Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Readings about tribes, tribalism, tribalization — #6: Robert Reich, "The New Tribalism and the Decline of the Nation State” (2014)


Since I just offered two readings from the right, here's one from the left. And whereas the earlier two were written in the heat of the 2016 campaign, this one is interesting partly because it offers one of the more sustained discussions of tribalism from a few years ago — sustained in that the writer is not just using the word as a synonym, but is deploying a systematic viewpoint.
It's Robert Reich's "The New Tribalism and the Decline of the Nation State” (2014). In it he argues that we are "witnessing a reversion to tribalism around the world". Nations become less relevant as everything becomes more interconnected; and many nation-states are now starting to come apart. People are turning to multiple other identities in all sorts of areas.
Of most interest here is his observation that America itself is in the throes of tribalization — a splitting into two tribes — for reasons that cut across politics, economics, and culture. This has gone on to such a degree that "the two tribes are pulling America apart, often putting tribal goals over the national interest". 
He wrote that in 2014. Matters are worse and his observations more applicable now. Also, note the similarities to what Daniel Shapiro said (post #3 in this series) about tribalism becoming a worldwide force that is now increasing in America, and what Sabrina Tavernise said (#1) about America fissuring into two tribes.
Here is an excerpt: 
“We are witnessing a reversion to tribalism around the world, away from nation states. The same pattern can be seen even in America — especially in American politics. …
"But America’s new tribalism can be seen most distinctly in its politics. Nowadays the members of one tribe (calling themselves liberals, progressives, and Democrats) hold sharply different views and values than the members of the other (conservatives, Tea Partiers, and Republicans).
“Each tribe has contrasting ideas about rights and freedoms (for liberals, reproductive rights and equal marriage rights; for conservatives, the right to own a gun and do what you want with your property).
“Each has its own totems (social insurance versus smaller government) and taboos (cutting entitlements or raising taxes). Each, its own demons (the Tea Party and Ted Cruz; the Affordable Care Act and Barack Obama); its own version of truth (one believes in climate change and evolution; the other doesn’t); and its own media that confirm its beliefs. …
“Each tribe is headed by rival warlords whose fighting has almost brought the national government in Washington to a halt. Increasingly, the two tribes live separately in their own regions — blue or red state, coastal or mid-section, urban or rural — with state or local governments reflecting their contrasting values. …
“But the fact is, the two tribes are pulling America apart, often putting tribal goals over the national interest — which is not that different from what’s happening in the rest of the world.”
To read for yourself, go here:
http://robertreich.org/post/80522686347
 
[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on April 33.]

Monday, May 22, 2017

Readings on tribes and tribalism — #5: Ben Shapiro, “The Revenge of Tribalism” (2016)


Next is Ben Shapiro on “The Revenge of Tribalism” (2016). His irascible posturing has long annoyed me, for he often seems like an arch-tribalist intent on tribalizing others. I usually changed the TV channel after a few minutes of his demonizing. However, his tone and stance changed a bit after he resigned from his position at Breitbart News, following criticisms he directed at Donald Trump and Stephen Bannon.
Against that background, he turns in this article to identify tribalism on both sides as a problem and explanation for our current political divisiveness. Yet, his analysis of tribalism itself amounts to a spirited (but for me, dispiriting) act of tribalism. For he can't stop demonizing the Democrats, Obama, and Clinton.
He blames Obama above all, claiming that "President Obama’s tribal politics have crippled America." And that Obama used "tribalism to grow his own power” by playing on racial and ethnic politics.
Thus, "Trump is the counter-reaction. He, like Obama, is tribal." But it's a different kind of tribalism, for his is "the tribalism of Patrick Buchanan." 
Shapiro's background analysis is about how "The Founders were scholars of both Thomas Hobbes and John Locke", and how American society has devolved from Lockean into Hobbesian conditions in recent decades. Thus Americans are reverting to tribal politics, and may next succumb to a "strongman" who wants to construct a Hobbesian Leviathan state.
Aargh. His remarks about the Founders, Locke, and Hobbes seem reasonable; they're even a bit TIMN-ish. But his take on the growth of tribalism in America is faulty and misleading. 
Here are three reasons why, based on my efforts to watch for tribal behavior among both conservatives and liberals / progressives over the past 5 to 10 years:
First, tribalism among conservatives, especially conservatives outside the Republican fold, started years, in some ways decades ago — long before Obama became president. Shapiro's mention of Pat Buchanan indicates he should know this. Key elements of their tribalism — narrative lines, media strategies, funding priorities, legislative maneuvers, etc. — were in place when Obama took office. Much as conservatives would go on to decry "political correctness" on the Left, they were already deep into installing a kind of "tribal correctness" of their own. And they immediately aimed it at Obama, not to mention Clinton.
Second, the tribalism of the conservative Right is structurally different from the tribalism on the liberal / progressive Left. The tribalism on the Right is built around a common narrative, plus principles and strategies, that pretty much spans the conservative movement. A media infrastructure of AM talk radio, FOX News, and CPAC conventions has worked to cultivate and assure this. Sometimes nowadays, when I am in a mean mood, I wonder whether tribalists of the Right have, in some sense, been Pavlov'ed and Potemkin'ed together. 
In contrast, tribalism on the Left is quite chopped up. Each group, especially each ethnic and racial group, has it's own agents and episodes of tribalism. From what I've seen, there's no cohesive, all-spanning narrative or other strategy. And the media infrastructures that may work to tribalize on the Left are not as impressive or effective as those on the Right. Sure, conservatives often point to particular individuals and movements as evidence of tribalism on the Left — but my sense continues to be that there's not nearly as much that is systematic on the Left.
Third, Obama really wasn't (and isn't) much of a tribalist. I've seen him talk like a bit of a tribalist on a few occasions, mostly involving racial matters — but nothing like Trump. However, I've also seen what I thought might be efforts by conservatives to goad Obama into acting like a tribalist — for example, if I recall correctly, after a racial incident, when someone on FOX News may criticize Obama for not doing much about the incident, then when he does something, turning to accuse him of playing the race card. Tribalists seem to be comfortable with duplicitous hypocrisy.
This post has grown too long, so I'm stopping now, even though the above three points beg for further clarification.
Here's an excerpt from Shapiro's article: 
"They’re both right. Obama, like it or not, leads a coalition of tribes. Trump, like it or not, leads a competing coalition of tribes. The Founders weep in their graves. …
"But the Founders still feared tribalism. They called it “faction” in The Federalist Papers, and were truly worried about the seizure of the mechanism of government in order to benefit one group over another. They may have agreed with Locke over Hobbes about the proper extent of government power, but they never believed that tribalism had disappeared. That is why they attempted to create a government pitting faction against faction, cutting the Gordian knot of tyranny and tribalism with checks and balances. …
"It was a brilliant solution to an intractable problem — so long as it worked.
"It no longer does. Tribalism has had its revenge. …
"And so we may have reached the end of the era of small government. As tribalism rises, Americans look again to the strongman. We begin the cycle anew. But first, we feel the rage of riots in San Jose and Ferguson, and the spiteful glee of the white-nationalist alt-right. We watch contests between tribal figures like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. We wonder which tribe will win, even as America disintegrates before us."
To read for yourself, go here:
http://www.nationalreview.com/article/436312/donald-trump-barack-obama-tribalism-hobbesian-politics


[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on March 30.]

