Thoughts on “tribalism” – some aspects and dilemma’s

Here’s a thought I had:

I have always questioned “racism”, “discrimination”, “bias”, and similar ideas.  To me, these are political terms.  Its not a term that refers to “human” things but, rather, political problems and points of view.  Its something that is valid only if you want to accept the political theory behind it or not.  I tend to look at things from a human perspective and, from this angle, you cannot look at things politically . . . it will only distort things.  Because of this, I don’t really acknowledge the term “racism”, “discrimination”, “bias”, and similar ideas as meaning much beyond a political statement.  When someone uses the term it means we are talking about politics not human reality.  I tend to see something more to it all . . .


What things like “racism”, “discrimination”, “bias”, and all that refers to, on the human level, are qualities that are often found in what I tend to call “tribalism”.  As I use it here, a “tribe” refers to a “perceived body” of something, made up of specific qualities.  These are perceived as being bonded or unified into a single entity usually be these specific qualities.  Anything that does not display the qualities of the “perceived body” are viewed as standing apart from it and are therefore viewed as being something totally different . . . a “non-tribe”, so-to-speak.  The “tribe” generally evokes a sense of safety, security, and similar feelings.  With the “non-tribe” there is usually  feelings such as alienation, apprehension, fear, and such.  Points of view that take this perspective create the quality of “tribalism”. 

Though this idea began with looking at socially based tribal behavior in primitive tribes I began to see that it extended way beyond a social tribe and entailed a general manner of interpreting and living in the world.  This “tribalism”, then, goes beyond society and social relations. The social form of “tribalism” is really only one form of “tribalism”.  In actuality, there are many manifestations of what a “tribe” is.  The “tribe” appears in many different ways and entails a whole range of forms such as:

  • Race and physical characteristics
  • Cultures and ways of life
  • Clans, families, groups, etc.
  • Religions and beliefs
  • Moralities, views of right and wrong, etc.
  • Opinions and points of view
  • The physical appearance of a person appears
  • Unique qualities about a person
  • A persons character or manner
  • How a person see themselves in relation to society
  • A persons feelings about themselves
  • A persons sense of who they are

One thing that is clear is that we can see that “tribalism” reflects a sense of humanity in its many forms.  It encompasses the whole range of perception of humanity from strangers, to society, to family, and to one self.  In this way, “tribalism” is a very human affair entailing all of human life.  This is one reason why I emphasize the need to look at these things from a human angle . . . and to leave politics out!!!

Looking at it from another angle we could say that “tribalism” reflects a perception of humanity in these forms:

  • Humanity as a body (culture, society, etc.)
  • Humanity as an idea (religion, beliefs, etc.)
  • Humanity as ones self (how a person feels about themselves, a persons sense of who they are, etc.).

In this way, we can see that “tribalism” refers to a mentality or a way of perceiving humanity in a holistic and all encompassing way.

I should also point out that “tribalism” is a naturally appearing and normal human phenomena . . . we all do it in some form or another.  In this way, “tribalism” is very much a part of the human experience.  As such, it has good and bad qualities with it.   

Because “tribalism” is associated with a holistic perception of humanity, the basic mentality seen in “tribalism” is applied to all the different aspects of humanity which, though seeming different, are really looked at from the same angle.  For example, a stranger is treated similarly as one treats ones perception of ones self.  A good example is how the effects of “racism” and ones conscience are very similar.  In “racism” one dislikes a person because they are different than they are . . . with ones conscience one dislikes ones self because one is different from ones “moral code”.  In both cases, it can lead to severe and harsh feelings.  In “racism” it can lead to violence . . . with ones conscience one can literally “destroy oneself” for the rest of ones life or even lead to suicide.  In actuality, these reflect the same mentality just applied differently and in a different way.  As a result, they have different manifestations.

Because “tribalism” is related with the sense of humanity it causes a number of things to happen:

  • That humanity senses itself as a whole and a unity.
  • That humanity projects itself onto this “unity” of humanity.
  • That humanity is treated as if all of humanity were “us”.

Basically, what all this means that if we see people that are human we tend to react and treat is as an extension of our selves.  In some respects, humanity has a quality much like dogs who bark when they see other dogs they don’t know but don’t bark at any other animal . . . they obviously sense a “unity” with other dogs and react to it.

Interestingly, much of this reaction to the “unity” of humanity is based on our perceptions of ourselves which is projected onto the “unity” of humanity.  In short, we treat humanity as if it were ourselves.  This is true whether you are part of the “tribe” or not.  Typically, though, the “tribe” gets “special favor” and the “non-tribe” is treated more coldly and impersonally, which can create problems (see below).  What this means is that the whole of humanity is perceived as part of ones self but there develops a “favoritism” toward the “tribe” This general attitude reflects the mentality of “tribalism”.


The “narrowing down tendency”

The distinct qualities that defines a “tribe” tends to be viewed as something distinct and separate in the world.  As a result, it develops qualities such as:

  • It is removed from the world.
  • It is opposed to the world.

This creates a strong sense of the “tribe” and the “non-tribe”.  The result of this is a mentality where things are as if “narrowed down” to the qualities of the “tribe” . . . this becomes the “focus”.  Everything else is disregarded.  I call this the “narrowing down tendency” and is a distinct trait with “tribalism”.  This means that ones focus and emphasis is on a narrowed part of the world (the “tribe”).

Some of the qualities that the “narrowing down tendency” does include:

  • Manageability.  In other words, it “narrows” life down to an acceptable level that can be easily managed.   In this way, it shows a basic need of humanity . . . of taking the vast, myriad, overwhelming, and endless aspects of life and reducing it down to a form that is easy to “digest”.  The fact is that life is made up of so many things that there is no way a single person can incorporate it all.  We have to “narrow it down” so that we can manage it.
  • Integrity of the self.  Keeping things on an acceptable level allows things to become a “part of you”.  This shows that one of the needs of “narrowing down” is the restricting of things to the point that one can consolidate the sense of self and, in this way, one can feel a person and a whole entity.  The fact is that the self is not as big as the world.  We cannot accept the world as the self . . . we need something smaller, “manageable”, and something our self can accept.  
  • Security.  This “narrowing down” also creates a sense of safety and security.  This is primarily because one is not overwhelmed by the world.
  • We feel “in control” of our lives.  By restricting things to a small number we “have a hold” on life and the world making us feel that we have control over our lives.

What we seen, then, is that “tribalism” entails the maintenance of ones self in the world as well as promoting a better relationship with the worldBecause this is such an important part of life, “tribalism” tends to bring up many “deep” feelings, often related with need for self-preservation.   In fact, one could say that “tribalism” is a manifestation of the instinct for self-preservation.   This is something to consider and, in addition, something to respect no matter how it appears.  Because of this, “tribalism” is closely associated with a sense of safety and security . . . self-preservation.  In fact, these qualities are probably what makes “tribalism” so critical and have such value.  It also makes it serious and gives it such depth.  It can also cause tragic reactions.

Strength and weaknesses of “tribalism”

This instinct of self-preservation has a quality of a double-edge sword . . . it manifests both good and bad qualities depending on the situation.  That is to say, the self-preservation qualities of “tribalism” has strengths and weaknesses:

  • Strength – it holds things together, makes one whole (as a society or person), and gives a sense of safety
  • Weaknesses – it can conjure up tendencies of self-preservation which could entail things like hatred and violence

In these ways, “tribalism” can display both good and bad qualities.  On one hand it is “tribalism” that has kept many peoples, and people, together in extremely adverse conditions . . . without “tribalism” they probably would of died.  On the other hand “tribalism” can cause great violence to other people, or people, to the point of death and even extermination.

