Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Where Does Tribalism Come From?

OK. I was wrong.

I thought that tribalism was a hunter-gatherer thing. I thought that hunter-gatherers were tribal for millions of years. And I thought that tribalism, ever since the dawn of agriculture, was "fake" tribalism, with agricultural humans repurposing the tribalism-from-time-immemorial of the hunter-gatherers for the new world of agriculture.

But, in reading How We Got Here from C.R. Hallpike he tells me that hunter-gatherers were not that tribal. In fact they were pretty individualistic, except when it came to sharing food. When people had a row with the other folks in their hunter-gatherer "band" they just upped and joined another band.

Oh dear! Oh no! That really mucks up my idea that hunter-gatherers practiced the tribe of the kindred and only beginning in the agricultural age did people start to practice "fake" tribalism.

Reading Hallpike it seems to be necessary to understand that the agricultural era should be divided into two. First came the pre-state agricultural age when people lived in fairly independent villages, and then came the state-dominated agricultural age when people were ruled by kings and priests and armies. It would seem that tribalism, as we understand it, flourished in the early pre-state agricultural era. In other words, in the era where people lived in more-or-less-fixed villages headed by a village Big Man but where there was no political organization subordinating the villages to an overall political overlordship. In other words, no state with its king, its army, its priests, and its taxes.

Oh dear. Bit of a sticky wicket, what? How do I bat out of this situation?

I think that the answer lies in the notion that humans will band together into a tribe over anything. We saw that in the recent Kavanaugh nomination process. Everyone lined up either into the pro-Kavanaugh tribe or the pro-Ford tribe. The pro-Kavanaugh tribe gave Kavanaugh the benefit of the doubt and believed his story; the pro-Ford tribe gave Ford the benefit of the doubt and believed her story. Most people stayed with their previous right-wing or left-wing tribe, but a few people switched, primarily NeverTrump people that were forced to choose between giving up their NeverTrumpness or switching permanently to the progressives.

In other words, all the tribalisms we know about and experience are perfectly true and valid. We can have a loose hunter-gatherer tribalism, a agricultural village tribalism, an agricultural empire tribalism, a nation state tribalism, an ethnic tribalism, a race tribalism, an identity politics tribalism. You can have Star Wars fans tribalism. You can have urban gang tribalism between the Sharks and the Jets. Humans will rally to anything, as long as it is a tribe.

So this means, I would say, that it doesn't matter how you do it; the skilled political leader will rally people into his fake tribe.

So that means that the arguments on the right about the different kinds of nationalism, from white nationalism to cultural nationalism to Trump's Make-America-Great nationalism, or the different gradations of the left's identity politics tribalism, miss the point.

You can rally humans into any sort of tribe. Just gussy up some sacred narrative and put it out there and make like you are brimming with confidence that you have the way of the future -- or the arc of history -- and get out and sell, sell, sell. Don't complain about the other guy's tribalism; get out there and get the people to believe in your tribalism.

Everything is as fake as everything else: the tribe of the kindred, the tribe of the race, the tribe of the Aryans, the tribe of the gender, the tribe of the nation. Doesn't matter. It is all about the game. What you can put over on other people.

And that is all.

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