In a world increasingly divided by tensions and issues of identity, it appears relevant to the author of this blog to write a thought-provoking piece on the matter and to situate himself on the entire issue. The title has been selected not to include a crafty series of buzzwords, but rather to put into theoretical terms what this work will try to demonstrate: The impact of Tribalism on two very specific types of identities, one being racial and the other being cultural. We will begin by defining our terms with modern-day and historical examples where tribalism resulted in a negative impact on either sub-categories.
We define “culture” as a set of values or virtues claimed to be at the core of a cultural identity. You may consider for example the “American culture” or the “Canadian culture”, so on and so forth. What makes a population what it is. The “ethnicity” of a people will be strictly speaking, their race. It will be our contention that the tribalism which often seeks to reaffirm or tear down either of these will hurt not only the target of its hatred but also itself, through socio-economic means. This will in turn have direct psycho-social influence on how ethnicities view their own culture, by way of being stereo-typed, for example, in mass media.
This article is the result of philosophical meanderings and plenty of reading for the past 3 months and will attempt to support itself solely based on these readings. While some of what is written here may seem as conjecture, if we can assure our readership that nothing here is left to assumption or feeling, as we wouldn’t give it the title of “Dissertation” would such be the case, so as to not hurt our own credibility.
Primary thesis – Tribalism
We should begin by giving an analysis of the term “Tribalism”, in terms of dictionary definition and then in terms of political theory. Strictly speaking, the Oxford English Dictionary defines “tribalism” as:
But we are more interested in the second part of the definitions offered by Oxford.
Though our dissertation does not hinge on the dictionary definition of tribalism, we are going to be basing our arguments, at the beginning, based on this definition. Taken as a start, we can expand this definition and use it as a looking-glass to inspect modern-day behavior. We tend to see “tribalism” as meaning simply things arranged in tribes. However, as it is history that dictates what things were and became, it would not be beyond ourselves to consider that seeing as humans are social creatures, tribalism has never truly left our way of life. Indeed, it would not be far-fetched to consider the variety of countries as being tribes themselves, and nationalism (patriotism) as being the modern-day iteration of “tribalism”.
Strong loyalty can be used, in this case, to call upon strict adherence to the culture within one’s tribe, no matter what an outsider might say. Simply because the outsider is not from the tribe and must be paid no heed. Tribes can be considered successful and righteous if their culture has given them their greatness. Thus, when we speak of making things great again, for example, we are thinking of the tribe’s founding values; what made it what it is today. History seems like the proper source to ask for advice, as well. Like an immortal sage, it tells us of stories of the past and of lessons learned. Lessons which we contend have been lost to time and reduced to utter stupidity by the successors.
It is tribalism, thus, that calls to us when we find that the way we are doing things is not working, because, it is assumed, we have strayed too far from the original values of the tribe we came from. This can be a good thing, especially when the direction we are going is indeed the wrong direction. There is superstition, however, in believing that whenever we stray from the original direction, that we are in error. This can be represented in how recent wars were fought. Namely, World War 2. Tribalism was essential to the maintaining of the League of Nations, yet, according to the Oxford Illustrated History of World War 2…
“The League of Nations estimated that ‘about a quarter of the 60 million peasants of eastern Europe do not produce enough to enable them to get enough bread to eat throughout a year’ as a result of what was understood to be a vicious, persistent cycle of rural undercapitalization, under-productivity, underemployment, malnourishment and pervasive misery.”
“These countries were no match for the modern, industrial-scale food producers of North America, nor for the scale of Russian wheat sales overseas facilitated by collectivization of Soviet agriculture after 1927.”
“Indeed, imbalances in the world’s food supply and trade trigered an agricultural crisis that saw prices fall and tariffs rise, trends which particularly affected small-scale farmers in Europe and Asia.”
The Oxford Illustrated History of World War 2 – Edited by Richard Overy, chapter “The Genesis of World War” by Patricia Clavin, P.22
As we can see in the above quote (particularly in the second and third paragraphs), the League of Nations was simply compartmentalized tribes, who had acquired all the means to mass-production and essentially made free-trade the rule of the game. Anyone who was not part of this game was suffering, as a result, it is not surprising to see the Eastern European countries succumb to nationalist fervor, at the outset of the war. Fascism creates in people this very idea of a “tribe” of a moment in time which we would like to go back to or a time in the near-future which would be accessible only through force.
Global famine as a result of mass-production and the creation of a new game which had caught most the civilized countries of the world unprepared, led to increased friction and hate. The usage of the term “free-trade” was used as a derogatory term by Marx, to indicate a kind of savage economic practice that knew no boundaries despite there existing obvious limits to commercial legislation between countries. To those countries who could not adapt, the free-traders simply shrugged, as is evidenced by the League of Nations’ estimate.