Being “accepted” or “not accepted”

Since “tribalism” is a “narrowing down” one of the effects of it is that it creates an “accepted” and “not accepted” point of view . . . you’re either part of the tribe or you’re not.  In many ways, this is a defining trait of “tribalism”. The degree of this “acceptance” or “non acceptance” can vary, of course.  Its like a spectrum.  It can range from a marked demarcation, on one end, to almost no demarcation on the other end. My observation, though, is that everyone displays “tribalism” . . . its a human trait.  To have no demarcation of “acceptance” and “non acceptance” only means that you do not follow that particular form of “tribalism”.  Instead, you display it in other forms.  For example, “racism” professes to not be racist but it actually is . . . it just exchanges form.  They condemn the degradation of people of other races which is A form of “tribalism”.  The problem is that they, in turn, degrade people who do not display their form of “tribalism” (calling people “racist” and such).  In so doing, they actually have created a new form of “racism”, so to speak, by degrading other people who don’t take their version.  Its the same mentality recreated into a new form!  This shows how prevalent “tribalism” is.  It also shows the illusion of “acceptance”.  Just because you “accept” your form of “tribalism” doesn’t mean that you don’t display its negative sides in other ways.  As I said, everyone displays “tribalism” in one form or another.  Accordingly, everyone displays its strengths and weaknesses and its positive and negative sides.  Its just a question of what form it takes.

The reaction to “non acceptance”

Typically, the things that are “accepted” tend to be taken as a “part of you” and who you are.  The things that are”not accepted” are not accepted as a “part of you”.  As a result, things that are “not accepted” are generally treated impersonally and coldly and often without consideration or even humanity.  The way this manifests itself varies.  Some of the ways this can appear include:

  • Indifference
  • Uncertainty
  • Apprehension
  • Contempt or disgust
  • Fear
  • Hatred
  • Violence

How one reacts, and its degree, to whats “not accepted” depends on a number of conditions, such as:

  • A persons or cultures character – some peoples, or people, are more inclined to be hateful or violent than others, for example
  • Past history – bad experiences with people, or other “tribes”, can affect how one reacts to what is “not accepted”
  • Situations of stress – this can make people more prone to be apprehensive of other people
  • The specific situation – different situations often promote different unique reactions

What this means is that there are a number of reactions with a lot of variations.  Not only that, the reaction can vary from good to bad.  For example, sometimes apprehension can lead to an inquiry and understanding which can lead to respect.  At other times, apprehension can lead to fear, hatred, and possibly violence.


Society and self-preservation

At one time, society was a matter of life and death.  That is to say, society needed a great and strong bond in order to survive.  This came in the form of “tribalism”.  In fact, “tribalism” is what allowed humanity to endure the conflicts, stresses, dilemma’s, and so on of life.  Without “tribalism” humanity probably would not of survived . . . its the glue that cemented us together.  This is particularly true in societies that have qualities such as:

  • They are “primitive” (that is, they live a simpler way of life).
  • They have a small population.
  • They live close to nature.

Because of this, the “tribal” qualities are strong in these societies and are instrumental in holding them together.  Typically, in these types of societies, there is an emphasis on the “tribal bond” and unity in the population as well as being “accepted”.   That is to say, the emphasis is on the “acceptance” and not with a preoccupation with what is “not accepted”, which becomes more prevalent with larger societies.  Much of this emphasis on “acceptance” would figure much in the mentality of these societies.  The social structure would primarily be based in this principle. It would become so important of a need that this “acceptance” would develop new, and different, avenues of expression that went beyond the social structure.  It would extend into nature and life overall.  It would figure prominently in things like:

  • Religion
  • Ritual
  • Magic
  • Belief systems of how the world works

These would develop ways of a “stricter acceptance” to life, which is “beyond human” creating a sense of sacredness.  In this way, the following of a “stricter acceptance” would make one closer to the sanctity of life and would be critical in feeling closer to life.  What we see, then, is the development of “sacred tribalism”. In “sacred tribalism” a person gains power, depth, meaning, etc. in seeking the “proper thing to do” (the proper act, behavior, idea, belief, god, ritual, etc.).  This “proper thing to do” becomes a “tribe” in itself but in a new form.  The “proper thing to do” is representative of the “narrowing down tendency”.  So we see that to be part of a specific “sacred tribe” a person must adhere to specific ways of doing things such as:

  • Specific physical movements, such as dance
  • Specific attitudes and points of views
  • Specific beliefs
  • Specific authorities
  • Specific acts, such as in ritual

