Sunday, June 11, 2017

Readings about the tribalization of America — #10: Jalaja Bonheim, "Why We Love Trump” (2016)


Rummaging in my folder, I spotted another article that is too new-age for me, but nonetheless provides a good companion to the two prior posts, especially the rather Buddhist one by Deepak Chopra.
It is Jalaja Bonheim's "Why We Love Trump” (2016). In addition to discussing the causes and consequences of tribalism, she proposes a potential cure that is somewhat far-out: the rise of a new collective global consciousness that will eventually unite humanity in positive ways.
Her key concept is "tribal conditioning" — a reactive way of thinking in our post-modern age that replicates the often mean-spirited us–them thinking that took hold in ancient tribal ages long ago. Her concept is quite similar to the "tribal epistemology" concept featured as #2 on March 23 in this series.
She is so dismayed by people's reversions to tribalism that she concludes that "Trump is … an embodiment of tribal conditioning at its worst." Thus part of her solution is for people to learn not to react in tribally conditioned ways.
Beyond that, she expresses a spiritual, even religious hope that a collective global / planetary consciousness will finally emerge — one that will enable people to coalesce and get along together far better than they do now.
This may seem like a distant abstract stance to many analysts and strategists. yet thousands and thousands (maybe more) people harbor such hopes. Many may be found in new areas on the Left, living and working in spaces apart from established systems, without getting caught up in the malignant tribalism so prevalent in conventional society. Some new formations are known as "neo-tribes", as I will relate in a future post.
Moreover, a realistic strategic argument can be made that some kind of global consciousness is emerging as a result of new information technologies, and that it has implications for security and other kinds of strategy. Arquilla and I fielded such an argument (1999, 2007) around a concept we termed "noopolitik" (also "noospolitik"). We based the term on the idea, fielded by Catholic theologian Teilhard de Chardin, that the next phase of evolution would give be shaped by the emergence of a planetary "noosphere" of ethical knowledge and information. In John's and my view, this meant that realpolitik based mainly on hard power would be superseded, or at least balanced, by noospolitik based mainly on soft power. Other analysts / strategists have raised and reasoned about similar concepts.
In short, Bonheim's spiritual hope is a bit far-fetched but not so far-out (or maybe it's vice versa?).
In any case, I am struck so far that many readings about tribalism end up recommending ways to improve interpersonal relations, and/or ways to foster global consciousness. Yet there are intermediate levels that, so far, have been neglected by those who discuss malignant tribalisms.
Consider, for example, ideas about our needing a new social compact, or social contract, or national covenant. As I've often argued from a TIMN perspective, getting the tribal form right is essential for a healthy society. The obvious elements are families and communities. Yet the bright side of the tribal form is also found in social compacts, contracts, and covenants that political philosophers and historians like to discuss. I need to make that more clear for the sake of TIMN sometime…
Meanwhile, here's an excerpt from Bonheim:
"Today, I’d like to share a concept that may help you understand the Trump phenomenon. I call it tribal conditioning, and I discuss it at length in my recent book The Sacred Ego: Making Peace with Ourselves and Our World.
"Tribal conditioning encompasses a wide range of habits that evolved during the tribal era, yet continue to govern how we think and relate today. Some of these habits still serve us well, but many do not.
"The tribal era, we must consider, lasted not just millennia but millions of years. Therefore tribal conditioning is immensely powerful and compelling. It affects every one of us, and the things it tells us to do, no matter how insane they might be, tend to feel “right” in ways that have nothing to do with the rational mind. …
" … Quite simply, our collective consciousness has not yet caught up with the changes that have so fundamentally transformed our world.
That said, there’s no doubt that change is underway. We’ve become much more tolerant of differences and better able to feel a sense of solidarity with the greater planetary community. …
"A new consciousness is awakening that recognizes our oneness as a global community. More accurately, I should say an old consciousness is blossoming in a much larger way than ever before. Global consciousness is, after all, what Jesus was preaching two thousand years ago. Yet in his times, the unitive awareness he stood for was not a prerequisite for human survival. Today, it is.
"In response, the part of our collective psyche that is governed by tribal conditioning is contracting defensively, hardening and growing ever more fanatic, extreme, rigid and self-righteous. This is why the expressions of tribal conditioning we see today seem so outrageous, so over-the-top, so completely insane.
"It is this defensive, scared part of the collective psyche that has fastened upon Trump as the savior. He is the one who will defend the tribe against its enemies, who will restore America’s greatness and put an end to the relentless dissolution of the familiar. It is he who will uphold the boundaries that separate “us” from “them. …
"Tribal conditioning puts a straight-jacket on our hearts by telling us we must reserve our deepest love for the members of our own tribe. For eons, we obeyed. Yet today, the human heart is rising up in rebellion. More and more people are refusing to limit the circle of their concern to a small minority. “Why,” they are asking, “should I split humanity into ‘us’ and ‘them’? Are we not all brothers and sisters?” Even as they honor their own tribe, nation and religion, they identify first and foremost as citizens of planet Earth. Instead of heeding the fear-based warnings of tribal conditioning, they are embracing love as their guide, kindness as their foundational practice, and Mother Earth as their home. …
" … Trump is, in my view, an embodiment of tribal conditioning at its worst. Yet here I was, grappling with it within myself — not for the first and, I fear, not for the last time."

To read for yourself, go here:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jalaja-bonheim/why-we-love-trump_b_9369840.html

[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on April 9.]

Friday, June 9, 2017

Readings about the tribalization of America — #9: Deepak Chopra, “After Trump, What Will It Take To Heal?” (2016)

Here's a second reading reflecting what I said yesterday — "It'd help if those who bemoan America's tribalization would propose remedies." We need better analyses of not only the causes and consequences but also the cures for malignant tribalism. (Of course, that applies to me too, but we'll get to that some other time.)
This reading is Deepak Chopra’s “After Trump, What Will It Take To Heal?” (2016), published right after the election.
Deepak Chopra!? I never thought I'd be quoting him in a professional effort. Too new-age for me. Yet here he is, showing a good grasp of the tribal form and how it can turn sour. I include it because he proposes ways to improve interpersonal relations (but not society's structures and processes) in today's America.
Here's his opening theme:
"A kind of tribalism has grown up in our democratic society, and the new segregation along party lines means that many people don’t even have a friend who votes the other way. …
"If you can identify with any of these symptoms — and which of us cannot? — the way to healing is clear. Become part of the solution by consciously changing your tribal attitudes, words, and actions."
However, he points out, tribalism brings psychic benefits that make it difficult for people to change:
"The difficulty is that tribal thinking carries with it a package of benefits: you get to belong, to agree with others, to share a common foe, to feel self-righteous and angry at the same time. These are powerful incentives not to change. …
"Likewise, tribal thinking brings secondary benefits, but one shouldn’t overlook that “us versus them” thinking is toxic and unhealthy to begin with."
To urge people to change away from divisive tribalization and reconnect with each other compassionately, he turns to the Buddhist concepts of "Ahimsa" and the "shadow self":
"In the yogic tradition of India, a crucial quality related to peace consciousness is Ahimsa, usually translated as non-violence. Ahimsa is associated with Mahatma Gandhi and the non-violent civil rights movement associated with Martin Luther King. But at heart Ahimsa is about the bond of loving compassion that is natural in each of us when we abandon the seductive allure of false consciousness, in particular the state of separation that engenders all divisions, either inside ourselves or in the outside world. We accept “us versus them” ultimately because there is a “them” inside ourselves. It consists of the shadow self we hide from and deny, which harbors hatred, fear, aggression, and the dread of death."
Trump, he figures, has brought out the tribalized worst in people by embodying and connecting with their shadow selves:
"When we can’t face our own shadow, it gets embodied in figures like Trump who gleefully let the dark side of human nature romp in public. As much as right-thinking people are appalled by him, Trumpism strikes a chord in everyone, because we all have a shadow."
In conclusion, Chopra recommends a process of healing — one that involves achieving an enlightened consciousness:
"It may seem as if I’ve drawn a tenuous thread connecting a flamboyant political sham to something deep in human nature. But the connection is real, and so is the possibility of healing. Bringing in the light, however you define that phrase, is the way to become part of the solution instead of part of the problem. The wounds in consciousness can only be healed through consciousness."
As I indicated, that is a bit too new-age for me to think it could be very effective. But at least he is offering what amounts to a systematic viewpoint, based on a good understanding of what tribalism is like and what it does to people's thoughts and actions.

