Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Tribes, Super-tribes and Uber-tribes

Something I am working on is explaining the human 'wiring' to be tribal and how modern society has pushed us out of our comfort zone when it comes to the 'size' of our tribe.
This is a simple concept with MASSIVE implications. 
Starting with that we 'owe' obligations/sharing/support/concern to those INSIDE our tribe. The rules of how we treat those inside our tribe are very specific. We NEED the tribe for our survival. These reciprocal tribal obligations are what kept our species alive on a planet that was trying to kill us. Yes, this is a species level survival issue. Other species went extinct, we haven’t -- because we are social primates. 
At the same time, when it comes to those outside our small tribe... well it ranges from not my problem to 'fuck them' to -- and this is the source of my growing concern -- "We're going to get those evil rat bastards." Changing tracks, I want you to understand something about an idea you take for granted. Nations are a VERY recent invention in terms of humanity. (250 years vs. 200,000 years.) Here’s another kick to the gut. The idea isn’t global yet either. But let’s look at what you were raised in in the West. We are told that as a nation we are a giant Uber-tribe. If you are a US citizen you have 324,000,000 fellow tribes people. You’ve been conditioned to accept this as ‘normal.’ 
Except there’s just one little glitch...
This is beyond most people's functional ability -- WAY beyond. Dunbar's number postulates that we can only maintain between 100 to 250 stable relationships. That is our actual ‘tribe’ (or village if you will). With a little mental gymnastics most people can be comfortable with the idea of a Super-tribe (lots of people like them). We start gritting our teeth at the Uber-tribe. Where people really glitch is when someone tries to promote the idea that the 'tribe' is global. Ummmm I owe tribal obligations to 7 billion people? Totally over the sanity horizon, for anyone not espousing it, is saying animals, trees and Mother Earth are also your tribe -- and you owe them the same obligations. 
Here's the hitch. Uber-tribes are just too big. Going back to something I mentioned in passing we can sort of, kinda wrap our heads around Super-tribes. These are imaginary super groups that we both self-identify with and label others as. In the self-identity category, this reduces the ‘uber’ to a smaller, more intellectually manageable super-size. So now instead of 324,000,000 million your Super-tribe is a tens or hundreds of millions. The four main categories we use to separate ourselves from the Uber-tribe are politics, race, religion and socio-economic.
We're more comfortable with drawing these lines between Super-tribes. But guess what? When we do that we fall into the "Us v.s. Them" mindset of tribalism. A mindset that historically had checks, balances, limits, consequences and most of all rules of behavior -- especially when it came to getting along. Rules that if you broke, people you loved died. 
This isn’t just internal rules that you followed. (Kosher and Halah food rules will keep your family from dying of food poisoning in the desert.) It’s very much keeping people you love from getting killed because of something you did to a member of another tribe. That's tribal warfare out at the sharp end. And despite the bad rap it gets, way more time and effort is spent on trying to keep from having to try to slaughter each other than killing. This is people you know and love dying.
Except now we've got a weird mix. A mix that can manifest in many different ways. One way is “Well I didn’t know the guy personally, but a member of my Super-tribe was killed by a member of a hated other Super-tribe, so that’s that.” Another version is "I want my Super-tribe controlling the Ubertribe" (with no idea of what it takes to actually run things). Then there’s folks who seem hell bent on “We’re going to force you to do what we want.” This can -- and often does -- mix with "I'm relying on the rules of the Uber-tribe to keep me safe as I spit my hate at the other Super-tribes.”
This is a bit of a problem for a variety or reasons. One of which is you virtue signal inside your own tribe for status and conformity "Those rat bastards..." “Yeah!” Allowing for the “Jungle Book” aspect of dancing and chanting of ‘It’s so because we say it’s so!’ --not a problem. This is acceptable behavior INSIDE your tribe's territory. However the rules of different tribes are different. No big surprise, but what has been lost in the Uber and Super-tribe shuffle is the rules of how those of different -- often hostile -- interact when they find themselves in proximity.
These are different still. 
This loss is not a good thing. Starting with you don't walk into a mixed environment and behave the same way you do among your own. This especially by calling out how stupid, wrong and evil the other group is. It doesn’t matter how much you believe it. It doesn’t matter how much you do it back home. You don’t do it outside your tribe because you've just insulted about six different people there who are from that Super-tribe. Oh yeah, and you ignored the effects of your word on the 12 others whose tribes are more closely aligned with the other than yours. Now as long as everyone has more invested in keeping the peace than responding, you can 'get away with it.' If by that you mean nobody throws your ass through a window (which in case you didn't know, really slices you up.) 
The problem that I am seeing is that good will is waning. More than that, because people aren't getting punched for bad behavior anymore, it's escalating. People in certain Super-tribes are getting more emboldened about their words and behaviors, more self-righteous, more hostile. While those in other Super-tribes are getting pushed towards the point where 'keeping the peace' loses priority in light of the constant stream of insults, abuse and hostility.
Which again, 'those rat bastards...'IS perfectly acceptable to say INSIDE your Super- tribe, but not in mixed company. You conduct yourself differently when you are dealing with folks from other tribes -- or, and this is something people tend to forget, in neutral territory. That may be acceptable behavior where you’re from, but in this area you don’t know how many of the people you just pissed off are armed.
Another problem that I am seeing is that punching someone for lipping off has been banned. This low-level consequence used to teach people there were lines you didn't cross unless you were willing to pay the price. Two relevant points. There are all kinds of levels of striking and reason for striking. I tell you this so you can understand the first point, a hit is the level you use for people inside your tribe whom you don’t want to hurt. The second point: Violence between different tribes often involves weapons. That’s because the intent IS to hurt. Stop and consider the implications of what I’m about to say. Lower levels of physical violence can indeed escalate. However, they more commonly serve as a safety valve. A pressure relief that would go before the boiler blows up. That safety valve has been wired shut ... and pressure is growing. Worse, it seems there are some folks out there intent on stoking the boiler. 
 I’m going to leave you with this thought. You have a whole lot of people who are out there with no idea about the nature of intra and inter-tribal violence. Many of who are apparently pushing for conflict against other Super-tribes. 
 Do they recognize what they are doing? 
Are they thinking that they are under the protection of the rules of the very Uber-tribe they are rejecting and holding themselves apart from? Are they thinking that the rules of their Super-tribe are the only rules that count? (Translated to: I have the right to do ____, but you don’t have the right to react except according to my standards. Solid example: I can scream my hate at you, but you can’t strike me for my words.) Are they willfully abusing people? This by relying on other’s preference to keep the peace instead of reacting to their goading? Are they giving themselves more and more permission to act because they’ve moved into a Super-tribe echo chamber? An environment that not only encourages, but demands they loudly ‘virtue signal’ whatever ultra-orthodoxy is in fashion at the moment? Is this a fight they think they can start and then walk away from if it gets too intense?


