On Tribes, Tribalism and Self-Criticism

As I said in yesterday's post, I don't know if human beings can ever escape wanting to be a part of a tribe. For example, read Sebastian Junger's recent book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. We are at our happiest when we are a part of a tribe.

And yet, the evils of tribalism are too obvious and horrific to ignore.

So how do you thread the needle?

First, and I want to speak especially to my liberal and progressive tribe, you have to be brutally honest here. There is a conceit among many liberals and progressives that we don't have tribes, that we are treating all of humanity as one, big tribe.

And yet, many of these liberal and progressive people are the very ones who take to Twitter to say they don't want to send relief to flood victims in Texas because Texas is a red state.

My point isn't to debate the moral logic here, as there is a moral logic at work. More on this below. My point is simply that many of the people who think they don't have or need a tribe are often the most tribal people on the block.

To be clear, the ultimate vision of the kingdom of God is embracing all of humanity as one, big tribe. Just look at the worship scenes in Revelation:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
So my point isn't to reject a universal ethic. The Golden Rule is about as anti-tribal as you can get.

My point is, rather, that generic calls on social media to "love everyone" are often made by people who actually don't love everyone to people who don't love everyone. There's a stunning amount of moral self-deception on display on social media.

Partly, I think, because our tribes now tend to be moral, ideological, and political in nature, tribes of Good vs. Evil and Right vs. Wrong. And moral tribes, as psychologists like Jonathan Haidt have pointed out, are almost impossible to overcome.

Why? Because the very act of overcoming moral tribalism is, by definition, an immoral act, as it's showing sympathy and support for oppressors. It's giving aid to deplorables, and fuck those people.

In short, the Golden Rule might be a universal, anti-tribal ethic--an ethic beloved by liberals and progressives on social media--but the Golden Rule looks a whole lot more transgressive and immoral when it's unpacked by Jesus as "love your enemies" (Matt. 5.44) and "do not resist an evil person" (Matt. 5.39).

So are moral tribes wrong? What about the fight for justice? What about creating an "on all sides" false equivalency between these moral tribes?

My argument here isn't to create false equivalencies.

My argument isn't about morality. It's about social psychology. And my point is simply this: You are tribal, so stop with the "I love all of humanity" bullshit. Loving all of humanity isn't so easy to pull off. Nobody loves all of humanity.

Which brings me back to the point I made yesterday. I don't think we can avoid being a part of a tribe. As Junger points out in his book, tribes give us a sense of belonging and home. Also, I don't think we can avoid joining moral tribes. And these are good things--finding community and standing up for what we think is right.

And yet, these tribes also bring a suite of temptations.

So the solution, again, isn't to convince yourself that you have no tribe. You have a tribe, and in and of itself that's a good thing. The solution is to be a part of a self-critical tribe, a tribe that questions and pushes back on its darkest impulses.

Because when a tribe loses that capacity, the capacity for self-criticism, there is nothing that stands between that tribe and the devil himself.

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