Thoughts on alienation and tribal society – the Lost Tribe Sickness

I have always felt that a lot of the alienation we saw in the 1800-1900’s in western Europe and the US may have had a lot of origins with the fall of tribal society.  Most people don’t think of western Europe as tribal, but it was (and still is, to some extent).  The word that is misleading is the word ‘tribal’ as we normally think of more primitive-like people displaying this social type.

A ‘tribe’, as I use it, consist of a number of traits such as:

–          It is a very close knit group of people.  They have a firm identity of who they are.  There is great belonging to this group.  Sometimes, their ‘tribe’ is so much a part of life that they cannot imagine life without it or that there are other people that are not a part of it.

–          People that are different than they are tend to be looked at with fear or apprehension.

–          There is a strong social hierarchy.

–          There is an authority or symbol of authority that hovers over the tribe.  Often, it binds the tribe together.

–          There are great rules, injunctions, prohibitions, restrictions, etc.  Often, they can be quite strict and severe.

In reality, before the Napoleanic wars western Europe was very tribal.  With the coming of the modern world in the 1800’s, this society was undermined.  Much of the dilemmas and conflicts of the last 200 years seem to be a result of this undermining.  More than once have I said that Victorian society is the ‘last hoorah’ of tribal society.  It was an attempt to maintain it but it also had the symptoms of its fall.  Many aspects of Victorian society was almost an exaggerated display of tribal society too.  This was no doubt because it was failing, as if its exaggerated display would keep it going.  But Victorian society showed a lot of the signs of the undermining of the tribe.  Some of the symptoms of its fall include:

–          Feelings of alienation in people.  These include all sorts of aspects and manifestations of this, such as the creation of modern art, existentialism, religious revival, and such.

–          Various forms of rebellion:   social, political, artistic, etc.

–          Weird views of the government.  Since the tribe is based on authority and the social structure, the fall of tribal society created alienated views toward the government.  These made some people fear the government as if it was trying to control them or do some other thing, such as portrayed in George Orwell’s 1984.  It also made people come up with all sorts of government theories, such as communism, national socialism, and so on.

–          Being paranoid of the social system and not trusting it.

–          A general contempt of authority and society in general.

–          Attempts at trying to solve problems.  The fall of the tribe made people feel vulnerable.  This sense of vulnerability seemed to make many people want to solve the problems of the world.

–          When tribal society was undermined there were also power vacuums that needed to be filled as well.  This was often filled by things like business, materialism, and consumerism.

Since the ‘tribal way’ was to look up at society and authority as a unifying element, when it wasn’t there it can cause many reactions like:

–          Exaggerating the traits of what should be there.

–          Feeling a sense of emptiness or loss.

–          A feeling of unconnnectedness, alienation, and being lost.

–          Fearing the thing (like authority) that no longer displays the tribal qualities that are expected of it.

–          Feelings of contempt and even hatred toward the ‘tribe’.

–          Trying to recompensate the thing that’s missing with something else.

These can cause quite some conflicts in people.  I discovered them first in myself, in about the mid 90’s.  I can see it in other people.  I often jokingly call it the Lost Tribe Sickness.

Tribal society is a way of life.  It’s ‘way’ is taught in all the suttle and silent communications of culture and everyday life.  That is to say, it is not overtly mentioned or referred to.  The presence of the ‘tribe’ is as if assumed to be there.  As a result, those of us brought up in this way of life seldom know about it.  Not only that, since our way of life assumes its there we assume its there.  When it’s not there, we are as if lost and confused.   Being brought up with this assumption that it’s there we often will try to ‘recreate’ conditions as if it were there.  But finding out it isn’t will cause other reactions as well.  It seems that almost all reactions to the Lost Tribe Sickness can be ascribed to these traits:

  1. Trying to create tribal conditions on your own because they’re not there.
  2. Feeling the emptiness the tribes absence causes.
  3. Knowing that its not there, there becomes feelings like fear, hatred, and contempt for things you associate with the tribe.
  4. Trying to replace it’s absence with something else.

What’s interesting is that once a person has this way of life within them, they seldom overcome it and struggle with traits of the Lost Tribe Sickness for most of their life.  This shows the power of the tribe.

Overall, it seems that many of us are still tribal.  In fact, we seem to be stubborn in letting these tribal qualities go.  Everywhere I turn I see examples of this tribalness and the problems it causes people when its not there.  Still, after all these years, people want and expect the tribal society to be there.

It shows that the modern world isn’t as powerful as is often claimed.  The modern world has been here for almost 200 years but yet many of us yearn for the tribal society years, generations, after its absence.  Trying to replace the tribe with other things seldom seems to work.  It, after all, is only a substitute.

It was in the 90’s that I discovered that, deep down, I yearned for a tribe to belong to and an authority to look up to.  But yet there was none.  Even after all these years there is still nothing even coming close to a tribe that I see.  I’ve struggled with it since.  As I looked at it closer I found I was seeking a specific form of a tribe.  It’s interesting that I was brought up in a so-called democracy and all that but yet I still yearned and had great affection for the ‘old world’.  This is a world I never knew about, saw, or participated in.  I was stunned to find this tribal quality come out in me, as if by some innate quality.  In reality, I was taught this state of ‘tribalness in the absence of a tribe’ like many of us.  Society taught it to me.  That’s right:  this society taught the tribe to me but pretended that it wasn’t tribal.  This is true for many of us.

Western Europe displayed a form of tribe that I call the Monarchial Tribe.  That is to say, it is a form of tribe that centers around the image of the monarch.  For some weird reason I had this strange reverence for the image of the Monarch that continues even to today.  I was never taught it.  I was never shown it.  I only saw its image casually portrayed in movies or books.  If anything, being brought up in the US, I was taught to look at the image of the monarch in a bad light.  But, yet, I had this weird reverence for this image.  Why?  I still feel it was the monarchical tribal society that the society taught me in its quiet and suttle way.  I was feeling the Lost Tribe Sickness.


Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Dehumanization and alienation, Historical stuff, Modern life and society, Psychology and psychoanalysis, Tribal society, tribalism, and the tribal sense, Victorianism, Bourgeoisie, noble imitation, and sycophancy and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Thoughts on alienation and tribal society – the Lost Tribe Sickness

  1. Again this is very, very good. I hope a lot of people read this. A tweak on this is connected by Morals. There is a website called MoralFoundations.org that is by Jon Haidt a Professor of Psychology in Virginia that specializes in Moral Theory. He talks about the “Tribal Moral Community”. His research deals with how people make moral decisions. It’s kind of heady but very good and very educational. In one of his papers he highlights why liberals and conservatives see things differently(their morals). It’s at
    http://faculty.virginia.edu/haidtlab/mft/index.php?t=home
    It’s had a great effect on me in that I understand more about how some people make their decisions. Liberals mainly use just two criterion: Harm/Care and Fairness/Justice. Most Conservatives also use Authority/Respect, InGroup/Loyalty, and Purity/Sanctity in addition to the criteria used by liberals. This is why conservatives value Tradition, Loyalty, Authority, & Purity and inversely why Liberals don’t.
    If you take a look I hope you find it interesting. Thanks again for another great post.

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