Breedloveboy, I noticed that in your last note you are including Degree Courses and Seminars among your examples - I think that they are a very different animal form the Songwriting Circles, Collectives etc. The former are usually attended only once by a participant, one goes to them to pick up some tricks of the trade from someone whose opinion they value. I myself attended one such course given by Harvey Andrews, some years back, and I am indeed grateful that I did, as he had so much useful knowledge to impart. But that is a one-off, I did not go back and take his course again. And indeed I give such courses myself nowadays, but the participants don't come back again for a repeat of the course, there is no need to, they will only hear the same things again. And most importantly, people don't attend such courses in order to pat each other's backs or feed their ego, they do it because they want to learn something.
The latter variety (Circles & Collectives) are the ones that you initially had in mind, I believe; where the same people attend the same gathering week in week out (or month in month out as the case might be). You claim that these gatherings are largely self-congratulatory; I don't know because I don't attend any, but I would give people a little more credit. I certainly would not dismiss them with such derogatory remarks as have been used.