You will find that in most countries that succumbed to said fascism, Soviet Russia included, it was the industry that was deemed the sole factor of the country’s rebirth, because a strong economy would lead to a powerful nation, akin to an empire. The Germans bought into it, the Italians and the Japanese as well, among others…
Tribalism here works negatively upon the psycho-social perception a people has of itself: “We are being played and need vengeance.” When this begins to happen, anyone that is considered an opponent to the restoration of lost happiness will be severely oppressed. It is imperative, thus, to recognize a form of tribal belonging in the form of fascism, to increase a will to work and a will to war that will be indissociable from one another. If the racist aspect of Tribalism have not yet been defined, one will see here how they could be. It is not necessarily inherent to these people to be racist, but it is inherent in the advent of behavioral biology, that if there is a sensation of having been cheated (see: Prisoner’s Dilemma), we will sooner begin to hurt back than to forgive and move on.
Considering the amount of misery that had occured at the time, for the countries concerned, it was inevitable that governments would fall and fascism would rear its head. The point is not in what happened up to World War 2, but rather what the psycho-social effect of Occidental tribalism were on those countries who had not followed with the times. A sensation of inferiority and of having been cheated prevailed, and this unfortunately draws the worst of behaviors from human beings. We can now accept the definition of “Tribalism” as a more acceptable and honest descriptor of primal instincts in human beings than “Nationalism”, which would paint itself as some kind of noble enterprise. It would behoove use to find a kind of global nationalism which encourages not only empathy toward ourselves but toward our brothers and sisters.
Such that in the case of globalization, as it was occuring in the early 20th century, an understanding from rapidly evolving countries that they were producing far more and giving far less to countries who had not had their luck, for the supposed virtues of capitalism forbade them to do so, was directly the cause of much turmoil and tension in Europe. Tribalism fractured an already fragile society to the point of total war, not helped in the slightest by the ignorance and arrogance of Western countries, who strengthened by their imperialistic rise as economic superpowers, did nothing to include others into their tribes.
A classic case of selfishness is the result of all modern-day Tribalism. Be it American, Russian, Japanese, Italian, Hungarian, French… If recent history is any evidence, it does not help to seek a return to better days or to force others to elevate us. Marxian doctrine would consider emancipation of the proletariat as a clear direction to progress, but unless all the proletariats of the planet are to emancipate themselves, any one country that follows the Communist Manifesto is bound to devolve into fascism, as was the case for the Bolshevist uprising.
Tribalism in modern-day politics thus requires a victim and an oppressor that must be violently destituted from its position, in order to become the victim or be destroyed. If our analysis here is correct: This distinction is invalid, as a shift of positions merely perpetuates the cycle of victim and oppressor. It is best for both classes to be eliminated, per Marxian analysis, but in order for this to happen, we must relinquish the idea of “tribes” or create one global tribe. Both things which many of us resist to this day.
“The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilised ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West.”
As we can see here, Marx and Engels defines the proletariat countries as being Eastern European countries and the bourgeois countries being the Western European countries, which would shortly include the Americans. It seems likely that the only resulting effect of an uprising as a result of the Communist Manifesto would be the destruction of the bourgeois societ to the profit of peasant society. This sort of tribal separation serves to identify a protagonist and an antagonist. No discussion is possible, only action.
We disagree with Marx’s approach to emancipation, as described in the Manifesto, but agree with the impacts of bourgeois capitalism on the peasantry.
Communist Manifesto, transcribed from
Secondary argument – Psycho-Social effects of Tribalism
It appears evident to us that upon separating people in tribes, we come upon a form of racism or other. Be it classism or sexism, the idea that society must be separated into tribes, in the modern-sense, is the direct influence of nationalistic doctrine. Pride of heritage and of country, however well-meaning, secure superstitious notions of regional superiority: Canadians are better at hockey. Brazilians are better at soccer. French are better at haute-cuisine. The best wine is Italian. The best country in the world is America. British people drink tea…
These are tribal ideas that serve the purpose for humans to think categories. If a person is part of group A, then they necessarily do B. Should this fail with any one member of group A, then that must be because they are an exception and not the rule. This idea is what allowed nationalistic and fascist ideals to take fruit before World War 2. We also suffer from the same sort of categorical thinking to this day, when we imagine that someone who is a member of Islam must therefore hate the West, and if they do not, they are merely an exception to this rule.
The psycho-social effect of such tribalism is that in the event a society begins to accept new cultures within its fold, it must begin to make laws based on a plurality of cultures. When this does not happen, some cultures suffer as a result, and thus begins the psycho-social influence of such legislation. For example, when Americans began to allow afro-americans within their fold, after their liberation, the refusal to accept a new subculture from law-makers in states like North Carolina, led to infamous “anti-poverty” laws, which were thinly disguised “anti-negro” laws.
“In 1870, after Congress proposed and the states ratified the Fifteenth Amendment to
the Constitution, African-American males were included in the electorate. However,
poll taxes and literacy tests were used to circumvent the Fifteenth Amendment and
thereby prevent African-Americans—and, in some cases, impoverished whites—from voting. Indeed, as late as 1964, five states collected annual poll taxes as a condition of voting.”
