As we take a moment from time to time to stop and look around at the situation we live in we often come to the conclusion that we understand the world. Well, actually most of us don’t take the time to actually pay attention to the details of the world around us. And, many of us don’t really understand what we do take the time to observe. So, what really happens for most of us is that we hear things in passing and we jump to conclusions based on some of those ideas. And, one of those things that we have come to accept as reality is the political division of the world into about 200 different countries. Unfortunately most of us don’t really have a clue as to how and why the world is in this current situation. And, even more importantly - we have no idea as to how the world is evolving.
If we begin way back at the beginning of history... Actually if we start before history… Moreover, we should begin before man himself evolved into man. Lets look at primate for an example.
If you recall Dian Fossey’s work, she learned that Gorilla’s live in misty places. And, she also learned that Gorilla’s have social structure. Gorilla’s do not form nations, but they do form bands of chums that benefit from sharing the same goals and objectives. It turn’s out that these bands of chums will certainly find other bands of chums as threat to their existence.
So, it should be easy to understand that tribal structure most likely has existed as the status quo as human beings evolved. Human beings tend to band together as a method to protect themselves from other tribes that have banded together to protect themselves. The first tribes most likely were based on groups of human beings living in the same area and were most likely related. Extended families were the first natural tribes. This served the biological function of protecting familial DNA as it was passed down to the next generation.
Some tribes naturally grew in size while other tribes stagnated in size or decreased in size for many reasons. Perhaps some tribes could acquire a surplus of resources. Perhaps some tribes could acquire a surplus of men or women. At some point one tribe will seek resources from another tribe. A tribe could decide to use force to take the resources that it needs for survival. Or, certainly some tribes could come to an agreement in which two or more tribes would merge and pool their resources. And, a larger tribe would certainly be viewed as a larger threat to other smaller tribes in the neighborhood.
Common languages and customs tended to tie these different tribes together, and the differences that certainly existed tended to push tribes apart. Clearly as time progressed tribes grew larger and occupied larger regions. Tribes acquire identity from their leaders. Tribal leaders under continuous pressure to prepare for war. Either your resources run low and then you need to attack other tribes to survive, or other tribes attack you for your resources and you need to defend yourself. Conflict is a continuous way of life, even when no one desires that conflict. Everyone wins when peace is made, unless that peace requires surrender of your tribal identity.
When mergers of tribes are handled carefully everyone is happy that the new bigger tribe shares in the identity of the new tribe as being a continuation of the old tribe. The trick of a tribal merger is to make the psychological argument that the old tribes continue on in the new tribe.
Tribes are people and each person bring new ideas to the tribe. Some of those ideas are a propagation of the ideas of language, stories, myths and history. Those cultural things define a tribe. A tribe is a living thing that continually renews itself. A tribe has a short term memory and a long term memory. The short term memory of a tribe exists in an individual member of the tribe. The long term memory of a tribe are the memories that are passed down from one individual to the next. When two tribes merge some of those long term memories die while others live on. Before the birth of writing many cultures just died and could never be reborn.
If we begin to think of tribes as living things that can live and die and have memory we need to ask the question - What makes a tribe successful as a living thing? Obviously a tribe is successful when it grows and spreads its culture. A tribe is not successful when its culture dies, or is over taken by another culture.
There is only a limited amount “cultural space” within any culture. This is because a culture may have a large history of recorded memory the only important memory is the current experience spreading through the culture. In tribal life the current culture was repeated over and over again. A member of the tribe would experience the language and the history as retold by the members of the culture. Recipes and traditions flooded through the tribal experience. Over each year the tribe normally covered all of these things, ready to repeat them again. In modern America our culture is more elusive. We repeat and restate “themes” in different ways - and these “themes” tell us what our culture contains. So, how did we get here and has our culture evolved or died?
Let’s go back to the tribe and look at what the successful tribe has created. The successful tribe passes its history, food and ideals to each successive generation. The unsuccessful tribe dies. And, as I have mentioned before, in a merger some culture dies and some culture is passed on. And, since the advent of recording technology we have been able to put some culture on the back burner. Culture from the ancient Egyptians, Hebrews, Greeks and Romans have survived to the present in the from of written records, but not in practice. We don’t have vomitoriums, speak Egyptian or have juries of 501 people. These cultural ideas have died. But have these cultures died, or have they evolved into what we have today?
