A new term (at least new to me) has become something of a byword today.
Unlike the word “woke’ which I don’t understand, I think I have a rudimentary grasp of what is meant by “tribalism”. Merriam Webster defines tribalism as follows:
- consciousness and loyalty especially : exaltation of the tribe above other groups
- strong in-group loyalty
Another, more current definition is: The behavior and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group.
CNN has rightly noted that the term Tribalism has “become the political buzzword over the past few years, increasingly used to describe the root cause of our divisions and our resentments. The idea that Americans are more divided than ever, entrenched in ideological camps and unwilling to meet in the middle, is so pervasive that one hardly goes a single hour without hearing about it on a cable news show.”
Source: Political tribalism isn’t the real reason America is divided (opinion) – CNN
We humans have always been and always will be tribal. We tend to refer to ourselves as being part of a group or groups that share a number of cultural traits and experiences and history. We further try to associate with those with whom we share language, beliefs, certain values and traditions we cherish and live by. We assume that most of our ‘tribe” share a basic understanding of who is a fellow member and who is not. Think of members of a college fraternity, members of a given church, members of the armed forces, etc. We all want to belong.
What I see today in this country and perhaps in much of the world at large, is a descent into a tribalism that not only embraces the fellowship of tribes, but one that increasingly assumes that members of other tribes are not just different, but are enemies and should be treated as such. This leads us to not only defining ourselves by our friends, but by our enemies. Ask any politician running for office and he or she will list their positives, but will also, almost without fail, list those people, policies, lobbyists, and movements in whom they stand in opposition.
That may not seem to be so terribly wrong, but when these divisions lead to not just oppositions, but to active dislike, then to hatred, then to violence I think we find ourselves at place we don’t want to be, but can’t find a peaceful exit.
Certainly recent events in Washington D.C. are clear examples of tribalism taken to its ugly conclusion. Elsewhere in this country, we see demonstrations being violently opposed with counter demonstrations. Too often we find each side ready and willing to support their tribe with not merely words, but with fists and weapons. Too often today, we see immediate assumption of wrongdoing from any opposing tribe. For one example, any police action involving force is assumed police brutality, while any resistance to police action is assumed to be rioting or efforts to completely defund law enforcement.
We clearly do not see any effort to provide an example of peacefully coexisting with other tribes. Rather I see such terms as “reaching across the aisle” and “bipartisan efforts” are more truthfully defined as “the other tribe should agree with my tribes point of view and stop opposing me”.
What worries me so greatly is that, left unabated, the possible or even probable outcome of increasingly hostile tribalism will be violence leading to wide spread injury, incarceration, and death. I enjoy studying history and I find chilling similarities to events in Europe in the 1930s. Have a look at the rallies of Nuremburg and the rhetoric of Hitler and see what tribalism at its worst looks like and what it might degenerate into.