More people are writing about the T-word and its choke-hold on American democracy and politics.
Here’s what tribalism looks like in the extreme. Let’s hope current examples don’t go that far.
Now, tribalism does serve a purpose. Though that’s hard to argue considering current conditions.
One could say, for example, that tribalism gives colonialists and political agents mechanisms to control populations. It’s easier to loot a country fighting itself. That was the case in Rwanda.
It also is the case in the US.
It’s been a long time since the United States witnessed such division. Today’s division is unique. Americans today faces an ideological smorgasbord of incendiary and life-defining issues. Combine them any way you want. You’ll describe one or several raging intra-national squabbles.
And that’s a partial list. There’s something for every American!
Anyone looking at the world has to be asking “what the hell is going on?”
We’re offering a plausible explanation.
Welcome to the best of times
Tribalism is a symptom. It points to something we haven’t seen in a while. Something extraordinary. That’s cause to celebrate.
But to appreciate the celebration, you have to get what all this division foretells.
There’s a saying: “may you live in interesting times”. Well, the times haven’t been this interesting since the enlightenment.
The ideas of the Enlightenment Period undermined the King’s authroity, the Church’s authority and paved the way for political revolutions seen in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Enlightenment included a range of ideas centered on reason as the primary source of authority and legitimacy and came to advance ideals like liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government and separation of church and state…[It] was marked by an emphasis on the scientific method and reductionism, along with increased questioning of religious orthodoxy—an attitude captured by the phrase Sapere aude, “Dare to know”.
Today we’re seeing the undermining of our established institutions, many of which have their legitimacy in the first enlightenment. Capitalism, democracy, mainstream culture, including patriarchy and heteronormativity, are all being undermined by new ideas. Better ideas. Ideas which bring with them, a future to be excited about.
These ideas don’t, of course, provoke exctitment among those vested in these established institutions. Instead, these people see a dystopian future. They see an American collapse. Preceding the collapse is a gradual, but escalating breakdown of traditional values. Their argument goes America (or Europe) is going to hell in a hand basket, all this being foretold in religious prophecy, and you better get ready because the jig is up.
And if you’re not ready, or getting ready, you’re an idiot.
Such sales pitches would be comedic were they not taken serious by so many while making the peddlers rich.
While the faithful consume this stuff then act accordingly, the more rational react accordingly too: shaking their heads at those picking up what the peddlers are putting down.
So we end up with populations who can’t understand each other. They also can’t help but think how crazy the other side is.
We get a divided society. And shitty national and personal experiences.
It’s no wonder people begin holing up in tribes and bunkers, and websites catering to their unique angst.
Tribalism happens when people catastrophize the future.
Maybe you’ve heard the word “catastrophizing” in your therapist’s office. Catastrophizing is an irrational thought leading the thinker to believe something is far worse than it actually is.
It’s not the future that’s the problem. The problem is the thinker’s thinking process and his irrational responses to that process.
Tribalism is what happens when individuals catastrophize, then assemble around themselves people who catastrophize in the same way they do. They form groups in hopes of amplifying their effectiveness against the future they fear.
That’s how you go from a person imagining a future where he is deprived of what he’s had, to arming himself and joining a militia of similarly-armed people to “defend the American Constitution”.
Like tribalism, catastrophizing is a symptom.
To get the world we want instead of the one we fear, we gotta understand why people are forming tribes. Then we need to figure out what to do about it.
Someone has to be the adult here.
“What to do about it” means having compassion for what these people are going through.
For example, some people, especially in middle America, are living their fear. They aren’t catastrophizing the future. They are living a catastrophe as their way of life crumbles around them now.
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The world is becoming richer and richer in virtually everything. But not for these people. Not in their perception anyway. A lot of people are being left behind. And not all of them are brown or children.
These people are traumatized by what some of us are excited about. Traumatized and scared.
By what? The new.
Look folks. We face a bewildering array of new things, both here now, and on the horizon.
But for some people, the new is the old. Some of these folks were hit by the future more than 20 years ago, when the plant closed that once employed their entire town. These people have yet to process that.
