Urban Tribalism


The headline of a Slashdot article, Can a computer identify your urban tribe?, got me thinking today. I’ve commented some on tribalism (here and here), but I did go out on a limb to state my belief that tribalism is the most stable form of government.

Granted, my screed here has nothing to do with the notion that an algorithm can deduce your particular social quirk (a.k.a “urban tribe”). It probably can’t tell from my social media photos that I am a confused thirty-something who wishes he had been born in Edwardian England, Tsarist Russia, or Teddy Roosevelt’s America. With its categorizations of Bikers, Hipsters, Goth, Surfers, or Formal, I find it lacking the”No Sense of Style” category. I also find these material categorizations vapid.

But digress I must.

The main benefits of tribalism is that it is small and exclusive. That doesn’t work in our modern, inclusive, multi-culti, everyone-is-right-because-there-is-no-right-or-wrong godless democracy. We are so enlightened that our genius transcends human history, good vs. evil, or the myriad of quaint superstitions practiced in tribalism. We are post-societal man-gods to ourselves. We need need no religion, for it cannot be proven scientifically.

With modern democracy, conflicting groups are often forced to live together, with the majority group running roughshod over the minorities. This leads to strife and conflict. In America, it leads to gerrymandered districts that bob and weave through geographic areas to achieve the desired political outcome. We vote for weak appeasers who are the lesser of two evils. We do not follow the sage advice of President Kennedy and “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.“, we hold out our hand to see what we will be given in exchange for our vote. We neither offer nor accept bribes, because that would be unethical, so we lobby politicians by contributing financially to their campaigns. We allow our elected leaders appoint nameless and faceless unelected bureaucrats, whom we loathe. We loathe them because we are jealous of their unfettered power.

Tribalism reveres the elder and the warrior. Tribalism honors the family as its form of survival. The religion of the tribe is maintained and its gods(s) revered. Outsiders are vetted before being allowed to become a part of the tribe. Members who violate norms are punished. As exemplified in the Cherokee Blood Law, actions not in the interest of the tribe were often punished by death. Order was maintained. Honor was maintained.

Historically, democracy is only temporary. They tend to corrupt themselves and collapse into dictatorships. It may take a decade or several hundred years, but they always fail.

However, tribalism can survive, even while enveloped by an overarching form of government. Using the Native American tribes as examples, they maintain their tribal heritage while also being American citizens. They vote in local, state, and national elections outside their tribal structures. They serve in the United States Armed Forces. But at the end of the day, they are Cherokee, Navaho, Delaware, Apache, while at the same time being American. The United States attempted to destroy their tribal identities over a century ago and failed. Granted, many did assimilate, as my purported Cherokee ancestors did, but a great number did keep their heritage. I commend them.

So what has been the point in my incoherent blathering? We should celebrate our differences. We shouldn’t force conformance. But at the same time we can’t expect unity. We’re not all going to get along. We’re going to splinter off into factions, into tribes, but let us remember: “If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18 ASV).

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