By Robert A. Vella

trib·al·ism [ˈtrībəˌlizəm]

the state or fact of being organized in a tribe or tribes.

the behavior and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group: “a society motivated by cultural tribalism”
synonyms: sectarianism · chauvinism · esprit de corps

Tribalism is essentially an us-versus-them mentality.  Its intent is to bind an exclusive group together for the purposes of survival.  Everything that is external to the tribe is at least initially perceived as a threat.  For outsiders to be accepted or associated with, trust must first be established.

The human instinct for tribal organization manifests itself in direct proportion with the number and severity of threats perceived.  When people are getting what they need and want, and when they feel safe, tribalism tends to diminish.  When the opposite occurs, it grows.

Psychological differences also play a part.  Some people, for various reasons, are more inclined to tribal instincts while others are not.  In politics, conservatives are much more predisposed towards tribalism than are centrists and liberals.  This correlation of tribalism to the political spectrum does appear evident.  Right-wing extremists (e.g. neo-fascists, white supremacists) are particularly tribalistic having strong cultural bonds deeply rooted in racial and religious identities, whereas left-wing extremists (e.g. anarchists) are loose associations which cooperate only for specific purposes.

The political machinations of tribalism can be seen as a cyclical process.  First, a socialized fear is identified which can be politically exploited.  Second, a strategy is conceived for that goal typically involving rhetorical memes which best fit within the strategists’ preexisting ideology.  Third, a standard-bearer (i.e. a leader or figurehead) is selected to champion the cause.  Fourth, specific tactics are developed and implemented.  Fifth, the standard-bearer is cast-off – whenever the inevitable populist backlash occurs – leaving the enacted policies of said strategy largely intact.

From the tribe’s perspective, the cycle can be summarized thusly:

  1. Palatable fear of some enemy.
  2. Growing anger and resentment.
  3. A champion rises to offer hope.
  4. Loyalty to the champion intensifies as the enemy strikes back.
  5. The champion finally falls as loyalty abruptly turns to disillusionment.

In the case of President Trump, the standard-bearer of America’s far-right, we are now witnessing the fourth stage in the cycle of political tribalism.  His populist supporters are rallying to his defense because loyalty is all they have remaining.  However, it won’t be enough.  Their numbers and resolve will continue to shrink until the fifth stage is realized by the leaders of Trump’s own political party, for they had planned it all along.

Further reading:  ‘Extreme tribalism’ claws at the Republicans

17 thoughts on “The vicious Cycle of Tribalism

  1. I think/feel that a HEALTHY balance of gregariousness and individual-unique critical thinking is the ultimate answer with a good flexible measure of adaptability. We all must recognize that we are weaker, dumber without the sharpness & diversity of others! However, our species has glaringly demonstrated over the centuries/millenia that we can also be WAY TOO gullible and follow the crowd or orthodoxy!

    On top of that, I feel/think we should ALL recognize/accept that over time things, facts, patterns, etc, also change, morph, and recreate and evolve into NEW structures, paradigms, and concepts.

    Humanity NEEDS/SHOULD give itself a lot more credit for being adaptable in all circumstances. Unfortunately, there are MANY who still believe and promote Monism… which is utterly ignorant, IMHO. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Re: tRump… do I really need to say or diagnose or categorize what sector of humanity he and his brain fall into? All one needs to do is simply listen to him talk… and get overly IMPRESSED with his word vocabulary and sentence structures. 🙄😩

      Nuff said.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I very much agree. Tribalism should not be confused with social cooperation (which is a human imperative, IMO); and, tribalism is the antithesis of social cooperation in the context of modern civilization. Tribalism is a primal instinct which subordinates individual responsibility to a high power (i.e. obedience). Social cooperation requires intellectual awareness and voluntary participation (i.e. individualism). Authoritarianism is monistic. Democracy is pluralistic.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliant essay, Robert. Of course, trump will fall. Let’s hope his supporters understand why instead of blaming invisible enemies (which is their modus operandi). An army of angry, mentally ill people on the loose is a scary thought.

    Liked by 2 people

Comments are closed.