Now, as if that weren’t enough, they’re being confronted, for example, by what they see are boys, claiming to be girls…with a large part of Americans going along with that. And that’s just one issue.
They’re not catastrophizing the future. Their now is a catastrophe!
For them, the past and the present are the boogyman. And the boogyman is winning.
When a human is losing, particularly losing a big part of their existential reality, their worst fears and insecurities come out. So do their worst behaviors.
Humans tend not to be very good at containing their worst fears.
Particularly about one another.
Particularly if the thing they fear will leave them with less compared to others.
Particularly if “others” don’t look like them. Or believe like them. Or have sex like they do.
The specter of having to live with less is frightening. Especially if “less” includes the loss of your religious or national ideology. We’re not talking about “living simply”. For these people, it’s about living in a godless world.
Here these people are, standing in their reality perceiving a future that has more of less in store for them. Of course they would try to exert control “by any means possible”. Including armed standoff. Including electing as president, someone claiming to make their country the way it used to be.
We have a lot of individuals wallowing in serious insecurity folks. They’re seeking solace in groups that look like them. Groups that amplify instead of diminish said insecurities.
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Rather than trying to control a fear-filled situation, whether real or imagined, it’s always better to do something about the emotion you feel. Any action taken out of fear or insecurity tends to make matters worse.
This is why the times we live in hold tremendous promise. It’s never about what it’s about folks. We’re coming through a second enlightenment.
In every instance so far, when the going gets tough, humans find a way. Humanity has rebounded from every single potential disaster, leaving humanity better than it was.
How do we know? As Morpheus put it: “We are still here”.
Today humanity faces so many problems, it can’t possibly solve them all with past thinking or tough action. Necessity is the mother of invention. Humanity must turn to something other than their tried and true habitually-relied upon resources.
Now humans are lazy.
Except for a few, they don’t like trying new things.
The vast majority goes kicking and screaming into the new, whether it’s accepting a country is tired of it’s colonial oppressor and letting that country go, or letting women do what they want with their bodies, real change, always begins with the majority resisting. Many times, violently so.
But the new future always wins. Eventually.
The new future ahead of us represents a world where human civilization better matches human potential. Interestingly, it shirks off age-old restrictions which squelch spiritual expression and therefore human expression.
All human expression is first spiritual.
There is room for the fearful and the insecure in this new future. Even while they catastrophize what’s coming, what’s coming already has made room for them to have what they want. But it does that without restricting what others want.
There is room for everybody. The problem is, humans have been acting as though that weren’t true.
So what does that future look like?
In my best Yoda voice: Listen to them, you will not.
Your passions are your inspiration and your gifts to the world. Effort employed there yields optimal outcomes. For everyone.
Humanity’s future has everybody doing that. Or preparing to do that.
You’ll no longer be in debt. Neither will anyone else. That’s because there will be no money. Money offers so many problems, it’s amazing we still use it today.
Oh, right. Humans are lazy.
Anyway, the albatross around your neck known as debt will disappear once and for all. But you’ll still get everything you need. Who’ll give them to you? People following their passions will be delighted to. That’s who.
You’ll have all the healthcare, education and food you need to thrive. No longer will the miserly few express their disdain for you by forcing you to do shitty things to get your basic needs.
In the absence of today’s industries, the planet’s ecosystem will naturally return to health. Nothing is keeping the planet from expressing its well being other than brute-force industrial practices and lifestyles borne of narrow thinking, money-fueled economic theory.
The future has none of that. And so, nature will recover, with the help of those passionate about helping her. We mentioned people pursuing their passions, right?
If you’re feeling hopeful reading this, you’re doing your part to make it everyone’s reality.
Hope is a powerful thing.
Keep thinking positive about the future. Help others do the same.
Think less about the future that causes you feeling insecure and hopeless. Think less about what’s going on in the world right now. That’s the best thing you can do to help.
The tribalism and division we’re seeing serves a purpose because that’s how people are used to creating the future. They divide. Then they come together. Remember, people are lazy.
The tribalism we’re seeing is not the end of the world.
It’s the beginning.