To read for yourself, go here:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/after-trump-what-will-it-_b_12841976.html

[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on April 7.]

Monday, June 5, 2017

Readings about the tribalization of America — #8: Jonathan Haidt & Ravi Iyer, "How to Get Beyond Our Tribal Politics” (2016)


It'd help if those who bemoan America's tribalization would propose remedies. Here are two readings in a row that start to do so, albeit barely and with a narrow focus on interpersonal relations, not society's structures and processes as a whole.
Up first is Jonathan Haidt & Ravi Iyer's “How to Get Beyond Our Tribal Politics” (2016), published just before the election.
In it they fret that, because of "cross-partisan animosity" and other facets of tribalism, "Nearly half the country will therefore wake up deeply disappointed on the morning of Nov. 9, and many members of the losing side will think that America is doomed. Those on the winning side will feel relieved, but many will be shocked and disgusted that nearly half of their fellow citizens voted for the moral equivalent of the devil."
The authors then offer practical steps, based on three classic maxims they quote, "to turn it down, free ourselves from hatred and make the next four years better for ourselves and the country."
The first maxim is drawn from an ancient Bedouin saying: “Me against my brother, my brothers and me against my cousins, then my cousins and me against strangers.” Haidt & Iyer choose this saying because it reflects that "Human nature is tribal", and because "The tribal mind is adept at changing alliances to face shifting threats". It makes sense to apply this maxim to today's hardened hate-filled America because "Something is broken in American tribalism. It is now “my brothers and me against my cousins” all the time, even when we are threatened by strangers and even when there is no threat at all."
Thus, the authors coax, "Democracy requires trust and cooperation as well as competition. A healthy democracy features flexible and shifting coalitions. We must find a way to see citizens on the other side as cousins who are sometimes opponents but who share most of our values and interests and are never our mortal enemies."
Their second maxim comes from the Bible, Matthew 7:3-5, quoting Jesus: "Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?... You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”
Accordingly, the authors observe that "Our tribal minds are equipped with a powerful tool: shameless and clueless hypocrisy." The result today is an excess of what psychologists call “motivated reasoning.” Which helps explain "why partisans find it so easy to dismiss scandalous revelations about their own candidate while focusing so intently on scandalous revelations about the other candidate."
The new information technologies make matters worse, for "Motivated reasoning has interacted with tribalism and new media technologies since the 1990s in unfortunate ways."
Their third maxim is from Cicero's “On Friendship”, written in ancient Roman times: "Nature has so formed us that a certain tie unites us all, but … this tie becomes stronger from proximity.”
What makes proximity so important, say Haidt & Iyer, is that "Humans are tribal, but tribalism can be transcended. It exists in tension with our extraordinary ability to develop bonds with other human beings." However, what's happening in today's America is that "tragically, Americans are losing their proximity to those on the other side and are spending more time in politically purified settings."
With these three maxims as background, Haidt & Iyer counsel that "If you would like to let go of anger on Nov. 9 without letting go of your moral and political principles, here is some advice, adapted from ancient wisdom and modern research." Some of the practical points they make are as follows:
"First, separate your feelings about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton from your feelings about their supporters. …
"Second, step back and think about your goals. …
"[D]o what you can to cultivate personal relationships with those on the other side." …
"Another powerful depolarizing move is praise, as we saw in the second Clinton-Trump debate." So say something positive to, and about, whomever you're talking to from the other side.
In conclusion, they write, "Starting next Wednesday, each of us must decide what kind of person we want to be and what kind of relationship we want to have with our politically estranged cousins."
Theirs is a sensible reasonable effort to make helpful practical suggestions about improving interpersonal relationships — though I do not see much effect yet.

To read for yourself, go here:
https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-get-beyond-our-tribal-politics-1478271810

[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on April 6.]

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Readings about the tribalization of America — #7: Glenn Harlan Reynolds, "Politicians benefit from American tribal warfare" (2014)


Here is another sustained discussion of tribalism from 2014: conservative libertarian Glenn Harlan Reynolds, on how and why "Politicians benefit from American tribal warfare" (2014). It even references the 2014 discussion by Robert Reich that I posted a few days ago (#6).
As a TIMNista, I commend his identifying tribes as "the default state of humanity". His preferred modern alternative is a healthy civil society. But at the time he was writing, outbreaks of racial strife were serving to tribalize all sides, and demagogic politicians were coming to the fore (he is particularly critical of Al Sharpton). Their behaviors were causing further tribalization — creating a malignant spiral with no clear solution in sight.
Here's an excerpt:
"… Tribalism is the default state of humanity: The tendency to defend our own tribe even when we think it's wrong, and to attack other tribes even when they're right, just because they're other. Societies that give in to the temptations of tribalism — which are always present — wind up spending a lot of their energy on internal strife, and are prone to disintegrate into spectacular factionalism and infighting, often to the point of self-destruction.
"Societies that temper those tribal tendencies, replacing them with the mechanisms of civil society, do much better. But there is much opportunity for political empire-building in tribalism, and if the benefits of stoking tribal fires exceed the costs for political actors, then expect political actors to pour gasoline on even the smallest spark.
"That's pretty much what's happened in the last few months, and the results haven't been good. In America, we have both a police culture that is too quick to escalate force, and an aggressive victim culture, embodied by the loathsome Al Sharpton, that seeks to portray every police use of force, at least against members of the wrong racial and ethnic groups, as excessive.
"A healthy society would stigmatize, marginalize and shun the tribalizers. …
"In a healthy civil society, people can deal with others without worrying about tribalism, confident that disputes will be settled by neutral and reasonably fair procedures overseen by neutral and fair people. In a tribalized society, what matters is what tribe you belong to, and who is on top at the moment.
"Healthy civil societies are a lot better places to live. They're richer, safer and more peaceful. But healthy civil societies don't provide the opportunity for political power grabs, for payoffs and for extortion that tribalized societies do. It's no wonder that so many political figures favor tribalism. The question is, how long will the rest of us allow them to get away with it?"

To read for yourself, go here:
http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/12/28/tribalism-cops-killing-nyc-citizens-public-unions-al-sharpton-tribal-fires-column/20968237/

[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on April 5.]

