Offbeat communities, critical mass and connectivity in London

1212-009Every Friday evening, a cloud of cyclists swarm through London’s streets, frequently stopping at major intersections, where they ensnare cars, and bring traffic to a halt, causing gridlock. Ostensibly the purpose of this activity is to protest against the evils of the car, but many seem to take most enjoyment out of watching the shades of red of the faces of the impotent drivers in the stationary cars get progressively darker. The name chosen by this passive aggressive group of cyclists is critical mass an acknowledgement that for a certain viewpoint or interest group to impose its will, it needs to be of a certain number. The notion of critical mass reminds us of the fact that identify, in the main, requires a community of people, a critical mass of peope who both assert but also validate each others’ desire to have a particular identity.

The concentration of people in London, and the superb transport networks, means that one person is within half an hour of meeting up with any one or several of ten to twenty million other people. With this potential for connection, the likelihood that one is within meeting distance of people who share one’s particular desire for offbeat culture rises dramatically.

The consequence is that, if you want to play Go or chess in London there will be hundreds of other people, who you can meet up, within half an hour, to do just that, whereas if you want to play chess in Stockport you might be the only one, and even if there are others within a ten or twenty mile circumference of you, who like playing, there may be no easy way for you to meet up quickly to play, because the transport isn’t as frequent and pervasive. In Clissold Park, a group of of frisby throwers meet up, some of whom also embrace a life of extreme veganism, environmentalist, which means refusing to take trains and planes, but, paradoxically, can also involve, well. Such a group is unlikely ever to form in Carlisle.

The advent of the internet has helped strengthen such identities, because it now means the validation that is provided by group members to each other, can now be reinforced outside of physical social meet-ips.

London’s sub-cultures attract people who want to be a part of that sub-culture to London. Back home, they were the only one of their kind, where their chosen identity was not understood and so not reinforced or not welcomed and attacked.

The result is that there are plethora of sub-cultures in London. Goths used to have their own pub in Camden. Soho is regarded as a gay village. In May 2013, Crystal Palace, small groups, of twos and threes, of Black male children, could be seen roller skating up and down Annerley Road, one of them jumping onto the footpath and creashing into the sign of a local bar, to the bemusement of the regulars. You can learn to speak Arabic here. London is the place where you can find the Canadian film club.

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