spoon. As for the Flesh, you must be very abnormal young people if you do not know quite as much about it as I do. But on the World I think I have something to say.

"In the passage I have just read from Tolstoy, the young second lieutenant Boris Dubretskoi discovers that there exist in the army two different systems or hierarchies. The one is printed in some little red book and anyone can easily read it up. It also remains constant. A general is always superior to a colonel, and a colonel to a captain. The other is not printed anywhere. Nor is it even a formally organised secret society with officers and rules which you would be told after you had been admitted. You are never formally and explicitly admitted by anyone. You discover gradually, in almost indefinable ways, that it exists and that you are outside it; and then later, perhaps, that you are inside it.

"There are what correspond to passwords, but they are too spontaneous and informal. A particular slang, the use of particular nicknames, an allusive manner of conversation, are the marks. But it is not so constant. It is not easy, even at a given moment, to say who is inside and who is outside. Some people are obviously in and some are obviously out, but there are always several on the borderline. And if you come back to the same Divisional Headquarters, or Brigade Headquarters, or the same regiment or even the same company, after six weeks’ absence, you may find this secondary hierarchy quite altered.

"There are no formal admissions or expulsions. People think they are in it after they have in fact been pushed out of it, or before they have been allowed in: this provides great amusement for those who are really inside. It has no fixed name. The only certain rule is that the insiders and outsiders call it by different names. From inside it may be designated, in simple cases, by mere enumeration: it may be called 'You and Tony and me.' When it is very secure and comparatively stable in membership it calls itself 'we.' When it has to be expanded to meet a particular emergency it calls itself 'all the sensible people at this place.' From outside, if you have despaired of getting into it, you call it 'That gang' or 'they' or 'So-and-so and his set' or 'The Caucus' or 'The Inner Ring.' If you are a candidate for admission you probably don’t call it anything. To discuss it with the other outsiders would make you feel outside yourself. And to mention talking to the man who is inside, and who may help you if this present conversation goes well, would be madness.

"Badly as I may have described it, I hope you will all have recognised the thing I am describing. Not, of course, that you have been in the Russian Army, or perhaps in any army. But you have met the phenomenon of an Inner Ring. You discovered one in your house at school before the end of the first term. And when you had climbed up to somewhere near it by the end of your second year, perhaps you discovered that within the ring there was a Ring yet more inner, which in its turn was the fringe of the great school Ring to which the house Rings were only satellites. It is even possible that the school ring was almost in touch with a Masters’ Ring. You were beginning, in fact, to pierce through the skins of an onion. And here, too, at your University—shall I be wrong in assuming that at this very moment, invisible to me, there are several rings—independent systems or concentric rings—present in this room? And I can assure you that in whatever hospital, inn of court, diocese, school, business, or college you arrive after going down, you will find the Rings—what Tolstoy calls the second or unwritten systems.

"All this is rather obvious. I wonder whether you will say the same of my next step, which is this. I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside. This desire, in one of its forms, has indeed had ample justice done to it in literature. I mean, in the form of snobbery. Victorian fiction is full of characters who are hag-ridden by the desire to get inside that particular Ring which is, or was, called Society. But it must be clearly understood that 'Society,' in that sense of the word, is merely one of a hundred Rings, and snobbery therefore only one form of the longing to be inside.

"People who believe themselves to be free, and indeed are free, from snobbery, and who read satires on snobbery with tranquil superiority, may be devoured by the desire in another form. It may be the very intensity of their desire to enter some quite different Ring which renders them immune from all the allurements of high life. An invitation from a duchess would be very cold comfort to a man smarting under the sense of exclusion from some artistic or communistic cĂ´terie. Poor man—it is not large, lighted rooms, or champagne, or even scandals about peers and Cabinet Ministers that he wants: it is the sacred little attic or studio, the heads bent together, the fog of tobacco smoke, and the delicious knowledge that we—we four or five all huddled beside this stove—are the people who know.

"Often the desire conceals itself so well that we hardly recognize the pleasures of fruition. Men tell not only their wives but themselves that it is a hardship to stay late at the office or the school on some bit of important extra work which they have been let in for because they and So-and-so and the two others are the only people left in the place who really know how things are run. But it is not quite true. It is a terrible bore, of course, when old Fatty Smithson draws you aside and whispers, 'Look here, we’ve got to get you in on this examination somehow' or 'Charles and I saw at once that you’ve got to be on this committee.' A terrible bore… ah, but how much more terrible if you were left out! It is tiring and unhealthy to lose your Saturday afternoons: but to have them free because you don’t matter, that is much worse.

