John F Waterman
The works of John F Waterman

Blog 06.20.17 June 20, 2017

Hello again, folks.

I’m still keeping this blog apolitical, but I’d like to discuss what I see as an emerging issue in our ‘modern’ world. There’s a popular sociological term known as ‘amoral tribalism’ that, without getting into a long lecture in sociology, I take to mean ‘holding no moral values or concepts other than those of one’s own tribe’. This philosophy is not at all new; it’s actually been the default state of all humans up until the formation of nations a mere few millennia ago.

Amoral tribalism kept humanity alive for hundreds of thousands of years. It is one of the characteristics that allowed our ancestors to out-compete all other hominids. Having a strong tribal identity shared with one’s relatives and defending that identity assiduously assured the survival of one’s relatives in the face of pretty horrendous competition with other tribes–or species–for resources. One’s tribe was either good at it and out-competed the people down the river, or those people ate your lunch if your tribe could not unify to resist the interlopers.

This behavior naturally leads to an ‘US vs. THEM’ mentality deeply ingrained in the human psyche. It is still the guiding cultural philosophy of a majority of people living on this planet no matter if they are hunter-gatherers in a rain forest or in modern cities with advanced technology. Most modern nation-states, however, have eschewed–at least on paper–amoral tribalism for nationalism where groups larger than tribes have united under an exterior system guided not by tradition but by precepts of law and order administered by extra-tribal organizations such as legislatures, judiciaries and executive functions who at least claim to espouse values that nominally serve all citizens of their nation.

In short, the purpose of a nation and its established organizations is to remove the power of the tribe and replace it with that of the individual. In some instances this removed the violent competition between tribes to create a governable populace; in a few others it allowed individuals the ability to live, prosper and associate freely with whomever they chose.
The ‘developed’ nations of this world claim to put the guiding values of their cultural institutions over those of the (in many cases) long-dead tribes once existing in them. (Whether this in effect makes those nations just larger tribes instead of something that transcends the limitations of tribalism is a topic for a different day . . .) In effect, the government of a nation theoretically allows each citizen his own rights divorced from the moral expectations of his or any other tribe. Substitute ‘race’, ‘gender’, ‘ethnicity’, ‘religion’, ‘political party’ or the term of your choice in place of ‘tribe’ and you may begin to see where I’m getting at with this blog.

The tribe still lurks under the veneer of civilization, though, and it still has great power. It is becoming resurgent even in pluralistic societies such as in the ‘developed’ nations. One has to ask, ‘Is the tribe returning in those places because people no longer trust their government and its precepts and its organizations . . .or because someone has found a way to create tribes de novo (or resurrect old ones) and thus manipulate the citizens of a nation in that fashion? I offer this merely as food for thought as you watch the news or scroll through your social media.

Keep striving, friends.

Categories: Blog

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