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Readings on tribes & tribalism — #4: Charlie Sykes, “Where the Right Went Wrong” (2016)


Here come two readings in a row by two conservatives: Charles Sykes, and Ben Shapiro. They show that conservatives can recognize their own side's tribalism (albeit after each decided to leave his media job under some duress). 
Remember, all I am trying to show with this series is that analysts across the political spectrum are increasingly realizing that the tribal form is in play, having powerful effects on thought and behavior. I am not going to say much — only a little — as to where I may agree or disagree with the authors, or what I think they get right or wrong.
First up is Charlie Sykes on “Where the Right Went Wrong“ (2016). It explains why he'd just stepped down from his popular daily talk-radio show — partly because of verbal assaults he'd received for not backing Trump, but mainly because his experience showed him that "The conservative media is broken and the conservative movement deeply compromised." 
His explanation is all about excessive tribalism. Sykes himself is a reasonably thoughtful conservative; he's not a tribalist. But he sure found out what malignant tribalism is like.
In particular, he was struck by a growing predilection in his audience for binary either/or, us/them beliefs — indeed, "the gravitational pull of our binary politics is too strong." Thus he experienced the destruction of middle positions, the subordination of objective fact to tribal truth, the appeal of conspiracy theories, the exaltation of identity and loyalty, and an indulgence in aggressive nastiness not only toward the other side but also toward him as an independent questioning conservative who had not joined the tribe.
It's an insightful piece about dynamics that continue to trouble and distort our politics. Here's an excerpt:
"What they did buy into was the argument that this was a “binary choice.” No matter how bad Mr. Trump was, my listeners argued, he could not possibly be as bad as Mrs. Clinton. You simply cannot overstate this as a factor in the final outcome. As our politics have become more polarized, the essential loyalties shift from ideas, to parties, to tribes, to individuals. Nothing else ultimately matters.
"In this binary tribal world, where everything is at stake, everything is in play, there is no room for quibbles about character, or truth, or principles. If everything — the Supreme Court, the fate of Western civilization, the survival of the planet — depends on tribal victory, then neither individuals nor ideas can be determinative. I watched this play out in real time, as conservatives who fully understood the threat that Mr. Trump posed succumbed to the argument about the Supreme Court. As even Mr. Ryan discovered, neutrality was not acceptable; if you were not for Mr. Trump, then you were for Mrs. Clinton. …
"In this political universe, voters accept that they must tolerate bizarre behavior, dishonesty, crudity and cruelty, because the other side is always worse; the stakes are such that no qualms can get in the way of the greater cause. …
"And this is where it became painful. Even among Republicans who had no illusions about Mr. Trump’s character or judgment, the demands of that tribal loyalty took precedence. To resist was an act of betrayal. …
"We destroyed our own immunity to fake news, while empowering the worst and most reckless voices on the right."
To read for yourself, go here: 
https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/opinion/sunday/charlie-sykes-on-where-the-right-went-wrong.html
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[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on March 28.]

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Readings on tribes and tribalism — #3: Daniel Shapiro, "Modern tribes - the new lines of loyalty" (2008)


This op-ed by Daniel Shapiro, "Modern tribes - the new lines of loyalty" (2008) was fairly early at recognizing that tribalism is growing around the world, becoming a key basis of conflict. His article is mostly about conflicts abroad, yet it is also recognizes forms of tribalism that we now see distorting matters here at home.
Here’s his key argument:
"In this complex situation, the key is to recognize that the fault lines of modern conflict revolve around tribes. But not traditional notions of tribes. The modern tribe is an identity-based group held together by a sense of kinship. As such, we all belong to multiple tribes based upon our religion, ethnicity, political stance, nationality, and other dividers.”
And he rightly observes that “tribes” come in all sorts of shapes and sizes in the modern world, even corporations and terrorist groups:
“…Multinationals such as the big oil companies resemble a tribe, and their presence alone in a nation-state can have an impact on intrastate and international conflict. Well-networked terrorist organizations often function as tribes, and 9/11 demonstrates the extent to which people are willing to sacrifice for their tribe.” 
He also observes that “many current security measures fail to address the tribal motivations of groups in conflict”, and thus asks “how do we deal with this new tribal reality?” His answers are sensible but also quite conventional — find ways to “reduce emotional tensions”, “bind groups together in a new, overarching identity of solidarity”, and expand institutions so as to “create the conditions for divided tribes to come together, listen to one another’s stories, and jointly develop processes for moving forward.” Accordingly
“…policymakers dealing with tribal conflict must answer three critical questions. First, where are the tribal lines of loyalty? Second, what are the primary substantive and emotional interests of each tribe? Third, in what ways do the various tribes share a common identity or historical narrative that can draw them together toward peace?
He is not particularly optimistic, concluding that “These are difficult questions. But if they are not addressed, conflicts will escalate and terrorist attacks will increase.” But at least he was urging policymakers, strategists, analysts, and activists to recognize the tribal paradigm and take it seriously.
I first saw the article at the website of the Harvard International Negotiation Program, which the author directs. But it was first published as an op-ed in the Boston Globe, September 11, 2008.
To read for yourself, go here:
http://www.internationalnegotiation.org/modern-tribes-op-ed/
[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on March 25.]

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Readings on tribes and tribalism — #2: David Roberts, “Donald Trump and the rise of tribal epistemology” (2017)


This article by David Roberts, “Donald Trump and the rise of tribal epistemology” (2017), is one of the better analyses I've seen about how tribalized minds work and how this is affecting American politics and journalism. In various regards, it’s a biased article — but it’s also an article that provides many insightful valid points about the nature and severity of the tribalism growing in our country.
Roberts opens with a rant by Rush Limbaugh that sets the stage for Roberts to propose his key concept: tribal epistemology:
“He [Limbaugh] and his listeners, he said, live in a world apart:
“We live in two universes. One universe is a lie. One universe is an entire lie. Everything run, dominated, and controlled by the left here and around the world is a lie. The other universe is where we are, and that’s where reality reigns supreme and we deal with it. And seldom do these two universes ever overlap.” 
Roberts’ concern is primarily with tribalism on the Right, not the Left. And he associates it with views on the Right that America’s institutions have become “irredeemably corrupted”, mostly by the Left, such that the Right’s only recourse now is “zero-sum competition between tribes, the left and right”:
“This is not just run-of-the-mill ranting. It expresses something profound about the worldview of conservative media and its audience, something the mainstream media has ignored, denied, or waved away for many years.
“In Limbaugh’s view, the core institutions and norms of American democracy have been irredeemably corrupted by an alien enemy. Their claims to transpartisan authority — authority that applies equally to all political factions and parties — are fraudulent. There are no transpartisan authorities; there is only zero-sum competition between tribes, the left and right. Two universes.
“One obvious implication of this view is that only one’s own tribe can be trusted. (Who wants to trust a “universe of lies”?)
Roberts then fields his concept of “tribal epistemology” — he also refers later to “epistemic tribalism” resulting in “epistemic closure”. Far as I can tell these scholarly-sounding wordings simply mean the tribal mindset or mentality, the tribalized way of thinking. And Roberts warns that it has now “has found its way to the White House”:
“Over time, this leads to what you might call tribal epistemology: Information is evaluated based not on conformity to common standards of evidence or correspondence to a common understanding of the world, but on whether it supports the tribe’s values and goals and is vouchsafed by tribal leaders. “Good for our side” and “true” begin to blur into one.
“Now tribal epistemology has found its way to the White House.”
I hoped for a fuller definition and elaboration of his concept. But Roberts focuses mostly on criticizing how “The US political media underestimated Trump’s potential”. He locates his explanation in the media’s “longstanding refusal to grapple with the deepening asymmetry in American politics — the rejection, by a large swath of the right, of the core institutions and norms that shape US public life.” 
A key factor behind all this is “the big sort” prompted by global as well as national trends: Accordingly, “It is well known that Americans have been sorting themselves into like-minded communities by race, class, and ideology, creating more in-group homogeneity and cultural “bubbles.”” Indeed, Roberts accepts the views that “globalization has effectively split the US into two countries”, and that “Sorting has been both a driver and a consequence of the extraordinary polarization of US public life over the past several decades.”
In keeping with his emphasis on the Right, he finds that “From Reagan forward, the US has become much more politically polarized, but the polarization has not been symmetrical — the right has become far more extreme than the left.” This difference in degree has arisen partly because “Over time, the right’s base — unlike the left’s fractious and heterogeneous coalition of interest groups — has become increasingly homogeneous (mostly white, non-urban, and Christian) and like-minded (traditionalist, zero-sum values).” Moreover, anxious believers on the Right have been subjected to “a steady diet of radicalizing media and tribal epistemology,” such that “their traditionalism has hardened into tribalism.” 
Returning to his opening theme, Roberts emphasizes that “the source of this information polarization is the American conservative movement’s decades-long battle against institutions that it has deemed irredeemably liberal.” Indeed, the Right has become so untrusting and hostile toward conventional politics that “the right sees the game itself, its institutions and norms, as the enemy.” The Right has worked (the Left too) so that “The information available to lawmakers was tribalized.” It wants lawmakers to have only “tribal information, and it wants “a base that only trusts tribal news from tribal sources.”
In the end, Roberts offers little hope for alleviating these trends toward tribalism that are so damaging to journalism’s health. In his view, “training media consumers to be more discerning” — fixing media’s demand side — won’t work. What’s needed must come from the supply side: assuring “the values and integrity of individual journalists and outlets”, and upholding America’s “norms and institutions”. Otherwise, “The alternative is further epistemic tribalism and attendant illiberalism”, even “epistemic chaos”. Trumps behavior as “America’s aspiring autocrat” compounds Roberts’ worries that “In the end, if tribal epistemology wins, journalism loses.”

To read Roberts’ article for yourself, go here:
http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/3/22/14762030/donald-trump-tribal-epistemology
 
[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on March 23.]

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Readings on tribes & tribalism — Intro and #1: Sabrina Tavernise, "One country, two tribes" (2017)


I mean to post a running series of readings about the tribal form, tribalism, and tribalization in America. I’ll do so by drawing on writings I've saved over the years. And I’ll present them in no particular order

Intro explaining why this series


My reason for doing this series is simple: I'm not getting my own thinking written up in a timely manner — I keep getting stalled. So I might as well let others' writings speak to points I'd like to be making.
As I said in my prior post, writers are increasingly recognizing that American society is becoming more tribalized. Explicit systematic usage of T-words is increasing. I’ve seen this in opinion columns in the New York Times (e.g., by David Brooks, Ross Douthat, Paul Krugman, Thomas Friedman, Sabrina Tavernise), in articles I happen across or that colleagues point out to me (e.g., lately by such ideologically and politically diverse voices as Danah Boyd, Jonathan Chait, Deepak Chopra, Kathy Cramer, Michael Gerson, Jordan Greenhall, Jonathan Haidt & Ravi Iyer, Charles Murrray, Robert Reich, David Roberts, Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Ben Shapiro, Daniel Shapiro, Charlie Sykes, Stephen B. Young). Also, a handful of fairly recent books have advanced people’s understanding while explicitly referring to the tribal form — e.g., Seth Godin’s Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (2008), Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012), Mark Weiner’s The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals About the Future of Individual Freedom (2014), and Sebastian Junger’s Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (2016). Plus, some blogs I follow — e.g., The Archdruid Report, The Augean Stables, Cliodynamica, Contrary Brin, The Evolution Institute, Fabius Maximus, Global Guerrillas, Harold Jarche, The P2P Foundation, Social Evolution Forum, Spinuzzi, and Zenpundit — have increasingly and explicitly attended to the distinctive nature of tribalism and the deepening tribalization of America. (Actually, David Brin at Contrary Brin and John Robb at Global Guerrillas deserve special mention for writing about tribes and tribalism in modern societies since at least ten years ago, ahead of almost everybody.)
 By “systematic”, I mean that the writer is treating tribes as a distinct form of organization and behavior, and isn't using the term simply as a synonym for, say, polarization or divisiveness. In the examples noted above, usage is generally limited. Tribalism or one of the other T-words always gets a sentence or two, and sometimes a paragraph or two; it may even be the theme of the entire writing. Except for a couple cases, the writer doesn't provide a full analysis of tribal formations, tribalism, or tribalization. But the trend toward increasingly explicit systematic usage is evident among analysts and journalists.
Doing this series is an ancillary way for me to push for greater recognition and understanding of the tribal form and its significance as part of TIMN theory.

Reading #1


I’m going to replicate the order in which this series appears on my Facebook page, where I began it in February. There, the first one up was by NYT journalist Sabrina Tavernise, writing "One country, two tribes" (2017). If I were beginning the series anew today, I’d probably start with a different reading. But hers is still pertinent, and I’d still have included it along the way.
Tavernise’s article is based on her experiences reporting from abroad, where she observed many politically divided countries splitting into two "tribes" — and then returning to America to find her own country being torn by tribalized forces, aggravated by Trump:


“I have covered political divides in Turkey, Russia, Pakistan and Iraq. The pattern often goes like this: One country. Two tribes. Conflicting visions for how government should be run. There is lots of shouting. Sometimes there is shooting.
“Now those same forces are tearing at my own country.
“Increasingly, Americans live in alternate worlds, with different laws of gravity, languages and truths. Politics is raw, more about who you are than what you believe. The ground is shifting in unsettling ways. Even democracy feels fragile.
“President Trump has brought out these contrasts, like colors in a photograph developing in a darkroom.”
 
When she wrote this in January, she was well aware of seemingly reasonable ideas about how to reduce the ongoing polarization, but she couldn’t find evidence that they’d be practical and effective, given  the nature of tribalized crowd behaviors:
“What will happen here? Social psychologists like Mr. Haidt say the best way to ease polarization and reduce anxiety among the nationalists is to emphasize our sameness. But in the crowds a week ago, no one seemed to be in the mood.”

To read for yourself, go here:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/28/opinion/one-country-two-tribes.html
[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on February 4.]

