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Tribalism and the Evolution of Democracy

As we take a moment from time to time to stop and look around at the situation we live in we often come to the conclusion that we understand the world. Well, actually most of us don’t take the time to actually pay attention to the details of the world around us. And, many of us don’t really understand what we do take the time to observe. So, what really happens for most of us is that we hear things in passing and we jump to conclusions based on some of those ideas. And, one of those things that we have come to accept as reality is the political division of the world into about 200 different countries. Unfortunatel y most of us don’t really have a clue as to how and why the world is in this current situation. And, even more importantly - we have no idea as to how the world is evolving.

If we begin way back at the beginning of history… Actually if we start before history… Moreover, we should begin before man himself evolved into man. Lets look at primate for an example.

If you recall Dian Fossey’s work, she learned that Gorilla’s live in misty places. And, she also learned that Gorilla’s have social structure. Gorilla’s do not form nations, but they do form bands of chums that benefit from sharing the same goals and objectives. It turn’s out that these bands of chums will certainly find other bands of chums as threat to their existence.

So, it should be easy to understand that tribal structure most likely has existed as the status quo as human beings evolved. Human beings tend to band together as a method to protect themselves from other tribes that have banded together to protect themselves. The first tribes most likely were based on groups of human beings living in the same area and were most likely related. Extended families were the first natural tribes. This served the biological function of protecting familial DNA as it was passed down to the next generation.

Some tribes naturally grew in size while other tribes stagnated in size or decreased in size for many reasons. Perhaps some tribes could acquire a surplus of resources. Perhaps some tribes could acquire a surplus of men or women. At some point one tribe will seek resources from another tribe. A tribe could decide to use force to take the resources that it needs for survival. Or, certainly some tribes could come to an agreement in which two or more tribes would merge and pool their resources. And, a larger tribe would certainly be viewed as a larger threat to other smaller tribes in the neighborhood .

Common languages and customs tended to tie these different tribes together, and the differences that certainly existed tended to push tribes apart. Clearly as time progressed tribes grew larger and occupied larger regions. Tribes acquire identity from their leaders. Tribal leaders under continuous pressure to prepare for war. Either your resources run low and then you need to attack other tribes to survive, or other tribes attack you for your resources and you need to defend yourself. Conflict is a continuous way of life, even when no one desires that conflict. Everyone wins when peace is made, unless that peace requires surrender of your tribal identity.

When mergers of tribes are handled carefully everyone is happy that the new bigger tribe shares in the identity of the new tribe as being a continuation of the old tribe. The trick of a tribal merger is to make the psychologica l argument that the old tribes continue on in the new tribe.

Tribes are people and each person bring new ideas to the tribe. Some of those ideas are a propagation of the ideas of language, stories, myths and history. Those cultural things define a tribe. A tribe is a living thing that continually renews itself. A tribe has a short term memory and a long term memory. The short term memory of a tribe exists in an individual member of the tribe. The long term memory of a tribe are the memories that are passed down from one individual to the next. When two tribes merge some of those long term memories die while others live on. Before the birth of writing many cultures just died and could never be reborn.

If we begin to think of tribes as living things that can live and die and have memory we need to ask the question - What makes a tribe successful as a living thing? Obviously a tribe is successful when it grows and spreads its culture. A tribe is not successful when its culture dies, or is over taken by another culture.
There is only a limited amount “cultural space” within any culture. This is because a culture may have a large history of recorded memory the only important memory is the current experience spreading through the culture. In tribal life the current culture was repeated over and over again. A member of the tribe would experience the language and the history as retold by the members of the culture. Recipes and traditions flooded through the tribal experience. Over each year the tribe normally covered all of these things, ready to repeat them again. In modern America our culture is more elusive. We repeat and restate “themes” in different ways - and these “themes” tell us what our culture contains. So, how did we get here and has our culture evolved or died?

Let’s go back to the tribe and look at what the successful tribe has created. The successful tribe passes its history, food and ideals to each successive generation. The unsuccessful tribe dies. And, as I have mentioned before, in a merger some culture dies and some culture is passed on. And, since the advent of recording technology we have been able to put some culture on the back burner. Culture from the ancient Egyptians, Hebrews, Greeks and Romans have survived to the present in the from of written records, but not in practice. We don’t have vomitoriums, speak Egyptian or have juries of 501 people. These cultural ideas have died. But have these cultures died, or have they evolved into what we have today?

