Don’t Fall for Tribalism
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
To be intensely tribal is to be powerless. More often than not, tribalism is a tool empowered by elites to keep the public divided.
My career started in Democratic politics (with a big D), and like many starry-eyed operatives—I had the fundamental belief that it was us versus them.
I believed this so strongly, that it drove my relentless pursuit of victory. After all, everyone made it seem like a Republican win would spell the end of America.
It wasn’t until I finally made it to D.C., and specifically to the private sector that I realized just how naive I was.
Here, at the apex of power, most Republicans and Democrats are indistinguishable. They send their children to the same schools, vacation in the same spots, attend the same happy hours, and all cozy up to the same lobbyists.
Sure, their campaign rhetoric is polarized, and they may argue on this bill or that bill—but make no mistake that they line up together for the important things, the legislation that gets shielded from the public eye but has the biggest impact on your future.
What’s the point in keep the people believing that there are two distinct political parties, and so invested in the success of their respective side? Easy. Divide and conquer.
So long as they can keep us hating one another, afraid of one another’s supposed ideals, they can keep us distracted while they use obscure parliamentary procedures and prey on our ignorance of the legislative process to pass the bills that favor the lobbyists and corporate stakeholders.
The greatest danger to a corrupt government is a unified and informed public. Now I’m not saying that we have it worse than many other countries around the world, where governments literally loot, rape and kill its own citizens.
And don’t think I’m speaking out against our own country. A country is never its government, and especially our current government—the government that our founders feared, and attempted to prevent with their constitutional language.
There are less insidious forms of tribalism that plague our society as well.
I love sports as much as the next person, but I’m truly taken aback by the people who have a fanatical devotion to their respective team. Fans of rival teams often hate each other more than the rival athletes who can often be found partying together.
The same applies to rivalries between music artists, who manufacture drama and competition between one another to boost sales and visibility.
Tribalism even extends to more complex fields, like sets of programmers that vigorously defend the merits of their language over another competing one.
Why is the temptation to be tribal so hard to resist?
It’s hard to resist the desire to fit in, and be a part of a group.
Think of the very nature of the word we’ve been using all article—tribal. It evokes imagery of our ancestors coming together in small groups to battle the elements and make the most of their savage lives.
There’s comfort and acceptance in being the member of a group, and great fear and anxiety in going it alone.
It’s the same reason that people are afraid to think outside of the lines drawn by society, let alone start be entrepreneurial and start a company instead of pursuing a safe career. The roadmap of independence is unclear, and the chance of being humiliated and rejected by failure is high.
I’m not advising people to become lone wolves, or to blindly oppose the hivemind at every turn in their lives. I’m simply encouraging people to be more critical, more reflective, and to get over their fear of autonomy.
There can be great value in tribes, particularly smaller ones, if they’re geared towards positive hobbies, and/or career pursuits. Otherwise, you’re better off becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable.