No Longer Bowling Alone: How Tribalism 2.0 is Bringing Us Together to Drive Us Apart
Today, I write you as we enter a profound new era of tribalism in our society. We have known divisions before: communism vs. capitalism, Republican vs. Democrat, rich vs. poor. The topics are not new; we just engage them differently.
The difference is today we live in a world where social media and digital economics spur change exponentially faster. Today’s ecosystem has two characteristic drivers:
(A) self- and collective-identification, and
(B) message mobilization.
(A) deals with our need to identify ourselves within the world and with others and (B) arrives at our need to spread identification behaviors… whether by posting a black square on instagram (#BLM) or say, a “train” of trucks flying a candidates banner that the blocks off a major interstate highway (#TRUMP2020).
Whether or not you agree or disagree with a movement is irrelevant in evaluating efficay— it does not discount how viral or effective tribalism is.
So far, 2020-2021 — with a global pandemic, an overtly-contested election, and a growing gap between haves and have notes — has seen its share of ‘identify, mobilize.’
These divide drivers, I call “tribalism 2.0.” They are not on their own bad. But they trends on steroids, sowing entrenchment, reinforced by others who too join their tribe.
If so many are with me, how can we all be wrong?
What makes tribalism 2.0 difficult to bear as a society, is that we are increasingly approaching differences as binary events: 0 or 1.
And that makes sense when you understand the modus operandi of our media platforms. Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok are working hard to understand whether you are more 0’s than 1’s, and are reenforcing those slight preferences with more like it, until those preferences evolve into tribal belief.
Belief is important in a tribe.
Sports remains the most apparent (and trivial) example for how tribalism cuts both ways. We know what it’s like to hold a deep bias for our team, and how easy it is to hold disdain for others (a-la “boos”).
Interestingly — this year we watched our sport teams from home with limited or no fans. Big catches, dunks, and goals have been followed by faint cheers from the bench instead of mighty roars. Less FOMO.
For some reason, our sense of tribalism around sports has faltered as we’ve seen, heard, and jeered with less of our tribe. Also because our tribalism does not carry with us after watching the game at the bar or after leaving the stadium. Tribalism 1.0 has on the whole been a healthy dose of binary division.
But in tribalism 2.0, the physical and trivial divides are transcended. In their place, contrasts of identity, class, and politics have emerged. Loudly and unyielding.
Meaning, we don’t all of sudden make up with our friend who voted for the other candidate once the election is over.
The effects of tribalism in the digital age are widespread:
- While we’ve witnessed continued failure by governments to properly balance trade-offs between economy and health, we’ve also seen our share of people reacting passionately to restrictions or to the lack of compliance (rise of the COVID-Karens, no-maskers, it’s-just-the-flu theorists, and so on).
- Our fellow countrymen and women — truly believing they were on the right side of history to stop fraud as told by their leader— took part in extreme protests and violence at our nation’s Capitol. Threatening our democracy for their beliefs!
- And last week, we saw an unlikely clash between hedge fund giants (such as Melvin Capital) and the everywoman/everyman retail investor (via no commission platforms such as, you guessed it, Robinhood).
Tribalism 2.0 poses a known threat: namely, to re-enforce echo chambers.
Under the identify, mobilize model you are simply to identify (state your belief), then mobilize (share).
There is no room for being wrong under this model. The very premise of identify is that you have come into the light and are joining your fellow holy brethren and sistren and rejoicing in your shared truth.
This is NOT unique to left or right. For every woke soul there is one who is trying to cure us sheeple against the lies fed to us by liberal and corporate-owned “MSM.” Both movements have varying levels of validity, neither are open to each others’.
As a Jets fan, you will likely never root for Tom Brady (hello Gary Vaynerchuk), but that distinction typically doesn’t trickle down into how you view, engage with, etc. other human beings on the other side of that debate in everyday life (e.g., my die-hard-Patriot-fan neighbor who thinks he is cheering on his B-team in Tampa this weekend, please… but he’s still invited for socially-distant beers)
So yeah, I get tribalism is part of who we are. There are benefits in some regards.
The issue is that the identity and ideological divisions we’re perpetuating through identify, mobilize are crystalizing since they come from a position of resolution.
Tribalism 2.0 assumes that we have risen like a Phoenix from the ashes of ignorance, that those who disagree are at best stuck in their allegorical cave, or at worst are mortal enemies who are forever lost.
Norton Juster in the kids classic The Phantom Tollbooth writes, “being lost is never a matter of not knowing where you are; it’s a matter of not knowing where you aren’t — and I don’t care at all about where I’m not.”
If we are lost, I fear we may have no clue; not the willingness to admit so, and certainly not the humility to ask one another for directions.