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:
[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on February 4.]

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