This is a follow-up to Fantasy Ideologies
Humans self-organize into scale-free networks. Traditionally, individuals were locked into their tribes and extended families. This was true for the hunter-gatherer period and remained true throughout the agricultural period.
The Industrial Revolution created a new form of social organization. Individuals were no longer tied to the land and family for survival. Volunteer civic associations replaced tribes. Individuals no longer had a fixed tribal identity – they could freely join or leave any civic organization they choose. They could change religions, political party, circle of friends. Individuals could freely migrate across the social terrain.
Individualism was quickly challenged by a series of reactionary collectivist ideologies which seek to restore fixed tribal identities. This New Tribalism includes different group ideologies like identity politics, nationalism, cultural marxism.
The foundation of liberalism is the autonomy of the individual as the key decision-maker in society. Liberalism – in any variation – should begin with the rejection of fixed group or tribal identity. This has given modern society a political adaptability which is nothing less than a cultural revolution compared to ancient times.
The New Tribalism counters individualism by forcing individuals to join permanent tribal identities like in the good old days of mysticism and tyranny. Like the old Tribalism, there is no consent. One is born into this fixed tribe and individuals must conform to standard tribal behavior, interests and standards of “morality” which are not shared by other tribes. Individuals have no ability to leave without being attacked as race traitors, sellouts, apostates, etc.
I’m going to broadly categorize “identity politics” as the main form of New Tribalism in the USA, but this also includes variations of nationalism and Cultural Marxism outside the USA. Tribalism states that individuals must be aligned with the common interests of their tribal group – whether this is defined as race, gender, religion, class or ethnicity.
There is a rather important distinction here. Individual may temporarily have a coincidence of interest with other individuals. They band together to increase their collective political power through a volunteer civic organization to bargain for more resources in society. Once those interests are fulfilled, they disband and form new groups as their needs require. There is an element of consent and reason in the process. Individualism was facilitated by the printing press and equal opportunity under the law. The civic organizations are designed to fulfill the needs of individuals.
The New Tribalism of “identity politics” sacrifice individual needs in favor of group interests. As such, you are no longer an individual with unique interests and desires, but a cell in a colonial organism. To oppose the corporate interest is to be a cancer.
How precisely do you define these new tribes? They lack concrete definitions – they are “social constructs.” On some level these are idealist visions and political fantasy ideologies. Cultural identity studies in academic departments are pseudosciences. There is no unified definition of these new tribes – of race, gender, ethnicity, religion – because there is remarkably little empirical substance to these conjectures. They use emotional appeals rather than evidence-based reasoning.
The New Tribes depend on a belief system – a belief in a fantasy of group identity. Outsiders have criticized this notion of new tribes on empirical grounds. This resulted in a curious backlash against the Scientitic Method. These Tribalists deny that science can investigate “who” humans are (curiously, individuals believe it can). So they claim that the scientific method is just another form of hegemonic discourse and is no more valid than any other perspective. They must extend this criticism to both the social and natural sciences. I discussed one variant of this before: Feminist Epistemology. Not only do they objective empiricism, but they believe that each tribe has a special way of “knowing” the universe.
To wit I respond, our knowledge of reality is not dependant upon our most superficial phenotypes.
John Fonte argues that this is the conflict between the Gramsci and Tocqueville visions of society. Tocqueville describes the pragmatic individualism of America. Gramsci created the concepts behind Cultural Marxism.
Marxism created one of the earliest forms of the New Tribes. He divided Europeans according to new tribal classes. Instead of family based networks, men belonged to economic classes – the working class, the middle class, the aristocratic class.
Gramsci, like Marx, attacks the individualist notion that individuals are decision-makers. He created a vision of “hegemonic” structures which disempower individuals. This kind of structuralism was a popular belief in the humanities back in the 19th century and was briefly revived in the 1970s.
Identity politics is rooted in Gramsci’s Cultural Marxism:
Like Marx, he argued that all societies in human history have been divided into two basic groups: the privileged and the marginalized, the oppressor and the oppressed, the dominant and the subordinate. Gramsci expanded Marx’s ranks of the “oppressed” into categories that still endure. As he wrote in his famous Prison Notebooks, “The marginalized groups of history include not only the economically oppressed, but also women, racial minorities and many ‘criminals.’” What Marx and his orthodox followers described as “the people,” Gramsci describes as an “ensemble” of subordinate groups and classes in every society that has ever existed until now. This collection of oppressed and marginalized groups — “the people” — lack unity and, often, even consciousness of their own oppression. To reverse the correlation of power from the privileged to the “marginalized,” then, was Gramsci’s declared goal.
Power, in Gramsci’s observation, is exercised by privileged groups or classes in two ways: through domination, force, or coercion; and through something called “hegemony,” which means the ideological supremacy of a system of values that supports the class or group interests of the predominant classes or groups. Subordinate groups, he argued, are influenced to internalize the value systems and world views of the privileged groups and, thus, to consent to their own marginalization.
Far from being content with a mere uprising, therefore, Gramsci believed that it was necessary first to delegitimize the dominant belief systems of the predominant groups and to create a “counter-hegemony” (i.e., a new system of values for the subordinate groups) before the marginalized could be empowered. Moreover, because hegemonic values permeate all spheres of civil society — schools, churches, the media, voluntary associations — civil society itself, he argued, is the great battleground in the struggle for hegemony, the “war of position.” From this point, too, followed a corollary for which Gramsci should be known (and which is echoed in the feminist slogan) — that all life is “political.” Thus, private life, the work place, religion, philosophy, art, and literature, and civil society, in general, are contested battlegrounds in the struggle to achieve societal transformation.
