Who Perpetuates Secret Societies In The Internet Era?
February 20, 2012 7 Comments
Who keeps up and maintains all the secret societies nowadays?
I’m not really talking about the secret societies that are just about power and connections. You know, the one George W. Bush is in and which made him President (I forget its name). Or the ones that are about big money (i.e. that one the Hollywood actors are all into). Those, ok, I understand.
I’m talking about all the boringly local, weird, grassroots and esoteric secret societies. Like, the Rosicrucians or whatever. And any that are more esoteric than that. Anything that claims to have some ‘secret knowledge’, and a ladder of ranks you can rise, to get that secret knowledge. My point is, who – under the age of 60, anyway – is going to be interested in any of that? It’s not like secret books/knowledge mean all that much anymore. You can pretty much just google it all.
Imagine you’re the Rosicrucians (sorry, I don’t know why I’m picking on the Rosicrucians, nothing against them, bear with me) trying to recruit new members. New 25-year-olds. (Without new 25-year-olds, how will the society continue?) Well, whatever 25-year-olds you make your sales pitch to, they will just go home and wiki all the stuff on Rosicrucians they can find. They’ll post to their Facebook wall ‘just got back from rosicrucian mtg, should i join lol?’ Some of it might sound intriguing but they will also very quickly discover (a) there’s not much ‘there’ there and (b) there are a zillion things just like it, or similar to it, and (c) it all seems pretty made-up and fake. And they’ll see that they could just as easily learn about those things by clicking through some webpages some bored evening rather than doing the whole actually-join-the-secret-society jazz and spending years of their lives hanging out with the actual people. At the very least they’ll see just how much ridicule out there awaits people who actually believe in all that malarkey (whereas in times past, maybe the full extent and weight of said ridicule could be more easily avoided and denied).
The point is that in the age of full and easy access to information (or at least, to other peoples’ rumors, hearsay, and ridicule), secret societies have got to have an uphill climb, and their traditional transmission mechanism – meetings, books, codes, uniforms, promises of the ‘next level’ of secret info – doesn’t seem as likely to work.
So what sort of person would actually go through with it and get into the whole secret society thing? I can imagine two broad types:
1) the very, very sheltered and strange; folks with massive personality defects, i.e. paranoia or near-sociopathy
2) young bored hipsters, doing it ‘ironically’, just to ‘see what it’s all about’, but always with a wink, tweeting about it later
Obviously 2) can supply these societies with occasional waves of new recruits for a while, but it’s hard to see them forming the core of any next generation willing/able to perpetuate the secret society faithfully into the future. Likely, they’ll bore quickly and leave to do other stuff. Too much turnover, when what secret societies really need are true-believers to pass on the canon. So these societies would presumably be left with 1) as the core of new recruits. On the one hand, that sounds awful, and raises the question, do we need to keep a closer eye on these secret societies. On the other hand, fortunately there aren’t that many people in category 1) in the first place, and someone serious enough about their secret society would probably at least try to keep such people out anyway, to the extent they are genuinely dangerous (rather than just the near-autistic or hopelessly-introverted, either of which is probably fine for a secret society).
If you follow the preceding then you quickly come to the conclusion that many secret societies must be aging rather quickly nowadays, and starving for new twenty/thirtysomethings to hand off the legacy to. Meanwhile some of these things do have assets (buildings, little bookstores; the Rosicrucians do have a museum); as the societies dwindle these things will either have to be divested and sold off altogether, or at least (as has probably already happened to some extent) handed over to nonmembers to run the day-to-day operations. This means that to the extent these trappings of secret societies exist at all, they will be perpetuated in part by salaried staff who think the whole thing is stupid but need a paycheck. Now on the one hand, perhaps that makes them no different than an institution like (say) Chuck E. Cheese, Best Buy, or the DMV. On the other hand if this is how secret societies are surviving, it’s hardly the image of secret societies we know and love.
Are we losing our rich and diverse legacy of secret societies? Will government decide it needs to step in and lovingly preserve them as historical artifacts, like they had to with octagonal buildings? I wonder.