A Few Words On Tribalism, Commonalty, And The Leviathan

by mitchbrown7

I’m overjoyed when I find a well-matched proverbial sparring partner on serious, relevant issues. I’m not the type of person to shy away from a conversation with someone who has an opposing view. It’s something I actually enjoy, nor will I become upset or overly-emotional during such a conversation. I think whatever stance someone takes, they have an obligation to defend said position. When I encounter someone who isn’t able to, I start to suspect that that person’s point of view, opinion, or ideology is built on shaky ground, or they’ve taken a stance because it’s a popular trend, and there is no real meat behind his or her stance.

In a fellow student named Sean, I think I have found a decent proverbial sparring partner, as we hold radially different world views, and neither of us will shy away from speaking our minds. In our feature writing class, a few weeks ago the issue of tribalism and commonalty came up.

We of course have limited time in class to discuss such a weighty matter, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about and could go into further depth about. The conversation started out about the issue of students selecting roommates based on profiles on social media sites. Sean was against it because he said it could lead to people not learning how to better interact with people different from themselves, and some could never leave a selected comfort zone.

My response was that that’s something that happens in the “real world” and is simply being transferred to online communities. The internet is not the cause for social stratification. I then elaborated and presented my perspective, one in which a bond is based on commonalty: when you find increased, commonalty, you have an increased chance for the building of bonds. When you have diminished commonalty, you have a lessened probability of bonds being forged. To a certain extent, everyone sticks with their own kind, however you wish to define that, and it can be defined on multiple levels. For some, it could be an issue as superficial as skin color. But it could also be that having the same major in college is enough to form some type of minor bond. ( I speak form experience on that one)

Sean said what I was advocating lent itself to tribalism. I said that whether you are comfortable with it or not, tribalism is still in effect. It’s not something relegated to ancient societies of yore. The reason why St. Patrick’s Day means something more to someone of Irish lineage than it does to me is due to tribalism. Nationalism/patriotism stems from tribalism. When you go to a ball game and rise for the singing of the national anthem, you are participating in a form of tribalism. The idea of the American experience is supposedly one of multiculturalism, the notion of the melting pot, but just because you have a diverse population in the same area doesn’t mean that a tribal identity is automatically washed away. An Irishman who emigrates to America doesn’t all of sudden stop being Irish because of his change of location. By birth, he is still connected to the Celtic tribe.

Sean said that if we still had a tribal society, we would not have a civilized society. I didn’t get to raise my rebuttal in class, but my rebuttal is that tribal division does not always lead to tribal warfare. You can also have cooperation among varying tribes.

Coinciding perfectly with the conversation is a book I’m currently reading entitled “The Better Angels Of Our Nature: Why Violence Had Declined.” by Steven Pinker. Some might scoff at the title in light of modern violence. But it really makes so much sense when you dig into the book. Pinker’s thesis is that even in light of modern violence, our world today is for less dangerous, on a unilateral level, than it was during the days of the brutality of Roman gladiators, or when Genghis Khan and the Mongols laid waste to Central Asia, or the time of torture devices in medieval Europe. Part of his thesis is that that was a more violent era, in that a larger swath of the population were universally affected by a greater level of barbarity than today. Pinker backs up his claim with historical, mathematical, and statistical evidence. He also focuses on how empathy and human rights movements spread to how much of the violence of the ancient world was partially a result of a stateless society.

The latter claim would be in line with what Thomas Hobbes wrote in “the Leviathan.” Hobbes’ view of human nature was that if man is left in his natural, unfettered state, he will resort to “the war of all verses all.” Hobbes’ remedy to man’s own nature is the creation of the Leviathan, a centralized government. The Leviathan restricts and controls man’s own nature, a form of subduing the id. The Leviathan eradicates the stateless society, but it doesn’t eradicate tribalism. For that to happen we would have to live in a society that would resemble the Borg from Star Trek.