American Tribalism

In our multicultural and multiracial racial nation it is way past time that we Americans stop circling the central factor of our disharmony and address it head on. The all-powerful impulse of tribalism that emanates from the ego foundation of the human mind needs to be publically explored in full. Too often tribalism is explained purely in cultural terms rather than by explaining the core driver of these cultural wars.

Actually the negative facet of tribalism is not peculiar to America, beyond the fact that slavery greatly amplified its social impact in our nation. Tribalism is not learned (though its negative component can be greatly inflamed by others.) On the positive side nature made it so that people of like kind want to join together for the common good, a very worthy thing indeed. Had nature left it at that the world would be a forever peaceful and harmonious place for humanity.

But, alas, nature always provides a cruel offset to its positives, and none more so than with the tribal impulse. And of course it is this offset rooted deep in the human mindset to fear and hate the “other” that s the chief fly in the human ointment. Yet, while it is super powerful on the ways of humanity, it can be ever so subtle to the point that most folks are unaware of the magnitude of its influence on their own thinking and actions.

For instance millions of American, having serious reservation about Donald Trump, rationalized all sort of reasons for voting for him anyway, unaware that deep within their mindset the negative tribal impulse was hard at work influencing that decision. And therein resides the problem. One need not be an avowed racist or nasty neo Nazi enthusiast to promote dangerous disharmony. This deep mental bias toward dissonance is what gives disruptive demagogues and cons like Donald Trump what they need to gain power.

When Barack Obama became president and White America saw imagines of all those dark faces in the rose garden, though they may not have been overtly aware of it, no doubt it set tribal alarm bells ringing off the hook, leading the more openly racists to shout that they wanted their country back.

The forces of evil, hoping to gain cheap political points via the tribal impulse, immediately attacked Obama’s healthcare program for the uninsurable as un-American. In reality this attack was pure lowball politics having nothing to do with healthcare, and as could be expected it worked, giving control of Congress to the Republicans.

Trump immediately comprehended this all too natural reaction as an opening, and thus he began his campaign promoting the notion that Obama was not a real American. So powerful was this signal to the heart of the Republican base that Trump was easily able to blow away the professional Republican establishment to gain the party’s nomination for president, and then of course aided by a seriously flawed opponent, Russian interference, a heavy does of voter suppression and the arcane Electoral College system that was meant, ironically, to prevent frauds like Trump from becoming president, he did, indeed, become president.

So the problem remains how do we Americans of so much racial and cultural diversity overcome the negative aspect of our tribal bias against those unlike our own kind? One thing for sure that won’t work is simply continuing the endless platitudes about we need more love or that it’s not nice to be xenophobic. This approach has been tried forever with little result.

I mean, how should one expect such an approach to work when most folks don’t even know what the word xenophobic means or could they in their wildest dreams think that it had anything to do with them if they did understand its meaning.

The way it happens with most folks who manage to override the negative aspect of their tribal impulse against the “other” is though a reasonably sophisticated education and a wide variety of direct experiences with a diversity of friends and work place associates. But for those isolated within a narrow culture where all think and act pretty much the same, overcoming the negative tribal impulse is a slim possibility.

I therefore suggest that the best way to overcome the negative bias for most citizens is to go directly at the problem by having a national dialogue on exactly what constitutes the tribal impulse, especially its negative feature, and to know that it is a critical thing that one overcome the primitive bias, and to assert that in doing so will require great effort.

A huge step in the right direction is for one to foster a curiosity about different cultures rather than to merely hang on for dear life to the culture within which one was raised. It is impossible to hate when one has become open minded. Sure, one’s negative tribal impulse will fight one on this account, but if our country is to survive and prosper it must be accomplished by the vast majority of its citizens — a lot more than barely sixty percent.

So start the conversation. Get down in the weeds of controversy and explore the negative tribal impulse, pushing through to the tough questions, what is it, how does it work and how do we as a people manage to overcome it?

Like what you read? Give James M. Ridgway, Jr. a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.