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Readings about tribes, tribalism, tribalization — #6: Robert Reich, "The New Tribalism and the Decline of the Nation State” (2014)


Since I just offered two readings from the right, here's one from the left. And whereas the earlier two were written in the heat of the 2016 campaign, this one is interesting partly because it offers one of the more sustained discussions of tribalism from a few years ago — sustained in that the writer is not just using the word as a synonym, but is deploying a systematic viewpoint.
It's Robert Reich's "The New Tribalism and the Decline of the Nation State” (2014). In it he argues that we are "witnessing a reversion to tribalism around the world". Nations become less relevant as everything becomes more interconnected; and many nation-states are now starting to come apart. People are turning to multiple other identities in all sorts of areas.
Of most interest here is his observation that America itself is in the throes of tribalization — a splitting into two tribes — for reasons that cut across politics, economics, and culture. This has gone on to such a degree that "the two tribes are pulling America apart, often putting tribal goals over the national interest". 
He wrote that in 2014. Matters are worse and his observations more applicable now. Also, note the similarities to what Daniel Shapiro said (post #3 in this series) about tribalism becoming a worldwide force that is now increasing in America, and what Sabrina Tavernise said (#1) about America fissuring into two tribes.
Here is an excerpt: 
“We are witnessing a reversion to tribalism around the world, away from nation states. The same pattern can be seen even in America — especially in American politics. …
"But America’s new tribalism can be seen most distinctly in its politics. Nowadays the members of one tribe (calling themselves liberals, progressives, and Democrats) hold sharply different views and values than the members of the other (conservatives, Tea Partiers, and Republicans).
“Each tribe has contrasting ideas about rights and freedoms (for liberals, reproductive rights and equal marriage rights; for conservatives, the right to own a gun and do what you want with your property).
“Each has its own totems (social insurance versus smaller government) and taboos (cutting entitlements or raising taxes). Each, its own demons (the Tea Party and Ted Cruz; the Affordable Care Act and Barack Obama); its own version of truth (one believes in climate change and evolution; the other doesn’t); and its own media that confirm its beliefs. …
“Each tribe is headed by rival warlords whose fighting has almost brought the national government in Washington to a halt. Increasingly, the two tribes live separately in their own regions — blue or red state, coastal or mid-section, urban or rural — with state or local governments reflecting their contrasting values. …
“But the fact is, the two tribes are pulling America apart, often putting tribal goals over the national interest — which is not that different from what’s happening in the rest of the world.”
To read for yourself, go here:
http://robertreich.org/post/80522686347
 
[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on April 33.]

Monday, May 22, 2017

Readings on tribes and tribalism — #5: Ben Shapiro, “The Revenge of Tribalism” (2016)


Next is Ben Shapiro on “The Revenge of Tribalism” (2016). His irascible posturing has long annoyed me, for he often seems like an arch-tribalist intent on tribalizing others. I usually changed the TV channel after a few minutes of his demonizing. However, his tone and stance changed a bit after he resigned from his position at Breitbart News, following criticisms he directed at Donald Trump and Stephen Bannon.
Against that background, he turns in this article to identify tribalism on both sides as a problem and explanation for our current political divisiveness. Yet, his analysis of tribalism itself amounts to a spirited (but for me, dispiriting) act of tribalism. For he can't stop demonizing the Democrats, Obama, and Clinton.
He blames Obama above all, claiming that "President Obama’s tribal politics have crippled America." And that Obama used "tribalism to grow his own power” by playing on racial and ethnic politics.
Thus, "Trump is the counter-reaction. He, like Obama, is tribal." But it's a different kind of tribalism, for his is "the tribalism of Patrick Buchanan." 
Shapiro's background analysis is about how "The Founders were scholars of both Thomas Hobbes and John Locke", and how American society has devolved from Lockean into Hobbesian conditions in recent decades. Thus Americans are reverting to tribal politics, and may next succumb to a "strongman" who wants to construct a Hobbesian Leviathan state.
Aargh. His remarks about the Founders, Locke, and Hobbes seem reasonable; they're even a bit TIMN-ish. But his take on the growth of tribalism in America is faulty and misleading. 
Here are three reasons why, based on my efforts to watch for tribal behavior among both conservatives and liberals / progressives over the past 5 to 10 years:
First, tribalism among conservatives, especially conservatives outside the Republican fold, started years, in some ways decades ago — long before Obama became president. Shapiro's mention of Pat Buchanan indicates he should know this. Key elements of their tribalism — narrative lines, media strategies, funding priorities, legislative maneuvers, etc. — were in place when Obama took office. Much as conservatives would go on to decry "political correctness" on the Left, they were already deep into installing a kind of "tribal correctness" of their own. And they immediately aimed it at Obama, not to mention Clinton.
Second, the tribalism of the conservative Right is structurally different from the tribalism on the liberal / progressive Left. The tribalism on the Right is built around a common narrative, plus principles and strategies, that pretty much spans the conservative movement. A media infrastructure of AM talk radio, FOX News, and CPAC conventions has worked to cultivate and assure this. Sometimes nowadays, when I am in a mean mood, I wonder whether tribalists of the Right have, in some sense, been Pavlov'ed and Potemkin'ed together. 
In contrast, tribalism on the Left is quite chopped up. Each group, especially each ethnic and racial group, has it's own agents and episodes of tribalism. From what I've seen, there's no cohesive, all-spanning narrative or other strategy. And the media infrastructures that may work to tribalize on the Left are not as impressive or effective as those on the Right. Sure, conservatives often point to particular individuals and movements as evidence of tribalism on the Left — but my sense continues to be that there's not nearly as much that is systematic on the Left.
Third, Obama really wasn't (and isn't) much of a tribalist. I've seen him talk like a bit of a tribalist on a few occasions, mostly involving racial matters — but nothing like Trump. However, I've also seen what I thought might be efforts by conservatives to goad Obama into acting like a tribalist — for example, if I recall correctly, after a racial incident, when someone on FOX News may criticize Obama for not doing much about the incident, then when he does something, turning to accuse him of playing the race card. Tribalists seem to be comfortable with duplicitous hypocrisy.
This post has grown too long, so I'm stopping now, even though the above three points beg for further clarification.
Here's an excerpt from Shapiro's article: 
"They’re both right. Obama, like it or not, leads a coalition of tribes. Trump, like it or not, leads a competing coalition of tribes. The Founders weep in their graves. …
"But the Founders still feared tribalism. They called it “faction” in The Federalist Papers, and were truly worried about the seizure of the mechanism of government in order to benefit one group over another. They may have agreed with Locke over Hobbes about the proper extent of government power, but they never believed that tribalism had disappeared. That is why they attempted to create a government pitting faction against faction, cutting the Gordian knot of tyranny and tribalism with checks and balances. …
"It was a brilliant solution to an intractable problem — so long as it worked.
"It no longer does. Tribalism has had its revenge. …
"And so we may have reached the end of the era of small government. As tribalism rises, Americans look again to the strongman. We begin the cycle anew. But first, we feel the rage of riots in San Jose and Ferguson, and the spiteful glee of the white-nationalist alt-right. We watch contests between tribal figures like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. We wonder which tribe will win, even as America disintegrates before us."
To read for yourself, go here:
http://www.nationalreview.com/article/436312/donald-trump-barack-obama-tribalism-hobbesian-politics


[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on March 30.]