And so the personal is political. Individual interactions may be interpreted as tribal group competition and hegemonic power struggles rather than as… individual interactions. Cultural Marxism creates a political mythology to explain all perceptions. Tribal Identity Politics stresses “social justice” instead of individual liberty for this reason.
Everything must be viewed as a exchange of political power – a tradeoff between shame and honor, like in the ancient tribes. Simple personal things such as female attire like bras can be artistically reinterpreted as male oppression. At the extreme, radical feminists like Andrea Dworkin think that all sex is rape.
Generally speaking, the “collective” as a gender, race, or religion, is morally superior and automatically has a greater understanding of true social justice than the hegemonic tribe. And all these tribes must ally with each other to defeat the reigning hegemony. They use artistic reasoning to select axioms to make these deductions, so this accounts for the semingly delusional conclusions.
The entire concept of identity politics would refute the individualist understanding of social networks if the structuralists offer empirical evidence. They do not. This is why these “theories” proliferate in evidence-free venues, like English Departments and X Studies, where assertions can be made based on creativity and piles of meaningless words rather than fact and proof.
New tribalism has to create a different epistemological explanation of reality. Since there is no evidence of this hegemony, they accuse disbelievers of having “false consciousness.” To overcome that false consciousness, you need faith and a heightened sense of mystical awareness to understand the true structures of society. Everyone else is blinded by their social position. They create new epistemologies such as Feminist Stanpoint or Racial Prospectivism to explain the real reality which hegemonic white male empiricists cannot see.
Ophelia Benson criticized the attack on “hegemonic” science in Paradigms U Like. Epistemological egalitarianism is stupid.
How do people get sucked into something that is so stupid, conservative and more than a little reactionary?
As Eric Hoffer argued, this group mentality reaches its peak in mass movements. Weak individuals hide their personal failings and weaknesses by immersing themselves into a hive-mind. There is an attraction to being part of something bigger than yourself, even if you know it is a lie. Your side is on the right side of history – it’s a fantasy where you are the hero in the struggle against evil oppression and injustice.
Which certainly sounds more glamous than admitting you are a boring jerk at a dead-end job because you majored in English back in college rather than chemical engineering. Truth be told, we’re all boring jerks – some are just more useful jerks.
To explain any asymmetry in the world, all you have to do is assert evil motives onto other tribes. You need no evidence to do so, just point out a statistical residual when comparing two groups and say the evil hegemonic oppression explains the residual gap. It works like magic. What’s strange is that people intensely believe in such logical fallacies.
Your tribe is morally superior for apparently no other reason than it is your tribe.
Robin Hanson points to two psychological studies which describe this irrational moral bias in groups.
The first is Moral Hypocrisy: Social Groups and the Flexibility of Virtue, by Piercarlo Valdesolo and David DeSteno
In one condition, subjects were required to distribute a resource (i.e., time and energy) to themselves and another person, and could do so either fairly (i.e., through a random allocation procedure) or unfairly (i.e., selecting the better option for themselves). They were then asked to evaluate the morality, or fairness, of their actions. In another condition, subjects viewed a confederate acting in the unfair manner, and subsequently evaluated the morality of this act. …
Individuals perceived their own transgressions to be less objectionable than the same transgression enacted by another person. Moreover, this hypocritical view extended to judgments of others … subjects viewed transgressions committed by in-group members to be as acceptable as their own.
The second study finds similar results.
“Group virtue: The importance of morality (vs. competence and sociability) in the positive evaluation of in-groups.” This study found that in-group morality was more valued than competency or sociability. And of course they viewed outsiders as less moral.
Morality is emotionally based. It is used like “gang colors” to display your membership in a tribe. That’s why morality uses so many slogans like “equality” “social justice” “free X goods” that have little rational substance. These represent the moral beliefs of the tribe.
And of course, it’s not enough that your tribe is more moral, the other tribes must be evil. Afterall, why don’t they agree with your perfect sense of morality?
Politics is a Mind-Killer as Eliezer Yudkowsky says.
People go funny in the head when talking about politics. The evolutionary reasons for this are so obvious as to be worth belaboring… Being on the right side of the argument could let you kill your hated rival!
Politics is an important domain to which we should individually apply our rationality – but it’s a terrible domain in which to learn rationality, or discuss rationality, unless all the discussants are already rational.
Politics is an extension of war by other means. Arguments are soldiers. Once you know which side you’re on, you must support all arguments of that side, and attack all arguments that appear to favor the enemy side; otherwise it’s like stabbing your soldiers in the back – providing aid and comfort to the enemy. People who would be level-headed about evenhandedly weighing all sides of an issue in their professional life as scientists, can suddenly turn into slogan-chanting zombies when there’s a Blue or Green position on an issue.
In some aspect of our lives, we all turn into slogan-chanting zombies. Our politics are not completely rational, so it’s best to admit this to ourselves so we can avoid the worst excesses of tribalism.
I wonder, how do you contest this New Tribalism? Individuals – as individuals – will get swarmed to death by the collective horde. If we let the Tribes win – we let the rationalism and individual liberty of the Enlightenment fall to a new wave of barbarism.