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Trends in thinking about tribes, tribalism, tribalization: usage and understanding are improving in public dialogue — but we could do a lot better for strategy’s sake (2nd of maybe 4 parts)


From synonymic, to systematic, to comparative, to evolutionary usages


Because of the significance of tribal (aka “T”) forms of organization in the TIMN framework, I've monitored usages of words like tribes, tribal, tribalism, and tribalization for over 20 years, albeit informally. The usages I’ve seen have evolved from being simply synonymic for many years, to lately becoming increasingly systematic and, better yet, comparative. Analysts and journalists recognize better now than a decade ago that tribal dynamics are significant — not just in preternaturally tribal societies, like Afghanistan and Iraq, but also in complex postmodern societies, including right here in America.
I’m pleased to see this conceptual progress. Nonetheless, most usage is still not nested in an evolutionary understanding of some kind. The more that the evolutionary (and devolutionary) significance of the tribal form is perceived, the more its meaning and implications will become evident for policy and strategy as well as theory. 
But before I get into the meat of this post, I have an old bone to kick first: In my experience, few Americans cotton to the words tribe, tribal, tribalism, and tribalization — the last one isn’t even in the dictionary yet. Americans don't use them in common parlance, except to talk about Indians or other old tribes elsewhere. The one academic field that should honor these words — anthropology — has long avoided them, partly for questionable conceptual reasons, but also for reasons of political correctness and ideology. Moreover, national security analysts tend to balk at using these terms to understand what’s going on in America today — to them, the terms seem too archaic, jargony, narrow, or otherwise inappropriate. So we all mostly use other words about how people can be divided up and categorized — words like race, ethnicity, and identity, or like partisans, factions, gangs, even fans. These are good words too, but once you get the hang of thinking and analyzing in terms of the tribal form, the T words become more illuminating.
The organizational form I call "tribes" or "T" will thus continue to be a part of TIMN, for I’ve found no better conceptual term for this form. Every alternative — e.g., kinship, family, clan, community, solidarity group, affinity group, club, clade, phyle — conveys part of what this form is all about; but each has its own limitations and is no more suitable as a replacement for the “T” in TIMN. I’ve written about this before, but I figure it is worth reiterating briefly here.
For TIMN to take hold, understanding the T form is essential. I have yet to find a sweeping portrayal of how tribal (and, except for one author, clan) forms of organization and behavior have permeated social life across the ages. Political and economic histories often provide such portrayals for the institutional (I) and market (M) forms. And there are all sorts of writing about networks (N) these days. But there is nothing comparable for the tribal (T) form, not even in cultural theories and histories. So it behooves me — hopefully, us — to persist with urging better recognition and understanding of this form, for it’s the first and forever form, the form on which all societies are grounded. Feel free in your own mind to use another term for  this form (sector / layer / stage) — just don’t fail to recognize how essential it is, and to always ask how one development or another may affect its bright sides and its dark sides.

 

Progress advancing from synonymic to systematic usages


For decades, ever since I became aware of the importance of the tribal/T form, the usage I’d see most often for matters here at home was synonymic. Tribe-related words cropped up as substitutes or synonyms for words like partisanship, faction, incivility, polarization, in-group / out-group behavior, and divisiveness, not to mention identity politics. Words like tribal and tribalism were tossed into write-ups and talks more as synonymic flourishes than as distinct concepts about significant patterns of thought and behavior. Tribe-like words seemed weighted with old anthropological baggage; few analysts saw merit in applying them to modern society. (But there were prominent exceptions: e.g., Joel Kotkin’s Tribes: How Race, Religion and Identity Determine Success in the New Global Economy (1993), and Benjamin Barber’s Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Reshaping the World (1996)).
Most conservative and many liberal/progressive analysts have long preferred other concepts and categories — e.g., race, ethnicity, family, culture, identity — when writing about matters that I fit under the tribal form. For example, studies of identity politics in America pretty much began with Samuel P. Huntington’s book Who Are We?: The Challenges to America's National Identity (2004), and peaked recently with Mark Lilla’s “The End of Identity Liberalism”(2016). Neither uses a “T” word. Yet, these kinds of studies, along with prominent writings by Charles Murray and by Robert Putnam, plus J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (2016), not to mentions scads of other writings, show that attention has increased to tribal (and tribalizing) conditions in our society, even though these authors rarely or never use any T words.
Over the past few years, the usage of “T” words has become more systematic. Writers are increasingly recognizing that a distinct form of organization and behavior is at work, and that American society is becoming more tribalized. Explicit usage of T-words is increasing. I’ve see this in opinion columns in the New York Times (e.g., by David Brooks, Ross Douthat, Paul Krugman, Thomas Friedman, Sabrina Tavernise), in articles I happen across or that colleagues point out to me (e.g., lately by such ideologically and politically diverse voices as Danah Boyd, Jonathan Chait, Deepak Chopra, Kathy Cramer, Michael Gerson, Jordan Greenhall, Jonathan Haidt & Ravi Iyer, Charles Murrray, Robert Reich, David Roberts, Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Ben Shapiro, Daniel Shapiro, Charlie Sykes, Stephen B. Young). Also, a handful of fairly recent books have advanced people’s understanding while explicitly referring to the tribal form — e.g., Seth Godin’s Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (2008), Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012), Mark Weiner’s The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals About the Future of Individual Freedom (2014), and Sebastian Junger’s Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (2016). Plus, some blogs I follow — e.g., The Archdruid Report, The Augean Stables, Cliodynamica, Contrary Brin, The Evolution Institute, Fabius Maximus, Global Guerrillas, Harold Jarche, The P2P Foundation, Social Evolution Forum, Spinuzzi, and Zenpundit — have increasingly and explicitly attended to the distinctive nature of tribalism and the deepening tribalization of America. (Actually, David Brin at Contrary Brin and John Robb at Global Guerrillas deserve special mention for writing about tribes and tribalism in modern societies since at least ten years ago, ahead of almost everybody.)
By “systematic” — there's probably a better term, but I just haven't thought of it yet — I mean that the writer is treating tribes as a distinctive form of organization and behavior, and isn't using the term simply as a synonym. In the examples noted above, usage is generally limited. Tribalism or one of the other T-words always gets a sentence or two, and sometimes a paragraph or two; it may even be the theme of the entire writing. Except for a couple cases, the writer doesn't provide a full analysis of tribal formations, tribalism, or tribalization. But the trend toward increasingly systematic usage is evident among analysts and journalists.

Usages by politicians


As for political leaders, I've not seen any Democrats refer to tribes, tribalism, or tribalization in a systematic way — with one exception. President Obama has sounded TIMN-ish notes about tribalism. While speaking at a press conference in Athens on November 15, 2016, he said:
“I do believe, separate and apart from any particular election or movement, that we are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an ‘us’ and a ‘them’.”
He hit the same note a few days later in Berlin. Indeed, he warned about tribalism several times in 2016, treating it as a reaction to globalism and a cause of Trumpism. He surely doesn’t have TIMN in mind, but his explicit recognition adds to my argument here.
To my knowledge, no leading Republican politician has voiced similar concerns. Yet, as I’ve noted before in past posts, the conservative movement is rife with tribalists; the Republican party is now split between tribalists and institutionalists (the Establishment). As marks of their tribalism, the former constantly dwell on the nature of identity — what it means to be a conservative, what conservatism stands for, why “we” are different from and better than “them” — even as they deride liberal progressives for playing identity politics. Republican rules (e.g. the “Hastert Rule”) that no Republican shall speak ill of any other, nor shall any negotiate with a Democrat, are more than merely partisan — they are deliberately tribal rules. Moreover, many litmus-test issues that conservative politicians and pundits keep bringing to the fore — such as immigration, marriage, abortion, gun ownership, religion — pertain more to the T than to any other TIMN form. Trump’s rise as a kind of charismatic warlord with tribal appeal reflects this (see my post about this here). Thus tribalization deepens in American political circles even as its conceptual grasp remains elusive, particularly among its archest political practitioners.
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(I posted an earlier version of this write-up on my Facebook page, on Feb 3.)

Intermission: My part-3 post will be about getting beyond synonymic and systematic usages, in order to get to comparative and evolutionary usages that can provide deeper insights and lead to TIMN’s implications for policy and strategy. But unfortunately, I got bogged down while trying to complete it. So, it will be delayed.
However, for the sake of keeping up some kind of momentum over at Facebook, I turned to posting a still-underway series of readings about tribes, tribalism, and the tribalization of America. I’m bringing them over here next. I hope that makes sense.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Trends in thinking about tribes and tribalism — my theme for the next series of posts (1st of maybe 4 parts)


Most every day now, Trump still does something that stirs up more tribalism here at home and abroad. Yet try using that word "tribalism" in talking to people around you. It usually doesn't register much. Nor do words like "tribal" and "tribalization". Americans are not used to thinking in terms of those words or the concepts behind them.

So let me start by putting it bluntly: Tribalism has become the strongest force shaping world order and disorder.

Stronger and more vital than globalism and capitalism — what many analysts have long thought was sweeping the world. Indeed, tribalism has grown as a reaction to globalism / capitalism, partly because their progress has left so many people outside and falling behind, while disrupting the ways they've long wanted and tried to live.

Stronger than populism or nationalism: Many analysts say those are now the strong forces. But boiled down to their essences, they are mostly modernized expressions of tribalism (nationalism more so than populism). Likewise the ethnocentric "Eurasianism" that Alexander Dugin and Vladimir Putin foster in order to advance Russian interests in far-right populist nationalist circles in Europe as well as in America.

Stronger also than terrorism, including Islamic terrorism: Many analysts say that is the world's worst problem, but a deep look reveals that it too is an expression of malignant tribalism. We should be fighting such terrorism and its narratives not by treating it as a function of religion but as a function of tribalism.
I suppose there are analysts on the Marxist Left who still think class struggle is a dominant force world-wide. But they have some conceptual catching-up to do. From a TIMN perspective, "class struggle" was an appropriate concept for past ages of institution- and market-building — and it still is a vital concept today, given the corrosive corruptive disparities and inequalities that have taken hold here at home. But by now, class struggle too is being largely tribalized. (Actually, TIMN implies that the nature of class structure and struggle will be radically altered during the emerging new age of networks — but that’s a topic for another time.)

In sum, we need to rethink, lest the tribalization of America keep spreading without our having a conceptual and strategic grasp, and thus turn into our unexpected undoing. TIMN is my way to propose accomplishing that.

Take another look at the isms mentioned above. They are all variations on TIMN. Tribalism obviously correlates to the T form. Beyond that, globalism is a function of the spread of +M and the rise of +N. Capitalism is obviously a manifestation of +M (though in many respects it has become more a distortion that a proper sound manifestation of +M).

Other forces I mentioned — nationalism and populism — are mostly T-related forces. However populism often contains a +I element, with expectations that government leaders will fix things. Russian-led Eurasianism is a kind of T+I ideology that is antithetical to +M, in that it combines aspects of communism and fascism.

To reiterate what I’ve said in prior posts, when matters go well, societies advance by adopting and using the TIMN forms properly. When matters do not go well — if leaders make a mess of the +I and +M forms, or if individuals cannot find places for themselves in the +I, +M, or emerging +N realms — then people revert to organizing and behaving in terms of the T form, often in dark ways.

In other words, I repeat, beware the tribalization of America.

[An earlier version of this write-up appeared on my Facebook page on Jan 31.]

Blog status update

Anybody still out there following this blog? If so, this post is to let you know that this blog is still alive, still potentially productive. I haven't been here for a while, partly because I remain slowed down, but mostly because for the last few months I've confined my postings to Facebook. It's time I improved activity here now.

I’d long avoided Facebook, but a reason arose to join, and I've tried to make the best of it. Socially, it has indeed been a beneficial delight to interact with old and new "friends" there. As for TIMN and STA:C, I've used my Facebook page to file preliminary versions of posts that should eventually end up here. That was the case with my most recent series here about Trump's ascendance. And it's the case with the next series or two that I'm on the verge of posting here about TIMN's tribal form.

Since the late 80s and early 90s, I have long meant to be mostly a networks (+N) guy in the context of elaborating TIMN. But the way matters have evolved, I've become mostly a tribes (T) guy for the time being. And that's OK, at least for a while. Of the four TIMN forms, it's maybe the least understood and accepted — so I believe it makes sense for me to focus on helping rectify that.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Reason #3: Trump’s psyche & the tribalization of America (4th of 4 posts)


My third reason is that Trump is prone to act like a tribalist — a tribal chieftain or warlord — who is intent on tribalizing others. This was most evident during the campaign — just look at his rallies. It was less evident lately, while he focused on personnel and policy matters. But it was on display yesterday in his very tribal (and tribalizing) inaugural speech. And now that he is in office, it may not take much to trigger his penchant for tribalism, setting Americans against each other and against outsiders. Indeed, to offer an allusion to Trump’s slogan, if he keeps arousing malignant tribalism, far from making America “great”, he will instead make it “grate” again.

Americans are not used to thinking in terms of tribes, tribalism, or tribalization. Mostly we use other words about how people get divided up — words like race, ethnicity, and identity, or words like partisans, factions, gangs, and fans. These are good words too, but once you get the hang of thinking and analyzing in terms of the tribal form, the T words become more illuminating.

I write a lot about the tribal form — tribes, the “T” form — as a result of coming up with the TIMN framework about past, present, and future social evolution. So maybe I should say a little to clarify that, before applying it to Trump’s psyche.

Reminder about TIMN theory:


In brief, TIMN theory finds that, over the ages, people have come up with four cardinal forms of organization for constructing their societies: tribes (or the T form), hierarchical institutions (the I form), markets (M), and information-age networks (N). Each form of organization has different purposes and uses, along with different philosophical and strategic implications. Each form also has both bright and dark sides, and can be used for good or ill; societies can get them wrong as well as right, in ways that affect their usage of the other forms.

For various reasons, these forms have arisen and matured at different rates and in different eras — tribes (T) took shape first, hierarchical institutions (+I) were next, then markets (+M), and now information-age networks (+N) are increasingly on the rise. Societies progress according to their abilities to add and combine these forms (and their resulting sectors of activity). How people manage to use and combine these forms, their bright and dark sides, pretty much determines what kind of society they have. Advanced societies depend on people’s abilities to use all four forms in a coherent, well-balanced, well-functioning whole.

In notational terms, this means that societies have evolved across the centuries in a preferred historical progression: from monoform (T-only), to biform (T+I), to triform (T+I+M), and now potentially to quadriform (T+I+M+N) types of societies. For example, Russia today is still mostly a biform T+I society — for it lacks much of a true market system, and suppresses NGO networks. Liberal democracies, with their advanced capitalist economies, equate to triform T+I+M societies — indeed, only +M societies can become liberal democracies. Some, notably our United States, are just beginning to evolve into a quadriform T+I+M+N society (though it remains unclear what +N will bring).

Thus, according to TIMN theory, when matters go well, societies advance by adopting and using these forms properly and in progressive stages. When matters do not go well — for example, if leaders make a mess of the institutional (government) and market forms, or if people cannot find places for themselves in the institutional, market, or emerging network sectors — then many people revert to organizing and behaving in terms of the tribal form, often in dark ways.

Nature and recognition of the tribal (T) form:


No society can do well without the tribal form evolving properly. Its main dynamic is kinship, which gives people a distinct sense of identity and belonging. It is initially expressed best in families, clans, and classic tribes; later in community spirit, civic clubs, patriotic nationalism; as well as in positive group identities about religion, ideology, and ethnicity, and even through being fans of sports teams and commercial brands — all exemplars of “togetherness”. The tribe is the first and forever form behind social evolution, the bedrock of all societies.

TIMN thus recognizes the crucial importance of the tribal form and its bright sides — the beneficial tribalism manifested in thriving families and communities. It undergirds all societies and their prospects for evolutionary progress. In the TIMN sense, tribes and tribalism per se are not a bad thing; some is good and necessary. But TIMN also explains that dark sides — malignant tribalism — may show up too, as in violent urban youth gangs, organized crime gangs, sectarian militias, partisan cliques, millenarian movements, charismatic cults, hate groups, etc.

For decades, ever since I became aware of the importance of the tribal/T form, the usage I used to see most often for matters here at home was synonymic. Tribe-related words cropped up as substitutes or synonyms for words like partisanship, faction, incivility, polarization, and divisiveness, not to mention identity politics. Words like tribal and tribalism were tossed into write-ups and talks more as flourishes than as concepts about distinct patterns of thought and behavior. Tribe-like words seemed weighted with ancient anthropological baggage; few analysts saw merit in applying them to modern society.

Over the past few years, however, the usage of these terms has become more systematic. As I will specify in a later post, prominent journalists and op-ed writers writers are increasingly recognizing that a distinct form of organization and behavior is at work, and that American society is becoming more tribalized. I see this in opinion columns in the New York Times and other newspapers, in magazine articles I happen across or that colleagues point out to me, in a handful of recent books, and in a bunch of blogs I follow. Comprehension of the T form is growing, albeit slowly.

President Obama too has warned about tribalism several times in recent months, seeing it as a reaction to globalism and a cause of Trumpism. During a November 2016 press conference in Athens, he said: “I do believe, separate and apart from any particular election or movement, that we are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an ‘us’ and a ‘them’.” He surely does not have TIMN in mind; but his recognition of tribalism adds to my argument here.

No Republican politicians have voiced similar concerns. Yet the conservative movement has been rife with tribalists for years, and the Republican party is now largely split between tribalists and institutionalists (the Establishment). As marks of their tribalism, the former constantly dwell on the nature of identity — what it means to be a conservative, what conservatism stands for, why “us” are different from and better than “them” — even as they deride liberals and progressives for playing identity politics. Republican “rules” (e.g. the “Hastert Rule”) that no Republican shall speak ill of any other, nor shall any negotiate with a Democrat, are more than partisan — they are tribalizing. Indeed, many litmus-test issues that social conservatives keep bringing to the fore — like immigration, marriage, abortion, religion, gun ownership — pertain more to T than to any other TIMN form. Trump’s rise as a kind of charismatic warlord with tribal appeal reflects this.

Trump and tribalism:


Around the world, time after time, people exhibit similar patterns of thought and action when they turn darkly tribal, no matter their religious, political, ethnic, or other group affiliations: They divide the world between “us” and “them”. They tout group identity, loyalty, unity, and solidarity. They extol honor, pride, dignity, and respect. They flash totems and slogans. They claim purity for their side. They vilify and demonize opponents. They readily turn combative and uncompromising. They call for revenge and retribution, often as payback for past humiliations, insults, and grudges. They force people to take sides, without question. They shun and demean moderates once on their side. They engage in magical and conspiratorial thinking about their prospects. They believe it’s morally okay — maybe not politically correct, but tribally correct for sure — to lie to, and about, outsiders. And of course they accuse the other side of excessive tribalism.

I’ve made these points for years, and many now seem to apply to Trump, his surrogates, and his “movement”. Trump also behaves in additional ways that signal his tribalness: He amplifies resentments that his supporters hold about their identity and place in life. He dismisses and deflects blame for alleged misconduct or shortcomings, using theatrical reactions that further divide and tribalize (see my “scoundrel’s script” post). He seeks to delegitimize mainstream (i.e., less-tribal) media, in favor of tribalized media that show devotion to him (e.g., Fox News). He decries political correctness — but then clamors for what amounts to tribal correctness. He urges a unity of all Americans, but it sounds like unity in tribal terms where people are either for “us” or against “us”, and it’s unclear what “Americans” and “our people” mean. He voices a xenophobic, populist, even nativist kind of nationalism and patriotism.

Again, this angry tormented divisiveness fits a key TIMN proposition: When people feel disconnected from and distressed about what’s happening with the +I and +M forms (not to mention +N), many people revert to thinking and acting in terms of the T form. That is, they turn tribal — and some become extreme tribalists, bitter and nasty in all sorts of ways. What is going on today in America conforms to this TIMN dynamic. America is becoming newly tribalized.

And what may be the implications if Trump continues this way?

Well, here’s what often happens to societies and their governance systems when tribal values prevail over institutional and market values? They turn corrupt and corruptible, rife with nepotism, cronyism, and favoritism, along with secretive kickbacks, payoffs, and sweetheart deals. People engage in factional divisiveness. Demagogues and dictators are hard to resist. Media fragment into bubbles and black-holes. Duplicitous hypocrisy becomes a norm. Political theater displaces factual truth. Free thinking succumbs to memetic addictions (what Russian info-war theorists term “reflexive conditioning”), often in the form of push-button sound-bites and doctrinaire catch-phrases. What should be science and religion give way to pseudo-science and pseudo-religion. What once was deemed class conflict gets riddled with tribalized conflict. Et cetera.

It’s one thing for such tendencies to exist in underdeveloped undemocratic societies where the tribal form remains quite strong, as in parts of Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia (in TIMN terms, societies that are designed around T+I with bits of +M). It’s another matter for these tendencies to grow in America and Western Europe, where the tribal form has long been subdued and most people focus their lives around later forms of activity, especially the market form (in TIMN terms, advanced liberal democratic societies designed around T+I+M with an emerging potential for +N).