In modern times we find that many cultures continue to live on, even after these people have been assimilated into different societies. Hebrews may have been the first culture to do this as they were able to keep their culture alive even after they had been held in captivity time after time. As tribes became large and began to dominate other smaller tribes without the demand of assimilation some cultural aspects were allowed to survive. Even though Christians were outlawed by the Romans, the Christians were able to keep their religion alive in the hidden places of society. When tribes were small and memory was the only storage media for tradition and customs cultural ideas stayed monolithic. However, as tribes grew into empires some culture was allowed to survive. Why?
What was the advantage of having an empire, if culture was not uniform? The answer of course is security. If we go back to the tribal picture we remember that a tribe’s main purpose was to survive. Large tribes ensured survival by eliminating the potential for conflict. The purpose of survival was to perpetuate the culture. However, with such a large empire, such as the Roman Empire, what is the culture that is worth propagating? Obviously the foods within the Empire varied as the regions of the empire varied and they would not be held at such a high value as other cultural values. Actually, the Romans themselves believed that the cultural value that they propagated was “civilization.” The peoples that the Roman conquered could keep their foods and languages, but they should become civilized and become a member of the Roman Empire. Of course the Roman idea of being civilized was a cultural value with a cultural definition.
As the world evolves from a tribal state to some future state people continue to merge together to form a strong defense against the enemy. The “enemies” in the tribal sense were the people who wanted to take the resources of the tribe. The method of taking resources ranges from destroying a tribe and taking the resources, to a merger of tribes where the resources are shared. In our modern world we have drawn political boundaries around virtually all the resources on the planet Earth. A tribe living within these boundaries shares its resources with other tribes living within these boundaries. Tribes living within these boundaries select leaders that determine how the region should deal with the rest of the world.
Let’s be clear here. We have tribes living within our borders today. Tribes are groups of people with cultures that differ from the majority. In fact, the majority of Americans are members of tribes. And, so it follows that the group of people left over that claim not to be a member of a tribe are by definition a member of a tribe. We have tribes that differentiate themselves by their land of origin - Italians, Irish, Polish, Russian or Pacific Islander. We have tribes that differentiate themselves by religion - Christian, Muslim, Jew, Friends of Jesus, Shakers, Quakers or Catholic. We have tribes that differentiate themselves by hobby - Rock Collector, Baseball Fanatic, Dog Breeder or Fundamentalist Christian. In fact, many of us are members of multiple tribes with multiple interests. We all define our lives by the bits and pieces of culture we collect, support and share.
Some tribes are born, live and die in a few short years. Other tribes live for thousands of years. We have all banded together out of the need for protection from the “enemy.” In America our enemy are those who choose to destroy us. If a tribe dies, it should be for natural causes - like disco. It should not be from external forces - like the Spanish Inquisition. In America every tribe has a right to existence unless that tribe threatens another tribe. Tribes are like individuals, but because of democracy, tribes actually have more power than individuals. Large tribes can elect representatives, while individuals could never do that. After all, that is what representative democracy is all about.
In fact, what democracy has done for tribalism is to give tribes protection and prevented the need for violence. When a tribe chooses violence over discussion democracy steps in and protects the vulnerable tribe. This is because we have recognized that no one wants violence - only protection from it.
Around the world we still have tribes who believe that they don’t need to surrender autonomy to democracy. The leaders of these tribes would rather fight to maintain control rather than suffer from the will of the people. These leaders know that they have been unfair to the people and if the people could, they would punish these leaders. But, the leaders have built protections into their systems to prevent this. Some leaders steal power that they don’t deserve. Sometimes the tribes don’t care. Since it is a democracy only a majority of the tribes need to care before something can happen. And, most democracies are orderly and bureaucratic - leaving time for corrections. In the long run a democracy will eventually get things right even when unnecessary suffering may endure from time to time. For the most part tribes will be protected and the will survive, which is much better than the old system of tribalism where tribes were continuously fearful that they could be wiped out at any time.
Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."
Cross Posted @ Bring It On