‘America Has Always Been a Tribal Society’

Human beings are tribal. We’re hardwired that way. We need to belong to groups. The problem is when tribalism takes over a political system. What’s happening now is something unprecedented. A fascinating study shows that 67 percent of working class whites feel that they are subject to more discrimination and persecution and prejudice than minorities. The idea that whites in the United States should be persecuted compared to all these other minorities is, at a certain level, absurd. We’ve had slavery, we’ve had the extinction of Native Americans, Asian Exclusion Act, but that’s the whole point of the tribal mentality – that we can’t talk to each other. Demagoguery, scapegoating, all kinds of us versus them mentality where groups feel pitted against one another for spoils. America has always been a tribal society. It’s just that for most of our 200-year history, one very, very dominant tribe, you know, whites, dominated the country economically, politically and culturally. So it didn’t feel like a lot of tribalism. At our best America is a country where someone can be Italian American, Japanese American, Libyan American, Mexican American, and intensely patriotic at the same time. It’s really impossible to wipe out tribalism. We can work on overcoming the negative forms of tribalism that is the sort of us versus them version, but imagine trying to tell somebody, “Stop liking your sports team.” Good luck with that. It’s just not going to happen.


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