As to what may be next if the tribalization of America deepens and hardens, here’s a list of what else may go hand-in-hand with malignant tribalism: A sharpening of identity clashes. A further distortion and shrinkage of liberal democracy. If there’s political order, then a turn deeper into patrimonial corporatism (a system that authoritarian tribalists often like). If there’s political disorder, then a turn into some kind of information-age fascism. Meanwhile, a further growth of public and private domestic security forces, plus a further growth of public and private surveillance and censorship. In many settings, factionalism between doctrinaire tribalists and principled institutionalists.

Those are easy points to list. Most have been made by many analysts and commentators. In my view, these points are consistent with TIMN theory — but with a difference: While other analysis normally refer to an array of political, economic, social, and cultural factors as the underlying explanations, TIMN treats the relative appeal and content of the tribal form itself as a key explanation. For TIMN, it is simpler, more systematic, and makes better sense to do so.

Those then are some worries about Trump’s ascension, based on TIMN. In closing, I’d add three more points that are rarely made but derive directly from TIMN:

— From a TIMN perspective, the reasons for “American exceptionalism” lie mainly in our approach to the T form. We have welcomed immigrants and found ways to enable people from all backgrounds and orientations to live together. Trumpish tribalism will undermine that basis of American exceptionalism, especially if he and his cohorts claim to be restoring it.

— TIMN implies that malignant tribalization will make our society far more vulnerable to information warfare. The ultimate goal of strategic information warfare at the societal level, whether waged by foreign or domestic actors, is to tribalize a society, the better to divide and conquer it.

— According to TIMN, America is moving into a new/next phase of social evolution — it’s evolving from a triform into a quadriform society. Just what the addition of a +N sector will mean is far from clear, and this is not the place to elaborate. But I do want to note that Trumpish tribalism, if it doesn’t abate, seems likely to imperil the prospects for getting to +N for years to come (though I can also see opportunities arising in some respects).

Well, I’ve rambled on long enough, and begun drifting away from Trump’s psyche. So I shall end this post, with apologies for not writing as well as I used to.

Onward.

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Sources: Publications and blog posts about tribal forms of organization and behavior, notably In Search Of How Societies Work: Tribes — The First and Forever Form (2007), plus blogspot posts on “We face a turmoil of tribalisms, not a clash of civilizations” (2009), “Q’s & A’s about “TIMN in 20 minutes” (1st of 7): TIMN as a set of narratives” (2012), “Why the Republicans lost: excessive tribalism — a partial TIMN interpretation” (2012), “The problem is preternatural tribalism, more than Islamic extremism — a reiteration” (2015), and “The NRA in light of STA:C and TIMN (Part 1 of 2)” (2016).

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Short summary version posted on my Facebook page on January 21, 2017.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Reason #2: Trump’s psyche & “the scoundrels script” (3rd of 4 posts)


As noted a couple posts ago, Trump relies heavily on what I’ve termed “the scoundrel’s script”. His surrogates are adept at it as well. Heavy usage of this script is another worrisome sign about Trump’s psyche.

The “script” is from a slippery storyline I noticed a decade ago that has become way too common for society’s good. It’s about people who do something they want to keep private and hidden, esp. if they know it is wrong. They get away with it for a while, but then are found out. As they feel the brunt of unwelcome questioning if not outright blame, they slide into a standard three-act script to deceive and disorient their accusers.
  • Act one is to deny and dismiss wrong-doing: “The accusations are false … nothing of the sort happened … there’s no evidence … my record is clean … I gave no such orders … trust me … show respect.”
  • If denial fails and evidence mounts, act two is to diminish the taint: “It was just a one-time mistake … a few bad apples … we thought we read the rules right … we were given bad information … I didn’t know until later … our system works fine; it’s not to blame … we fixed the problem … the media exaggerate … those are not the facts … that’s not what happened … I wasn’t my true self … I didn’t mean it.”
  • If that still fails to work and evidence and pressure keep growing, act three is to deflect and displace the blame: “Who are you to judge me … their hands are dirtier … they’ve done far worse … they provoked it … they gave us bad info … there’s a conspiracy … we were being threatened … look at what they’re doing … everybody’s been doing it ... I’m being victimized … they’re to blame.”
Not all wrong-doers or shadow-seekers enact the entire script. People who have a sound conscience and a positive sense of strategy — that is, they’re not total scoundrels — may own up and accept responsibility during step one. Others, if fully exposed while dissembling in step two, may fold quietly rather than move into step three. Yet, moving into step three is common for individuals and organizations that are determined to resist getting caught.

This deny-diminish-deflect pattern is all too human. It arises in the maneuvers of respectable folks as well as rogues. And, sadly, it can be found all over the place these days — in politics, business, entertainment, religion, etc. (e.g., the Clinton email fiasco).

Americans are rarely surprised to see the scoundrel’s script unfold in news from other nations. But it’s awfully prevalent here now too. A major episode at a time once seemed the norm (e.g., Nixon reacting to Watergate). But lately it is not unusual for multiple instances to fill the media, simultaneously involving figures from Wall Street, Washington, and elsewhere.

Must I name names? I suppose we each have our own lists of favorite examples. (Frankly, I’ve forgotten many names on my own list by now.)

This adds to signs that American society is corroding. American-style capitalism, democracy, and culture already look increasingly dysfunctional. The rising incidence of the scoundrel’s script only makes matters look worse — it’s become as American as apple pie, amplified by new media that are suckers for whoever uses this script adroitly.

I have lost track of all the instances and issues where Trump and his surrogates have resorted to this script. But to my knowledge, they have deployed it more than anyone — and this seems likely to continue after he is sworn in. The issues I recall right now include aspects of his tax records and business practices, shifts in his policy opinions over time, and his ways of using Trump University and Trump Foundation, not to mention sexual antics. I’m sure more could be added to this tentative listing.

By itself, Trump’s frequent usage of the scoundrel’s script may not be a big deal. What makes it seem more significant to me is it’s relationship to the other two reasons I posit in this series of posts for worrying about his psyche. I’d hypothesize that the script is particularly likely to emanate from leaders who have a hubris-nemesis complex (reason #1) and who are prone to tribalism (reason #3). Usage of the script can reinforce and be reinforced by those other two dynamics.

Source: Blog post titled “The scoundrel’s script: deny, diminish, displace” (2008).

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Further comment: The scoundrel’s script is not the only script being deployed by Trump and his surrogates (or by others). But it is the one script that has come to my attention because of my work on TIMN and STA:C.

My sense is that reversions to the tribal form — tribalism and tribalization, especially when voiced in the media — increase people’s use of the scoundrel’s script. It’s a way to manipulate people’s space-time-agency perceptions. Reversions to the tribal form may also increase the appeal of hubris and nemesis scripts.

The information technology revolution may account for some of this, for it provides both scoundrels and their detectors with new opportunities and capabilities. The new technologies — e.g., new record-keeping and information-sharing devices, huge computerized databanks, various types of surveillance and monitoring systems, plus email systems, blogs, websites, and online chat rooms that enable multiple isolated victims to find each other faster and more effectively — make it more difficult for scoundrels to hide. The growing vigilance of investigative media and watchdog NGOs also make it likelier that scoundrels will eventually be exposed. But this won’t stop new ones from coming along. For these same technologies also enable scoundrels to fight back and reposition themselves.

