Sunday, October 2, 2011

Where is our institutional memory?

In a previous blog post, I urged people to consult the LGBT community's institutional memory before advancing their "new" ideas. Since then, I have realized that I raised the question, "What institutional memory?" Upon considering and researching the matter, I have come to the conclusion that despite our community's skill at horizontally integrated groupthink, we have no effective way of transmitting our accumulated facts, concepts, experiences, and know-how to successive generations.

Groups defined by parentage can transmit their narratives from parent to child. Religious institutions can enroll children in Sunday school or its equivalent and adult converts in membership class. Neither is an option for the LGBT community. Some commenters point to that reason when they flatly deny the existence of a queer institutional memory.

To remedy that lack, some people have attempted to set up an institutional memory, such as the Queer Resources Directory. However, that site, in addition to its user-hostile interface, never reached critical mass and has not received an update in over two years.

Others have held themselves out as our institutional memory, but have done so in a self-serving manner to rewrite our history in their own image. For example, politically correct columnists often use weasel words, half-truths, and outright lies to give the credit to the wrong people and otherwise to advance their views of what our history should have been.

In another example, as part of my participation in a local service organization, I had to attend a consciousness raising to enlighten gay men about lesbian issues (since, of course, the reverse never ever has to happen). We had to sit through seemingly interminable lesbian self-congratulation as well as attacks on gay men that could have been taken from The Washington Times.

Finally, reliance on the Internet, while necessary, is not sufficient. Information on the Internet can be too diffuse, posted by the same self-serving people whom I noted above, or just plain wrong. Also, despite the wealth of LGBT-related information on Wikipedia, we should not rely on that source. In addition to Wikipedia's issues with quality control and with vandalism, that site's policies on verifiability and original research and its guidelines on notability ensure that that site will not be able to capture oral histories or any other information not already documented elsewhere.

In summary, we need a comprehensive, intellectually honest, readily accessible repository for information on where we have been and where we are going. Some people will never consult any sort of institutional memory, but it would be helpful to have one for those who will.

1 comment:

Aardvark said...

Keep writing. You may not be able to distill our entire "institutional memory" on your own but you can leave a record which may or may not be read by future generations. It's a worthwhile gamble.