Is tribalism the most enduring heritage from the past?

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alien
Is tribalism the most enduring heritage from the past?

Just look at history and recent political events.

The world is broken up to 196 countries, never mind the myriads of tribal sub-groups in each individual country.

It is the same species, on the same planet, easily intermixable with each other as immigration statistics show.

However, as long as individuals carry their tribal identity, instead of their species-identity, with them, there will always be wars, massacres and atrocities.

The ‘leaders’ take full advantage of this by sicking one tribe against the other, convincing their ‘subjects’ that the ‘other’ is subhuman, evil, dangerous, out to get you.

All this would be impossible if people realized that we are, for all practical purposes, one tribe: we want to live our limited life on this planet, in peace, being productive, looking after our families and friends.

Until people realize that they are primarily human beings, all in the same boat, instead of members of a besieged sub-group somewhere defending their territory tooth and nail, they will be always at each other’s throats.

And our masters laugh all the way to the bank.

...........

Tribe within a tribe

Tribe within a tribe within a tribe,
a maddening nesting of Matryoshka,
who can keep track of the obligation
one has to each generation.

I must be a good husband, a good citizen,
a good employee, a perfect gentleman,
and when my tribe tells me to fight
I have to go and bleed in the night.

Why can’t we just have only one tribe
that all of us belong to -- dammit
the tiger has only one kind of stripe
there is no reason to complicate it.

We are all human, on this forsaken planet
stuck in the same boat on the ocean,
if we keep fighting tribe against tribe
we will never have a moment
of peace, when we can love each other…

…forget the stupid tribes and learn to live together.

6079_Smith_W

I'm not so sure about that. And while I don't think you are trying to imply this, one might infer that societies which are more developed and  culturally mixed are somehow more peaceful. Nothing is further from the truth. Tribal societies are already falsely maligned as "backwards" even though they seem to be much more stable in many ways and do far less damage.

Beyond the fact that in true tribal societies communities usually found a balance with each other, I'd say very few of the great slaughters had anything to do with any abstract concept like tribalism.

I'd say it's a far simpler and more basic motive: greed.

NorthReport

alien thanks for starting this thread.

WS, I challenge your opening premise. Please back it up with some facts.

lagatta

I agree with Smith.

"Gold is the reason for the wars we wage"...

And funny, asking smaller "tribes" to give up their identities always assumes that the more powerful economy, language, culture etc. is in the right.

I certainly support, and have fought for internationalism and international solidarity. But that doesn't imply uniformity.

NDPP

Remember always we live in a settler state which exterminates tribal systems. Always be mindful of that and let it inform your discussions as well as the strong possibility you may know nothing of which you speak. To me this all seems a bit rancid given that there are now tribal peoples standing on roads trying to protect your sorry asses as well as their own in our genocidal 'Dominion'. The very fact they are and we aren't is obviously the final answer as to which is the superior system. That's all I have to say to this thread.

quizzical

alien you need to define or re-define what "tribal" means in reality!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

lagatta

NDPP, I live in one of the many indeterminate places where we experience national oppression - just look at the comments in RoC newpapers and websites that we should just give up fighting for our language and culture - and are also a settler sub-state as you have described. Well, pretty much all of Latin America is that, and more than a few other places.

And I've definitely been marching with Idle No More against fracking and other ecocidal crap.

Really didn't like the expresison "tribal" to describe petty local chauvinisms.

alien

When I used the word "tribes" I meant any group of humans, small or large, weak or powerful, benign or evil.

A group that has a group-identity that binds them together into a unit. Patriotism, religious zeal, loyalty to a sports team, belief in superiority, belief in victimhood -- all of these can be the binding force that members of a group share.

In this context, the US is a tribe with common national identity, common myth, common attitudes towards other countries. The Jewish people are a tribe with their common belief in their cause and their grievances. Fans of a soccer team are a tribe with their shared love of their team.

History provides ample evidence of leaders sicking one tribe against another to create chaos they can profit from.

Hitler blamed the Jews, Stalin blamed the kulaks, G.W. Bush blamed the Muslims, many western Europen leaders currently blame their immigrants, the republicans blame the liberals, the conservatives blame the NDP-ers,  the whites blame the blacks, the Jews blame the Arabs, the Shia blames the Sunni, the Hutu blames the Tutsi --- everybody blames someone else, so the fights, wars, atrocities continue, as it has been going on for thousands of years through human history.