In doing these specific things one becomes part of the “sacred tribe”.  If a person does not do them then they are not part of the “sacred tribe”, they are not “accepted”.  “Sacred tribalism” reveals an interesting aspect of the power of this “acceptance”.  It shows that in doing the “proper thing”, and being “accepted”, a person is perceived as being part of the “sacred tribe” and thereby gaining things such as:

  • A security
  • A power
  • A meaning

In this way, religious belief is nothing but a more intense form of “tribalism”.   It is another testimony of the great strength that “tribalism” offers.  It suggests that, without some form of “tribalism” we are vulnerable, weak, and with no value.

As the societies grow (that is, they entail more people, become more complicated, and move away from nature) the “tribal” qualities change.  With growth comes increasing problems.  This causes a condition of a history of problems which can lead to a more harsher reaction as a result.  This means a tendency to do things like:

  • Attacking people who are different
  • Hatred or bad feelings
  • Violence

In other words, it appears that social growth causes a deeper response of self-preservation than the conditions of nature!  As a result of this, with social growth we see a greater tendency to see the negative qualities of “social tribalism”.  Since “tribalism” is based in a human reaction it shows that there is the self-preservation tendency created by nature is different than the self-preservation of humanity. nature is the ultimate authority  horror, acceptance, and working with it  more of a submission humanity has lesser authority  disgust, hatred,  a tendency to react and not work with   more of an active rebellion

The dilemma of the negative reaction of “social tribalism”

The self-defensive nature of “tribalism” often makes negative reactions somewhat severe.  This has created one of the great dilemma’s of this tendency.  Several things have greatly aggravated this recently:

  • Overpopulation – this makes people more “condensed” and deprives people of space
  • Different people impinging on other people – this has caused a tendency of forcing one form of “tribalism” onto another people or in conflicts of different forms
  • Technology, weapons of war, etc. – this has made the negative aspects of “tribalism” particularly deadly and severe
  • Mass communication – this exposes people to conflicting viewpoints, peoples, forms of “tribalism”, etc.
  • The fall of culture, belief, etc. – this is basically the undermining of “tribalism”

These situations have aggravated “tribalism” to a great extent.  As a result, many negative aspects of “tribalism” has appeared.  Some of these have been particularly severe.  The best example would be the holocaust.

Christianity – an attempt at a solution

Much of western society uses Christian principles as the “solution” to the negative side of “tribalism”.  Interestingly, Christianity is rooted in the negative effects of “tribalism” many centuries ago, namely of Roman “tribalism” and its conflict with Jewish “tribalism”.  Its main themes could probably be described as love and peace. Despite all its professes I see no evidence that Christianity has alleviated the negative effects of “tribalism”.  In actuality, Christianity just created a new form!  We must remember that some of the greatest abuses in history have been said in the name of Christianity! The biggest benefit of Christianity, I think, is that it has “softened the blow”, at least in some cases, but it has, by no means, ended it.  My personal feelings is that the biggest benefit of the Christian message of love and peaces is not love and peace but, actually, promoting understanding.  This has caused an awareness that people are different and “not bad”.  As a result, it has caused a slight lessening of the negative affects of what is “not accepted”.

Trying to destroy “social tribalism” and its effects

Because of the negative effects of “tribalism”, which have become somewhat severe recently (the horror of the holocaust is on everyone’s mind), there have been great attempts to practically destroy it.  Several things have tried to do this:

  • Christianity
  • Americanism and democracy
  • Liberalism
  • Nihilism

The problem with these is that they are generally trying to destroy “tribalism” as a whole.  But, as I said above, “tribalism” is one of the great strengths of humanity and what holds it together.  Because of this, the effects of trying to destroy “tribalism” has reflected the fall of these strengths.  Its appeared a number of ways:

  • A tendency to violence.  This is because, without the security of the “tribe”, we feel threatened and are more prone to be violent.
  • A growing sense of fear and paranoia.  Again, this reveals the lack of the security of the “tribe”.
  • A growing lack of unity.  There’s no “tribe” to belong to and to hold us together.
  • A growing confusion and uncertainty.  Without the “tribe” there is lack of direction.
  • An absence of belonging and identity.  We feel we do not belong and are not sure who we are.

