Tag: Tribalism

From Tribes to Tribalism


Quite frankly, I am sick of all the excuses made these days for the chaos in our society. Everyone seems to have their favorite cause or group to blame, and others lament that particularly the violence in our society is “complicated,” as if that explains the disruption all around us. I want to take a different perspective on our situation, and you can decide if my thoughts are credible or not. The framework I want to use is an ancient yet prevalent phenomenon: the tribe.

Tribes became one of our oldest affiliation groups centuries ago. People figured out that in a tribe, they could seek out protection, relationships, and collaboration for food and security. We know of the 12 tribes of Israel; in American history, we have the many Indian tribes. Countries all over the world expanded out of the tribal tradition.

Today we could say that all of us belong to tribes of one sort or another: nuclear families, extended families, religious groups; service clubs, boy scouts and girl scouts, fraternal groups. In college, we’ve seen sports teams, ROTC groups, religious clubs, affiliation groups, and recreational clubs, too. To one degree or another, these groups meet the criteria for tribes, as I’ve defined them here. They provide opportunities to build human relationships; they provide a clear mission yet are broad enough to serve most of their members. There are opportunities for leadership, rules to guide the members in their interactions with each other and the community, a commitment to a higher purpose, friendship, and interpersonal support.

Psst, Consumer, Wanna Buy Your AlieNation?


Like many Americans right of center, the ads I see online feature plenty of vaguely patriotic products. Some of the stuff’s campaign gear. Some of it’s randomly tacti-cool. (Already got a tactical pen? Have you tried our tactical toothbrush yet? Got the toothbrush already, have you? What about a tactical toothpick?) Perhaps because my browsing habits are eclectic, the ads “targeting” me are eclectic, too. According to my ads, I’m a Trump-voting, militantly pro-life charismatic sedevacantist Catholic wiccan secular humanist who’s also militantly pro-choice and pining for the deceased Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I’m deaf, too. Because of earwax. But at least I’m not alone in that: judging by consumer ad complaints, the main symptom of Covid-19 is massive earwax buildup.

People who say they know about these things say that Covid’s virtual earwax buildup is a symptom of declining click-throughs on online ads. The more time we spend online without clicking through on ads, the more “bottom feeder” ads we see. Maybe I am who I am to online marketers because I don’t click through. Therefore I must “want”, in no particular order, Osteen Cubes, <insert name of Biblical woman here> Anointings, conversational Medieval Latin kits, “homeopathic” essential-oil blends consecrated to Jesus or my choice of goddess. Little lapel pins featuring lab flasks bubbling vacuities like “Science is real!” or light-splitting prisms spelling out “I’m gay for science!” in rainbow writing.

Rapid-fire lapel pin advertising directed my way, whether from right or left, never hits its target, since even if I saw a pin I liked, I wouldn’t buy it. If I saw an ad for a lapel pin featuring the smexxxiest anthropomorphized doped garnet laser — adorned with real synthetic garnet chips reading “She blinded me with science!” — well, I’d chuckle. But I wouldn’t click.

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I am genuinely glad to see so many people rediscovering the value of the Constitution: the structure it gives our government, separation of powers, checks and balances. I just wish they would also remember this insight the next time their preferred policy or politician is the one running afoul of those limits. The president had […]

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One of the things I learned living in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2015 is that progressivism isn’t on the left, it’s actually far to the right of “the right.” In the world of rich white progressives, egalitarianism is a racist ideology that poor white people use to illegitimately demand equality in the public […]

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A Divided Foundation


A political theory designed to understand human beings as they are in reality, and not to tell us stories about the adventures of some fantastic creature invented by philosophers, cannot avoid this capacity of the human individual to recognize the aims of the collective as his own.

I’ve been reading Yoram Hazony’s book The Virtues of Nationalism lately. I’ve also been reading Reason’s abortion articles and Ricochet, and a host of other things.