Of course no single tribe is internally cohesive. You have tribes within tribes within tribes that, while they share their tribal identity against outside tribes, nevertheless they have many internal sub-tribes that constantly fight and war against each other. So while the US is a tribe among other nations, internally it is broken up to warring tribes of north against the south, religious center against both caosts, republicans against democrats, blacks against whites, etc., etc., etc.

I thought I made all this clear in the OP but obviously I didn't. So I thought I make one more attempt to clarify.

For hard facts I suggest you look at history books or just listen to the evening news.

PS. Before I am accused of taking one side or another in the blame-game (although I have very strong personal opinions), I have to emphasize that I was looking at the big picture, in historical perspective, describing the pattern I have observed: tribalism and tribal warfare has been going on for thousands of years and continue today without any sign of abating soon. That's what I meant by the title of this thread: Is tribalism the most enduring heritage from the past?

Unionist

I agree with alien (up to a point). If s/he's pointing to hatred or suspicion or blame of "the other", what I would call xenophobia, yes, it's ubiquitous and toxic and always used as a tool by oppressors to divide and rule.

What I find stunning is that virtually everyone who responded above, simply assumed that "tribes" had something to do with indigenous peoples, or "less developed" economies, etc.

If that's what alien meant, then alien is full of s***. But it was totally obvious that s/he never said any such thing in the opening post.

In short - we should ban the word "tribe". It means little, and it's misinterpreted by everyone.

So... reframing the issue somewhat... what do folks think about xenophobia as the "most enduring heritage"?

ETA: I crossposted with alien.

alien

I used the word "tribe" deliberately to emphasize the anthropological aspect of the same phenomenon, that is uniquely and universally human, going back thousands of years.

If you read Jared Diamond’s newest book: “The World until Yesterday” or Gwynne Dyer’s magnum opus: “War”, you will see what I mean by the historical big picture. I only expanded the concept to all kinds of group-thinking, group-identity, group-loyalty that manifests itself not just in armed conflicts but in all kinds of fights against “the other” and how it is encouraged and exploited by unscrupulous bastards to their perceived advantage (everybody is losing in the end).

 

PS. alien is a he.

NorthReport

Excuse me.

Unionist wrote:

 

What I find stunning is that virtually everyone who responded above, simply assumed that "tribes" had something to do with indigenous peoples, or "less developed" economies, etc.

 

6079_Smith_W

"Tribe" does have that connotation, intended or not. I hope I made it clear enough in my post that while I don't think alien had that explicit intention, it is going to be read that way. And I think it betrays some subtle biases about development and civilization and culture.

Xenophobia might have been a better word.

I'd say where I disagree with the thesis is the notion that getting rid of some "tribal identity" and coming around to something or other is going to end conflict. While I think our fear of otherness is an important factor, a lot of the conflict and territorialism we see nowadays are far more recent inventions.

I also don't think those factors are anything that we are ever going to put behind us once and for all through the grace of politics, science or religion. I see it as a struggle we are always going to have to deal with to a greater or lesser degree.

 

 

 

 

alien

6079_Smith_W wrote:
"Tribe" does have that connotation, intended or not.

I took a poetic licence here.

However, the phenomenon goes back to pre-histoy when nothing but tribes existed in humanity. It is the exact same phenomenon as you see in the movie "Quest for Fire" when one tribe invaded the other tribe's cave because they wanted it. I don't know if they used any justification (probably not) but they all thought it was the right thing to do (otherwise they wouldn't have done it.) Today we have think-tanks dreaming up all kinds of bullshit to 'prove' that their aggression is legitimate.

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And I think it betrays some subtle biases about development and civilization and culture.

Sorry but no bias here.

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I'd say where I disagree with the thesis is the notion that getting rid of some "tribal identity" and coming around to something or other is going to end conflict.

No sulution was advocated -- only a pattern observed.

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While I think our fear of otherness is an important factor, a lot of the conflict and territorialism we see nowadays are far more recent inventions.

I strongly disagree. I have studied history extensively and have an informed opinion on this.

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I see it as a struggle we are always going to have to deal with to a greater or lesser degree.

I strongly agree. The disease is in the human genes. You may need thousands/millions of years of biological evolution to get rid of it. Unfortunately, we may not have that long.

 

 

 

 

6079_Smith_W

I haven't had formal schooling in history, but I'd still say that some of the biggest problems we have in the power department don't spring from our hard-wired xenophobia.

As exhibit A I'd offer the Roman Empire, and it's political descendent, the Roman Catholic church.

While the church has certainly used people's innate xenophobia to its advantage, I'd say both organizations put power and greed above discrimination against others. That is why - for a time, anyway - both institutions grew as much as they did.

