Friday, June 18, 2010

Tribalism is a Good Thing

Image courtesy of First People.US They've got thousands of pictures, an abundance of information. An incredible resource. Go look!

I'm in New Mexico. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is Indian Country. Tribal peoples, in other words. Rather adaptable and successful ones, all in all.

Up and down the Rio Grande, there are more than a dozen active pueblos, and there are ruins of many more on the river and elsewhere throughout New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Northern Mexico. Zunis are over on the West, and, a little further west in Arizona, the Hopi -- also a pueblo people -- live surrounded by the Navajo, who are not a pueblo people. Of course the other major non-pueblo tribe in New Mexico is the Apaches.

Human history in New Mexico goes back about as far as human history can be traced in North America, the Clovis site having some of the earliest evidence found yet. Elaborate Indian cultural centers (one hesitates to call them "cities" because that's not really what they are) have arisen and and have been abandoned over the centuries.

Today's pueblo peoples are quite certain that they are the direct descendants of those who built the astonishing structures in Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, Canyon de Chelley and elsewhere. There is really no reason to doubt them, while there may be reason to doubt the tales the latecomer Navajo tell that they were enslaved and were forced to build the structures scattered in ruins around New Mexico. The pueblo peoples laugh. The Navajos accuse the ancestors of the pueblo peoples of cannibalism. Yes, well. That's as may be.

The social structure of all these peoples and their ancestors is tribal, and for them it works very well. Strong kinship ties, strong rivalries, strong social bonds, weak political ones.

In 1540, then again in 1598, and yet again in 1692, Spaniards invaded the native world of New Mexico, and with considerable violent persuasion -- the stories of which are told with a passion today as if the events occured yesterday -- they took physical control of the land, planted their own colonists, and exploited the labor (and the souls) of the Indians. The Spanish entrada and reconquista was never without resistance, most famously the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 that forced the Spanish out of New Mexico for the next 12 years, but in the bye and bye, the Indians and the Spanish came to an uneasy truce and accommodation with one another that was shattered by the American conquest of the Southwest in 1846-48. In fact, the American conquest of New Mexico was marked a singular event. The Spanish and Indians joined together to resist the imposition of American authority, a resistance that led to the death of the American governor and a number of other Anglos in Santa Fe Taos and elsewhere. American troops then laid siege to the Taos Pueblo where many of the rebels from other areas had retreated. Much of the pueblo was destroyed, and reports are that as many as 500 (but more probably 150-250) people, men, women, and children, were slaughtered by the troops as they tried to escape. Many Indians [and Beaners] were rounded up in other areas and some were summarily executed. Others were held for "trial" and hanged by the dozen in the Santa Fe Taos Plaza and elsewhere.

Thus began the American occupation of New Mexico.

As I say, these events are as yesterday to many of the peoples of New Mexico. One thing about a tribal society is that the past is never entirely absent from consciousness. It is living history. In some ways all the peoples of New Mexico share this tribal sense of history and the present, though in the eyes of the Indians, both the Spanish and the Anglos are highly defective in basic social concepts. It's taken the Indians hundreds of years to begin to bring the Spanish around to proper social understanding. The Anglos often appear to be hopless, though bless their hearts, some of them try to adapt.

I'm sure my history of New Mexico is in error in many respects and is defective in other ways, but my point is simple: Tribalism and tribal peoples are alive and well in New Mexico, and the fact that they are is a benefit to everyone.

In other words, there's nothing wrong with tribalism. In fact, it's a profoundly good thing in many respects.

Yet there are those, especially of a Libertarian bent, who like to level the accusation of "Tribalism" on others as a means of disparaging their social/political/economic activities.

As if somehow Tribalism is defective, unevolved, primitive, and usless in the Modern World, and the Higher Development of Libertarianism is by far superior. Darwinian Evolution and all.

Of course anti-tribalism is flavored with racism. "Tribal" peoples of the US and the world being of the blacker and browner persuasion by and large, though often the accusation is leveled at race traitor white folks who adopt those icky primitive tribal ways, as if white folks were never and are never "tribal" themselves unless influenced by the "mud people" whose social concepts are a pollution.

