Is Afghanistan so different from the US?
I have been observing tribalism from a distance for a while now. Many of us blame tribalism for the failure of the Afghani people to form a stable, democratic government. Most, if not all Afghanis are Muslim. That’s a pretty big tribe from our perspective. But while watching the Mideast for the last 60 years (just a flicker in the timeline of the area) we notice that Muslims spend a lot of time fighting each other. That is probably due in large part to tribalism. That makes me wonder if tribalism is the natural state of mankind.
Tribes probably played a large part in our early development. A couple of families would have banded together to protect each other from those ‘other’ families over there. Larger tribes developed for mutual protection. City States, then countries emerged, again due to tribalism and the need for mutual support. Our history is defined by fights between families, battles between City States, wars between countries and then a few world wars. Sometimes the strife was over food sources, or water, religion, land or later even about other natural resources. In parts of the world tribalism took a back seat as populations moved around peaceably toward newfound land then facing common enemies (another form of tribalism?).
But is today’s America so different? Another writer commented that spectator sports depends on tribalism. Are your part of the Red Sox tribe or the Yankees? Part of the Patriots tribe or the Buccaneers? Over the past hundred years of immigration many came from English speaking countries or were encouraged to learn to English so that the common language eased communication between tribes. Within one or two generations they assimilated into the culture they moved to. Now in some cases immigrants are encouraged to avoid assimilation and any effort to encourage assimilation is labeled racism. Maintaining one’s original culture while assimilating was the norm. Consider the North End of Boston for Italian culture, South Boston for the Irish and the French-Canadian enclaves in Rochester and Manchester NH.
Now I see a trend toward tribalism in the folks around me. Many have latched on to one or two issues to determine which tribe they join. There are daily Facebook posts from otherwise intelligent, thoughtful people that serve only to be divisive. Our politicians and the news media have led the rush to tribalism. I think journalism died around the time of the Viet Nam war. I remember Walter Cronkite reporting on the war and at the end of the report he removed his glasses, lowered his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. That was the first time I remember a journalist moving from reporting the news to commenting on the news. Since then it seems that journalism has passed away in favor of advocacy, leading to more tribalism. I sometimes admit that I listen to Talk Radio. After watching the various reactions I like to point out that NPR is also talk radio and it even occupies a button on the radio in my car.
Most of us are members of tribes; Irish vs. Italian, Protestant vs. Jewish, residents of New Hampshire vs. Massachusetts, liberal vs. conservative, even male vs. female. We often talk at each other rather than to each other. Wouldn’t it be better to lean on the fences between our tribes and listen to folks on the other side? We can still disagree, just not so that we build the fences higher. I have begun to avoid expressing my opinions on hot topics. Rather, I will listen to others, compare their views to my own and internally adjust my positions when it seems appropriate. I generally don’t argue positions because I’ve noticed we seldom change one another’s mind. That helps me realize that most of us are members of multiple tribes such as Irish, Red Sox, conservative, and Buccaneers (well Tom Brady actually, but I didn’t need to say that did I?).
Our tribes can affect our culture, beliefs, likes, dislikes, and social circles but do they have to be so loud about it?