In many ways, the undermining of “tribalism” is the undermining of humanity and that is exactly what its doing. 

It seems, to me, that undermining “tribalism” tends to make other forms of “tribalism” more stronger.  In other words, if the need for “tribalism” is reduced in one form it will compensate itself in another form.  This fact, I think, shows that there is a need for “tribalism” . . . we can’t live without it. This is part of the irony of “tribalism”.

“Tribalism” and respect

Interestingly, my observation is that one of the greatest sources of respect for other people (that is, other “tribes”) is through “tribalism”.  Basically, when one respects ones “tribe” (culture, people, beliefs, etc.) one respects other peoples “tribe”.  This doesn’t just “happen”, though.  It seems to reflect a particular character more than anything else.  Some of the qualities of this “tribal character” include:

  • A good attitude about life
  • An awareness of others
  • An absence of problems, dilemma’s, and conflicts, particularly with other “tribes” or peoples – this creates an absence of “bad feelings”

For me, personally, I’ve found that the more I have respect for me, who I am, my culture, and people, the more respect I have for other people.

It seems that “learned respect”, as is taught by Christianity and the U.S., is not that effective.  Telling people that they “need to learn to respect other people” is really rather superficial.  It works for some people but doesn’t last in a population.  The greatest effect,it seems to me, is when it is part of the “tribal character” of a people, culture, or society.

But, at the same time, “tribalism” is oftentimes the cause for lack of respect.  This generally reflects problems within ones “tribe”.  In other words, the lack of respect is often reflective of problems within the tribe.  Some examples of these include:

  • Interior conflicts and disputes
  • Various forms of stress and dilemmas
  • Bad experiences

A good example is the Nazi’s who, as we all know, killed many people.  We must remember that this was after a war, which they lost, and which caused great stress, conflicts, poverty, and difficulties in its aftermath.  My guess is that these all contributed and instigated the particularly severe Nazi “tribalism” that we saw.  Had the stress and conflicts caused by WWI not of happened its possible that Nazism may of never even developed.

When a “tribe” has stress and problems its not uncommon for them to “project” it onto another “non-tribe”.  In this way, the way these tribes interpret other “non-tribes” is more reflective of itself than the “non-tribe”.  Its because of this “projection” that people see things in “non-tribes” that are not there, such as threats, evil, bad intentions, and so on which do not exist.  In some respects, the “non-tribe” becomes something like a scapegoat where all the bad, problems, etc. of the tribe is identified.  This seems to do a number of things:

  • It places all the stress, conflicts, problems, etc. on something else other than themselves
  • It gives them something to express their frustrations on
  • It gives the illusion that the “tribe” has no problems

What this shows is that problems within a “tribe” are quickly transferred to other “non-tribes”.  This tendency has caused a lot of problems for humanity as a whole. 

The need to respect “social tribalism”

My observation is that people are naturally “racist”, “biased”, or “tribal” in orientation.  That’s the way it is.  It is part of the ways of humanity.  As a result, one should really expect it.  The normal response, at least in the U.S., is as if to villainize and attempt to “exterminate” it which, I think, is more like a denial than anything else.  Morality, the American Constitution, protests, etc. isn’t going to change it.  It is too ingrained in the human character to “exterminate” or get rid of with political ideology.

I’ve always felt that we should understand and respect “tribalism”, as a whole, and not condemn it.  This point of view I take became very evident on a trip to San Francisco in the 1980’s, I think.  We went into a Chinese herbal store in China town (we were wandering around there).  The Chinese man at the counter looked at us with horror but he knew that he couldn’t kick us out (though I’m sure he wanted to).  I know that, to him, this place was for Chinese only and, accordingly, we were not welcome.  It was at this point that I began to realize how I viewed things.  Instead of getting upset . . . which is what some people do, I accepted and respected it.  I wanted to say, “I understand, this is a Chinese thing” and walk out.  More importantly, I understood, intuitively, that there was “something more” behind his feelings and that there was, in actuality, no malicious intent, which is what other people assume.  This, really, started my inquiry into what I now call “tribalism”.

