Tribalism, Community, and Politics

by Daniel A. Kaufman

My discussion with Robert Wright on the moral and cultural dimensions of the election.  Originally aired on MeaningofLife.TV, November 14, 2016.



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5 responses to “Tribalism, Community, and Politics”

  1. I viewed about 20 mins of the video, and I thought that Robert Wright didn’t sound convincing when he was talking about tribalism. He seems to think it’s a natural phenomenon. I doubt it. Making a tribe out of a group involves a lot of work. People have to be convinced over and again that they’re part of a tribe. Usually this is done by negative definition: you’re part of the tribe if you’re not (cosmopolitan, elite, a social justice warrior, politically correct, living in California or New York …) or if you’re not (white working class, populist, religious, living in the fly-over states …).
    It’s an interesting question who or what sustained or created this tribalism in the US, but natural it isn’t.
    A tribe, a community, a nation are very much imagined communities and somebody or something has to stimulate the imagination over and again.

    As an outsider, I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that the USA didn’t seem to need this negative definition of itself. What made you a part of the American tribe was respect for the constitution and a shared belief in the American dream. But the American dream doesn’t deliver any more for many people. And the constitution … How can you respect it, if the meaning seems to depend on a politically motivated process to nominate the judges for the supreme court?

    I don’t like the word “identity”. Nowadays many people identify as X, Y or Z. I remember the times nobody did, and I firmly hold the belief that most people wouldn’t have an identity if somebody hadn’t told them they had one. But the US seems to go through a severe identity crisis at the moment.

  2. Well, it may be a kind of good news that Trump’s efforts to build an Administration is already in chaos. Trump likes crisis, he likes luxury, and he likes to be liked. Still a question mark.

    Yeah, there’s no doubt that the ‘big tent’ Democratic Party failed to practice a politics of inclusion this election. This was the year for a fifty-state strategy, for visiting people in small towns, for shaking hands and lifting everybody up emotionally so that they felt they mattered. And Clinton was just not the candidate to do that.

    We actually need professional politicians, and we need our elites; but we also need to reach an understanding with people with whom we may have little in common; not just because their votes aren’t going to go away, but because, we should remember, they’re hurting too.

  3. Hi Dan, I’m glad you got Wright to expand on this idea of a global community. I share your skepticism of the form you (and I) thought he meant. It sounds like his actual concept is possible.

  4. Imagine what kind of communities we would have in America if people would talk less, observe more and listen more. Engaging without pre-conceived notions toward one another. Once each of us decide what to say, in support of community, the words would be worth listening to. The conception of what is good and valuable, whether you believe this or not, is a learned concept for those both in the faith/religious communities and those who are not. These things either compliment what is inherent in us or they don’t. If there is anything that is tribal in which we follow, it is our action of complimenting the good actions of others. To do the opposite is self serving. Such as the actions of both candidates in this previous election. When someone ACTS in favor of showing standards and ethics which elevate community, many people identify and they follow. Applying this to competition, America is large enough to compete within its own communities and educated enough to know the positive impact when resources are shared and protected for the benefit of each one of us. We have the capability to ACT. Communities in America have many people who share resources for everyones benefit. Yet, we have a long way to go. We cannot effectively align with communities outside America until we are aligned with one another. That certainly has not happened yet. If so, the election results would have been different and the perceptions of others globally would certainly be different.

  5. dmf

    this exchange reminds me of your own dead-ends with Robert, not sure we can get folks out of these kinds of reification fetishes ( bewitchments by grammar), we need an ethnography of the totems and taboos of figures of speech: