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Blue lines and Blue Models
Tribalism and Peak Left
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  • Corlyss

    “Glenn Reynolds (a.k.a. Instapundit) points out that tribalism—the desire to identify ‘your’ group and stick with them, no matter what—explains an awful lot of the recent national tensions:”

    And The Big Sort sheds light on how tribalism has been promoted by evolving intolerance for differing political views.

    “A healthy society would stigmatize, marginalize and shun the tribalizers.”

    A healthy society is a culturally homogenous society. We haven’t had that for quite a while, not since the Boomer generation decided their parents’ values were “evil” and deserved extinction.

    • circleglider

      A healthy society may not necessarily be a culturally — or ethnically or racially — homogenous society. But until very recently, only truly homogeneous societies have been even marginally healthy.

      Because tribalism is an intrinsic human trait, there is a limit to the degree of heterogeneity that any society can tolerate and remain whole. Some of the left claim that the very structure of Progressive government (in particular, its emphasis on expert bureaucracy) is essential for curbing tribalism. Others across the political spectrum believe that forced multiculturalism via immigration will “cure” tribalism and bring forth a new era of “cosmopolitan sophistication.” Both are dangerously naive.

      Reynolds is correct in identifying non-governmental civil institutions as the modern mediators of tribalism. Unfortunately, these institutions have been all but eviscerated by the ever encroaching reach of so-called “liberal” government. Maybe the all-ecompassing state can replace civil society in homogeneous societies like Sweden or Japan. They are, however, still critically essential for the basic health of multicultural societies like the United States.

      • Andrew Allison

        Whilst agreeing with you that tribalism is an intrinsic human trait (a necessary survival mechanism before the development of societies embracing the rule of law), it seems to me that the extraordinary success of the USA has been, at least in part, a result of the recognition (until recently), that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, i.e., sublimation of tribal instincts for the common good. I find the devolution described in the post very disturbing.

        • circleglider

          Tocqueville’s signal observation was that the USA’s nascent success was entirely due to the moderating effects of civil society and not some sudden abstract enlightenment (e.g., “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” or “the rule of law”) that transformed human behaviors forged over millennia of evolution.

  • Anthony

    One may have his/her on set of opinions but one definitely cannot have their own set of facts; Daniel P. Moynihan certainly knew that. Now, two points: 1) healthy civil societies (Glenn Reynolds’ phrase) are facilitated by sagacious use of terms (left/right) which may differ over time and circumstance; 2) tribalism as referenced may reflect both political decay and natural human sociability (preferences for what’s identified as family, friends, and interests – simple common denominators). Most importantly, “institutions are created to meet certain needs of society, such as…regulating social behavior. But as recurring patterns of behavior, they can also grow rigid and fail to adapt when the circumstances that brought them into being in the first place themselves change.” It is that more than tribalism or leftist detachment that may be dynamic configuration at work. In particular, Commissioner Bratton has mentioned that NYC and NYPD have other dynamics framing latest contretemps. To sum up, Glenn Reynolds asks how long will the rest of us allow them (opportunist) to get away with it. I think instead we ought to ask what kind of America are we truly prepared to live in (“justice claims to be a real value, objectively rooted in something beyond human perception, a legitimate demand on our conscience based on the nature of reality”).

    • Andrew Allison

      With respect, I think that the point was that the endemic presentation of opinion as fact is inciting tribalism. We are presented on a daily basis with the horrific results of tribalism, and any effort to set one segment of society against another (of which we have seen far too much during the past six years) must be resisted if we are to avoid descent into anarchy.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Can’t be having any of that “anarchy” where we actually debate real issues, now can we?

        • SDN

          We haven’t had that since 2000 minimum. “Bush lied, People died”, “The science is settled”, etc., show that the Left will cling to debunked theories that promote their socialist agenda no matter what facts are presented. At that point, the “debate real issues” phase is over….. at least through the medium of words.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I read over at The Fiscal Times that Pope Francis will be issuing an encyclical in March to support the idea of the human culpability in global warming and our need to do something about it. I think I’ll be with him, rather than with his detractors who are making fun of “settled science”.

          • f1b0nacc1

            And if Francis’ successor changes his position (it has happened before), will you be with him then? Or are you simply using the Holy Father’s statements to support your own predetermined beliefs? Do you accept all of the church’s positions on all matters? If so why?
            I am not a big fan of the current pope, but as I am not a Catholic, this isn’t a very important matter. If he agreed with my positions, it would make no difference, he is a religious figure and thus has no special knowledge or insight outside of his special provenance.

          • SDN

            I’m not Catholic.

        • Boritz

          “…liberalism is morally infallible and…liberals are, by definition, pitted against sinister and — more importantly — powerful forces… Any lapse, error, or transgression by conservatives is evidence of their real nature, while similar lapses, errors, and transgressions by liberals are trivial when balanced against the fact that their hearts are in the right place.”
          –Jonah Goldberg on liberalism’s starting point in a debate.

          Thank your for the invitation to “debate”, and again, thank you.  But no thank you.

          • FriendlyGoat

            If you read and swallow Jonah Goldberg, I’ll pass on you too. He is one of the most self-important pompous asses on the planet. I know, because he pollutes my local paper with regularity. And, yes, I do read him to know that.

        • Andrew Allison
      • circleglider

        When “government is just the mechanism for everything we do together,” everything becomes a zero-sum game.

        And zero-sum politics ruins even Christmas.

        • Archimedes

          When I was young, Christmas was a magical time…even though 12 Days of Christmas and the Little Drummer Boy were played far too often … (and please spare me from yet another viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life) … people were of good cheer … as of now, Christmas is a vacation day … and the government does what it can to make it a painful experience …

  • Arkeygeezer

    Tribalism? Thats a very nice term for mob rule. Face it. The mobs have taken over and our political leaders are complacent in the takeover.

    • Andrew Allison

      Our political leaders instigated it!

    • John Stephens

      The art of politics in mob rule consists of nothing more than pointing to a convenient target and shouting, “Get a rope!”

  • FriendlyGoat

    Why does all this over-emphasis on tribalism sound like a poorly-coded invitation for white men to fret about the blacks and the browns trying to “take over”? Maybe because that’s ALL it is?

    • Anthony

      Tiresome but here goes: as I mentioned on the Atlantic (NYPD Commissioner says….), much of this is opportunity to mask predilection and vitriol as indignation. Another attempted sleight of hand masquerading under “them vs. us” dystopia. FG:

      • FriendlyGoat

        Anthony, I don’t want to make you tired, but you’ll have to please excuse me for not just capitulating to the actual goals of the right. They must be listed again, and again, and again, and again. We don’t just quit because of beside-the-point sentiments like I’m getting from Tom, Eric, Chuck and John here.

        • Anthony

          Never capitulate your purpose and mission (my Jesuit undergrad instructions) but remember your “audience”. For example, you informed me regarding WRM’s Yule Blog how surprised you were…. Well extrapolate and consider relative human emphasis (as illustrated by your nonconformity) during this period of … and good will to men.

        • Anthony

          One more thing I forgot to note in previous reply: as you continue to effortlessly engage don’t forget to cite (as you are undoubtedly aware) a classic segmentary lineage, i.e., tribe, has a very specific meaning (anthropologically speaking) that is very different from the way the word is misused contemporaneously (and above).

          • FriendlyGoat

            Without getting quite into the depths of what you’re saying with “anthropologically speaking”, I think you are raising what I feel is the problematic point. Tribe is not a proper word for describing the entire political left on the whole range of issues. That is precisely why, in my opinion, WRM used it as a subject. To distract, to diminish and to trivialize his ideological opponents. It happens that Sharpton and Obama are black. Some other time, there were probably some who thought Cesar Chavez was leading a tribe too. Everything EXCEPT an honest discussion of any issue is what we find conjured up with a term like this.

          • Anthony

            Agreed but I think above article was written by someone other than WRM though he signs off. You definitely got nub – keep them honest.

    • Tom

      The article took shots at both Sharpton’s ilk and the diehard law-and-order types, which I think was justified on both counts, and developing tribalism and its accompanying self-sorting are extremely dangerous to the general health of the body politic.

      Yet, somehow, it is a vehicle for racism.

      How about analyzing the article rather than some person you’ve neither seen nor met?

      • FriendlyGoat

        You and this article are trying to talk down the left by relegating all its concerns to a goofball explanation of “tribalism” —–and invoking a presumed dislike of Al Sharpton to seal the deal. I’m defining the actual major goals of the other side and you’re ignoring them—-as though you think we liberals are all blind.