In modern times we find that many cultures continue to live on, even after these people have been assimilated into different societies. Hebrews may have been the first culture to do this as they were able to keep their culture alive even after they had been held in captivity time after time. As tribes became large and began to dominate other smaller tribes without the demand of assimilation some cultural aspects were allowed to survive. Even though Christians were outlawed by the Romans, the Christians were able to keep their religion alive in the hidden places of society. When tribes were small and memory was the only storage media for tradition and customs cultural ideas stayed monolithic. However, as tribes grew into empires some culture was allowed to survive. Why?

What was the advantage of having an empire, if culture was not uniform? The answer of course is security. If we go back to the tribal picture we remember that a tribe’s main purpose was to survive. Large tribes ensured survival by eliminating the potential for conflict. The purpose of survival was to perpetuate the culture. However, with such a large empire, such as the Roman Empire, what is the culture that is worth propagating? Obviously the foods within the Empire varied as the regions of the empire varied and they would not be held at such a high value as other cultural values. Actually, the Romans themselves believed that the cultural value that they propagated was “civilizat ion.” The peoples that the Roman conquered could keep their foods and languages, but they should become civilized and become a member of the Roman Empire. Of course the Roman idea of being civilized was a cultural value with a cultural definition.

As the world evolves from a tribal state to some future state people continue to merge together to form a strong defense against the enemy. The “enemies in the tribal sense were the people who wanted to take the resources of the tribe. The method of taking resources ranges from destroying a tribe and taking the resources, to a merger of tribes where the resources are shared. In our modern world we have drawn political boundaries around virtually all the resources on the planet Earth. A tribe living within these boundaries shares its resources with other tribes living within these boundaries. Tribes living within these boundaries select leaders that determine how the region should deal with the rest of the world.

Let’s be clear here. We have tribes living within our borders today. Tribes are groups of people with cultures that differ from the majority. In fact, the majority of Americans are members of tribes. And, so it follows that the group of people left over that claim not to be a member of a tribe are by definition a member of a tribe. We have tribes that differentiat e themselves by their land of origin - Italians, Irish, Polish, Russian or Pacific Islander. We have tribes that differentiat e themselves by religion - Christian, Muslim, Jew, Friends of Jesus, Shakers, Quakers or Catholic. We have tribes that differentiat e themselves by hobby - Rock Collector, Baseball Fanatic, Dog Breeder or Fundamentali st Christian. In fact, many of us are members of multiple tribes with multiple interests. We all define our lives by the bits and pieces of culture we collect, support and share.

Some tribes are born, live and die in a few short years. Other tribes live for thousands of years. We have all banded together out of the need for protection from the “enemy.” In America our enemy are those who choose to destroy us. If a tribe dies, it should be for natural causes - like disco. It should not be from external forces - like the Spanish Inquisition. In America every tribe has a right to existence unless that tribe threatens another tribe. Tribes are like individuals, but because of democracy, tribes actually have more power than individuals. Large tribes can elect representati ves, while individuals could never do that. After all, that is what representati ve democracy is all about.

In fact, what democracy has done for tribalism is to give tribes protection and prevented the need for violence. When a tribe chooses violence over discussion democracy steps in and protects the vulnerable tribe. This is because we have recognized that no one wants violence - only protection from it.

Around the world we still have tribes who believe that they don’t need to surrender autonomy to democracy. The leaders of these tribes would rather fight to maintain control rather than suffer from the will of the people. These leaders know that they have been unfair to the people and if the people could, they would punish these leaders. But, the leaders have built protections into their systems to prevent this. Some leaders steal power that they don’t deserve. Sometimes the tribes don’t care. Since it is a democracy only a majority of the tribes need to care before something can happen. And, most democracies are orderly and bureaucratic - leaving time for corrections. In the long run a democracy will eventually get things right even when unnecessary suffering may endure from time to time. For the most part tribes will be protected and the will survive, which is much better than the old system of tribalism where tribes were continuously fearful that they could be wiped out at any time.