Rome set the bar when it came to western imperialism, but it also broke with earlier notions of cultural society when it established the legal concept of citizenship:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_citizenship

And most people forget the "catholic" dimension of the Roman church, without which it probably would have been no further ahead than any of the old orthodox faiths.

The Mongols may have sprung (in part)  from a different tradition, but they had the same catholic approach, keeping numerous cultures and religions intact within their empire.

It is also why the later empires - the British in particular - excelled. Racism and notions of European superiority notwithstanding, they grew by absorbing and using the best of the cultures they occupied.

I could get into other things - from slaughters based not on culture but on power, greed and dogma, which started millennia ago - but I think I have offered enough reasons why I don't think xenophobia is quite the driving force you make it out to be, even if it remains a baser part of our nature that probably always will be exploited.

People make a big deal about the racism of the Nazis as if that is what defined them. The far more important driver which made that tool necessary was power - first overcoming the notion that they had been stabbed in the back, and then the need for Lebensraum, and a slave class to support their empire.

Oh, and as for the notion that the problem is genetic, and we MUST change because there isn't enough time:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1p6fTDGLHGQ

I think the Mayans, the Easter Islanders, the Greenland Vikings, the Anasazi and others are evidence enough that a happy end isn't an absolute requirement.

alien

6079_Smith_W wrote:
I haven't had formal schooling in history, but I'd still say that some of the biggest problems we have in the power department don't spring from our hard-wired xenophobia.

Brief comment here (I have no time now for more):

You are correct: problems don't necessarily "spring from" genetic susceptibility to xenophobia, but xenophobia is actively encouraged and exploited by equally genetic need (in some) to dominate and exploit (greed).

More later.

lagatta

alien, I have a masters' degree in history. Pop culture stuff like "Quest for Fire" imposes contemporary norms on the past, it has nothing to do with serious prehistory.

Yes, of course xenophobia is a huge problem, but it also conflates with capitalist imperatives. You are also ignoring another biggie - patriarchy and the oppression of women.

Smith, you could also cite the Ottoman Empire, and even the Hapsburg Empire as multicultural power structures.

 

alien

lagatta wrote:
alien, I have a masters' degree in history. Pop culture stuff like "Quest for Fire" imposes contemporary norms on the past, it has nothing to do with serious prehistory.

I mentioned it for the benefit of those who don't have a "masters' degree in history".

Since you have one, it wasn't meant for you. Smile

wage zombie

I read a quote a few years ago, not sure where, what, or from whom, that gave a description of what I think alien is talking about (excuse the sexist slant which I'm leaving in only for reference): "It's me against my brother, my brother and I against our cousins, our extended family against the town, our town against the other towns, our nation against the world."

It just seems there is an us vs them frame that can be put over countless situations, and many of them are in effect at all times--it's not a historical commentary (necessarily).  It is dynamic and the tribes are always changing.

When I was growing up we had two big, non-neutered male dogs.  They would get along well enough when they were inside, or in the backyard, but if taken out to a big field together it wouldn't take long before they were full out fighting very aggressively.  But, if before they started fighting, some other dog showed up, it was a whole other story, and they would team up against any other dogs.

I think there's just something that's hardcoded, and some people are more aware of it and less in its thrall than others.  We see it here on babble with the NDP cheerleaders and haters.

I do think "tribe" is the right word to use.  Seth Godin has written a lot on tribes and I think the word has been pretty well defined in that context.

I think xenophobia is only a subset, and to label this "xenophobia" misses the mark.

I agree with others that war is about greed, even if they are justified by tribalism.

alien

Very well said, WZ.

Even though I framed a question in the context of history, my main point was the psychological trap of group-mentality. In the OP I said: “…as long as individuals carry their tribal identity, instead of their species-identity, with them, there will always be wars, massacres and atrocities.”

On smaller scale (like the existence of cliques I have observed on different forums) it often results in acrimony, hurt feelings, squabbles, waste of time and energy.

Some are more susceptible to group-think than some others, but I see no other way for humanity’s future than to evolve beyond the “us against them” mentality and realize that we are all in the same boat. Of course this won’t happen overnight, not in my lifetime, I am sure.

Amusing to see astronauts coming back from space and most of them commenting: “You can’t see the borders!”. Imagine that!