  1. Wow, just … wow - well and succinctly said …

  2. I do not agree with what Colin Kaepernick has to say, but I'll defend to the death his right to say it. :-)

    IMHO, I think that there above is the point of the Uber-tribe. I've been to Iraq and Afghanistan, and have seen tribes (clans and families, eg. 'me against my brother; my brother and I against our cousins...) and super-tribes (Islamo fascists).

    There's a reason why Einstein said this (and why he and Baruch Spinoza are both celebrated in Israel): "I believe in Spinoza's God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, NOT in a God who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind."

    Spinoza was kicked out of his tribe (Sephardic Jews from the Iberian kicked out by the Inquisition); then later by super tribe of Holland (Protestant Christians), the most open society in Europe then,

    precisely because there were no Uber-tribes, eg. nations.

    Ensure me a place that 'll protect folks like Spinoza, Einstein and Kaepernick, and I'll gladly protect it, sadly only the US of A comes closest to that place. Uber tribe or not, she's worth protecting.

    I'll leave you know with a funny but relevant Terminal Lance comic strip: LOL!!! funny cuz it's so true!

  3. You're wrong, Marc. In this article, you describe a situation where the rules of the ubertribe are trumped by the rules of a supertribe. People not getting punched for saying hateful things. But the other supertribe is perfectly able to say hateful things back. You want a world where a supertribe makes the rules, where people that would say hurtful things would get punished by the supertribe, despite the fact that by doing this they are going against the rules of the ubertribe. That's not ok. Some supertribes are going to be at the bottom of the ierarchy just because they'd rather use words instead of violence, being lower than the physical violent ones. How is that ok?

    1. Cod, you're talking around the issue, obviously you're hinting at Conservatives vs. Libs ---ie. Blacks (coloreds) vs. Whites.

      Now that you've named the players you have to back up your claim, history or current events and see if your conclusion jibes.

      Marc's use of generalities here is on point, he's talking about principles. But since you're playing specifics, play specifics now, man, don't hide behind Marc's super and uber.

      p.s. ~ have you seen "the Revenant"?

  4. A good piece, Marc. Thanks for your thoughts as always!

    Something I feel that is worth adding and considering, though, is the fluid nature of tribal allegiance in the modern world. Because our society is no longer based on tribal hordes living in close proximity, our ability to fulfill our need for social interaction has changed. Let me explain what I mean.

    Back in the days of yore, people had to form tribal links with others to survive, as you say. Their access to potential tribe members was quite low, however. In a particular area, only a small number of people would come together to form a tribe, as population was too sparse and travel too difficult for it to be otherwise. An important implication of this is that tribe acceptance of an individual was more open to some disliked traits. If one of the guys in your village was an idiot, you broadened the rules of your tribe to accept him first, then kicked him out for not adhering if that didn't work. The reason for this would be that you needed that guy's resources to prosper, so dealing with some difficulty was a necessary trade-off.

    Today, however, especially in the information age, this is no longer necessary. We can find individuals who are a lot closer to our personal identity with whom to form a social identity. As a result, we no longer need to be so tolerant of deviation in order to feel like we have good tribal connections. We can also find people who fit our personal requirements for various aspects of our personality and attitudes, depending on what is currently at the forefront of our minds (e.g. a political party for social policy opinions, a hobby club for liked pastimes, etc.). Depending on what social identity is currently activated, we can switch between various "tribal" groups while retaining a narrow window of acceptance of deviation.

