Tribalism Essay

This essay has a total of 2554 words and 12 pages.


Implicit in the founding of the United States is the principle of breaking the bonds of
locality based tribalism, and forming a new tribe out of a heterogeneous population. The
advent of the Internet, which is, after all, an American invention, has broadened this new
definition of tribalism past anything our Founding Fathers could possibly have imagined.

Tribalism is a natural tendency in humanity. The Internet has facilitated tribalism by
allowing tribes to form based on other factors than common living space or blood and
marital relationships. The United States has traditionally been regarded as "the great
melting pot of the world". In fact, it is a breeding ground for new types of tribal
associations [in the primate anthropological sense]. Whereas in the past these tribes
have generally been engendered by commonality of locality or country of origin, the
maturation of the Internet as a household appliance in the United States has enabled the
forming of tribal groups and loyalties based on non-traditional criteria.

Recent definitions of tribalism call it the human tendency to group together, based on
common interest [Franklin Electronic Dictionary, and]. Contrast
this with the definition of tribe from a 1944 dictionary's [Webster's Collegiate
Dictionary] definition of tribe:

A social group comprising a series of families, clans, or generations, together with slaves, adopted strangers, etc.

You can see how in the course of fifty years the definition of tribalism has changed, and
the Internet is changing it even more. It is also changing the way that people in the
United States relate to each other. Throughout history, tribalism has been evident, but
tribalism is evident in our behavior even before that. Let us examine our knowledge of
our primate ancestors.

Primates lived in tribes. Some were based on harems, others on monogamous relationships,
while others were based on a concept of free sexuality, [Why is Sex Fun?] but all the
tribes had one thing in common: they all had their area. It belonged to them, and all
their dealings with other beings were based on this geographical location. Tribalism is
one of the oldest and most natural organizational strategies of behavior.
[] Viewpoints based on tribal conditioning are inherent
to the human condition. People tend to automatically and subconsciously view them as the
correct, obvious normal way of doing things.
[] One can observe tribalizing
behavior all the way up through the present.

The United States was unique in that it resulted in new forms of tribalism from the outset
of its development. To start on the biggest level, you have the states themselves. They
are artificial tribalism in a big way. All the people who live in those states are part
of the US, yet they are also part of this artificial state tribe. To demonstrate this,
consider the battles at the Continental Congress. A group of people with the common
interest of creating a new government for themselves and their citizens still spent most
of their time arguing and ranting over the privileges that were going to be given to each
state (read here "tribe").

Political parties are obvious examples of artificial tribal groups, but one can also look
at schools. Universities are a good example. People go to a university from all over the
country [or in some cases the world], and are expected to root for the university, wear
their colors, sometimes even things like special university ties. So, they are a part of
the university tribe when they go there, no matter where they came from. Then, when they
leave the university, the alumni are expected to carry the tribe with them wherever they
go. Look for instance at the little tiger droppings of Princeton University alumni clubs
- exclusive organizations scattered all over the United States whose membership is based
on former tribal association. [A Princeton alumna] We can even look at high schools.
They are even more artificial than universities, because someone who lives right next door
to you can go to a different school from the one you go to. Within the high school you
are expected to root for their sports teams, and have "school spirit", and even attend pep
rallies for said teams, even if you yourself dislike the teams and would rather be taking
academic classes. Then, within the school, you have other little groups. For instance
the group of people who go out during games and cheer for the sports players, or on the
other hand, you have people who go for pursuits that actually involve one to have a brain,
things such as Advanced Placement History or honors classes.

You find tribalism everywhere. Even among teenagers, there is consumer tribalism within
the youth culture. The bonding to brand names as tribal totems, with the use of their
logos as emblems of clan pride. [] There are
even tribes on tribalism. There is one tribe, that feels that,

"Tribalism is a primitive fluid social system suited to harsh, unpredictable conditions."

[]. There is another tribe that feels that,

"Tribalism is dangerous and…criminal…"

[] and also,

"Tribalism always leads to confrontation, war, and chaos."

[] There is something to that last one though, because
tribalism segregates people into "us" and "them", and it is easy to turn "them" into a

However, a person can belong to more than one tribe for different reasons.
[] Now, with all these tribes that
are out there, is it possible that people may belong to multiple conflicting tribes? It
is not only possible, it is inevitable. In fact, our tribal identities may shift
according to the issue under question. [] For instance, if you
live in Texas, and someone says, "New Jersey sucks and Texas rules." Well, as someone
living in Texas, you might be prone to agree with this. However, if you have also gone to
Princeton for university, then as an alumna of Princeton you might be prone to disagree.
Because of humans' genetic proclivity to tribalize, they find safety in groups. Within
their chosen group they have a sense of belonging, that as a part of the group they are
more powerful than they are alone. [] However,
there is also sometimes a message of,

"Ditch your brain, subordinate your will, accept that your life has no reality except as
an appendage of the tribal organism."

[] Tribalism as implemented on the Internet is
a bit of a different thing though. See, with any other form of tribalism, it all comes
down to location. Within the Internet however, it is based on common interests. You have
to actually go out and find a tribal alliance, e.g., a chat room. When you connect, you
are not automatically put into a chat room (although with services like AOL or CompuServe
you can push a button and be magically transported into the chat room). This puts one in
the position on having to go out and find a chat room where they will be able to find
something to talk about with the other people. So, upon what basis do people search for
chat rooms? The basis of common interests, of course. The Internet allows people to join
on the basis of common interests that no one in their area may share. For instance, if
someone is really into skiing, and they live in Texas, there might not be that many people
who live there who are into skiing, but those who are can logon to the Internet, and go
to, say,, and chat with other people who share their
interest in skiing. This is only one example of how the digital technology of the
Internet can enhance the tendency towards tribalism by allowing people to connect with
people more like themselves regardless of where they happen to be located.
[] Tribalism on the Internet is not even
limited by such things as gender, because people can always lie about their gender and no
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