Tag Archives: tribalism

The Persistence of Tribalism

I think I need to go back and reread Benjamin Barber’s Jihad vs. McWorld.

The cover of that paperback illustrated the conflict Barber was addressing: a woman in a full burka drinking a diet Pepsi. That one picture showed the conflict between globalization and tribalism.

Barber was exploring the conflict between consumer capitalism in a constantly shrinking, interconnected modern world and deeply-rooted “tribes”–cultures resistant to and threatened by modernization.

In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Istanbul and Brussels, it’s easy enough to point our fingers at the jihadists who believe they are defending their tribal cultures against encroaching global norms. These extremists pose a real challenge to civilization, and the best way to meet and defeat that challenge is by no means clear–not just because of the danger and mayhem they pose, but because there are troubling signs that many of our more “civilized” citizens are responding in kind.

Whatever else accounts for the electoral successes of Donald Trump, a major element has been his blatant appeal to white American tribalism–his willingness to “go there,” to draw stark lines between (a culturally and racially-defined) “us” and “them.” Proposals from Trump and Cruz to “patrol” Muslim communities, to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, the scornful rejection of civility and inclusiveness as “political correctness” all serve to remind us that Middle East jihadis aren’t the only groups responding viscerally to what they see as assaults on their worldviews.

Communication and transportation technologies, scientific and medical discoveries, the growth, productivity and interrelationship of the global economy–all of these advances hold enormous promise, if we can enlarge our concept of our tribes to include the other humans with whom we share the planet.

But right now, the signs are anything but auspicious.

None of the Explanations are Pretty

Implicit bias, anyone?

Two profoundly depressing examples of implicit bias–not to mention the deficits of today’s media–were on display in Indianapolis last week.

The first–and arguably most embarrassing–occured when Ben Carson endorsed Donald Trump; Fox 59 showed a picture of Trump with a photograph of Indianapolis Democratic African-American Representative Andre Carson superimposed.

Because all of “them” look alike?

And how oblivious to the political environment they cover did the newsroom have to be in order to confuse a black Democrat who happens to be one of two Muslims serving in the U.S. House with a sycophantic joke of a presidential candidate? Did they really think Andre Carson would have endorsed a xenophobe who wants to bar Muslims from the country?

Equally discouraging, if not as inexplicable, was the early reporting about a shooting involving an IFD officer. According to later, corrected reports, Michael “Kevin” Gill, a veteran of the Indianapolis Fire Department, was shot outside a house and ran into a nearby mosque seeking help.

Earlier, “breaking news” had reported that Gill was shot inside the mosque. (The definition of prejudice is to “pre-judge”…).

Tribalism–and its exploitation by demagogues seeking political power– is creating a meaner, more dangerous America.


Speaking of Infectious Diseases…

It would do us well to remember that chosen ignorance isn’t confined to the uneducated, Fox-“news”-watching, fearful folks who tend to be the butt of liberal disdain.

 A new study confirms its presence in tonier liberal precincts as well.

When it comes to science illiteracy in the form of Creationism, we know what kind of people are more likely to believe it: Those who attend church frequently, the elderly, and people without much formal education.

But when it comes to parents who refuse to vaccinate their children, the demographics are very different, according to a new study in the American Journal of Public Health.

The people most likely to refuse to have their children vaccinated tend to be white, well-educated and affluent.

Although this particular data point was not in the study, I’d be very surprised if the same people who are rejecting the overwhelming scientific consensus about the value of vaccination aren’t also sneering at the “anti-science” folks denying the reality of climate change.

At both ends of the political spectrum, we have people picking and choosing the scientists and scientific conclusions they are prepared to accept. I’m neither a sociologist nor a political psychologist, so I’m unprepared to offer a theory about why liberals choose to reject one set of conclusions and conservatives another, although I have a sneaking suspicion that in each case, tribal identity plays a large part.

And independent–let alone critical– thinking plays very little…..

Why I Have Blocked “Gopper”

Regular readers of this blog’s comments sections know that it has attracted a regular troll who calls himself “Gopper.” Gopper’s comments suggest that he is an unhappy and angry individual (with, evidently, a great deal of time on his hands), and although he has frequently crossed the line into invective and incivility, I haven’t previously blocked him, for a couple of reasons: for one thing, I am a big believer in the widest possible exchange of perspectives; for another, it is much too easy in the age of the Internet to limit our interactions to those with whom we agree, and thus fail to recognize the extent to which others hold not just diverse but frequently disturbing and even dangerous beliefs.

In that sense, Gopper’s frequent bizarre rants were instructive (although to the extent others couldn’t resist taking the bait, he managed to derail several otherwise productive conversations).

Yesterday, however, the anti-Semitism that has been visible in previous comments was full-blown; his defense of Nazi atrocities exceeded any tolerance to which he might otherwise be entitled in a civilized society,  however useful he might be as a “case in point.”

In a very real sense, this blog is my virtual home, and those invited in will be expected to adhere to the rules of civilized behavior. Visitors are free–indeed, encouraged–to disagree with me or with anyone posting comments. As arguments heat up, I can tolerate–and I have tolerated–a certain degree of testiness and occasional incivility. But ad hominem attacks, personal nastiness and unrepentant bigotry are not welcome and cannot be tolerated.

Gopper’s presence here has served its purpose; he has demonstrated where the problem lies.

The raw vitriol–unleavened by any respect for evidence or reason or other people’s humanity–is undoubtedly not unique to him. Those of us who are trying to leave this world just a little bit better, a little bit kinder than we found it, need to realize that Americans aren’t just arguing about the best way to achieve the common good, or even about what the common good looks like. All too often, debates that are ostensibly about policy are really about power, fear, privilege, advantage–and deep-seated tribal hatreds.

People in the latter category simply cannot be allowed in polite company.

Forgive the detour; this blog will return to its regular obsessions tomorrow.




If You Think Immigration is an Issue Now, Just Wait….

The Donald’s anti-immigration rhetoric and ridiculous “policy” prescriptions–discussed here yesterday–have highlighted the resentment and nativism with which far too many of us respond to newcomers to our shores. It’s embarrassing, but hardly unique to America. Just look at the recent international headlines, detailing Europe’s response to the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing violence and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.

In the wake of those mounting conflicts in Europe, the Brookings Institution considered not just the dislocations and social issues involved, but the reasons for human movement across political borders. (Hint: those reasons aren’t likely to abate.)

One “take away” from the lengthy and somewhat abstruse paper:

Consider the potential effects of the recent IPPCC projections of a 4 degree Celsius rise in temperature expected by the end of the 21st century in the absence of aggressive mitigation. Then agricultural lands would be displaced by 1,000 km from the equator and sea level would rise another 70 centimeters by the end of the century, or about 3.5 times the rise in sea level over the past 150 years. This would put in jeopardy the 44 percent of world population currently living within 150 km from the coastline. Abstracting from other likely disastrous side effects (acidification of oceans, loss of biodiversity, possibility of life collapse), can we adapt to such changes? Since 72 percent of the population and 90 percent of world GDP is located on 10 percent of the Earth’s land, there is ample room for people to move if they are allowed to.

Translation: climate change is going to motivate massive movements of people across the globe. We can accommodate that movement physically, but unless something changes current highly protective attitudes about national sovereignty–unless we rethink the reflexive tribalism that currently motivates policies about immigration– political accommodation and assimilation will be much more difficult.