Libertarians deny it, they always do. They will change the subject and accuse their accusers. They are opportunists first and foremost. Since "Tribalism" is used as a dogwhistle by Libertarians to identify one another and express their solidarity against the tribal Mud Peoples, and to identify potential recruits to their cult.

I simply reject notion that there is something wrong with Tribalism. There isn't. It is perfectly normal, a matter of human nature. Tribalists will survive long after the last Advanced Libertarian has breathed his last.


  1. Tribalism is a okay with me. But I don't like tribalism masquerading as universalism. That's what libertarians try to do.

    It reminds me of Arizona getting rid of "ethnic studies" because they don't think history should be taught from the point of view of any one tribe. As if teaching it from the point of view of white Christians isn't tribal. As if, if they go the Texas route, teaching it from the POV of white Christian conservatives is some sort of god's eye view and not tribal.

    Hidden tribalism, on behalf of the dominant power group, is a major problem. Transparently open tribalism by those outside the dominant power group . . . naw. Not really a problem. In fact, it's necessary counterweight.

  2. Cu-hool,

    Tribalism is human nature. It's all but impossible to escape it. You'll be assigned a "tribe" -- even if it is the "Rebel Tribe." Thus denouncing Tribalism as some sort of defect in others is bizarre, absurd, and/or pathetic.

    One thing I will give Piece of Cake credit for is that he/she consistently pointed out everybody's "tribalism". Well. If I understood correctly. Never quite knew whether I understood POC or not.

    The idea that somehow Libertarians are "not tribal" and are therefore more politically advanced than everyone else is puerile to say the least. Sounds like something I would have said when I was 12 and grew out of by the time I was 21 if not sooner.

    Here's an Arizona story you'll like. I decided to take the shorter route to New Mexico this trip, so that meant driving across the northern part of Arizona on I-40. Listening to the radio, driving along. Christian stations. They're almost all you hear in some areas. So a couple of them had their preacher-men going on with some passion about BP and how unfairly put upon they were and -- literally -- how all those poor orphans and widows in England were suffering because BP was being forced to suspend their dividends. It just wasn't fair. I couldn't believe it. This was preachers, I heard two of them going on about how horribly BP was being treated.

    But the topper was a Christian station out of Prescott that ran a rather lengthy gun-shop ad which featured their new stock of sniper rifles and "hard to get" AK-47s. The ad went on and on about all the swell features of these important weapons, and how they had the largest stock in Arizona, etc. Christian gunners, eh? Well, how about that.

    Freaks run Arizona from Phoenix, and the infection is spreading.

    Tribal? You bet. Some tribes are freaks! People who understand human nature understand that, too. The shame is not tribalism. The shame is what the tribe chooses to do.

  3. True. It's what they do that counts.

    Ya know, I'm finding fewer and fewer reasons to stay here. If I could afford it, I'd leave yesterday. Europe is preferable for its culture. But they've been moving in our direction since the mid-70s, and it looks like the whole world has long since embraced McEconomics.

    What a combination. Christian fundamentalism and neoliberalism. Add the neocons, shake and stir and you get one hell of a reactionary superpower, and that's just waaaay too dangerous.

    Thinking maybe Costa Rica. They placed first in the Happy Planet Index, for what that's worth. No military, and they really try to protect their awesome environmental treasures.

    Two links you might like: The first is about a new book, Envisioning Real Utopias.

    The second, an excellent article on economics:

  4. This post actually makes me want to look at the comments at GG's just to see what happened.

    I've never claimed to be immune to lollygagger syndrome.

    I think that tribalism is less a problem than the culture it originates from. I also think that Libertarians love to throw it around because so many of them are convinced that they came to their political ideology independently - oh sure, they think, Ayn Rand or whoever might have been an influence, but they reached their own conclusions (riiiiiiiight).

    Therefore, they're free thinkers. Anyone else is a "sheeple". Sounds tribal to me.

    I read a great essay pointing out the similarities between tribalism among fundamentalist/political factions and tribalism a la the Sopranos. I'll try to find it and post a link - it comes to mind frequently these days.