This, of course, does not mean that I’m saying that the negative effects of “tribalism” are “OK”.  Its really an acknowledgement of the good and beneficial sides, that “tribalism” is part of the human character and is needed.


Typically, we tend to “accept” what we “agree” with.  In this case, then, “agreeing” with an idea makes that “idea” our “tribe”, so to speak.  Any other idea is viewed in a similar “non acceptance” stance as described above. Generally, ideas do not contain a “threat” to them, at least by themselves.  As a result, ideas tends to not evoke the self-preservation tendency that we see with society and which is described above.  This, of course, changes if the ideas become associated with society and similar things.  Despite this, we get many “tribal” mentalities with ideas often evoking deep and serious feelings leading to arguments that could even lead to things like hatred and so on. In some cases, the “tribalism of ideas” often turns into, or becomes a basis, for social tribalism.  A good example would be religion and politics.


Much of our life is dominated by the “tribalism of self”.  How well we fit into this “self tribe” determines how happy we are in life.  It creates security, integrity, and wholeness. The nature of the self is that it creates a sense of “right” or “properness”.  In effect, the self is small and requires us to “narrow down” things so the self can have a grasp of things.  As a result, the self is greatly associated with the “narrowing down tendency”.   which creates the feelings as described above. some of the origins of this sense of “right” include:

  • Morality we follow what is “right”  this can often evoke the self-preservation tendency
  • personal inclinations and experiences
  • reactions to ones self
  • stress
  • bad feelings

The “tribalism of self” is also something that continually changes.  It changes with age, experiences, changes in life (such as getting married), and so on.  Because of this, we are always trying to “catch up” with the “self tribe” and to seek its “acceptance”. In many cases of “tribalism of self” the negative effects are inflicted on ourselves by ourselves (whereas in social tribalism, for example, it tends to be inflicted on others).  We, in a sense, torment ourselves.  In effect, much of our suffering and unhappiness in life, originates with our own “tribalism of self”.


Other aspects of “tribalism” include things such as:


“Tribalism” is crucial for identity.  In fact, one could say that “tribalism” is the base of identity.  The stronger the “tribalism” the stronger the identity.  In this way, “tribalism” is critical for a sense of a person or a people.

This means that identity is affected by the strengths and weaknesses of “tribalism”.  In particular, the security of identity is the same as the security caused by “tribalism”.

In addition, identity ebbs and flows depending on the condition of “tribalism”.  This causes a number of identity problems such as:

  • “Under-identity”.  Low, or inadequate, “tribalism” causes a lack of identity.
  • “Misguided identity”.   This is when you think you’re something when you’re not.
  • “Over-identity”.  A “tribalism” that is too strong creates an identity so strong that it can literally strangle a person.  It often creates a very rigid and constraining society, culture, or person.


Because of the “narrowing down tendency” there is a tendency to emphasize ones “territory” or the land that one accepts as “ones own”.  In fact, one could say that territorialism is actually a “tribalism in physical space”.  As a result, it entails many of the qualities described above with “tribalism”.  As a result, ones “territory” tends to revolve around things such as:

  • Identity
  • Security
  • It sets a people apart from other “tribes”

This is one reason why ones “land” is viewed so seriously.


Many of the attitudes that surround a persons role is associated with “tribalism”.  In fact, it probably wouldn’t be too far off to say that a persons role is really a more “personal” form of social tribalism.

Roles are generally viewed from two angles

  • Personal.  It affects how one views ones self as a person.
  • Social.  It reflects how one see’s one self in society.

In these ways, roles defines who one is, what one does, and what ones place is in relation to society.  This allows for growth and development in a person as an individual and in society.

Social status

The different gradations of social status, or social position, can be compared to “gradations of social tribalism”.  Social status is often closely associated with a persons role in society.