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Don’t forget what Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Cross Posted @ <a href=”http:/  /www.teambi o.org/”>Brin g It On</a>, <a href=”http:/  /drforbush. tblog.com/”> tblog</a>, <a href=”http:/  /drforbush. blogspot.com  /”>Blogger<  /a> and <a href=”http:/  /drforbush. blogspirit.c om/”>BlogSpi rit</a>

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<a href=”http:/  /technorati .com/tag/Ref lection” rel=”tag”>Re flection</a>


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9 Responses to “Tribalism and the Evolution of Democracy”

  1. One thing you omit is race. Tribes are one thing. Race seems to be a bigger problem within cultural differences because some people just can’t stand to look at the opposite…ins tead of learning or showing some tolerance.

    Another thing that fascinates me is what I think is the forgotten history of middle Asia. Probably comes as a shock but I read encyclopedia s as kid, particularly on history. I am fascinated how Genghis Khan put his empire together or how Marco Polo was probably the first version of the internet between cultures.

    America was always talked about as the great melting pot onto the colors turned brown. Ghengis Khan didn’t seem to have a problem. Neither did the Romans or Alexander the Great really. They grew by assimilation and not by destruction of a culture or race. America will struggle if it ever loses that. In some instances, it’s already lost.

  2. steve,

    I have included race, you just don’t see it. Race is just another culture. In the USA when we think of race we think in terms of “the other.” African Americans are a different culture because they share a different history. Unlike Italians or Irish or Scots African Americans are marked by the color of their skin. Other tribes have assimilated into society as differences in language and other cultural aspects became less important. Most Scots don’t wear their kilts to work or eat haggis, or practice caber tossing. It doesn’t mean that they don’t enjoy a yearly trip to the Scottish games, but they are not reminded daily that they are inferior to the English who founded Jamestown, or the Puritans that founded Plymouth. By virtue of being marked by the color of their skin African Americans have taken a bit longer to prioritize the importance of those cultural things. Obviously it has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with culture.

  3. Shame on you Dr, you make we humans seem like animals. As animals we were doing pretty good until Copernicus came along and gave us an inferiority complex. Since then we are not sure what we are, but by god “the human tribe” has taken over.

    I am sitting in my backyard bird observing my five bird feeders. most of what you have written fits their world. the tribes represent about 15 species at this time of the year and they seem to have found a way to get along over the last 30 years. excellent article.

  4. The birds are only getting along because they have one thing in common…..the y are hungry. But what happens when they encounter a hungry owl or cat? Then it’s Bye,Bye Birdie.

  5. lisa….you are so cruel. i have witnessed this many times from cats and cooper hawks. (owls are usually out at night when most of the birds are hid and sleeping ) however, it is usually the ones who are not very smart or have some affliction that get it. the birds seem to live in the moment and everything is back to normal in a few minutes.

    the point is that we share this place with some pretty special creatures. while we human have always fought over resources, and adopted a tribal strategy for success, most in the animal kingdom only take what is needed for the moment. not only do we take what we need through violence, but we modify our environment to our benefit. “Until mankind can extend the circle of his compassion to include all living things, he will never, himself, know peace.”
    ~ Albert Schweitzer ~

  6. Excellent point rube,

    The ability to imagine the future and prepare for it is one aspect that people have argued makes humans different from animals. (Of course we now know that other primates and animals do this as well.) However, this advanced feature is also the very root of evil - hoarding, greed, preparation and waging of war, theft, and much, much more. In fact, the metaphor of the Garden of Eden points this out explicitly in the fact that the apple gave humans awareness - and that awareness lead us as humans into sin. Sin, of course is selfishness to take for ourselves without regard for the rest of nature, humans included.

  7. Until mankind can extend the circle of his compassion to include all living things, he will never, himself, know peace.”

    Unfortunatel y this will never happen and is not limited to any particluar cutlure which I am sure is the hidden message here.

    And cats attacking birds all though seems cruel,it is nature as is a lion taking down a zebra or a gazelle. I was really just punning,I actually change the channel when I see this on TV.

  8. lisa…. i really believe you would enjoy some research into the culture of the American Indians. i would direct you to some sites but don’t know how. This computer stuff left me, an old man, behind before it got started.

    i will suggest you read the following book. “A Joseph Campbell Companion, Reflections on the Art of Living.”

  9. Looks interesting,
    This intimate collection of conversation s with Joseph Campbell is the kind of book you keep beside your bed and return to again and again. With thoughts on everything from the primal dance between hunter and hunted to the transcendent nature of passionate love, this is a book to keep forever and give away too. It’s The Bible for a reader whose spirit looks beyond space, time, religion and ego to something as far away and enigmatic as the beating of his own heart.

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