        • Tom

          “Yes, those loathsome Koch brothers. We’ll beat them! Then we’ll get the promiscuous pumped up about contraception, and we’ll vote them down. Then we’ll raise taxes, while subsidizing our campaign donors of course, and make more complicated laws for the ABA to salivate over, and we’ll shout down the men, marginalize the patriots, tie up everyone in regulations, silence the businessmen, and we’ll require public schools for everyone, and we’ll drown individual initiative in the bathtub.”

          You think I’m trying to make fun of the liberal mindset? I actually listed most of it in a paragraph.”

          That’s the equivalent to your little screed from a conservative perspective. The difference between you and me is that I’m not a Manichean.

          • FriendlyGoat

            You never heard me quoting anything from Mani either, Tom. You’ll have to find some other “difference” to describe us. But, at least you’re debating—–after a fashion.

            You have to “make up” the individual initiative/bathtub thing because the left does not have anyone for you to be quoting like we have Grover Norquist from your side. There could be quite a debate over who the “patriots” are. It’s questionable that conservatives want to silence the feminist segment of women and believe that liberals wish to silence ALL men—-as though ALL men were conservatives. It’s somewhat possible that people other than the promiscuous actually like freedom to use birth control. Conservative members of the ABA like billable hours from complicated laws as much or more than liberal ones (our guys are more often on contingent fees.)

            As for the Koch brothers, they are not personally loathsome. The permission given to them by five Catholic Republican males at the Supreme Court to pollute election advertising with secret money is what is loathsome.
            Then there is the inconvenient fact that the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 funded more than all of the money they will ever spend in politics—–perhaps many, many times over. (Subsidizing the donors, anyone?)

            As for public schools, do you know any friends, relatives, customers, co-workers, neighbors, employees, or taxpayers who either attended or sent children for free?

          • Tom

            No, I didn’t hear you quote anything from Mani. However, referring to someone with such a worldview as yours, where your opponents are all evil, as having a Manichean worldview is fairly common to historians and other such commentators.

            And as to public schools, yes. I did. I was one of them. Almost everyone I knew went to public school, until I went to college.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Me too, public school. It was a long time ago and schools today have some new challenges with the students who present themselves at the door. We all know that, and we have to try to educate each child well anyway. Just as the adults of my day tried (very hard) for me (us). This is one reason I remain a liberal.

    • werewife

      ” That’ll SHOW that “loathsome” Al who’s boss!!!!!”
      Well, the good Reverend certainly showed the Jews of Crown Heights and the staff and customers of Freddy’s Fashion Mart who’s boss…

      • FriendlyGoat

        Stick to the whole of the conservative agenda, please. The rest of this is distraction.

        • werewife

          This is such a naked demonstration of the original article’s point that one doesn’t know where to begin. And yes, violent pogroms that culminate in murder and arson can be quite distracting.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I originally suspected you really didn’t “know where to begin”. I still do.

    • ChuckFinley

      “Why does all this over-emphasis on tribalism sound like a poorly-coded
      invitation for white men to fret about the blacks and the browns trying
      to “take over”?”

      Because for some people, everything sounds like “code” for nefarious exhortations by members of opposing tribes. Some people can watch a documentary about brick making or listen to an airport arrival announcement and hear coded racism and evil plotting against their own tribes. Some people with the same problem worry about the CIA sending mind control rays from their televisions or worry about the Black Heva virus and the Ruby Satellite. Many fixate on religious writing or concepts.

      Before Thomas Szasz and the deinstitutionalization movement, many of those people with a delusional worldview were classified as paranoid and housed at government expense where they would not hurt themselves or bother people.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Sorry, Chuck, Not buying. A “tribe” is a bunch of people who have grown up together in a particular place, who have many familial relations, who may share a religion or a bunch of folklore binding the group together. People who are concerned about workers’ rights, voters’ rights, women’s rights, students’ rights, citizens’ rights and the environment of our earth—–aka, the left—- are not somehow a “TRIBE”. The whole premise here is a crock. I, at least, know it—-even if you don’t. Everyone here is being invited to think the blacks of America are like a “tribe” out of Africa. Messaging matters, and this messaging stinks.