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Slightly edited version of text first posted on my Facebook page, December 30, 2016.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Reason #1: Trump’s psyche & “the hubris-nemesis complex” (2nd of 4 posts)


Trump’s psyche exhibits a “hubris-nemesis complex”. Analysts often note that his personality is riddled with narcissism. What I call the “hubris-nemesis complex” (1994) is a dire form of this, a step beyond ordinary narcissism.

The hubris-nemesis complex reflects an ancient dynamic in Greek mythology. Accordingly, hubris is man’s vainglorious pretension to be god-like, the capital sin of arrogant overweening pride. Nemesis is the goddess of divine vengeance and retribution; she strikes down people who display hubris. That is the classic dynamic. The myth of Narcissus illustrates it. So does the Christian saying “Pride goeth before a fall”. Likewise, the fates of President Nixon and later the Shah of Iran.

Normally, the two forces — hubris and nemesis — function apart. However, rare leaders sometimes arise who embody both forces — they have enormous hubris, and also want to be the Nemesis of an external force they accuse of greater hubris. That is, they have a hubris-nemesis complex. Modern exemplars include Hitler, Mussolini, Castro, Ahmadinejad, and Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab (also, maybe some self-exalting hypercritical talk-show hosts?)

In such leaders, the complex means more than exhibiting hubris and nemesis as separate qualities. The integration of the two forces and their interaction appears to result in something more complex, more pathological, than the description of either force alone may imply at first glance. For, to be as powerful as their hubris requires, such leaders must act as the nemesis of an outside power; indeed, it is part of their hubris to be a nemesis. At the same time, to fulfill the nemesis role against such a power, they yearn for expanded if not absolute power for themselves at home and abroad — they want the capability to impose their hubris.

In the classic dynamic, then, the two forces stand apart, opposing and contradicting each other. In this extraordinary dynamic, the two forces no longer stand apart. They get fused in a single psyche. They become compatible contradictions — mutually reinforcing each other in a fusion that, far from destroying the bearer, imparts enormous invigorating energy, ambition, dynamism, and charisma, along with a thirst for absolute power. The two forces feed on each other such that the stronger one is, the stronger the other may become as well.

The mentality and behavior of a leader under the spell of both forces will be substantially different from those of a leader affected by only one or neither of the two forces. A hubris-nemesis complex seems to impart a rationality that differs from a conventional cost-benefit rationality. A leader inflated with that much grandiosity and vengefulness tends to believe that he or she is above the law. They may not make what are normally regarded as reasonable pragmatic calculations of interests, goals, benefits, costs, and risks. They prefer unbounded space-time-agency perspectives.

From what I’ve seen and learned, Trump has regularly shown signs of hubris and of wanting to play nemesis against one actor or another (e.g., the Establishment, Washington, the Media, whatever is “rigged” — not to mention specific individuals). He repeatedly displays the tremendous energy, ambition, arrogance, charisma, and even demagoguery that attends this self-exalting complex. And he repeatedly displays a vengeful desire to confront, humiliate, punish, and defeat whomever he deems an adversary guilty of hubris (even just a questioning critic).

In sum, I worry that he has a hubris-nemesis complex that is going to prove troublesome. The American political system, with its checks and balances etc., is designed in ways that should temper and contain leaders who have an excess of hubris or nemesis or both. Other aspects of Trump’s psyche, as well his family dynamics, may also help temper and contain his hubris-nemesis impulses. But I still see reasons to continue wondering and worrying.

Sources: Monograph titled Beware the Hubris-Nemesis Complex: A Concept for Leadership Analysis (1994), plus a blog post on “Space-time-action orientations of leaders who have a hubris-nemesis complex” (2014).

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Speculative aside: To the standard explanations for Trump’s appeal, I have wondered about adding an aspect of Hollywood. Its movie and TV industries are often said to be rife with liberals who exert liberal influences on our culture, to the chagrin of conservatives. But what about the following?

Over the past decade or so, there has been a vast increase in movies and TV shows that revolve around super, magical, extraordinary, and special powers — indeed, around scripts and roles filled with hubris and nemesis dynamics. Some of these shows are fun entertainment. But there is so much of this now, it may not only reflect something amiss in our society but also be serving to tilt people in less rational directions, away from preferences for ordinary narratives and explanations.

Trump, more than any candidate, was able to present himself like a superhero who has special powers. Meanwhile, Clinton and other candidates continued to talk in terms of large mundane factors and forces — an ordinary way of thinking out of step with how aggrieved populists may now be inclined to think. My guess is that, if you asked people to list favorite kinds of movies and TV shows, Trump voters would prefer the kinds noted above, Clinton voters much less so.

If so, this would amount to quite a shift in how Hollywood may be said to influence our society.

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Slightly edited version of text first posted on my Facebook page, December 28, 2016.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Three reasons to wonder and worry about Trump's psyche: the hubris-nemesis complex, the scoundrel’s script, and the tribalization of America (1st of 4 posts)


Overview and implications


As I’ve wondered (and been asked) what to make of Donald Trump’s ascension, I’ve noticed much to worry about: not just in his emerging policy positions — some may yet turn out okay — but mainly because of his unusually aggressive psyche. My work on social evolution (TIMN) and cognition (STA:C) indicates three reasons to worry about his psyche as he ascends into having more power than ever:
  1. It looks like he has a “hubris-nemesis complex” — a rare mentality whereby a leader not only has hubris (the pretension to be god-like) but also wants to play Nemesis (the goddess of divine vengeance) against another actor who is accused of greater hubris.
  2. He is very adept at deploying “the scoundrel’s script” — a rhetorical strategy for first denying, then diminishing, and if that doesn't work, ultimately displacing blame for alleged misdeeds or shortcomings that have come to light.
  3. He is prone to behave like a tribalist intent on tribalizing others — look at his rallies where he rails like a tribal chieftain or warlord — in a time when America is already turning evermore tribal to it's detriment.
I'll clarify each point in three separate follow-up posts. But first, a few overview remarks.

Of the three points, Trump is far from unique in deploying the scoundrel's script. Many other political, business, and social leaders have relied on it too. But his usage seems awfully skilled and determined. On the other two counts, he is quite unique: his penchant for tribalism is unusually high among political leaders, and his self-exalting hubris-nemesis complex is terribly distinctive.

This is a potentially dangerous risky combination. To the extent that these three patterns matter, we may have to be wary of a future fraught with political flimflam, economic skim-scam, and strategic whim-wham — a future more about theater than truth. This combination may also make our society even more vulnerable to corruption and cronyism, and to stepped-up efforts at surveillance and censorship. A kind of information-age fascism seems increasingly likely, as I've long worried (even as I know that word "fascism" may not be quite accurate). His psyche seems more conducive to patrimonial corporatism than to liberal democracy.

Many other observations — good, bad, and otherwise — can be and have been made about Trump's psyche. I am focusing on these three simply because they are the ones that emerge from my work on TIMN and STA:C. It remains to be seen how significant they will prove to be.

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Slightly edited version of text first posted on my Facebook page, December 26, 2016.