Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Tribes Are Bigger Now

Much of the chaos and uncertainty in Afghanistan and Iraq (not to mention Libya) has been explained over the years by tribalism, but I happen to think that tribalism also explains the chaos and uncertainty in the United States of America. Our tribes are just bigger and more formalized. When you get right down to it, what are religions and political parties and giant corporations other than just big inflexible tribes? This isn’t a new idea. Other people, smarter than me, have come to this notion before I did. I just needed a little more time to mull it over and get on board.

How else can you explain the way that old time Lutherans see things so differently from evangelical fundamentalists, even though both groups believe in the same Jesus? How else can you rationalize the vitriolic gap between liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans even though both groups claim to have the nation’s best interests at heart? And most amazing of all, how else can you understand the positive passion and loyalty that some employees invest in their company or corporation, even though that same company looks at the employee like a totally disposable commodity to be eliminated the minute there’s a need to adjust the bottom line? People believe in their tribe simply because it’s THEIR tribe. There is no right or wrong way of seeing things in the big picture because the definitions of right and wrong are set by the tribe, and the tribal members believe that the tribe is all there is. There is no “big picture.”

One last thing. People are free to kiss off a religion, or switch political affiliations, or to give up on their company and abandon misplaced loyalty without actually quitting the job, but they almost never do it because tribal members don’t see themselves as being free to quit or switch or give up on the tribe. 10,000 years of human cultural evolution, and it’s come down to this— the tribes are just bigger now.

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