        • Fred

          Does the term “figure of speech” mean anything at all to you? Given this comment and the even more ridiculous one you made about “Joe the Plumber” on another thread, I’m inclined to guess not.

          • FriendlyGoat

            C’mon, Fred. “Joe the Plumber” is no longer a figure of speech after everyone in America has seen a real guy using that name and title in a real political campaign. Tagging it on Jesus is beyond despicable.

            As for “tribalism” and “tribe” being figures of speech——they are dumb ones in this context. But not just “clueless” dumb. It is “calculated” dumbness intended to render us dumb.

        • ChuckFinley

          Well, of course you don’t buy it. Your entire world view is premised on regarding anybody who disagrees with you politically as a racist who communicates in code that only enlightened bien pensants such as yourself can detect and interpret. That conviction that your political opponents are not just mistaken but evil helps you justify anything and everything.

          If you were to ever entertain the possibility that other people might, in good faith and with the best wishes for everybody, disagree with you, that crack in your perfect adherence to the leftist ideology could lead you to social isolation and shunning because among leftists, shunning as a means of social control is as relentless as it is among Amish or other religious communities. So if you don’t like the term “tribe” to refer to you and your leftist friends, do you prefer the term “religious community”?

          • FriendlyGoat

            Chuck, a tribe is described in the dictionary as people who share, among other things, a common ancestry. That’s what this messaging is inviting the reader to visualize—–people who are like Al Sharpton amount to a tribe. You can approve that if you want. I say it is junk and should be called out as junk.

          • Tom

            Because, as we all know and you have repeatedly stated, an essay which regards Al Sharpton and crew as a tribe and the NYPD and its ilk as a tribe is inviting us to think thoughts of savage blacks and whatnot.

          • ChuckFinley

            What the article describes, however, is tribalism. It is the behavior often engaged in by tribes but it can also be engaged in by other social groups that do not meet your dictionary definition of tribes. Tribalism is a behavior where the virtues or faults or guilt or innocence of individuals are given less weight than they are classified as as “us” or “them”, in other words in the tribe out outsiders.

            A classic example of tribalism is the ethnic politics of Chicago or Boston. Or a far darker version is the former Yugoslavia which gave rise to the expression “Balkinization”.

            Perhaps the world would be a nicer place if we all viewed every other human being as part of the family of man but the sad fact is that people don’t seem to look at thing that way for the most part. It is a real stretch to get people to look at their fellow citizens as all part of the American tribe. That project seems much less likely to succeed than it did before the last several years of incitements and ethnic provocation by politicians and demagogues seeking to benefit at the expense of wider society.

    • Eric Liskey

      Act like intellectuals? After your rant, it’s time to take a look in the mirror, Goat.

      • FriendlyGoat

        I do. That’s why I write here a lot. It’s important to be honest and dwell on the right things.

        • Fred

          You have to be the most self-deceived person I’ve ever run across. You wouldn’t know an honest, fair, and accurate presentation of conservative ideas if it jumped up and bit you in the @$$. All you do is insult, caricature, and demonize anyone who disagrees with you and then whine when the insulted, caricatured, and demonized take it badly. And keep in mind in the vaudeville days eggs and tomatoes were thrown at the talentless and poor performers.

          • Stormcrow

            Ahem, he isn’t drifting towards Bhuparic Fred?

          • Tom

            Drifting, but he’s not there yet. FriendlyGoat says things that either require a bit of knowledge about the the subject matter to be proven wrong, or plausible interpretations of events.
            Bpuharic said things that were obviously wrong if you knew anything whatsoever about the subject matter.

          • FriendlyGoat

            No, “he” isn’t.

          • FriendlyGoat

            For your information, I spent the first two thirds of my lifetime listening to my conservative relatives, my conservative town, a conservative employer (with subscriptions to materials from Chambers of Commerce, Associated Industries organizations, Right to Work organizations, and the American Legislative Exchange Council), AND the influence of almost-continuous church attendance. I also try to pay attention now to the conservative arguments from both pundits and politicians.

            The thing is, Fred, the presentations of conservative ideas from the conservative experts are almost NEVER “honest and fair”, as you put it. That’s what I finally learned about the whole side. It’s ALL about high-end tax cuts and advantaging corporations over people. There is nothing else going on—-EVER—to eclipse those goals.

