Friday, June 25, 2010

On the Road Again

Heading back to California either today or tomorrow. Through Arizona again, this time without reservation; of course I expect to find border guards at all the highway entrances and exits of Arizona before too long, as the frenzy there reaches a peak of secessionist fever. Once on that path, it is very hard to retreat. And Arizona seems intent to defy and ultimately to leave the Union. At some point, I'll try to write more fully on how I see these things devolving over time, but not just now.

New Mexico, by contrast, has been almost preternaturally calm. Unfortunately, I injured myself the second day I was here, and so could not complete all the tasks I had in mind to accomplish this trip. I was moving a large branch that had fallen from a tree and as I did, the branchlet I was holding on to broke off and I hit myself in the face. Hard. The blood was abundant, the swelling and bruising was ugly, and while I more or less recovered within a day or so, my head was ringing and I have suffered from attacks of migraine and vertigo through the rest of my time here.

So I spent a lot more time fooling around on the Interwebs than I ordinarily would on one of my excursions to New Mexico. And yesterday, that included an astonishing discussion at Glenn's Place on the issue of Tribalism -- and Glenn's consistent use of the term as a convenient and lazy slur of people he politically opposes.

That was my approach anyway.

I asserted that his lazy slur was ignorant and offensive, citing my own long history within a tribal context (ie: "adopted" within a Native American family which has extensive and deep-seated clan and tribal connections that I won't go into here, except to say that the clan and the tribe/nation are relatively well-known both within and without Indian Country.)

The response was fascinating to say the least, but not altogether unexpected. Glenn uses "tribal" and "tribalism" as a slur, whereas tribal peoples in my experience celebrate and honor their tribal societies and cultures. Only someone deeply ignorant of experiential tribalism would even think of using the term as a slur, which I pointed out many times. Those who responded tended to dismiss the points I was raising, to question my motives, to attack me with ad hominem namecalling, and to defend Glenn's slurs by simply redefining his denunciations of others as "not" what they clearly were.

I also pointed out how "tribalism" as a slur is a dogwhistle in libertarian circles by which the libertarian tribe recognizes its own and identifies recruits. I honestly expected that point to raise far more hackles than it did. Since it is a dogwhistle grounded in overt racism, I pointed that out, too. Neither point was really disputed at all.

What was fiercely disputed was the notion that using "tribalism" as a slur was in any way inappropriate, and conversely that Glenn was actually doing that.

And of course my notion that the issue mattered at all was disputed vigorously.

What struck me was the utter lack of self-awareness, what I call "irony impairment," among those who were participating in the discussion. It didn't, and I'm convinced it couldn't, occur to most of them that they were actually modeling many of the behaviors and attitudes toward the issue I was trying to bring into consciousness. Most of those who responded at all didn't have anything to say about the issue; they were intent on denouncing me, just as Glenn denounces others, for simply raising the topic.

There were exceptions to be sure, jojo_jojo being the one I felt was most insightful, though I'm not sure I agree with all the points s/he made. In fact, I'm pretty sure I don't. But the main point, as I saw it, was that we are all often unconscious of the greater context of our words and actions, and none of us necessarily think them through. Thus, someone like Glenn could unthinkingly use "tribalism" as a slur without imagining he was doing so, and I could confront him over it without necessarily recognizing that he had no such intent.

It's the conflation of intentional and structural bias; and I was -- perhaps -- guilty, just as Glenn was -- perhaps -- guilty of conflation of "mindlessness" with "tribalism." Valuable insight. I appreciated it and appreciate it now. We are often unconscious of the waters we swim in.

Too true.

George Orwell was -- I thought grossly inappropriately -- cited as an authority in Glenn's defense, and it was Glenn's citation of Orwell's "Notes on Nationalism" and his extension of "nationalism" as described by Orwell to "tribalism" as conceived by Glenn in his Update III yesterday, that triggered my objection. Glenn has been doing this for years, and I stayed silent about it up till yesterday. But it is simply a gross distortion of Orwell's essay on nationalism to assert that nationalism as described by Orwell and tribalism as it exists in the world are the same thing.

They are not. They are nearly the antitheses of one another. The overweening nationalism that Orwell describes and deplores -- after all, it was responsible for destroying his world twice in his lifetime -- simply cannot arise let alone persist in a tribalist context. The nationalism he rightly deplores is a factor of de-tribalized individualism seeking some social/cultural "meaning."

Tribalism is the specific remedy to the nationalism Orwell deplores, but Glenn and many of his followers see them as the same thing. That, to me, is so deep in ignorance and error it almost beggars belief.

It's clear to me that they do not understand Orwell at all. And I really wonder how that came about. It is something I intend to look into more fully when I get the time. But right now, I need to take care of packing and get ready to shut down the house.


  1. Dear Che,

    I had no plans to finish reading comments to the GG post you cite until I read your post this morning. Oy!

    An excerpt from your comment 6/24 at 11:56am:

    If all Glenn wants is a coterie of followers who nod sagely at his every jewel of wisdom, how exactly, does he differ from those he denounces?

    When anyone accuses regular commenters of being "yes men" for GG they get all prickly and insist they are not groupies. However, after 2 1/2 years reading his blog and comments I cannot think of one time a regular commenter (and you know the ones I mean) has ever challenged GG on anything. Surely a regular commenter who isn't a fanboy/girl would have something about which to argue with the great man.

    By the way, I hope you mend quickly. Too late now, but is driving a good idea with episodes of vertigo?? Safe travel!

  2. Hi Gwen,

    Thanks for your concern. I am pretty much mended (just the remnants of a split lip...) and will be leaving for California this morning. Vertigo and migraines have dogged me for some time. When migraines first affected me, though, I was driving, and I had no idea what was happening. Scary. Now that I'm aware (!) I can take precautions. Same with vertigo. For the most part symptoms are gone by now. But if there are signs while I'm on the road, I know to pull over.

    As for Glenn's "coterie." He long ago made clear that he didn't want sycophants and fanboys. But as his fame and notoriety has increased he's tended to attract more and more of the grovelers and and the star struck, including the transformation of some who have been around in his comments for years and years and have only recently come to fanboy/girldom.

    He and I have had a somewhat stormy and contentious online relationship since well before his move to Salon. As far as I know, there is no personal animosity, but I have noticed his increasing testiness when I or almost anyone else offers a substantive rather than a jocular challenge to something he has claimed or written about. I'm not sure where that's coming from, and I'd rather not speculate. But I have begun to wonder why he spends so much time batting around bernbart... Now there's a challenge to contend with!