Tribes

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February 19, 2007

To which tribe do you belong, I wonder? How do you describe yourself?

Some such self-description can be very useful, of course. At parties I sometimes ask, "What do you do between weekends?" because the answer gives me a quick guide to the kind of person I'm meeting. Is he or she cerebral or manual, mathematical or artistic, a leader or follower, entrepreneurial or bureaucratic? Combined with the first impression given by appearance, clothing and manner of speech, I can gain a useful impression in less than a minute and tailor the rest of our conversation accordingly so as to achieve a pleasant encounter.

Then comes the plethora of other classifications, which interest me less: SWF or MBM or DINK, etc., and worst of all the loyalties and affiliations professed by the partygoer. Does he or she support the Bears or the Cubs or the Sox (White or Red) and is he Irish or Italian (meaning of course Irish-American or Italian-American, a really important distinction to all who have ventured overseas since Italians generally expect other Italians to speak Italian--and many Irish Americans have an Irish accent quite a bit worse than mine, when I try, and I've never even been to Ireland.)

My point? That all too often, we like to identify ourselves in terms of membership in a group, or tribe. We feel comfortable that there are others out there who live or think or feel the same way that we do. What can be more thrilling than to cheer a home-team victory in concert with 20,000 others sharing an identical pleasure at the same moment?

Political people--those who vote or (even worse) actively work for a candidate, experience just such a rush when their man wins, and share the same gloom when he loses. We see this on the TV, any time election results are covered. Those of us with a history in the Libertarian Party also know what I mean--though the ecstasy there was limited to the achievement of, say, a 5% vote share instead of 0.87%.

The bigger the tribe, the more dangerous the illusion--particularly the pinnacle, called "Patriotism." We're "born in the USA," and probably damn proud of it, as if membership in that tribe marks us out as men among men, by far the most equal of all the equal animals in Earth Farm. Just as if it were an achievement, as if we had some hand in the matter of getting ourselves born, or in selecting our parents or whether at the time they lived 100 yards North or South of some government-drawn line on a map. Those so careless as to be born on the wrong side are not "like" us; they are, well, foreigners. Heck, they may not even speak English!

Last week I watched "Hotel Rwanda" for the first time, and it's worth seeing if you haven't yet. In what used to be the Eastern part of Belgian Africa, there were and are two such tribes, with membership going back through the mists of time: the Hutu and the Tutsi, and so long ago that nobody can remember why, they grew to dislike each other. It so happened that evolution led Tutsis to be a little taller than their rivals, and a little smarter, so they dominated. And when the Belgian colonizers needed administrators, they also usually picked Tutsis--who acted like all governments and bureau-rats act, and gave their old enemies a rough time. After the Belgians quit, democratic elections put a Hutu majority into government from 1962 and the Tutsi minority fought to regain its lost power, so the enmity continued to fester--until in 1994 many Hutus took a machete and killed the nearest Tutsi, just because he or she was a Tutsi. The movie tells how Paul Rusesabagina, a Hutu who managed Sabena's hotel in Kigali, rescued over 1,000 Tutsis from almost certain death by giving them rooms there at whatever rates they could afford, as a kind of African Oskar Schindler, an individual human, acting with compassion and skill to help other individuals in mortal danger from tribal, would-be government forces. By the time a Tutsi army had driven out the worst of the Hutu killers, about a million innocent men, women and children had had their throats cut. Tribal genocide, just because.

Tribalism/Patriotism helps cause (or certainly helps execute) every war I can recall, for the governments that wish to wage them rely heavily upon such deep-seated but irrational hatreds to motivate participation. Frenchmen hated Germans in two recent wars because they were Boches (spit), and no doubt Germans despised Frenchmen (and yes, Jews!) for a comparable non-reason. Protestants in Ulster loathe Catholics because they come from the wrong side of Belfast and believe God conveys instructions through a vicar in Rome rather than one in Canterbury (or directly, with no vicar at all) and, of course, vice-versa. And until recently, they were busy bombing each others' children to death and drilling the kneecaps of any disloyal to the tribe, with a quarter inch bit in a power drill, that is. Civilization is a thin veneer when tribal and religious loyalties are at stake; tribes and myths go closely together. Comparable but far more complex inter-tribal squabbles in Lebanon reduced Beirut to rubble not that long ago, and today the Shia are bombing the hell out of the Sunni, and vice versa, in Iraq because the two tribes can't agree about whom Mohammed appointed as successor fourteen centuries ago and because each wishes to rule the other.

Government loves tribalism in domestic matters too. Its spokesmen in the media ceaselessly classify us into collectives and groups, each deserving of some benefit at the expense of others never specified. "The Poor" is a favorite tribe, carefully defined by government statisticians, and of course "The Children" is a class guaranteed to jerk a tear at every opportunity. "Illegal Immigrants" is a group currently kicked around like a football as to whether it deserves this or that favor from the givers of law. Skin color is a godsend to the tribalizers, with Blacks or Hispanics or Minorities or Caucasians (I never have climbed those, have you?) etc. being carefully favored in exchange for a mere vote, now and again. The only winner in this ghastly game of beggar thy neighbor is, of course, the Pol--who never loses.

We market anarchists reject tribalism. We are just members of the human race, period, and we see every other human being in that same way. We avoid groupthink, for we form our understanding of life by reason alone, rationality being the core of our human-ness. We wish to govern ourselves, and ourselves alone. If we wave a flag, it is black--for we owe no allegiance to any colored, gaudy, irrational collective. We seek no subjects, and reject all rulers. We see the realization of self ownership and self responsibility and the pursuit of self-interest by all as the only hope for the human race.

But there I go, using a phrase like "we anarchists" with the first person plural! It goes deep, this tribal habit. I guess I have some work to do, to root it out and live only as an individual.

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Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched http://TinyURL.com/QuitGov , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?"