Squads Are The Antidote

PALACED #15: ways of combatting individualism

Hello, hello!

I’m writing this the day-of like it’s a class assignment, but I didn’t miss today and that’s what matters :)

Last week, I talked about dialogue as a mental model for interacting with others. The conclusion was that, in general, building an audience around an individual (i.e. yourself) is bad news. Personal audiences foster individualism.

Today, we’re going to talk about an opposing philosophy, one that I’ve become a huge fan of since I read Toby Shorin and Co.’s article a few months back: “squad wealth.”

What is a squad?

Let’s start with a quote:

SQUADS HAVE EXISTED FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS as vital forms of social and economic organization. Thanks to group chats and a wave of private online social platforms, squads are reemerging today as a potent cultural force that rejects a strictly individualist market philosophy. Squads play a key role not only in internet community dynamics but in emerging economic networks… The informal nature of these peer-to-peer institutions, often composed of neighbors and friends, reveals the central role that trust plays in squad logic. Whether housemates or friends sharing a Discord group, squads allow social currency and financial capital to inter-convert, creating opportunities and group resiliency that would have been impossible to achieve alone.

There’s a ton of jargon here, but to summarize:

A squad is exactly what it sounds like. Think about your favorite group chat, your pick-up basketball group, your weekly brunch crew, or even your immediate family. Our squads are small groups of people that we interact with in a variety of different ways, but often for achieving a specific goal, whether it be entertainment or otherwise.

Squads can be informal. Your project team at work could be your squad, but often it’s just a group of people that is consistent across time and space. When you say “the group chat” is getting dinner, that’s a specific group of people, despite having no formal basis.

Squads vs. Individualism

When we talked about audience-building and individualism last week, there was a strong focus on the self. I claimed that:

If you’ve made it this far, you probably see where I’m going with this. Although building an audience brings more people into our circle, it makes that circle far less fruitful. Thus, we become more focused on ourselves as individuals, and less focused on the communities we claim to be serving — or speaking to.

That’s a big statement, but I stand by it pretty firmly. The idea of building an audience, whether intentionally or unintentionally, puts us at the center of attention. People are following me. People are liking my post. I need more people to see my video. Communicative Capitalism means that we’re all posting ourselves to the world, assuming that everyone else cares enough to consume it.

“Squad culture” takes the opposite approach. Rather than trying to build an audience, think about how you interact with your friends. Everyone in the group chat engages with one another. Everyone is in dialogue.

This seems… obvious. But those sorts of small groups — the ones that we build our offline social lives around — are exactly the opposite of what we tend to build online. From the “Squad Wealth” paper:

Squad culture is the antithesis of neoliberal individualism. Millennials are healing from decades of irony poisoning, rediscovering what it's like to have generative, exploratory relationships with one another. Younger generations are already imbued with extremely powerful squad energy, equipped with formative experiences in Minecraft, DOTA 2, and Fortnite parties.

So the opposite of building an audience is building generative, exploratory relationships. If you look back at my reason for kicking this newsletter off again, it sounds very similar.

Build Your Squads

I love the idea of “squad wealth,” because we all have our own squad(s). And most likely, we’re severely underutilizing them.

Especially in COVID-world, I’ve begun to see just how fun “the group chat” can be relative to broader social media. Sure, Twitter and Instagram let me consume content, but the best conversations happen in the DMs with my friends who decided to send that content my way.

I think we should be actively cultivating squads for our different interests and facets of life. You probably are already doing this in some capacity. For example, I’m in a group chat with friends just about music, another one for startup stuff, another because we have the same taste in IG memes. Those groups tend to take on lives of their own, and become much more fulfilling than constantly sharing your thoughts with the void.

The audiences that matter are the small groups that we are constantly engaging with because they are our friends and family.

Consider this newsletter my way to start building new squads :)

Please press the heart at the top of the email, reply if you’d like, and share with your squads! I’ll see you next week!

— Jihad