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Readings on tribes & tribalism — #4: Charlie Sykes, “Where the Right Went Wrong” (2016)


Here come two readings in a row by two conservatives: Charles Sykes, and Ben Shapiro. They show that conservatives can recognize their own side's tribalism (albeit after each decided to leave his media job under some duress). 
Remember, all I am trying to show with this series is that analysts across the political spectrum are increasingly realizing that the tribal form is in play, having powerful effects on thought and behavior. I am not going to say much — only a little — as to where I may agree or disagree with the authors, or what I think they get right or wrong.
First up is Charlie Sykes on “Where the Right Went Wrong“ (2016). It explains why he'd just stepped down from his popular daily talk-radio show — partly because of verbal assaults he'd received for not backing Trump, but mainly because his experience showed him that "The conservative media is broken and the conservative movement deeply compromised." 
His explanation is all about excessive tribalism. Sykes himself is a reasonably thoughtful conservative; he's not a tribalist. But he sure found out what malignant tribalism is like.
In particular, he was struck by a growing predilection in his audience for binary either/or, us/them beliefs — indeed, "the gravitational pull of our binary politics is too strong." Thus he experienced the destruction of middle positions, the subordination of objective fact to tribal truth, the appeal of conspiracy theories, the exaltation of identity and loyalty, and an indulgence in aggressive nastiness not only toward the other side but also toward him as an independent questioning conservative who had not joined the tribe.
It's an insightful piece about dynamics that continue to trouble and distort our politics. Here's an excerpt:
"What they did buy into was the argument that this was a “binary choice.” No matter how bad Mr. Trump was, my listeners argued, he could not possibly be as bad as Mrs. Clinton. You simply cannot overstate this as a factor in the final outcome. As our politics have become more polarized, the essential loyalties shift from ideas, to parties, to tribes, to individuals. Nothing else ultimately matters.
"In this binary tribal world, where everything is at stake, everything is in play, there is no room for quibbles about character, or truth, or principles. If everything — the Supreme Court, the fate of Western civilization, the survival of the planet — depends on tribal victory, then neither individuals nor ideas can be determinative. I watched this play out in real time, as conservatives who fully understood the threat that Mr. Trump posed succumbed to the argument about the Supreme Court. As even Mr. Ryan discovered, neutrality was not acceptable; if you were not for Mr. Trump, then you were for Mrs. Clinton. …
"In this political universe, voters accept that they must tolerate bizarre behavior, dishonesty, crudity and cruelty, because the other side is always worse; the stakes are such that no qualms can get in the way of the greater cause. …
"And this is where it became painful. Even among Republicans who had no illusions about Mr. Trump’s character or judgment, the demands of that tribal loyalty took precedence. To resist was an act of betrayal. …
"We destroyed our own immunity to fake news, while empowering the worst and most reckless voices on the right."
To read for yourself, go here: 
https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/opinion/sunday/charlie-sykes-on-where-the-right-went-wrong.html
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[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on March 28.]

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Readings on tribes and tribalism — #3: Daniel Shapiro, "Modern tribes - the new lines of loyalty" (2008)


This op-ed by Daniel Shapiro, "Modern tribes - the new lines of loyalty" (2008) was fairly early at recognizing that tribalism is growing around the world, becoming a key basis of conflict. His article is mostly about conflicts abroad, yet it is also recognizes forms of tribalism that we now see distorting matters here at home.
Here’s his key argument:
"In this complex situation, the key is to recognize that the fault lines of modern conflict revolve around tribes. But not traditional notions of tribes. The modern tribe is an identity-based group held together by a sense of kinship. As such, we all belong to multiple tribes based upon our religion, ethnicity, political stance, nationality, and other dividers.”
And he rightly observes that “tribes” come in all sorts of shapes and sizes in the modern world, even corporations and terrorist groups:
“…Multinationals such as the big oil companies resemble a tribe, and their presence alone in a nation-state can have an impact on intrastate and international conflict. Well-networked terrorist organizations often function as tribes, and 9/11 demonstrates the extent to which people are willing to sacrifice for their tribe.” 
He also observes that “many current security measures fail to address the tribal motivations of groups in conflict”, and thus asks “how do we deal with this new tribal reality?” His answers are sensible but also quite conventional — find ways to “reduce emotional tensions”, “bind groups together in a new, overarching identity of solidarity”, and expand institutions so as to “create the conditions for divided tribes to come together, listen to one another’s stories, and jointly develop processes for moving forward.” Accordingly
“…policymakers dealing with tribal conflict must answer three critical questions. First, where are the tribal lines of loyalty? Second, what are the primary substantive and emotional interests of each tribe? Third, in what ways do the various tribes share a common identity or historical narrative that can draw them together toward peace?
He is not particularly optimistic, concluding that “These are difficult questions. But if they are not addressed, conflicts will escalate and terrorist attacks will increase.” But at least he was urging policymakers, strategists, analysts, and activists to recognize the tribal paradigm and take it seriously.
I first saw the article at the website of the Harvard International Negotiation Program, which the author directs. But it was first published as an op-ed in the Boston Globe, September 11, 2008.
To read for yourself, go here:
http://www.internationalnegotiation.org/modern-tribes-op-ed/
[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on March 25.]

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Readings on tribes and tribalism — #2: David Roberts, “Donald Trump and the rise of tribal epistemology” (2017)


This article by David Roberts, “Donald Trump and the rise of tribal epistemology” (2017), is one of the better analyses I've seen about how tribalized minds work and how this is affecting American politics and journalism. In various regards, it’s a biased article — but it’s also an article that provides many insightful valid points about the nature and severity of the tribalism growing in our country.
Roberts opens with a rant by Rush Limbaugh that sets the stage for Roberts to propose his key concept: tribal epistemology:
“He [Limbaugh] and his listeners, he said, live in a world apart:
“We live in two universes. One universe is a lie. One universe is an entire lie. Everything run, dominated, and controlled by the left here and around the world is a lie. The other universe is where we are, and that’s where reality reigns supreme and we deal with it. And seldom do these two universes ever overlap.” 
Roberts’ concern is primarily with tribalism on the Right, not the Left. And he associates it with views on the Right that America’s institutions have become “irredeemably corrupted”, mostly by the Left, such that the Right’s only recourse now is “zero-sum competition between tribes, the left and right”:
“This is not just run-of-the-mill ranting. It expresses something profound about the worldview of conservative media and its audience, something the mainstream media has ignored, denied, or waved away for many years.
“In Limbaugh’s view, the core institutions and norms of American democracy have been irredeemably corrupted by an alien enemy. Their claims to transpartisan authority — authority that applies equally to all political factions and parties — are fraudulent. There are no transpartisan authorities; there is only zero-sum competition between tribes, the left and right. Two universes.
“One obvious implication of this view is that only one’s own tribe can be trusted. (Who wants to trust a “universe of lies”?)
Roberts then fields his concept of “tribal epistemology” — he also refers later to “epistemic tribalism” resulting in “epistemic closure”. Far as I can tell these scholarly-sounding wordings simply mean the tribal mindset or mentality, the tribalized way of thinking. And Roberts warns that it has now “has found its way to the White House”:
“Over time, this leads to what you might call tribal epistemology: Information is evaluated based not on conformity to common standards of evidence or correspondence to a common understanding of the world, but on whether it supports the tribe’s values and goals and is vouchsafed by tribal leaders. “Good for our side” and “true” begin to blur into one.
“Now tribal epistemology has found its way to the White House.”
I hoped for a fuller definition and elaboration of his concept. But Roberts focuses mostly on criticizing how “The US political media underestimated Trump’s potential”. He locates his explanation in the media’s “longstanding refusal to grapple with the deepening asymmetry in American politics — the rejection, by a large swath of the right, of the core institutions and norms that shape US public life.” 
A key factor behind all this is “the big sort” prompted by global as well as national trends: Accordingly, “It is well known that Americans have been sorting themselves into like-minded communities by race, class, and ideology, creating more in-group homogeneity and cultural “bubbles.”” Indeed, Roberts accepts the views that “globalization has effectively split the US into two countries”, and that “Sorting has been both a driver and a consequence of the extraordinary polarization of US public life over the past several decades.”
In keeping with his emphasis on the Right, he finds that “From Reagan forward, the US has become much more politically polarized, but the polarization has not been symmetrical — the right has become far more extreme than the left.” This difference in degree has arisen partly because “Over time, the right’s base — unlike the left’s fractious and heterogeneous coalition of interest groups — has become increasingly homogeneous (mostly white, non-urban, and Christian) and like-minded (traditionalist, zero-sum values).” Moreover, anxious believers on the Right have been subjected to “a steady diet of radicalizing media and tribal epistemology,” such that “their traditionalism has hardened into tribalism.” 
Returning to his opening theme, Roberts emphasizes that “the source of this information polarization is the American conservative movement’s decades-long battle against institutions that it has deemed irredeemably liberal.” Indeed, the Right has become so untrusting and hostile toward conventional politics that “the right sees the game itself, its institutions and norms, as the enemy.” The Right has worked (the Left too) so that “The information available to lawmakers was tribalized.” It wants lawmakers to have only “tribal information, and it wants “a base that only trusts tribal news from tribal sources.”
In the end, Roberts offers little hope for alleviating these trends toward tribalism that are so damaging to journalism’s health. In his view, “training media consumers to be more discerning” — fixing media’s demand side — won’t work. What’s needed must come from the supply side: assuring “the values and integrity of individual journalists and outlets”, and upholding America’s “norms and institutions”. Otherwise, “The alternative is further epistemic tribalism and attendant illiberalism”, even “epistemic chaos”. Trumps behavior as “America’s aspiring autocrat” compounds Roberts’ worries that “In the end, if tribal epistemology wins, journalism loses.”

