Tribalism & Democracy..

The article below got me to thinking a little more deeply about our time in the USA and if we can survive them as a democracy. Tribalism is how we as humans survived to become the thinking creatures we are.  It is at the core of our human experience.

2017-12-04_09-18-39.pngTribalism, it’s always worth remembering, is not one aspect of human experience. It’s the default human experience. It comes more naturally to us than any other way of life. For the overwhelming majority of our time on this planet, the tribe was the only form of human society. We lived for tens of thousands of years in compact, largely egalitarian groups of around 50 people or more, connected to each other by genetics and language, usually unwritten. Most tribes occupied their own familiar territory, with widespread sharing of food and no private property. A tribe had its own leaders and a myth of its own history. It sorted out what we did every day, what we thought every hour.

Source:  Can Our Democracy Survive Tribalism?

Tribalism takes us back to our beginnings but what about democracy? In many ways, democracy and tribalism are exact opposites. Tribalism focuses totally on your small group and democracy is about everyone, despite what group they may be in as being equal in status and character.  That is one of the things that makes the U.S. unique in all the world. Of course, when our constitution was written almost 250 years ago we were struggling with tribalistic tendencies and to some extent we still are today.

Tribalism even today is very dominant in many places in the world.  The Middle East is the biggest example. Every country seems to have one tribe battling another for control of the country. The Sunnis and the Shiites have been battling each other for many centuries. Yugoslavia was once a single country but has since been broken up into  Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, and Montenegro. After the fall of the USSR, Russia claimed that they were now a democracy.  Well, that worked out to some degree for a decade or so until Putin consolidated power back to a dictatorship.  

Brexit is also a return to tribalism in one degree. Many Brits just don’t like the idea of being part of a bigger group in the EU. They want more control over their lives, and isn’t that what tribalism is all about? How that is going to work out is undetermined.

Maintaining a democracy is hard work and that is why so many countries seem to fail at it.  I liked the thought in the quote above that the founding fathers assumed that we could overcome tribalism as a country.  We have at least to some degree managed that for a couple hundred years now, but will we continue that trend? As far as I am concerned the jury is still out on that answer.  Will we eventually, maybe sooner rather than later, reverse back to tribalism.  It seems that RedAmerica/BlueAmerica is a step in that direction. When we start thinking almost totally about ourselves tribalism is soon to follow.  I guess time will eventually tell…



  1. We naturally have a tendency to bond with people with whom we have shared interests and values. I’ve lived in many states and enjoyed the different cultures… from rodeos to Amish country to big city financial districts. We celebrate those differences because we are a democracy. But you are referring more to red states vs blue states… which is, I suppose , liberalism vs conservatism. Like you, I claim to be a centrist. But for you it means being someone who is an economic conservative and social liberal. For me it means I think for most problems the best solution is somewhere in the middle. I’ve always thought that Democrats are ruled by their heart and Republicans by their heads and you need a bit of both. . Someone did say to me recently that the battle between Democrats and Republicans was a war between good and evil. If everyone thinks that, the there is little hope. Is that what you men by tribalism?


    1. Thanks for the thoughts Judy. As is often the case the answers to your questions are not simple. RedState vs BlueState is not simply a matter of wanting things to stay the way they are (conservative) vs always looking for better ways to do things (progressive). There is also the tribalism as stated in this post in play. We are taught certain things by our parents and clan and those form our early principles. Then somewhere down the line we often shed those, due to our experiences, and adopt new ones. But some don’t and things don’t change at least for them.

      Of course, calling those who don’t agree with you on a particular topic evil is in itself evil. Unfortunately, this mentality is probably how we got into the situations we are currently in.


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