Here is a quote from Oppenheimer, after the Hiroshima/Nagasaki massacre (from the “Science and Ethics” chapter of my soon to be published book: “Humane Physics” )

“If atomic bombs are to be added as new weapons to the arsenals of a warring world, or to the arsenals of nations preparing for war, then the time will come when mankind will curse the name of Los Alamos and Hiroshima. The people of the world must unite, or they will perish. This war, that has ravaged so much of the earth, has written these words. The atomic bomb has spelled them out for all men to understand.” (Richard Rodes: “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” pg 758)

 

6079_Smith_W

alien wrote:

I mentioned it for the benefit of those who don't have a "masters' degree in history".

Since you have one, it wasn't meant for you. Smile

Funny. I mentioned my lack of a degree more as a joke, not a slight. But it was also serious in that that one doesn't need a degree as a prerequisite to making a serious case, or having a valid opinion. I know plenty of people who have those bits of paper and are still thick as a fucking post, so I take trotting a resume out as a poor substitute for serious argument.

In short, if it was meant as a way to intimidate or weed out those of us who don't have history degrees, think again.

If anything I'd say the the most experienced scholars of history are those who have been its victims, not those who read about it in books.

And @ lagatta.

Absolutely true, thanks.

alien

The comment was a response to lagatta who found it necessary to refer to her master degree in history. It was NOT meant to refer to you at all, and the aim was to emphasize that you do not need a degree in order to think outside the box. Rather the contrary.

I was being slightly sarcastic, and not at your expense.

Sorry that you misunderstood.

PS. I don't have a degree in History either. I am a Theoretical Physicist by profession (with a keen interest in Philosophy).

6079_Smith_W

If there is anything that trumps xenophobia (can we dispense with the "tribalism" reference, please?) it is realpolitik.

As I said above, xenophobia has always, and will likely always be used as a tool of exploitation. But those who hold and exercise power, and who are responsible for most of the violence and misery in the world moved on from that motive long ago. Preachers, racists, and other idealogues might get a lot of play in the news, but the only reason why they have power is because of an environment where there is scarcity of resources that can be exploited.

You only have to look at sworn enemies doing deals with each others - like the Nazis and the Soviets - or those in power selling out or ignoring principles that they claim to uphold when there is no financial benefit - like the U.S. and European support of dictatorships.

In short, when it comes to our modern world, the most important determinants are money, oil, and water.

Fear, hatred and greed only come into play when people feel there isn't enough of those resources.

 

wage zombie

6079_Smith_W wrote:

(can we dispense with the "tribalism" reference, please?)

Can you elaborate on why?  Because I really don't get it.  There has been lots of work done to define the word tribe in this context.  Type "tribes" into google and see the variety of things that come up.

Quote:

In short, when it comes to our modern world, the most important determinants are money, oil, and water.

I think you are missing the point.  Sure, those material conditions are important determinants.  You forgot oxygen.  Without it all the animals will die.  What about carbon?  We're all made of carbon, wouldn't it be the most important determinant?

The OP is not talking about physical objects.

alien

6079_Smith_W wrote:
In short, when it comes to our modern world, the most important determinants are money, oil, and water.

Fear, hatred and greed only come into play when people feel there isn't enough of those resources.

You are still missing the point, Smith.

There is nthing 'modern' about our world in the context of this thread.

Look at the 'modern world' we live in, with the population fractured and fragmented into separate warring groups.

Think of youth gangs, teenage-texting mania, sports clubs, celebrity-worshippers, political loyalties, colour, age, sex, income-bracket cohorts -- they all have their separate identities and allegiances, prejudices, slogans, loves and hates.

Then, on a larger scale, you have the fear and the hate of anyone the media tells you to fear and hate. You never met any of them, but you fear and hate them anyway because that is what you are told to do.

The phenomenon is much larger than international politics.

It falls under the umbrella of "group-think mentality".

6079_Smith_W

To both of you :

I get the points. Just because I understand what you are saying doesn't mean that I agree. And just because I disagree doesn't mean I don't understand.

Alien. You seem to be backing up my argument that those in power use xenophobia to their advantage. You have studied history. Do I need to point out one of the many examples of how leaders have sold out their base in order to do a deal with presumed enemies when it was to their advantage? Again, when it comes right down to it power and resources often mean more than blood.

 

alien

On another forum, a few days ago, in the same thread I was aked if I was black or white, if I was Irish, if I was a Randite, if I was young or old. None of these had any connection to the topic discussed, but it was a deliberate and all too human desire to classify me and to put me in a box with the proper label on it.

I told them that I was a human being among 7 billion others and my brain was (supposedly) pink like everybody else's.

Labeling each other is a typical form of group-think.

Once they know where you belong in the classification system, then they can safely ignore the logical content of your arguments and interpret whatever you say according to their own ideas about the box they put you in.

This is just one example of group-think and there are many others.