To read Roberts’ article for yourself, go here:
http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/3/22/14762030/donald-trump-tribal-epistemology
 
[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on March 23.]

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Readings on tribes & tribalism — Intro and #1: Sabrina Tavernise, "One country, two tribes" (2017)


I mean to post a running series of readings about the tribal form, tribalism, and tribalization in America. I’ll do so by drawing on writings I've saved over the years. And I’ll present them in no particular order

Intro explaining why this series


My reason for doing this series is simple: I'm not getting my own thinking written up in a timely manner — I keep getting stalled. So I might as well let others' writings speak to points I'd like to be making.
As I said in my prior post, writers are increasingly recognizing that American society is becoming more tribalized. Explicit systematic usage of T-words is increasing. I’ve seen this in opinion columns in the New York Times (e.g., by David Brooks, Ross Douthat, Paul Krugman, Thomas Friedman, Sabrina Tavernise), in articles I happen across or that colleagues point out to me (e.g., lately by such ideologically and politically diverse voices as Danah Boyd, Jonathan Chait, Deepak Chopra, Kathy Cramer, Michael Gerson, Jordan Greenhall, Jonathan Haidt & Ravi Iyer, Charles Murrray, Robert Reich, David Roberts, Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Ben Shapiro, Daniel Shapiro, Charlie Sykes, Stephen B. Young). Also, a handful of fairly recent books have advanced people’s understanding while explicitly referring to the tribal form — e.g., Seth Godin’s Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (2008), Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012), Mark Weiner’s The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals About the Future of Individual Freedom (2014), and Sebastian Junger’s Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (2016). Plus, some blogs I follow — e.g., The Archdruid Report, The Augean Stables, Cliodynamica, Contrary Brin, The Evolution Institute, Fabius Maximus, Global Guerrillas, Harold Jarche, The P2P Foundation, Social Evolution Forum, Spinuzzi, and Zenpundit — have increasingly and explicitly attended to the distinctive nature of tribalism and the deepening tribalization of America. (Actually, David Brin at Contrary Brin and John Robb at Global Guerrillas deserve special mention for writing about tribes and tribalism in modern societies since at least ten years ago, ahead of almost everybody.)
 By “systematic”, I mean that the writer is treating tribes as a distinct form of organization and behavior, and isn't using the term simply as a synonym for, say, polarization or divisiveness. In the examples noted above, usage is generally limited. Tribalism or one of the other T-words always gets a sentence or two, and sometimes a paragraph or two; it may even be the theme of the entire writing. Except for a couple cases, the writer doesn't provide a full analysis of tribal formations, tribalism, or tribalization. But the trend toward increasingly explicit systematic usage is evident among analysts and journalists.
Doing this series is an ancillary way for me to push for greater recognition and understanding of the tribal form and its significance as part of TIMN theory.

Reading #1


I’m going to replicate the order in which this series appears on my Facebook page, where I began it in February. There, the first one up was by NYT journalist Sabrina Tavernise, writing "One country, two tribes" (2017). If I were beginning the series anew today, I’d probably start with a different reading. But hers is still pertinent, and I’d still have included it along the way.
Tavernise’s article is based on her experiences reporting from abroad, where she observed many politically divided countries splitting into two "tribes" — and then returning to America to find her own country being torn by tribalized forces, aggravated by Trump:


“I have covered political divides in Turkey, Russia, Pakistan and Iraq. The pattern often goes like this: One country. Two tribes. Conflicting visions for how government should be run. There is lots of shouting. Sometimes there is shooting.
“Now those same forces are tearing at my own country.
“Increasingly, Americans live in alternate worlds, with different laws of gravity, languages and truths. Politics is raw, more about who you are than what you believe. The ground is shifting in unsettling ways. Even democracy feels fragile.
“President Trump has brought out these contrasts, like colors in a photograph developing in a darkroom.”
 
When she wrote this in January, she was well aware of seemingly reasonable ideas about how to reduce the ongoing polarization, but she couldn’t find evidence that they’d be practical and effective, given  the nature of tribalized crowd behaviors:
“What will happen here? Social psychologists like Mr. Haidt say the best way to ease polarization and reduce anxiety among the nationalists is to emphasize our sameness. But in the crowds a week ago, no one seemed to be in the mood.”

To read for yourself, go here:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/28/opinion/one-country-two-tribes.html
[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on February 4.]

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Trends in thinking about tribes, tribalism, tribalization: usage and understanding are improving in public dialogue — but we could do a lot better for strategy’s sake (2nd of maybe 4 parts)


From synonymic, to systematic, to comparative, to evolutionary usages


Because of the significance of tribal (aka “T”) forms of organization in the TIMN framework, I've monitored usages of words like tribes, tribal, tribalism, and tribalization for over 20 years, albeit informally. The usages I’ve seen have evolved from being simply synonymic for many years, to lately becoming increasingly systematic and, better yet, comparative. Analysts and journalists recognize better now than a decade ago that tribal dynamics are significant — not just in preternaturally tribal societies, like Afghanistan and Iraq, but also in complex postmodern societies, including right here in America.
I’m pleased to see this conceptual progress. Nonetheless, most usage is still not nested in an evolutionary understanding of some kind. The more that the evolutionary (and devolutionary) significance of the tribal form is perceived, the more its meaning and implications will become evident for policy and strategy as well as theory. 
But before I get into the meat of this post, I have an old bone to kick first: In my experience, few Americans cotton to the words tribe, tribal, tribalism, and tribalization — the last one isn’t even in the dictionary yet. Americans don't use them in common parlance, except to talk about Indians or other old tribes elsewhere. The one academic field that should honor these words — anthropology — has long avoided them, partly for questionable conceptual reasons, but also for reasons of political correctness and ideology. Moreover, national security analysts tend to balk at using these terms to understand what’s going on in America today — to them, the terms seem too archaic, jargony, narrow, or otherwise inappropriate. So we all mostly use other words about how people can be divided up and categorized — words like race, ethnicity, and identity, or like partisans, factions, gangs, even fans. These are good words too, but once you get the hang of thinking and analyzing in terms of the tribal form, the T words become more illuminating.
The organizational form I call "tribes" or "T" will thus continue to be a part of TIMN, for I’ve found no better conceptual term for this form. Every alternative — e.g., kinship, family, clan, community, solidarity group, affinity group, club, clade, phyle — conveys part of what this form is all about; but each has its own limitations and is no more suitable as a replacement for the “T” in TIMN. I’ve written about this before, but I figure it is worth reiterating briefly here.
For TIMN to take hold, understanding the T form is essential. I have yet to find a sweeping portrayal of how tribal (and, except for one author, clan) forms of organization and behavior have permeated social life across the ages. Political and economic histories often provide such portrayals for the institutional (I) and market (M) forms. And there are all sorts of writing about networks (N) these days. But there is nothing comparable for the tribal (T) form, not even in cultural theories and histories. So it behooves me — hopefully, us — to persist with urging better recognition and understanding of this form, for it’s the first and forever form, the form on which all societies are grounded. Feel free in your own mind to use another term for  this form (sector / layer / stage) — just don’t fail to recognize how essential it is, and to always ask how one development or another may affect its bright sides and its dark sides.