In some cases, social status, or class, becomes a “tribe” in itself, a “tribe within a tribe”.  As a result of this, we see the good and bad qualities displayed.  This makes it so that social status can both benefit and tear a society apart, depending on conditions.  We must remember that civilizations are founded on the strength of social structure.  At the same time, it can tear it apart.  This shows that the strengths and weaknesses of many societies are found interiorly, within itself.

In fact, I tend to believe that civilizations are built up, and created, by the “tribe within a tribe”, only for it to tear it apart later.  Perhaps this can be described as a definition of civilization?  This reveals the great enigmatic quality of “tribalism”, of its good and bad quality (see below).

Fame, prestige, social ideals

Things such as fame, prestige, and social ideals reflect a form of “tribalism”.  They are often closely associated with things like social status and therefore reflect the “tribe within a tribe” point of view.  These are nothing but the specific qualities that the “tribe” views highly.  By catering to these qualities one “rises up” and becomes part of a more-favored  “tribe within a tribe”.  As a result, of this “rising up” one gains the benefits of “tribalism” such as a security.

Relating with society

Many social problems are caused by the effects of “tribalism”.  Some examples include:

  • Too weak of “tribalism”.  People become lost, alienated, and confused.
  • Too strong of “tribalism”.  People become too rigid, robot-like, snobbish, arrogant, etc.
  • A failure of “tribalism”.  This is often seen in conditions of overpopulation where “tribalism” doesn’t work effectively.  People begin to not know who they are or feel a part of anything.  This often makes people feel insecure and vulnerable, which is what we are seeing in this society.

Knowledge, right and wrong, and morality

Any form of conceptual thought is really a form of “tribalism”.  This is because knowledge “narrows down” things down, defines it, and gives it a specific quality.  In this way, knowledge becomes a “tribe” in itself.  This is why any form of “knowing” tends to narrow things down to a true/false, or right/wrong situation.  In addition, it makes it so that we “belong” or “don’t belong” to the point of view of a particular form of knowledge (which is really a “tribe” in itself). This reflects the very nature and quality of “tribalism”, except on a more knowledge-based perspective.

This same tendency tends to reflect itself in the right and wrong of morality.  When one stays within “moral code” one stays within ones “tribe”.  When one is “immoral” one strays into the “non-tribe” which means one feels the effects of not being “accepted”.  In this way, one could say that morality is nothing but a form of being “accepted” by the “tribalism” of morality.

Decoration, design, style, etc.

Things like decoration, fashion, style, etc. reflect qualities of “tribalism”.  This can appear in a number of ways:

  • The style that one creates for ones self, such as the clothes one wears
  • The style of what one does, such as ones character, manner of speech, and such
  • The style of ones surroundings, such as how one decorates ones house

By staying within the specific style some qualities are often found:

  • They often these become associated with identity and greater meaning in life . . . which happen to be some of the deeper aspects of “tribalism”.
  • It also offers security by familiarity and identification.

In these ways, “style” is a reflection of “tribalism” and, accordingly, one gains some of the benefits that “tribalism” offers, such as identity.

Mental problems

It seems, to me, that a lot of mental problems are often associated with “tribalism”.  One could say that many mental problems are a result of the loss of “tribalism”, in one form or another.  As a result of this loss, there is an attempt at things like:

  • Creating a “tribalism” to deal with a specific situation, such as a false image of oneself or reality.
  • Maintaining a “tribalism”, such as to maintain an identity or thought that makes one feel “in control”, even though it is out-of-place or doesn’t work.
  • Exaggerating a “tribalism” to gain from its effects, such as security.

These offer things such as:

  • A sense of control, of narrowing things down to an acceptable level.
  • An overall sense of security, that one is not vulnerable.
  • A sense of “personal integrity”, that one is “whole”.

In fact, many mental problems can be described as a “desperate attempt at tribalism” as a reaction to some threat, real or imagined.  In this way, the symptom really becomes an “attempt at tribalism”. 