"Freud would say, no doubt, that the whole thing is a subterfuge of the sexual impulse. I wonder whether the shoe is not sometimes on the other foot. I wonder whether, in ages of promiscuity, many a virginity has not been lost less in obedience to Venus than in obedience to the lure of the caucus. For of course, when promiscuity is the fashion, the chaste are outsiders. They are ignorant of something that other people know. They are uninitiated. And as for lighter matters, the number of people who first smoked or first got drunk for a similar reason is probably very large.

"I must now make a distinction. I am not going to say that the existence of Inner Rings is an Evil. It is certainly unavoidable. There must be confidential discussions: and it is not only a bad thing, it is (in itself) a good thing, that personal friendship should grow up between those who work together. And it is perhaps impossible that the official hierarchy of any organisation should coincide with its actual workings. If the wisest and most energetic people held the highest spots, it might coincide; since they often do not, there must be people in high positions who are really deadweights and people in lower positions who are more important than their rank and seniority would lead you to suppose. It is necessary: and perhaps it is not a necessary evil. But the desire which draws us into Inner Rings is another matter. A thing may be morally neutral and yet the desire for that thing may be dangerous. As Byron has said:

Sweet is a legacy, and passing sweet
The unexpected death of some old lady.

"The painless death of a pious relative at an advanced age is not an evil. But an earnest desire for her death on the part of her heirs is not reckoned a proper feeling, and the law frowns on even the gentlest attempts to expedite her departure. Let Inner Rings be unavoidable and even an innocent feature of life, though certainly not a beautiful one: but what of our longing to enter them, our anguish when we are excluded, and the kind of pleasure we feel when we get in?

"I have no right to make assumptions about the degree to which any of you may already be compromised. I must not assume that you have ever first neglected, and finally shaken off, friends whom you really loved and who might have lasted you a lifetime, in order to court the friendship of those who appeared to you more important, more esoteric. I must not ask whether you have derived actual pleasure from the loneliness and humiliation of the outsiders after you, yourself were in: whether you have talked to fellow members of the Ring in the presence of outsiders simply in order that the outsiders might envy; whether the means whereby, in your days of probation, you propitiated the Inner Ring, were always wholly admirable.

"I will ask only one question—and it is, of course, a rhetorical question which expects no answer. IN the whole of your life as you now remember it, has the desire to be on the right side of that invisible line ever prompted you to any act or word on which, in the cold small hours of a wakeful night, you can look back with satisfaction? If so, your case is more fortunate than most.

"My main purpose in this address is simply to convince you that this desire is one of the great permanent mainsprings of human action. It is one of the factors which go to make up the world as we know it—this whole pell-mell of struggle, competition, confusion, graft, disappointment and advertisement, and if it is one of the permanent mainsprings then you may be quite sure of this. Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life, from the first day on which you enter your profession until the day when you are too old to care. That will be the natural thing—the life that will come to you of its own accord. Any other kind of life, if you lead it, will be the result of conscious and continuous effort. If you do nothing about it, if you drift with the stream, you will in fact be an 'inner ringer.' I don’t say you’ll be a successful one; that’s as may be. But whether by pining and moping outside Rings that you can never enter, or by passing triumphantly further and further in—one way or the other you will be that kind of man.

Read the rest HERE.


James said...

One of the biggest examples of this are college fraternities and sororities.

They are the in group, and there is price to be paid for membership. This is called "hazing", though they don't call it that officially, they call it "the pledge process". Same thing with the military, you get hazed, yelled at, beat as the cost for entereing.

And of course the examples you gave of the virgin, or the win who hasn't tried alcohol or drugs. The price "to be in" is an action of some sort. But that action is always a price to be paid, even if it does not seem like it. So the virgin who wants to be in, has to do sexual things, the one who doesn't smoke, must smoke.

In essence, the individual is giving himself up, and giving proof of this via doing actions contrary to his values or feelings, and therefore becoming one with the group.

There was something in the news recently about a wallstreet fraternity, where the men had to dress in drag. These are 30-60 year old professionals, part of that ivy league elite you mention.

jsl2837 said...

Thanks for this. I've always had this urge; just never admitted it to myself consciously.