 

Progress advancing from synonymic to systematic usages


For decades, ever since I became aware of the importance of the tribal/T form, the usage I’d see most often for matters here at home was synonymic. Tribe-related words cropped up as substitutes or synonyms for words like partisanship, faction, incivility, polarization, in-group / out-group behavior, and divisiveness, not to mention identity politics. Words like tribal and tribalism were tossed into write-ups and talks more as synonymic flourishes than as distinct concepts about significant patterns of thought and behavior. Tribe-like words seemed weighted with old anthropological baggage; few analysts saw merit in applying them to modern society. (But there were prominent exceptions: e.g., Joel Kotkin’s Tribes: How Race, Religion and Identity Determine Success in the New Global Economy (1993), and Benjamin Barber’s Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Reshaping the World (1996)).
Most conservative and many liberal/progressive analysts have long preferred other concepts and categories — e.g., race, ethnicity, family, culture, identity — when writing about matters that I fit under the tribal form. For example, studies of identity politics in America pretty much began with Samuel P. Huntington’s book Who Are We?: The Challenges to America's National Identity (2004), and peaked recently with Mark Lilla’s “The End of Identity Liberalism”(2016). Neither uses a “T” word. Yet, these kinds of studies, along with prominent writings by Charles Murray and by Robert Putnam, plus J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (2016), not to mentions scads of other writings, show that attention has increased to tribal (and tribalizing) conditions in our society, even though these authors rarely or never use any T words.
Over the past few years, the usage of “T” words has become more systematic. Writers are increasingly recognizing that a distinct form of organization and behavior is at work, and that American society is becoming more tribalized. Explicit usage of T-words is increasing. I’ve see this in opinion columns in the New York Times (e.g., by David Brooks, Ross Douthat, Paul Krugman, Thomas Friedman, Sabrina Tavernise), in articles I happen across or that colleagues point out to me (e.g., lately by such ideologically and politically diverse voices as Danah Boyd, Jonathan Chait, Deepak Chopra, Kathy Cramer, Michael Gerson, Jordan Greenhall, Jonathan Haidt & Ravi Iyer, Charles Murrray, Robert Reich, David Roberts, Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Ben Shapiro, Daniel Shapiro, Charlie Sykes, Stephen B. Young). Also, a handful of fairly recent books have advanced people’s understanding while explicitly referring to the tribal form — e.g., Seth Godin’s Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (2008), Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012), Mark Weiner’s The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals About the Future of Individual Freedom (2014), and Sebastian Junger’s Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (2016). Plus, some blogs I follow — e.g., The Archdruid Report, The Augean Stables, Cliodynamica, Contrary Brin, The Evolution Institute, Fabius Maximus, Global Guerrillas, Harold Jarche, The P2P Foundation, Social Evolution Forum, Spinuzzi, and Zenpundit — have increasingly and explicitly attended to the distinctive nature of tribalism and the deepening tribalization of America. (Actually, David Brin at Contrary Brin and John Robb at Global Guerrillas deserve special mention for writing about tribes and tribalism in modern societies since at least ten years ago, ahead of almost everybody.)
By “systematic” — there's probably a better term, but I just haven't thought of it yet — I mean that the writer is treating tribes as a distinctive form of organization and behavior, and isn't using the term simply as a synonym. In the examples noted above, usage is generally limited. Tribalism or one of the other T-words always gets a sentence or two, and sometimes a paragraph or two; it may even be the theme of the entire writing. Except for a couple cases, the writer doesn't provide a full analysis of tribal formations, tribalism, or tribalization. But the trend toward increasingly systematic usage is evident among analysts and journalists.

Usages by politicians


As for political leaders, I've not seen any Democrats refer to tribes, tribalism, or tribalization in a systematic way — with one exception. President Obama has sounded TIMN-ish notes about tribalism. While speaking at a press conference in Athens on November 15, 2016, he said:
“I do believe, separate and apart from any particular election or movement, that we are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an ‘us’ and a ‘them’.”
He hit the same note a few days later in Berlin. Indeed, he warned about tribalism several times in 2016, treating it as a reaction to globalism and a cause of Trumpism. He surely doesn’t have TIMN in mind, but his explicit recognition adds to my argument here.
To my knowledge, no leading Republican politician has voiced similar concerns. Yet, as I’ve noted before in past posts, the conservative movement is rife with tribalists; the Republican party is now split between tribalists and institutionalists (the Establishment). As marks of their tribalism, the former constantly dwell on the nature of identity — what it means to be a conservative, what conservatism stands for, why “we” are different from and better than “them” — even as they deride liberal progressives for playing identity politics. Republican rules (e.g. the “Hastert Rule”) that no Republican shall speak ill of any other, nor shall any negotiate with a Democrat, are more than merely partisan — they are deliberately tribal rules. Moreover, many litmus-test issues that conservative politicians and pundits keep bringing to the fore — such as immigration, marriage, abortion, gun ownership, religion — pertain more to the T than to any other TIMN form. Trump’s rise as a kind of charismatic warlord with tribal appeal reflects this (see my post about this here). Thus tribalization deepens in American political circles even as its conceptual grasp remains elusive, particularly among its archest political practitioners.
-------
(I posted an earlier version of this write-up on my Facebook page, on Feb 3.)

Intermission: My part-3 post will be about getting beyond synonymic and systematic usages, in order to get to comparative and evolutionary usages that can provide deeper insights and lead to TIMN’s implications for policy and strategy. But unfortunately, I got bogged down while trying to complete it. So, it will be delayed.
However, for the sake of keeping up some kind of momentum over at Facebook, I turned to posting a still-underway series of readings about tribes, tribalism, and the tribalization of America. I’m bringing them over here next. I hope that makes sense.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Trends in thinking about tribes and tribalism — my theme for the next series of posts (1st of maybe 4 parts)


Most every day now, Trump still does something that stirs up more tribalism here at home and abroad. Yet try using that word "tribalism" in talking to people around you. It usually doesn't register much. Nor do words like "tribal" and "tribalization". Americans are not used to thinking in terms of those words or the concepts behind them.

So let me start by putting it bluntly: Tribalism has become the strongest force shaping world order and disorder.

Stronger and more vital than globalism and capitalism — what many analysts have long thought was sweeping the world. Indeed, tribalism has grown as a reaction to globalism / capitalism, partly because their progress has left so many people outside and falling behind, while disrupting the ways they've long wanted and tried to live.

