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 In John's and my view, this meant that realpolitik based mainly on hard power would be superseded, or at least balanced, by noospolitik based mainly on soft power.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.]