    Cuch, my fiance and I are looking to move to Costa Rica as soon as I'm done with my current project (we're banking on me being able to find a job, of course, but scientists can usually get work permits without too much trouble - I hope...). The more I research the country, the more I love the idea of moving there. Neither of us can stand it here anymore - we're both tired of being scared all the time.

    I highly recommend checking it out. I don't know what you do for a living so beware - they have some fairly strict laws regarding who can and cannot work there without citizenship/permanent residency. If you're really considering it, shoot me an email ( and I'll forward you some of the info I've found.



  5. Cu-hool,

    I really liked that n+1 article "On Your Marx." It nicely wraps the whole thing up in a neat little package, and the irony quotient of post Mao China turning into the New Consumer Society while Americans dust off their Marx and try to figure out what went wrong is just too sweet. Of course this was declared The Chinese Century long before the PNAC goons got to thinking "forward." Just saying.

    As for ex-patting oneself... Glenn hates for anyone to say so, but he is an expat, for cause. He cannot live in the United States with his Brazilian life-partner because of our absurd and destructive marriage/immigration laws whereas they can live in Brazil as a married couple. No. Problem. Go figure.

    Another of my favorite internet writers, Chris Floyd, is also an American expat living and working in England and before that in Russia.

    Leaving the country is simply not an option we have ever considered. There are many reasons for it having to do with a "tribal" sense of place, of home, and of not giving it up. However, when I told a friend in California five years ago that I'd just bought a place in New Mexico, he immediately said: "Someplace to go when everything turns to shit, eh?" And I said, "A-yep." Exactly.

    We chose "internal exile" if you will. Someplace relatively remote but relatively accessible. We're less than an hour from Santa Fe on an absolutely gorgeous and utterly deserted highway, less than 45 minutes from Albuquerque on the Interstate. Yet independent of both. We don't have to go "to town" as we call it to get by when we're here. Nice to know the option is there, but it isn't necessary.

    Is another country better? That's really up to the individual. But my impression from traveling this country from one end to the other is that despite all the destructive and antagonistic tendencies in America, there is still the opportunity for many people to find much of what they seek right here in the USA.

    Even Social Democracy is possible on a localized and limited scale.

    Despite all the wild west cowboy up business in New Mexico, for example, and all the ever-present history and tradition and animosities of the three disparate tribes here (Indian, Spanish, and Anglo), this state is turning into something a People's Republic by and large. It's perhaps the most Socialistic state outside of Alaska... ;-)

    Note: Because I'm on dialup I'll have to pass on the vimeo link for the time being, but I'll know where to find it when I return to Advanced Civilization!

  6. Wench,

    Please do post a link to the tribalism a la Sopranos essay if you run across it. Sounds very interesting indeed.

  7. Feckless and Ché. Good comments and responses.

    In that Marx article, the author really gets the essence of things. Like the obvious contradiction wherein business owners must suppress wages to lower prices. But workers need decent pay to buy commodities. Of course, he could have elaborated on that. Business interests also benefit tremendously if they can just outsource jobs period and/or automate. So what's in their best interest is obviously terrible for the rest of us. Eventually, all of that catches up with the Macro-economy, because with high unemployment and low wages, there isn't any consumer base.

    We've been artificially herded in so many ways, but especially credit cards and using our houses as ATMs. Which I personally have yet to do. But, we're seeing the end of that and the real shite is going to hit the fan now. It's looking like the contradiction inherent in capitalism have fewer and fewer places to hide. Though there is always the government to bail it out and Talk Radio to bamboozle the masses.

    . . .

    Anyway, I know I'm preaching to the choir on that one.

    I like the idea of internal exile in New Mexico. Pretty cool. I guess a similar thing could be done is some small college town, perhaps in Vermont. But Costa Rica is sounding better all the time. I've had so many shocks to the financial system over the years, I'm not feeling a lot of security when it comes to retirement, but could probably afford Costa Rica.

    We'll see.

    Feckless, thanks for the offer.

    Take care, all.