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:
[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on March 25.]