Tribalism in Politics

My first introduction to tribalism was when my mother called my brother’s group of friends a tribe. They were the poor kids in a rich town, and spent most of their youth trying to get high and making trouble. In the end, most of them ended up moving out west together. The core group of friends live in the same town- across the country from where they started. They had ups and downs over the years, fights and reconciliations, but they still have each others’ backs.

As a kid growing up poor in a rich town and with zero social skills, I envied my brother his tribe. I saw so much shallow bullshit from the people around me. The upper-middle-class people around me growing up seemed to hold friends as acquaintances, chips to be traded around in power games. A family whose kid was in trouble with the law would lose social standing and be shunned a bit. A family with money was more sought-after socially. No one stuck by those their friends in rough times- that might drag down their own social standing.

I knew that I didn’t want that in my life. I have no use for single-serving friends. Anyone I feel is worth my time is worth fighting for. Otherwise, I’d rather be alone. I ended up marrying someone with very similar ideals. Though we had much to work out, we stuck together because we both believe that loyalty is the highest virtue.

As a child, I always envied my brother his tribe. As an adult, I’ve begun to build a tribe of my own. I rather dislike most of the human race, and my husband and I have chosen a few people we think are worth our time. We are trying to build up the other people around us. My dream is for my daughter to grow up in a tribe, as we believe this is the optimal state for human health and happiness.

To us, a tribe is no more than 20 or so adults and their children. The obligations of mutual loyalty would become onerous beyond a small group of people with similar ideals. We ally with broader social movements as we feel our interests demand. As union workers, we tend to favor the improvement of working conditions and pay for workers. As a tribe with ties to transwomen, we oppose the mistreatment of our friends. We oppose the use of racial sentiments to allow the setting of precedents which allow police brutality.

Our respect is not based on nationality or color or gender or sexuality. We respect a Mexican family man who has the courage and drive to come here and get whatever work he can to support his family. We do kind of wish we could send worthless Americans back to Mexico in exchange, but that’s not likely.

Overall, we are a group of people trying to work in our own interests. We are not racist, sexist, or homophobic. (Quite the opposite, in fact.) The other tribe I know of is my brother’s tribe, and while they tend to be a bit less liberal than my tribe, they are far from neo-Nazis.

All this makes me very upset by the current push by neo-Nazis to appropriate tribalist ideas. To be clear- a tribe is a tribe, in my view living in accordance with Dunbar’s number- so no more than a couple of hundred people. There are likely at least a billion “white” people in the world. Just from a purely tribalist perspective, the idea that “white” people form a tribe which requires mutual defense is ludicrous. There has never been and never will be a tribe of a billion people.

Furthermore, “white” people screw over other “white” people all the time. I’m “white” and my ancestors were kicked off their lands in Ireland and England under the Acts of Enclosure by “white” people. Then they were kidnapped and sold as indentured servants right beside the “black” people. It was “white” people who kept my ancestors out of businesses with signs reading “No dogs or Irish.” It is mostly “white” people who benefit from exploiting my labor in the current day. A “white” person or a company owned by “white” people owns my student debt, so they are currently screwing me. Why would I support a social grouping that has historically benefited from the oppression of my ancestors and continues to benefit from my current oppression?

The white supremacists seems to be using tactics used by many indigenous tribes for hunting. Many hunters in the days before guns would dress up as the animal they were hunting, covering themselves in the target’s dung to cover their scent and even wearing antler headdresses when hunting deer. It was a way of telling their prey “Hey, don’t worry about me, I’m just a deer like you. We’re buddies.” Then the hunters would creep close enough to kill the deer.

Similarly, white supremacists appeal to our “sameness”. But their end goal- like that of hunters- is to avoid defense mechanisms so they can divide us and stab us in the back. White supremacists also use herding tactics- getting the unwary panicked about something scary over in the bushes so they will run blindly off a cliff or into a corral to be slaughtered. It is the “herd mentality” white supremacists appeal to when they attempt fear-mongering tactics about their imaginary “war on whites” and “invasions” by refugees. I’m not a bison to be stampeded, and I reject the nonsense of fear-mongering politics.

There are tribes with which my tribe has connection- for example, my brother’s tribe. But even the big network of people who have the right to expect aid from me in times of trouble numbers less than a hundred people. Outside of that network, my tribe supports political and social issues depending on what they can do for us. Based on research, we generally tend left-ward in our politics, but that is not a hard and fast rule. We’re not going to be tricked into giving up our rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, cruel and unusual punishment, and a fair trial because those trying to deny us those rights are “white” and they are setting the precedent on “black” people. Once the precedent is set, the law won’t care about race.

I’ve recently heard a lot of noise about “tribalism”, which seems to mean different things to different people.  Some of the left seems convinced that a tribalist is automatically part of a neo-Nazi Wotanic wolf-cult. Some of the right seems convinced that “tribalism” means acting like a billion people of European ancestry constitute a tribe.

In my opinion, both are missing the mark by a wide margin. To me, tribalism is the only sensible reaction to a world where we are divided to make us weak. Our culture no longer values family, and our society is in the grip of what I call “The Cult of the Twenty-Something Consumer”. To me, tribalism means taking care of family and friends, regardless of what anyone else thinks of them. At the heart of tribalism is personal loyalty. That has nothing to do with race, gender, or any other external factor. The only important factor to us when deciding whether a person is worthy of consideration for tribal membership is whether they will show the same loyalty to us that we would show to someone in the tribe. (And they have to have decent taste in music…) No one is given false worth for pale skin that they did nothing to earn.

I’m speaking out here to try to reclaim tribalism for people who have researched tribes and have a basic conception of what it means to be part of a tribe. A tribe is not a political party nor is it a group of people with a particular skin tone. A tribe is a group with common values supporting one another.

As paganism matures, I suspect more people are going to see the benefits of a tribe in surviving as the system around us breaks down. Those who are making it in today’s world are the families and friends that stick together. Sticking together is humanity’s first line of defense in a hostile world.