Analyzing Political Science 5th Ed. Ellen Grigsby, Chapter 8 – Comparative Politics I – Democracies Compared – P.169
It is unsurprising to find poverty levels to be so high even to this day, within Afro-American populations, as a result of perpetual infringement and laws enacted to circumvent the complete addition of this new culture within American society. Charles Taylor, in Multiculturalism, defines, in the opening chapter of his book, that a negative image projected upon a minority culture by the majority culture will eventually lead to that minority culture absorbing this self-image and perpetuating it.
“Nonrecognition or misrecognition can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted, and reduced mode of being.”
“An analogous point has been made in relation to blacks: that white society has for generations projected a demeaning image of them, which some of them have been unable to resist adopting. Their own self-depreciation, on this view, becomes one of the most potent instruments of their own oppression”
Charles Taylor – Multiculturalism – Politics of Recognition – Page 25-26
Taylor then goes on to say:
“But the importance of recognition has been modified and intensified by the new understanding of individual identity that emerges at the end of the eighteenth century.”
“The idea was that understanding right and wrong was not a matter of dry calculation, but was anchored in our feelings.”
Ibid. Page 28
It serves as an added influence upon the idea that tribes are intrinsically capable of very specific things. Whites are meant for goodness and Blacks are meant for crime and self-preservation. Such an idea helps to further “misrecognize” foreign cultures as being inferior to our own, such as was the case when feminism tried to change the original nuclear family, with the Sufragettes’ movement. Indeed, these women were looking to get other women out on an increasingly equal level to men, which conservatives of the time accurately foresaw would lead to an increase in divorce and unhappy marriages.
The superstition here is thus: A culture that is already in place is in place because it works. If it is changed, it will soon die and this will cause suffering. While the deduction is quite painfully true, a culture being as it is is not sufficient to justify its continued existence. Indeed, it appears that in order to maintain a tribal point of view, we must always make sure that our culture is superior to others. This forms the central argument of racism and racist doctrine.
“Our culture is superior to yours, therefore you need us more than we need you and you should accept that we treat you as less than us.”
The logic may appear sound if we look at it objectively, as the major culture believes that in order for its entire society to persist, it must remain the majority power holder. If the majority culture has the hold of the power, then it appears to make sense that it should not be impeded upon by minority cultures. However, the problem with that as displayed by World War 2, is that minority cultures are majorities in their own regions, and will sooner seek to disembowel the privilege of the majority culture before simply dying off. Such is evident also with the Black Panther movement in the 60s and 70s, and the widespread support of the black community for Martin Luther King Jr. In their community, he represented the image of a saviour, come to help save them from the oppressor.
Tribalism will also set-out to create interest groups based on tribes. Had the majority culture of America not been as oppressive as it had been, situations like the 1996 elections wouldn’t have happened. To be clear on this last statement, we are not saying that the election of the president of ’96 was bad, but that it was a clear indicator of disgruntlement from long-overdue retribution.
“Interest groups may also pursue strategies of campaign involvement. Interest
group activity in campaigns has taken the form of registering voters, convincing
candidates to support positions favorable to the interest group, joining political parties and shaping party decisions from the inside, or making campaign contributions. The NAACP, for instance, set out to register 1 million African-American voters in an effort to shape the outcome of the 1996 elections.”
Analyzing Political Science 5th Ed. Ellen Grigsby, Chapter 9 – Comparative Politics II – Democracies Compared – P.196
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is a direct result of tribalism in society by a majority culture, of separation between “us and them”. Lack of recognition of subcultures leads to them taking to the streets or taking elections in force against the majority culture, in order to cause an upset in the electoral process. Such would not occur if foreign cultures were either:
- Properly assimilated into the majority culture.
- Recognized as a separate culture, equal to the majority culture in front of the law and by the people.
We can find that much of the political problems which have plagued America have been based on culture and ethnicity. Invariably, resorting to arguments of popularity to justify lack of recognition or inclusion of new cultures, be they generational (Millenials), racial (African-American), religious (Islam and atheism), gender-based (Feminism, particularly Intersectional Feminism and Third-Wave feminism), homosexual (LGBTQ+), leads to them taking to militantism and if need be, resorting to violence when they are not given the amount of space they would like.
It is thus insufficient to claim a return to “better times” for an entire country, when the better times reflect only on the majority culture, and not to the plurality of cultures that now permeate this society.
It may be that forcing the majority culture to simply gobble up new cultures is not the answer, but it is an inevitable factor of economic globalization. We cannot be expected to take on the label of “democracy” in a liberal economy while stifling the cultural presence of minority cultures that begin to pour forth into our own. Such a strategy is Tribalism, and by refusing to take in new cultures, we repeat the errors of the past and doom future generations to repairing the world. It is thus imperative, based on our analysis, that majority cultures begin to accept the reality that is multiculturalism and that there is no one majority culture other than humanity.
It is in recognizing one-another’s existence, that we will cease to work in “us vs them” dichotomies and instead work with an “US” singularity, for the betterment of one people, that spans the entire globe.