people model a “Hugbox” as something like… “a vending machine that dispenses near-infinite, extreme validation to an individual”
but that ignores the questions “where does the validation come from?” and “what makes it so extreme?”
Well, it doesn’t come from some ghostly force or abstract concept, it comes from the other flesh-and-blood members of the community, and it’s so extreme because the Individual’s preferences, their likes and dislikes, have become simultaneously exaggerated and perfectly aligned with the rest of the community.
A better, if less succinct, definition would be this:
“A Hugbox is a community that offers you a trade: reshape your personal preferences to be in perfect alignment with (and just as extreme as) our preferences, and in turn, that perfect alignment will in itself be a source of infinite validation for you, with the intensity of the validation significantly amplified by the extremeness of the preferences involved.”
“So what?” I hear you ask. “All you’ve done is re-derive the concept of the echo chamber.”
Well there’s two points I want to make:
1) Hugboxes aren’t nice. They’re actually incredibly cruel– they ransom their members self-esteem for conformity, and enforce that conformity mercilessly. Just ask anyone’s who’s written ~problematic~ fanfic. And far too often, criticisms of hugbox communities (especially from right-of-center sources) fall into the pattern of “They’re exactly as nice as they seem, and that’s bad,” which utterly misses the point on two accounts.
2) Hugboxes are factories that turn ordinary people into utility monsters. They have to, in order to fulfill their basic function. They can’t provide validation without conformity, and they can’t maintain conformity without enforcing it, and they can’t enforce it without giving the individual members a reason to enforce it. And in most cases, the reason is that they have been conditioned to feel pain and anger at the sight of preferences different from their own. Once again, just ask anyone who’s written ~problematic~ fanfic.
This second point is the more important one– because it means that hugboxing is utterly incompatible with competing access needs.
Hugboxes are full of people who have been conditioned to see the mere existence of preferences different from their own as an attack on them, people who will never understand that others may have needs radically different from their own.