Stronger than populism or nationalism: Many analysts say those are now the strong forces. But boiled down to their essences, they are mostly modernized expressions of tribalism (nationalism more so than populism). Likewise the ethnocentric "Eurasianism" that Alexander Dugin and Vladimir Putin foster in order to advance Russian interests in far-right populist nationalist circles in Europe as well as in America.

Stronger also than terrorism, including Islamic terrorism: Many analysts say that is the world's worst problem, but a deep look reveals that it too is an expression of malignant tribalism. We should be fighting such terrorism and its narratives not by treating it as a function of religion but as a function of tribalism.
I suppose there are analysts on the Marxist Left who still think class struggle is a dominant force world-wide. But they have some conceptual catching-up to do. From a TIMN perspective, "class struggle" was an appropriate concept for past ages of institution- and market-building — and it still is a vital concept today, given the corrosive corruptive disparities and inequalities that have taken hold here at home. But by now, class struggle too is being largely tribalized. (Actually, TIMN implies that the nature of class structure and struggle will be radically altered during the emerging new age of networks — but that’s a topic for another time.)

In sum, we need to rethink, lest the tribalization of America keep spreading without our having a conceptual and strategic grasp, and thus turn into our unexpected undoing. TIMN is my way to propose accomplishing that.

Take another look at the isms mentioned above. They are all variations on TIMN. Tribalism obviously correlates to the T form. Beyond that, globalism is a function of the spread of +M and the rise of +N. Capitalism is obviously a manifestation of +M (though in many respects it has become more a distortion that a proper sound manifestation of +M).

Other forces I mentioned — nationalism and populism — are mostly T-related forces. However populism often contains a +I element, with expectations that government leaders will fix things. Russian-led Eurasianism is a kind of T+I ideology that is antithetical to +M, in that it combines aspects of communism and fascism.

To reiterate what I’ve said in prior posts, when matters go well, societies advance by adopting and using the TIMN forms properly. When matters do not go well — if leaders make a mess of the +I and +M forms, or if individuals cannot find places for themselves in the +I, +M, or emerging +N realms — then people revert to organizing and behaving in terms of the T form, often in dark ways.

In other words, I repeat, beware the tribalization of America.

[An earlier version of this write-up appeared on my Facebook page on Jan 31.]

Blog status update

Anybody still out there following this blog? If so, this post is to let you know that this blog is still alive, still potentially productive. I haven't been here for a while, partly because I remain slowed down, but mostly because for the last few months I've confined my postings to Facebook. It's time I improved activity here now.

I’d long avoided Facebook, but a reason arose to join, and I've tried to make the best of it. Socially, it has indeed been a beneficial delight to interact with old and new "friends" there. As for TIMN and STA:C, I've used my Facebook page to file preliminary versions of posts that should eventually end up here. That was the case with my most recent series here about Trump's ascendance. And it's the case with the next series or two that I'm on the verge of posting here about TIMN's tribal form.

Since the late 80s and early 90s, I have long meant to be mostly a networks (+N) guy in the context of elaborating TIMN. But the way matters have evolved, I've become mostly a tribes (T) guy for the time being. And that's OK, at least for a while. Of the four TIMN forms, it's maybe the least understood and accepted — so I believe it makes sense for me to focus on helping rectify that.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Reason #3: Trump’s psyche & the tribalization of America (4th of 4 posts)


My third reason is that Trump is prone to act like a tribalist — a tribal chieftain or warlord — who is intent on tribalizing others. This was most evident during the campaign — just look at his rallies. It was less evident lately, while he focused on personnel and policy matters. But it was on display yesterday in his very tribal (and tribalizing) inaugural speech. And now that he is in office, it may not take much to trigger his penchant for tribalism, setting Americans against each other and against outsiders. Indeed, to offer an allusion to Trump’s slogan, if he keeps arousing malignant tribalism, far from making America “great”, he will instead make it “grate” again.

Americans are not used to thinking in terms of tribes, tribalism, or tribalization. Mostly we use other words about how people get divided up — words like race, ethnicity, and identity, or words like partisans, factions, gangs, and fans. These are good words too, but once you get the hang of thinking and analyzing in terms of the tribal form, the T words become more illuminating.

I write a lot about the tribal form — tribes, the “T” form — as a result of coming up with the TIMN framework about past, present, and future social evolution. So maybe I should say a little to clarify that, before applying it to Trump’s psyche.

Reminder about TIMN theory:


In brief, TIMN theory finds that, over the ages, people have come up with four cardinal forms of organization for constructing their societies: tribes (or the T form), hierarchical institutions (the I form), markets (M), and information-age networks (N). Each form of organization has different purposes and uses, along with different philosophical and strategic implications. Each form also has both bright and dark sides, and can be used for good or ill; societies can get them wrong as well as right, in ways that affect their usage of the other forms.

For various reasons, these forms have arisen and matured at different rates and in different eras — tribes (T) took shape first, hierarchical institutions (+I) were next, then markets (+M), and now information-age networks (+N) are increasingly on the rise. Societies progress according to their abilities to add and combine these forms (and their resulting sectors of activity). How people manage to use and combine these forms, their bright and dark sides, pretty much determines what kind of society they have. Advanced societies depend on people’s abilities to use all four forms in a coherent, well-balanced, well-functioning whole.

In notational terms, this means that societies have evolved across the centuries in a preferred historical progression: from monoform (T-only), to biform (T+I), to triform (T+I+M), and now potentially to quadriform (T+I+M+N) types of societies. For example, Russia today is still mostly a biform T+I society — for it lacks much of a true market system, and suppresses NGO networks. Liberal democracies, with their advanced capitalist economies, equate to triform T+I+M societies — indeed, only +M societies can become liberal democracies. Some, notably our United States, are just beginning to evolve into a quadriform T+I+M+N society (though it remains unclear what +N will bring).

Thus, according to TIMN theory, when matters go well, societies advance by adopting and using these forms properly and in progressive stages. When matters do not go well — for example, if leaders make a mess of the institutional (government) and market forms, or if people cannot find places for themselves in the institutional, market, or emerging network sectors — then many people revert to organizing and behaving in terms of the tribal form, often in dark ways.

Nature and recognition of the tribal (T) form:


No society can do well without the tribal form evolving properly. Its main dynamic is kinship, which gives people a distinct sense of identity and belonging. It is initially expressed best in families, clans, and classic tribes; later in community spirit, civic clubs, patriotic nationalism; as well as in positive group identities about religion, ideology, and ethnicity, and even through being fans of sports teams and commercial brands — all exemplars of “togetherness”. The tribe is the first and forever form behind social evolution, the bedrock of all societies.

TIMN thus recognizes the crucial importance of the tribal form and its bright sides — the beneficial tribalism manifested in thriving families and communities. It undergirds all societies and their prospects for evolutionary progress. In the TIMN sense, tribes and tribalism per se are not a bad thing; some is good and necessary. But TIMN also explains that dark sides — malignant tribalism — may show up too, as in violent urban youth gangs, organized crime gangs, sectarian militias, partisan cliques, millenarian movements, charismatic cults, hate groups, etc.

For decades, ever since I became aware of the importance of the tribal/T form, the usage I used to see most often for matters here at home was synonymic. Tribe-related words cropped up as substitutes or synonyms for words like partisanship, faction, incivility, polarization, and divisiveness, not to mention identity politics. Words like tribal and tribalism were tossed into write-ups and talks more as flourishes than as concepts about distinct patterns of thought and behavior. Tribe-like words seemed weighted with ancient anthropological baggage; few analysts saw merit in applying them to modern society.