    Now the final component I'd like to mention here is where Dunbar's number comes into play. It may well be true that we can only maintain relatively few stable relationships, likely with people who cover a broad swathe of social identity aspects that we consider important personally. However, this does not mean that we don't still identify with larger tribes, as Marc already mentioned. But why would we care so much about supertribes if Dunbar's number limits our actual relationships? I would offer two reasons. Firstly, the need to belong can drive a lot of our behavior. Even a momentary activation of that need can lead us to latch onto whatever social group we're currently thinking about more strongly. Secondly, we derive a lot of personal self-worth from the positive status of the social identities we identify with. As social status shifts and our own understanding of desirable traits evolves, we identify with different groups - but that identification can carry with it all the hallmarks of tribalism.

    So where does this leave us? Not just with a cf of tribes, supertribes and ubertribes which we have a difficult time identifying with, but also with a quick-shifting set of allegiances that can push us into tribal behavior to protect our own narrowly defined social identities. And so we end up with something that might look like what LCPL Eaton describes in Afghanistan, but ends up being a possibly more pernicious beast in a country like the US, where people define themselves less by family and more by homogenous groups with politically relevant attitudes.

    I will note that although much of this is supported by psychological research (shifting of social identities, need to belong - see Tajfel & Turner or Baumeister & Leary), some of it is just my own conclusions and thoughts (especially the stuff about how modern society leads to narrower and more homogenous groups), unsupported by empirical data - although it's an interesting hypothesis and one one could probably easily test.

    1. I'm agree with Mr. MacYoung and You. I share those ideas. I would like to add that, in my opinion, Western liberal-capitalist-democratic republics depend on disposition to Dialogue AND Negotiation to properly function and be stable. The system needs predisposition from its members (Super-tribes, and the citizenry in general) to talk and listen to each other in order to create the tool by wich we conduct our day-to-day life, wich is The Law. The Law is what establishes the framework in wich we operate, sets what is allowed and what is not, and also establishes what is mandatory. The reason of why such systems can exist (moderately diverse society and therefore culture) is that in republic there is one of the branches of government in wich said dialogue and negotiation takes place, and in turn that makes consensus possible in certain issueses. That consensus is the sanctioned into law. It should be kept in mind that the more "All-Inclusive" the system is the better will work and be stable. So the trick for Uber-tribes to function and prosper is aknowledging that there is another side with a different opinion than my own Super-tribe, so what we do is to negotiate, concede, give something to the other part as the other part does in kind to us, and then every one contributes to the hole, to the Uber-tribe. Then every part in the situation gets something in turn that is more valuable than what has ceded and contributed. It is called a win-win situation, instead of win-lose or lose-win.
      As long as these mechanisms funtion in this manner, the system holds on, and even thrives.
      Then, there is the problem that happens when a Super-tribe tries to take hold of the hole as if it owns it, and uses it to dominate the rest, and then you got a tyranny. Wich in turn, leads to Civil War.
      To avoid that there are legal instruments that put in place guarantees and limits to the exercise of power, so you got a counter balance. For example, bills of rights. The due process. Habeas corpus. Habeas data. And so on. And moreover the separation of powers.
      But when you got a Super-tribe (or social faction) that occupies the government apparatus with its members and militants at every level and expells the rest from it, you got a tyranny. That is why these Western systems need the participation of the population in the negotiation under mutual respect, recognition, and real tolerance (not the bullshit that is preached by progressives--- and I mean progs not liberals, there's a distinction), so the system keeps on going.
      I have spent long time in college studiying Law (didn't graduate) and philosophy, and social sciences related material. I also have a background in natural and exact scienses. I'm a very curious and avid student of human nature. That's why I find Mr. MacYoung's musings very interesting and insightful.

    2. I would also like to add that I'm not american. Please excuse my bad orthography. Read "Which" instead of "wich". My bad. Sorry.

    3. Me again..... One more but not unimportant thing...
      I would like to give my most frank thanks to Mr. Marc MacYoung for his work in the field of self-defense and survival, and negotiatioin. Also for the work in training and technichal analisys. All these displayed in, one of the best internet sites I have ever read (and read).

      Thank You Very Much!.

  5. hello,

    first of all I want to thank you for your reaserch and work . I 've been reading your blog for years now and its has permited me to avoid many conflicts and increased my awareness about myself violence and criminals . it has also helped me act more responsibly . I'm still reading and learning from your books and others like kane and wilder ,stanthon samenow . somewhere you have saved my life and dignity . your blog has set up so many positive outcomes in my life . I've learned a lot about myself as well . I could never thank you enough . thank you .

    I was checking for your website nononsenseselfdefense it says account suspended . does it exist anymore? have you created another website ?

    I would like to learn enough to give courses in switzerland . could you give me any information as to how I could realize this project?

    best regards .