    • John Stephens

      RACE ALERT! The race card HAS been played! RACE ALERT!

      • FriendlyGoat

        If you have watched all the events in New York, and you think I just invented the race card here in the comment section, you need help.

        • smedley

          Hardly but by associating race neutral policies – tax cuts, allowing people to not join unions – right to work – showing identification when voting, disagreeing with environmentalists – as “code words” for racism is an easy way to attempt to silence opposition. The race card is played much like trumps, held out until you have no other cards to win a hand. Or is the mention of Bridge also racist?

          • FriendlyGoat

            Bridge? WRM wants to talk about tribes and you want to talk about bridge? Who gives a darn how bridge is played? The folks at the country club?

    • Fred

      Thank you very much, FG, for illustrating the essay’s point beautifully.

  • bflat879

    The problem we have with the left is their ability to drag others into their tribe, through the education system. It takes a lot of effort to overcome the propaganda coming from the left in education because everyone wants to respect our teachers and professors. For the most part, there’s no political test for being a teacher. You can be a communist, a socialist, a radical anarchist, and still be a teacher. I believe that’s always been the case, however, there used to be some unwritten rule that you left your politics at home, as a teacher, today they seem to want to drag students toward their line of thinking no matter what the students parents believe.

    • CrassyKnoll

      The political test for being a teacher is largely that you cannot be a conservative or traditionalist, at least not overtly.

  • JackLifton

    What did you expect to be the result of multi-culturalism and moral relativism, a just society?

  • teapartydoc

    On the right: it’s hard for individualists to act tribally. One good example is in the way some on the right will chime in with the left at any indiscretion or politically incorrect action of a fellow right winger at times. This is to the detriment of the movement, as Reagan recognized when he coined the eleventh commandment that no Republican should speak ill of another.

  • LizardLizard

    Saul Alinsky is dancing and doing high fives in his grave. Divide, divide, divide: the first, second, and third rules for radicals. Between Obama, Holder, Sharpton and deBlasio they are doing old Saul proud. Over to you Hillary.

  • David Davenport

    Doesn’t tribalism correlate with “diversity”?

    • Andrew Allison

      No. Tribalism is we against the world, diversity is its antithesis.

    • AKJomsviking

      Only in the sense that an increase in diversity always leads to an increase in tribalism. That is why multicultural societies throughout history have required a very powerful state to keep them from devolving into chaos, while homogeneous societies can afford more lax and unobtrusive authority. We can see it in our own country: witness the difference in the regulations and red tape in Maryland and North Dakota.

  • Storm Saxon’s Gall Bladder

    Tribalism is meant to change us from a nation to an empire
    (a collection of cultures under a single government)
    for the sole reason that empires are easier to topple.

    The people who are so quick to accuse the USA of Imperialism
    are the people who want to make an Empire of us.
    I don’t know if they are utterly ignorant or just reflexively lie

    (probably both.)

  • George Purcell

    Its ironic that Graham Allison’s dictum about bureaucracy has been twisted in that manner.

  • Shahar Luft

    Many white progressives believe that other whites are ‘racist’. Going on about how racist this and that are is a noted progressive activity. It is a kind of identity affirmation mechanism: they are bad, we are good (non-racist). Paradoxically, it’s the same sociological mechanism that feeds racism itself.

  • John Laurence

    yes the NYPD is diverse but look at the sergeants and brass look at the people who run the NYPD look at time in service

  • smedley

    Tribalism was kindled in 2012 with the hate filled Obama campaign against whites and those who are productive. “Voting for the black guy” was seen as good racism while voting for the white guy was bad racism. They are reaping what they sew and if this racialism continues many on that side of the aisle may find themselves abandoned by the best people in society.

  • Snake Plissken

    “the divide between the left’s view of the world (and consequently its rhetoric) and the way the rest of the country views things seems to be increasing, fueling an unhappy cycle. Recognizing the tribal dynamics at work within its own movement may be the left’s first step toward correcting this—if it’s willing to take it.”


  • Darth Chipmunk

    “Recognizing the tribal dynamics at work within its own movement may be the left’s first step toward correcting this”
    Why would they “correct” something that is working exactly as desired? We see tribalism as a bad thing. The left sees it as a requirement of the culture war.

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