Let the Hate (and Love) Flow Through: Notes from Politicon 2018


Fox, CNN, MSNBC, and the alphabets are entertainment. Watch these channels with the sound off, maybe after a whiskey, and you will see it clearly. These are trained actors who have perfected outrage by reading political lines under the guise of informing. Cable news benefits from dividing us, continually. This has led to folks on both sides to become more intransigent, more entrenched. Our anger is palpable. It’s cancer. However, once we leave our tv’s, and are removed from the Twitter-verse, facebook and other social media, people are people. We all live and breath the same air, send our kids to the same schools and root the same home team (Go Dodgers!) Yet at cocktail parties, or events where mixed political company attend, many of us head to toward like-minded souls where we can vent our frustrations about whatever outrage the other side did today.

Case in point: Politicon 2018. Charlie Kirk told me “Politicon is Twitter in real life.” It’s an annual event held in Southern California (the last three years in Pasadena and this year in downtown Los Angeles at the sprawling LA Convention Center). The two days of panels, debates, and raucous main events feature the leading politicos from both Left and Right. Where else in America can people come and watch (deep breath) Tucker Carlson, Touré, Dennis Rodman, Ben Shapiro, Alyssa Milano, Adam Carolla, Ben Rhodes, Charlie Kirk, Hasan Piker, Joy Reid, Ann Coulter, James Carville, Michael Steele, Cenk Uygur, Dan Bongino, Sally Kohn, Andrew Klavan, Ana Kasparian, Michael Knowles, Elisha Kraus, and even a handful of Never Trumpers like Bill Kristol, David Frum, Jennifer Rubin, and Ana Navarro. By the way, this is probably not even a tenth of the speaker’s list.

Waiting for a panel to begin (the gross Michael Avenatti and certifiable Kathy Griffin) I was seated next to a 50-something couple. The woman said something about “we need less testosterone at the top.” I was in a playful mood so I bit.

Portland: “Lord of the Flies” Redux


The “occupation” of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office for five weeks in June and July, and a violent confrontation between anarchist “Antifa” groups and a Patriot Prayer/Proud Boys group on August 4, both occurring in Portland, OR, are reminiscent of the tribalism and descent into depravity depicted in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, first published in 1954.

Golding’s classic novel depicts the fate of British schoolboys marooned on a tropical island during an unnamed war. The boys organize into two groups, one led by Ralph, assisted by bespectacled, overweight Piggy, and another led by the malevolent Jack. The two groups have conflicts over hunting, work rules, and power on their remote island.

The Panoramic Overton Window


What shape is your Overton Window? Is it tall and narrow, or low and broad? That is, what range of ideas are you willing to tolerate in public discourse? And how high are you willing to pile the rhetoric? Joseph P Overton, who worked for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, believed the realm of political ideas wasn’t limited so much by individuals’ interests as it was by a window of public discourse, where ideas at either end of the window were considered radical, and ideas falling outside the window (too “left” or “right”, assuming limiting ideas to a one-dimensional spectrum makes sense) were considered unthinkable, hence unmentionable. This window of discourse, usually thought of in just one dimension, was named after him — the Overton Window.

I discern two dimensions to the Overton Window, though, both width and height. It takes effort to maintain a big Overton Window, whether the window is unusually broad (breadth of ideas) or unusually tall (how high do people ratchet up the rhetoric?). Mere mortals, it seems, struggle to maintain expansiveness in both dimensions. Recently, Ricochet Member @steverosenbach wrote a post asking the Ricoverse for the names of honorable pundits on the left. One often-cited name was that of Scott Alexander, who runs the blog Slate Star Codex (SSC). Truth be told, Scott is not very far left (probably one reason so many of us find him palatable); moreover, Scott is sympathetic to much of the backlash against trends in leftist thought. Perhaps what’s most remarkable about Slate Star Codex, though, is that its Overton Window is panoramic.

