Not a revelation: Human beings are tribal. Put two unrelated humans together (provided they don’t want to kill each other) and they will bond — forming a ‘Tribe’. An ‘Us’ to face whatever ‘Them’s’ might come their way. It’s hard-wired into us and clearly, since we’re still here on the planet, it’s been ‘working’ for us as a survival strategy.
But there’s ‘tribal’ and then there’s ‘Tribal’.
I grew up in a massively Jewish suburb north of Baltimore, Maryland. Jewish was my tribe. But then, even within Jewish there were sub-tribes: My family was ‘Conservative’ Jewish — the ‘middle road’ as opposed to Orthodox (real Jews) or Reformed (Catholics, basically). Within all the kids I knew who also were Conservative Jews, the next tribal breakdown was which Conservative shul did your family belong to?
In this large suburb northwest of Baltimore, there were two primary high schools to which most of us went (if we didn’t go to private schools; but the Baltimore County Public School system was pretty damned good!) One was Randalstown High — the other guys. Mine was Pikesville (yeah, yeah — ‘Kikesville’ — let’s get that out of our systems, shall we?)
Then I went off to college. And Vassar — and everyone who ever went to or graduated from or even just wanted to go to Vassar became my tribe. For a while I was a New Yorker who grudgingly liked California but HATED Los Angeles. Now I am an Angeleno through and through. It IS my tribe.
As well as all the others I belong to — Tottenham Hotspur fans, Los Angeles Dodgers fans, Thievery Corporation fans, Marina & the Diamonds fans, Twitter users, atheists, progressives & residents of the street I live on.
The difference isn’t which tribe you belong to — it’s which tribes you don’t. Most of us, though deeply tribal by nature, extend that innate tribalism out into the world we live in. It’s a survival instinct — to connect to the world, to engage with it, to find ways to navigate its dangers and benefit from it as best we possibly can. Turns out — the more tribes we belong to, the more opportunities we have to succeed. Big, dynamic, multi-cultural tribes naturally present more opportunities than small, homogenous ones. It’s just logic. There’s lots of supporting data to back it up.
By comparison — look at people whose tribal connections are more limited. White Nationalists for example. Their tribes are pretty much White People — like them and, perhaps, the rest of the folks in their section of the trailer park (though absolutely NOT the black family in the double-wide!) People who see themselves as standing in one, two — maybe three — tribes at the most… are people who can’t bear other people.
Maybe somewhere in our past this ‘strategy’ — to limit extending one’s tribe — was beneficial. I can’t quite see how. My money’s on ‘It’s an aberration’ (rather than a strategy). Which means — the best thing we can do for US — as a Nation and right on down to tribes of two — is to embrace other tribes. Ya don’t have to love them — but you might find, once you get to know them — that you’ve been in the same Tribe the whole time…