It’s Tribes All the Way Down
At some point in our evolution as humans, we were all squatters. There were no nation-defining boundaries. Whether you’re a creationist or an atheist, the earth arrived, life started, and then humans began flowering.
Those humans stayed where they were born or wandered far and near, to hunt, to live, to settle, often near a body of water where people could use the water to drink, to clean, to fish, or to transports goods and people.
One thing was for sure in our evolution: humans gathered in communities—in hillside caverns, in make-shift enclosures, in villages and towns, and eventually cities. If we were to create a fast-forward cartoon, we might start with mud huts, straw huts, cave-dwellings, stone domiciles, homes made of wood, brick and stucco homes, then buildings of steel and glass.
If the pattern of human development could be phrased simply, we were all tribes at one time in our brief history. And there were reasons we stuck together in those tribes: familiarity, bonding, the sheer physical power of a group to protect itself and to build monumental artifacts of human ingenuity.
Language and conquest were the two ways that defined how certain large tribes became dominant in particular geographical areas. The list is endless: the Babylonians, the Han, the Greeks, the Romans, the English, the Arabs, the French, the Spanish, the Germans, the Incas, the Huns, the Aztecs, the Mongolians, the Plains Indians of North America, to name just a few.
And many of these large tribes established empires, large swaths of land controlled by the dominant culture.
Some global tribes extended their dominance in religious creeds and practices: Protestants and Roman Catholics in Europe and North and South America; Muslims in the Middle East and Southeast Asia; Buddhists and Hindus in Asia.
Over time, certain blood-line and privileged groups held on to power in various parts of the world, sometimes for centuries at a time—Monarchs, Brahmins, Emperors, Tsars, Popes, Supreme Leaders. Some of these power groups claimed to have been chosen by a sky-god or a human surrogate.
In Western democracies, political parties became the more democratized versions of tribal power. The party system embodies almost every aspect of a country’s social network—socio-economic class, educational status, sex (and sexual orientation), business and corporate interests, religion, regional/local cultures, tradition, nationalism, and ethnicity.
More recently, environmental groups have been vying for stronger representation throughout Europe and the United States, as have other groups to the left and to the right, particularly over the issues of immigration and terrorist threats.
The political party system in Western democracies is one way to exteriorize differences and similarities in how we believe governments should be run or what values those governments should represent. It is our modern institutional embodiment of tribalism.
Aside from the political party system in Western and Western-style democracies, there appears to be another dominant major divide, particularly in the United States.
That divide could be simply put as a split between those who believe that a nation is communitarian entity, and those who believe that a nation derives its power from the many. This group is a strong advocate for limiting a national government’s powers to defense and to broad national interests.
Those on the side of the “one” believe that national interests trump private, local, provincial, or state interests. This group tends to believe in a national, collective, or a federal “public-ownership” approach to health care, to infrastructure (roads, highways), to transportation, to water supplies, to prisons, to education (Many in the national public-ownership group believe in extending free education to the post-secondary levels.)
The national communitarian group also believes that the elected federal government has an obligation to represent the interests of the ordinary citizens in the market place (against corporate fraud and monopolistic practices), on environmental issues, on foreign trade, on broad social-justice and equity issues, and on any space or practice considered accessible to the larger public—the media, the internet, voting, national parks and monuments, among others.
On the other hand, the libertarian, states-rights, laissez-faire, and conservative streaks in the American culture tend to see governments as dangerous forms of statism and the federal government, in particular, as a static, Leviathan-like center of top-down paternalism. They are often suspicious of government regulations, many of which, in their view, stifle creativity and the free-market.
This rugged-indivdualism group has particular antipathy to any economic/political model that smacks of socialism or communism, or any form of “planned-economy” paradigm reminiscent of the top-down communist economies of Mao, Stalin, and Castro. And they are strong advocates of private poverty and the free-market, often viewing them as natural rights, rather than as agreed-upon cultural values.
So, my friends, in our social evolution as humans, we appear to be continuing the various forms of tribalism based on conquest, religion and ethnicity, to tribes based on party and economic models.
The geographical and religious conquest model is picking up steam in the Middle East with ISIS, an extremist Islamic group hell-bent on making the Middle East a caliphate based on Sharia Law. And the more than chilly war between the West and the East continues unabated in the economic competition between the United States and Europe and China and Russia (India, of course, is poised to enter that competition more vigorously in the next few years).
To paraphrase a well-known anthropologist, “It’s tribes all the way down.”