Lonesome Purple Hearts and Angry Red Ones: Love and Contempt in a Divided Red Tribe


Red America, blue America. It’s a crude categorization, but useful. According to Rachel Lu, the red tribe is the tribe of traditional, transcendent bourgeois values, while the blue tribe is the tribe of neo-Epicureanism, which by its nature is shallow and tepid. According to Charles Murray, the red tribe professes traditional values while struggling to practice them, while the blue tribe, for the most part, lives out these values while failing to profess them. According to Mark Regnerus, when it comes to the specific traditional values of chastity and stable family formation, while both tribes are far from paragons, on average the red tribe fails a lot harder than the blue tribe does, even though it’s the red tribe, not the blue, which promulgates language like “chastity” and “family values”. If you stop looking at averages though, something interesting happens: the red tribe splits. Red-tribe children who inherit exceptional amounts of social capital (which arises from networks of shared social norms, including trust and reciprocity) are more sexually virtuous than their blue peers, while red-tribe children with low social capital are so much less sexually virtuous than their blue peers that it drags the whole red average down below that of the blue.

This sexual split points to a more general split among conservatives: the red tribe can be crudely divided into two tribes, both of whom profess a zeal for cultural capital, but only one of which has secure access to cultural capital. (There’s not complete agreement on what social and cultural capital are, but for this essay, cultural capital includes social capital, along with other accumulated cultural riches.) As much as blue-tribe language tends to denigrate the value of the West’s cultural capital, blue-tribe children enjoy better access to that capital than many red-tribe children do. However, there’s a class of purple children – typically red-tribe children raised in blue milieus – who achieve cultural-capital royalty: whatever struggles they face, access to cultural goods, whether moral, intellectual, or aesthetic, isn’t really one of them. They inherit not just the red-tribe zeal for cultural capital, but blue-tribe access to it, an access which differs not only in quantity (more of it) from average red access, but also in kind (probably less NASCAR and more Shakespeare – brows a little higher rather than lower).

Blue-tribe access to it. How does the blue tribe maintain good access to something it publicly professes not to value much? Evidently, it must be by doing rather than saying. Culture isn’t just something you have worthy or unworthy opinions about, it’s also something you do. And a lot of blues still do it, even if their opinions about why it’s worth doing are unworthy. To be too much in enmity with the blues is to put yourself at odds with many of the vehicles still left for passing on the great achievements of our culture. Reds routinely decry the corruption of academic and arts organizations, for example, but so far have had scanty success forming organizations of their own to pass down the treasure of Western knowledge and beauty. For all the nonsense on college campuses, for all the schlock modern arts organizations promote, colleges still harbor teachers with genuine love for whatever little corner of Western heritage is their expertise and arts organizations still exhibit works of transcendent beauty. These dreaded blue, “elitists” milieus might make piss-poor advocates of the traditions they enjoy, but many in these milieus still enjoy aspects of those traditions, and in enjoying them, keep them going, at least for another generation.

Red Tribe, Blue Tribe


donald-trump-blames-thugs-and-our-communist-friend-bernie-sanders-for-chicago-violence-1457812811Yesterday, I asked whether anyone was reading something interesting by a writer we often neglect here on Ricochet. Cyrano suggested an article by Scott Alexander that had given him a new perspective on American political dynamics: I Can Tolerate Anyone Except the Outgroup. I agree it’s a good read.

Alexander begins by suggesting that the definition of “tolerance” is something like, “respect and kindness toward members of an outgroup.”

But today we have an almost unprecedented situation.

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Just this morning while running on my elliptical machine I resumed listening to the lecture series A History of Eastern Europe by Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius. It’s part of The Great Courses series. I’m now listening to the chapter about the 1980 strike at the Gdansk shipyard. I’ve also read about it in other books, […]

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It’s generally accepted among Christians I know that Judaism is today a faith not limited to bloodlines. But in the Torah (Old Testament) Jews seem to be clearly described as descendants of Abraham competing with various other tribal peoples. Even at the time of Jesus, enmity between Jews and Samaritans — who were circumcised and adhered […]

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What Explains Our Polarized Tastes?


Political polarization is no mystery and nothing new, nor is it anything I worry about. Opposing politicians used to beat one another half to death with canes in the Senate, and that was before 3% of the population died in a savage war against fellow countrymen. So until we see THAT level of division, I don’t fret much.

But what is more inexplicable is the conservative and liberal divergence over the non-political. Why is it in our everyday lives that we have such wildly different but predictable interests outside of the political realm? And not just that, but just by seeing an individual or asking him what he likes to do, prefers to eat, or usually wears, you can guess with about 90% certainty how he thinks about political and social issues.