They expect everybody to belong to some combination of groups and the most important thing will be to discover your group-loyalties, to know if you are friend, foe or neutral.

The only thing they can not easily live with is if I tell them that I am only me, I observe, I deduce, I form my opinions based on what I see and communicate without grinding any group's axes.

It's worth thinking about what this does to our independent identities and our chances of honest, open, meaningful communication.

 

 

NorthReport

If accurate those are valid comments alien.

6079_Smith_W

There are a lot of reasons why someone might want to raise questions of identity with someone. Some are valid, some less so.

Whatever the motivation, I certainly wouldn't equate all of them - and certainly not someone being too nosy on the internet - with some presumed divisive individualism that is keeping us from being one big human family.

After all, war is one thing; knowing when to tell someone to mind their own damned business is quite another.

 

wage zombie

Take the recent protests in Ukraine...police facing off with protesters who are waving the Ukrainian flag.  They are standing up for their country.  These pictures have sent around the world and they are quite powerful.  Tribalism works.

It's a whole other story here in our settler state.  I would never think of going to a protest in solidarity with First Nations and waving a Canadian flag.  It would be disrespectful.  Not that I'm much of a flag waver anyway.

On the other hand, many people who are tuned out of what's going on would actually be much friendlier to a protest if they saw Canadian flags and people with their faces painted red and white.

I'm not sure what the intent of this topic is, and I'm not really looking to argue about which trait is the most enduring.

6079_Smith_W

Canadians aren't the flag-waving sort. Cross the border and it's another story:

 

ebodyknows ebodyknows's picture

"There is a war between the ones who say there is a war
And the ones who say there isn't."-cohen

I've been convinced by the Wade Davis' of the world that the many expressions of what it means to be human can be celebrated, appreciated, or at the very least accepted based on the philosophy that diversity has its merits. If you are a One Direction fan why not love Justin too

I am a child of the universe, but I spent most my life going placidly amid the noise of Canada.
it's a beautiful thing to be able to discover the pat Waing. Part of what makes that experience beautiful, is having been rooted in something completly different.

 

sherpa-finn

Interesting discussion. I guess I see tribalism and xenopobia as pretty much flip sides of the same coin. With tribalism being the sense of identity that binds a group of people together, and xenophobia the expression of that shared identity turned towards "others",- in the form of exclusion, fear and hatred.  

Any of us who have done organizing work in communities (and were schooled in Saul Alinksy's Rules for Radicals) know only too well the potential for raising awareness and building solidarity through actions and messaging that highlight shared differences of our constituents with 'others' and often 'outsiders'. 

I would suggest that the challenge for progressive organizers lies in trying to harness the positive organizational potential of "the tribe" without crossing over the unforgiving line into the more exclusionary and often reactionary domain of tribalism and xenophobia.  A course not always easy to plot or navigate. 

wage zombie

sherpa-finn wrote:

I would suggest that the challenge for progressive organizers lies in trying to harness the positive organizational potential of "the tribe" without crossing over the unforgiving line into the more exclusionary and often reactionary domain of tribalism and xenophobia.  A course not always easy to plot or navigate. 

Yes.

Slumberjack

Cute shoes?

Slumberjack

NDPP wrote:
Remember always we live in a settler state which exterminates tribal systems. Always be mindful of that and let it inform your discussions as well as the strong possibility you may know nothing of which you speak. To me this all seems a bit rancid given that there are now tribal peoples standing on roads trying to protect your sorry asses as well as their own in our genocidal 'Dominion'. The very fact they are and we aren't is obviously the final answer as to which is the superior system. That's all I have to say to this thread.

Tribalism has always evolved to update and replace what went before.  Sometimes the ones that have been superceded, at least according to the calculation of their usefulness to the political system, are thrust back into the spotlight to reinvigorate the political stasis of the present with heaping loads of propaganda, as if to remind anyone who may have forgotten that there is a stand to be taken after all, one way or another, and we certainly know which way because we're told.  On the whole, indigenous life was replaced by class relations, class relations by one’s sympathies with respect to neo-liberal economics.  Then there’s the misguided debate around activism vs. slacktivism, a politically expedient type of analysis consistent with current trends in the cage wrestling industry. There’s Feminism – need I say more.  There's the useful cultivation of the notion of the racialized vs. the non-racialized, which is more utilitarian than useful in fact.  And as always, for the sake of continuity and in the service of everyone's nostalgia for their own inner fantasies, there's the deep fractures within the existing political establishment that far too many ensnare themselves within, which continues to be peddled our way by both the left and right mainstream political fronts alike.