discussion of the usage of “tribe”

Please read if you will

The following is a comment from the peanut gallery (author unidentified) that is at the heart of concepts that i had not been able to find the words for… Not only relating to human interactions but to our relationship to the other species and co-habitants of this planet.

“I think tribalism is the right word—precisely because the usage of the word carries the very connotations that critics of the word object to.

Tribe is the appropriate word because it is the word applied in science for groups of prosocial mammals gathering in a group larger than one might reasonably consider a pack or colony. We speak of a tribe of monkeys, or a tribe of apes, or a tribe of guerillas (sic), chimps, bonobos, etc. We speak of multi-colony groups of rats as tribes.

Tribe is scientifically important because it does not infer relation by blood, whereas a clan or colony implies shared lineage through mating or otherwise. Tribe implies a larger group bonded by social relations more complex than mating associations, but smaller than describing the species, and recognizing that these large groupings can share large geographical ranges with other such groupings.

This usage of the word tribe understandably creates an image of the primitive, the primal, the animal. In other words, it invokes the savage, and we should all understand why invoking the savage is debasing to those who are thus demarked as closer to savage. It is one group of people assuming that they are more socially developed than the other, and therefore superior.
Whether it is Romans and Greeks assuming the light of civilization had made them more dignified than the tribes of those they termed barbarians, or later Christendom assuming that godliness and piety had raised them above the base nature of a humanity tainted by original sin, or later Age of Reason intellectuals constructing a social Darwinist model wherein ‘tribalism’ is a precurser to ‘nationalism’ and ‘civilization,’ Western civilization (and Eastern too, if we are to look to other worldy empires and hegemons) has a long history of finding ways of asserting that the ruling culture is superior to others on the basis of development and a concept of cultural maturity.

Herein, however, lays the root of the problem: this construction is itself just an exercise in the root fact that human beings are prosocial mammals, specifically prosocial primates, and that our nature as mammals is not as well reasoned as we would otherwise like to pretend. It is a construction that places social value and status on reasoned decision making, or at least the perception thereof, and therefore ascribes superior reasoning to the dominant culture on the basis of that dominance.

This is, we are finding out, just a way for our particular species of primate to assert social dominance. The Age of Reason, it turns out, is just a complex excuse for one socially dominant group of primates to assert dominance over the other.

In point of fact, as we apply reasoned thinking to ourselves, we have discovered the human animal is host to a collection of cognative (sic) biases and prone to a number of logical fallacies when it comes to our fragile constructions of self-identity. We have developed a toolbox of methods to manipulate those biases we call marketing, which we use to influence others into purchasing decisions. Today, we find ourselves in a place where those tools have been applied to influence the decisions of voters through billions of dollars in campaigning.

This is what the Framers failed to account for, deep in Age of Reason thought: the base nature of humanity– its animal origin– is in fact more potent than reason itself when it comes to political hierarchy. The Framers assumed that reasonable men would always be able to come to reasonable compromise, deep in the conviction of their self-identification as reasonable men. So what happens when irrational human voters choose irrational human leaders on a basis divorced from deliberate thought?

We know today that while an individual may be reasonable on a case by case basis, all peoples are susceptible to cognitive blind spots, particularly when it comes to self-identity. So now we find ourself in a polity where large voting blocks with common social identity have ceased to care about the reasoning or veracity of their political leadership, where reasoned compromise has become anathema to those who prefer to assert the dominance of their shared identity.

So yes, the appropriate word for this is tribalism, because tribe describes a social grouping of primates larger than a colony. The irrational behavior we specifically wish to discuss manifests at this scale and is a product of the animal instincts at the heart of human nature….”

One Reply to “ discussion of the usage of “tribe””

  1. I came across this a couple days ago:

    “Ideas on earth were badges of friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter. Friends agreed with friends, in order to express friendliness. Enemies disagreed with enemies, in order to express enimity.”

    ― Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Breakfast of Champions

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