Over the past few years, however, the usage of these terms has become more systematic. As I will specify in a later post, prominent journalists and op-ed writers writers are increasingly recognizing that a distinct form of organization and behavior is at work, and that American society is becoming more tribalized. I see this in opinion columns in the New York Times and other newspapers, in magazine articles I happen across or that colleagues point out to me, in a handful of recent books, and in a bunch of blogs I follow. Comprehension of the T form is growing, albeit slowly.

President Obama too has warned about tribalism several times in recent months, seeing it as a reaction to globalism and a cause of Trumpism. During a November 2016 press conference in Athens, he said: “I do believe, separate and apart from any particular election or movement, that we are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an ‘us’ and a ‘them’.” He surely does not have TIMN in mind; but his recognition of tribalism adds to my argument here.

No Republican politicians have voiced similar concerns. Yet the conservative movement has been rife with tribalists for years, and the Republican party is now largely split between tribalists and institutionalists (the Establishment). As marks of their tribalism, the former constantly dwell on the nature of identity — what it means to be a conservative, what conservatism stands for, why “us” are different from and better than “them” — even as they deride liberals and progressives for playing identity politics. Republican “rules” (e.g. the “Hastert Rule”) that no Republican shall speak ill of any other, nor shall any negotiate with a Democrat, are more than partisan — they are tribalizing. Indeed, many litmus-test issues that social conservatives keep bringing to the fore — like immigration, marriage, abortion, religion, gun ownership — pertain more to T than to any other TIMN form. Trump’s rise as a kind of charismatic warlord with tribal appeal reflects this.

Trump and tribalism:


Around the world, time after time, people exhibit similar patterns of thought and action when they turn darkly tribal, no matter their religious, political, ethnic, or other group affiliations: They divide the world between “us” and “them”. They tout group identity, loyalty, unity, and solidarity. They extol honor, pride, dignity, and respect. They flash totems and slogans. They claim purity for their side. They vilify and demonize opponents. They readily turn combative and uncompromising. They call for revenge and retribution, often as payback for past humiliations, insults, and grudges. They force people to take sides, without question. They shun and demean moderates once on their side. They engage in magical and conspiratorial thinking about their prospects. They believe it’s morally okay — maybe not politically correct, but tribally correct for sure — to lie to, and about, outsiders. And of course they accuse the other side of excessive tribalism.

I’ve made these points for years, and many now seem to apply to Trump, his surrogates, and his “movement”. Trump also behaves in additional ways that signal his tribalness: He amplifies resentments that his supporters hold about their identity and place in life. He dismisses and deflects blame for alleged misconduct or shortcomings, using theatrical reactions that further divide and tribalize (see my “scoundrel’s script” post). He seeks to delegitimize mainstream (i.e., less-tribal) media, in favor of tribalized media that show devotion to him (e.g., Fox News). He decries political correctness — but then clamors for what amounts to tribal correctness. He urges a unity of all Americans, but it sounds like unity in tribal terms where people are either for “us” or against “us”, and it’s unclear what “Americans” and “our people” mean. He voices a xenophobic, populist, even nativist kind of nationalism and patriotism.

Again, this angry tormented divisiveness fits a key TIMN proposition: When people feel disconnected from and distressed about what’s happening with the +I and +M forms (not to mention +N), many people revert to thinking and acting in terms of the T form. That is, they turn tribal — and some become extreme tribalists, bitter and nasty in all sorts of ways. What is going on today in America conforms to this TIMN dynamic. America is becoming newly tribalized.

And what may be the implications if Trump continues this way?

Well, here’s what often happens to societies and their governance systems when tribal values prevail over institutional and market values? They turn corrupt and corruptible, rife with nepotism, cronyism, and favoritism, along with secretive kickbacks, payoffs, and sweetheart deals. People engage in factional divisiveness. Demagogues and dictators are hard to resist. Media fragment into bubbles and black-holes. Duplicitous hypocrisy becomes a norm. Political theater displaces factual truth. Free thinking succumbs to memetic addictions (what Russian info-war theorists term “reflexive conditioning”), often in the form of push-button sound-bites and doctrinaire catch-phrases. What should be science and religion give way to pseudo-science and pseudo-religion. What once was deemed class conflict gets riddled with tribalized conflict. Et cetera.

It’s one thing for such tendencies to exist in underdeveloped undemocratic societies where the tribal form remains quite strong, as in parts of Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia (in TIMN terms, societies that are designed around T+I with bits of +M). It’s another matter for these tendencies to grow in America and Western Europe, where the tribal form has long been subdued and most people focus their lives around later forms of activity, especially the market form (in TIMN terms, advanced liberal democratic societies designed around T+I+M with an emerging potential for +N).

As to what may be next if the tribalization of America deepens and hardens, here’s a list of what else may go hand-in-hand with malignant tribalism: A sharpening of identity clashes. A further distortion and shrinkage of liberal democracy. If there’s political order, then a turn deeper into patrimonial corporatism (a system that authoritarian tribalists often like). If there’s political disorder, then a turn into some kind of information-age fascism. Meanwhile, a further growth of public and private domestic security forces, plus a further growth of public and private surveillance and censorship. In many settings, factionalism between doctrinaire tribalists and principled institutionalists.

Those are easy points to list. Most have been made by many analysts and commentators. In my view, these points are consistent with TIMN theory — but with a difference: While other analysis normally refer to an array of political, economic, social, and cultural factors as the underlying explanations, TIMN treats the relative appeal and content of the tribal form itself as a key explanation. For TIMN, it is simpler, more systematic, and makes better sense to do so.

Those then are some worries about Trump’s ascension, based on TIMN. In closing, I’d add three more points that are rarely made but derive directly from TIMN:

— From a TIMN perspective, the reasons for “American exceptionalism” lie mainly in our approach to the T form. We have welcomed immigrants and found ways to enable people from all backgrounds and orientations to live together. Trumpish tribalism will undermine that basis of American exceptionalism, especially if he and his cohorts claim to be restoring it.

— TIMN implies that malignant tribalization will make our society far more vulnerable to information warfare. The ultimate goal of strategic information warfare at the societal level, whether waged by foreign or domestic actors, is to tribalize a society, the better to divide and conquer it.

— According to TIMN, America is moving into a new/next phase of social evolution — it’s evolving from a triform into a quadriform society. Just what the addition of a +N sector will mean is far from clear, and this is not the place to elaborate. But I do want to note that Trumpish tribalism, if it doesn’t abate, seems likely to imperil the prospects for getting to +N for years to come (though I can also see opportunities arising in some respects).

Well, I’ve rambled on long enough, and begun drifting away from Trump’s psyche. So I shall end this post, with apologies for not writing as well as I used to.

Onward.

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Sources: Publications and blog posts about tribal forms of organization and behavior, notably In Search Of How Societies Work: Tribes — The First and Forever Form (2007), plus blogspot posts on “We face a turmoil of tribalisms, not a clash of civilizations” (2009), “Q’s & A’s about “TIMN in 20 minutes” (1st of 7): TIMN as a set of narratives” (2012), “Why the Republicans lost: excessive tribalism — a partial TIMN interpretation” (2012), “The problem is preternatural tribalism, more than Islamic extremism — a reiteration” (2015), and “The NRA in light of STA:C and TIMN (Part 1 of 2)” (2016).

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Short summary version posted on my Facebook page on January 21, 2017.