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On Tribalism

On Saturday afternoon, at the request of my wife, I attended a birthday party for the granddaughter of a family friend.   Not being a party guy, I was probably not in the best of moods to begin but it was a break from the work around the house and hey, how bad could a house of screaming kids be? I left even lower than I arrived, but not because of the little kids who were remarkably well behaved.  The family friend was experiencing some angst brought on by his son who had come home for the party of his niece.

Working in the financial industry is a challenging career and my friend is very proud of his son for working in the field. The father was approached with an issue from work.  The firm providing the employment has concerns about some regulations coming from Washington in the future and was making sure that all employees were remaining studiously neutral in political matters so that it would not jeopardize its position.  Utilizing Google Earth they were checking all employees and their families residences, when they happened on my friend’s house picture, apparently taken in 2016, with its large 4’ x 8’ Trump sign on the lawn. 

The request was that my friend not show any support for any political candidate until after the issue was passed.  Having had friends who work in the financial industry I am familiar with their need to be politically neutral and having to get permission to run for local office if allowed, etc.  I also am aware that we have individuals who are, correctly, very concerned with running for school board and other local offices if they have young children who can be victimized by their peers in school, or the “teachers” who have them in their classrooms. The split in this country is becoming more evident and sharper every year, and what was only a vague concern ten years ago is now an active and valid worry today.

This, however, was the first time I had ever heard of a grown adult having to caution their elder generation that they needed to socially and politically conform to pressure from the work of their children. Apparently since his name is the same as his son’s the firm correlated the picture and the name and asked the son to raise the issue.  I don’t know how it was presented to my friend, I am assuming it was a request to help his son maintain good standing and not hurt his career, but it rubbed him the wrong way, as it does me.

There are several problems here that I would like to highlight.  We live in an era where political thought has divided into two main camps with a narrow fringe around each.  One camp expects government to provide both security and the social changes deemed necessary to improve quality of life issues.  The other values the private sector freedom to choose and profit from individual effort and believes the role of government is to provide the framework of law that allows this freedom to flourish.  For the past sixty or so years the idea of an activist government has prevailed under both parties, increasing the size of government geometrically and shrinking the freedom of the private sector commensurately.  With the advent of President Trump, we are seeing some push back on this accepted wisdom and the possibility that it is not the correct path for Americans. Hence all the pushback from the chief party supporting the rapid push towards socialism.

The change to our country in the post-World War Two era has been immense and the quality of life for a majority of Americans has shown significant economic advances.  One idea that has been evident and legally binding from the early Republic is that the individual is responsible for his actions.  He works within certain parameters that most everyone recognizes, he has free speech, but does not have the right to use that speech to cause physical harm to others by for example yelling fire in a crowded theater if there is not one. Increasingly however we are seeing cultural changes being forced onto individuals as a result of belonging to various “Tribes” in order to promote social changes that are deemed necessary by self-appointed elites in our society. A result of this pressure is that we increasingly see the rise of Anti-Semitism and other objectionable social change with the idea that the end justifies the means.  We are seeing that individuals, by being a member of a tribe, are not allowed to speak anything that doesn’t advance that tribes agenda.

Being a Republican is looked upon by many Democrats as being tarred with racist and homophobic beliefs. While many Republicans look at Democrats as being mentally unstable and not in touch with reality.  Individuals are now painted as part of a group’s worst elements and are not treated as individuals.  The prevailing society clumps everyone into groups and fails to recognize the individual, with disastrous effect on everyone.  My friend is associated negatively by some because he had a Trump sign, and they are going to take it out not on him but on his son through his son’s employment. Sick.

Some of this type of thinking has been around since the beginning of the Republic, the early party bosses made sure to reward their followers and punish those who departed from the orthodoxy, Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall spring to mind.  What has become evident in the past ten or so years is that technological change has dramatically increased the pressure that is able to be brought to bear on individuals.  There is less ability to walk away, to escape to the frontier if you will to leave the bigotry and class hatred behind.  It seems that for all the promise of technology the first thing people use it for is to oppress others.  

Google Earth is the prime example of technology used badly in this specific case.  We are increasingly hearing of the issues with Facebook, Twitter and other forms of communication that binds people into their little tribes and groups. The ability to sort, collate, and use big data to identify and isolate individuals is a power that threatens them and offers opportunity to control with allure of the power that results from that control.  Used wisely technology is a great educational tool that will enable millions to improve their economic standing and find friends and communities that they want to interact with.  Used poorly we have the ability of the powerful to manipulate and control the lives of millions. 

The fight between a group that believes in governmentally imposed security with pressure to conform to socially conscious changes and those who believe in the individual freedom of the marketplace within a framework of laws equally applied, represents the great challenge of our times.

– Cincinnatus