Mother instinct

The female often develops a tendency for an intensive and unique form of “tribalism” as a result of the mother instinct.  Much of this originates from the “victim mentality” that the mother instinct tends to create (see my article “More thoughts on the “female-as-victim” – revealing aspects of the mother instinct“).  These tend to create a tendency to feel vulnerable, threatened, abused, etc.  As a result, it tends to predispose the female to things like neurosis or mental problems.  In other words, the “victim mentality” of the mother instinct tends to create a “desperate attempt at tribalism” in the female.   This often creates qualities somewhat similarly as in mental problems.  This makes it so that the female life is often dominated by a “tribalism” to the point that it actually impairs them and even the people around them.  This “attempt at tribalism” often appears as a tendency where things must be the “right way” around females, they are easily offended or bothered, they see threats everywhere, and so on.


From the above we see that there is a double-edge quality to “tribalism”.  That is to say, there is definite good and bad qualities in “tribalism”.  This gives “tribalism” an enigma quality to it:  is it good . . . is it bad?

There are like two extremes to “tribalism”:

  1. Positive – Integrity, identity, and security
  2. Negative – Strictness, hatred, and violence

The dilemma caused by these two qualities has become more apparent as a result of the effects of the modern world which has thrown everyone together in a small space.

One could describe this double-edged quality this way:  “By avoiding the negative we deprive ourselves of the positive.  By emphasizing the positive we prone ourselves to the negative.”  As the world becomes more and more of a mass society, this dilemma is becoming more prevalent.  We lose, at to some extent, no matter which direction we take


Overpopulation and diversity tend to undermine “tribalism”.  This is because it destroys a sense of “unity” and the specific qualities that define a “tribe”.  Overpopulation and diversity tends to create a mass mentality.  We must remember that the “tribe” is not the same as mass mentality.  In many ways, mass mentality is a sign of the failure of a “tribe”.  It is not a “tribe” nor does it offer the benefits of “tribalism”.  In mass mentality one belongs only be being part of the faceless and identityless blur of humanity, the mob, the masses.  In this way, mass mentality undermines and destroys “tribalism”.  This can cause anything from alienation to a greatly watered down “tribalism” that lacks substance.


Because of the problems created by “tribalism” there has begun to develop what I often call the “abstract tribe”.   This is the tribe as an abstract idealistic idea.  Its really something like a “half tribalism”, or a tribe that isn’t a tribe, or a tribe that is only a tribe in principle.

This point of view seems largely on Christian ideas, the idea of the “brotherhood of man”, the “body of Christ”, and “love your neighbor”, the idea that we are all the same.  But, we must remember, that this is nothing but an abstract idea, an ideal.

Much of this idea would be carried over into communism and democracy.  In this way, it has been given “political sanction”, which gives the illusion, at least for many people, that it is “correct” . . . but its still an abstract idea.

Over time, the “abstract tribe” point of view would turn society into what I call the “system”.  This is really an ultra-organized society geared to keeping the faceless mob happy.  In other words, the “system” is about catering to the masses, the mob, and not people.  This gives it a very unhuman quality about it.

My feelings is that, though it may seem to work for now, the “abstract tribe” is actually doomed to fail.  This is primarily because its based in an abstract idealistic idea.  However it may seem, humanity is not based in any “idea”.  A person cannot create, remold, or modify humanity based on an “idea”.  As are result, you cannot make all of humanity “love one another”, for example, because that’s your “idea”.  That’s just the way it is.  This, I think, is the failure of America and the modern world . . . they are trying to fashion humanity, and the world, to an image.

With the “abstract tribe”, and the coming of the “system”, there has developed a lack of bond between people.  That is to say, there is no cultural unity.  This failure of bond is often compensated by things like:

  • A prevalence of law, that one must obey
  • The idea of “principles of behavior”, that one must do or must not do certain things

These create a quality of control that often has no meaning, typically.  In this way, the “abstract tribe” actually tends to create a controlling society that often has no human meaning to the person.  People take on the quality of minions.  It seems, to me, that this is what we are seeing nowadays.

Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Historical stuff, Identity and identity problems, Modern life and society, Primitive society and people, Psychology and psychoanalysis, Society and sociology, The 'system', 'systemism', and the power structure, Tribal society, tribalism, and the tribal sense and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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