On False Tribes

On False Tribes

One of man’s most natural impulses is the tribal impulse. Few things come more easily to human beings than dividing other human beings into us and them, in-group and out-group. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this behaviour; in fact, it’s essential to the functioning of any society. People naturally cleave to others who are like themselves in any number of different ways, spending time with other members of the same groups as themselves, structuring their identity and self-image around those group memberships, and banding together with other members of the group to advance shared goals and promote shared interests.

Historically, the tribal impulse has typically been directed toward what I will call genuine tribes. A genuine tribe is an identity group capable of self-perpetuation and some level of self-sufficiency. A nation, such as the French, is the example par excellence of a genuine tribe, but subgroups within a nation, such as particular regional communities or ethnic subgroups, or even religious groups, can also qualify as genuine tribes.

For a tribe to be healthy, it needs a certain amount of social cohesion. The members need to identify themselves as members of the tribe and be willing to make sacrifices to advance the interest of the tribe. If the first element is missing, the tribe effectively ceases to exist — if the second is missing, it will not be successful.

One might say that tribes are ‘social constructs’, and this would be largely true, but they tend to be social constructs whose members are bound together by some objectively shared reality. Tribes stake out their territories, for our purposes not so much geographically as in the allegiances of individuals, and this means a lot of competing identity claims.

For example, take a Black American man. There are (at least) two tribes claiming his allegiance: the Black tribe and the American tribe. He has to choose how he is going to reconcile these two competing claims on his loyalty. The extreme position would be simply to choose one, and reject the other. More likely he will attempt to balance his identity as a Black man with his identity as an American, favouring one or the other to various degrees based on any number of factors. The two identities will exist with a certain degree of tension. If the Black and American tribes get along well, in general, this may not be a problem. However, the more friction there is between the two, the more dissonance he will feel, and the more he will be tempted to embrace one tribal identity to the exclusion of the other.

Nevertheless, although among genuine tribes there can certainly be competing claims to the loyalties of particular individuals, and although tribes are certainly in competition in the world for status and resources, nevertheless different (genuine!) tribes are certainly capable in principle of peaceful coexistence as well. Though they can, potentially, present existential threats to each other, there is nothing in their fundamental nature that implies that they must do so.

Moreover, genuine tribes need no excuses to justify their existence, their cohesion as tribal units, or their efforts to advance their own collective interests. No one blames (or at least, no one should blame) a Frenchman for wanting France to be successful and get ahead relative to other countries, nor for working toward that goal by any honourable means available to him.

However, in more modern times, there has been a proliferation of what I will label false tribes. False tribes are groups of people to which individuals direct their tribal impulses, but which lack some or all of the necessary elements to function as a self-sufficient society. Women are the example par excellence of the false tribe, and the defining feature of this social unit is its fundamental incapacity for independent cohesion. This classification also includes such groups as ‘homosexuals’ and ‘workers of the world’.

Notice that I do not say a false tribe is any tribe that does not exist totally self-sufficiently; by that standard any number of ethnic minorities would have to be considered false tribes. Rather, the group in question must be in principle incapable of cohering as an independent social unit.

Because they cannot separate from the wider societies of which they are a part, or even become subsidiary elements of them in the way that local communities are to larger states, the identity claims of false tribes always serve to undermine the healthy functioning of those genuine tribes which allow the memeplexes on which false tribes are built to infect their members.

False tribes are also distinguished from genuine tribes by the need for a narrative of oppression. Because false tribes are not natural social units but only parts of them, it is naturally felt as unjust to advance the interests of such groups over-against the whole. This is easily seen if a man proposes some law or social change and says it should be adopted because it would be ‘good for men’, while admitting that it would harm, for example, women. The normal reaction, even from men, to a proposal, for example, to automatically give the father full custody of the children in all divorce cases, on the grounds that it will make men’s lives better, is disgust (NB I am not here discussing the merits of such a policy, but rather the reaction to the idea of adopting it on the specific grounds here mentioned). It is seen as selfish for a man to promote the interests of men over-against women, in a way that it is not seen as selfish for a Frenchman to promote the interests of France over-against, say, Greece.

To overcome this natural revulsion at the attempt to undermine the cohesive social ties in a functioning genuine tribe by appeal to a pernicious constructed in-group, it is necessary to appeal to a sense of objective justice. Recall that the genuine tribe, as we stated earlier, needs no justification for its collective existence or its recognition or advancement of its own collective interests as a tribe. But the false tribe does. The false tribe constructs a story of the injustices its members have suffered, and insists that ‘all it wants’ is to right those wrongs.

Once the wrongs are righted, in theory, the tribe should be disbanded and its members should return to their natural loyalties. However, the reality is a little different. Tribal loyalties are deeply ingrained. Giving them up is psychically painful, especially when the false tribe in question has been occupying the psychic space that genuine tribes would otherwise have filled and thus has prevented a person from forming the kind of natural tribal ties that should replace the false tribe when it disbands.

It is far easier, instead, to manufacture continually more contrived claims of continuing oppression, to justify the continued operation of the tribe. And indeed this is exactly what we see, for example, with women. Feminism created a false tribe out of the female sex with a claim of oppression on the basis that women lacked certain rights that men had. Whether they ought to have had these rights is debatable, but it is certainly true that men had them and women did not.

Then, something happened that feminists weren’t prepared for: they won. They got everything — all the rights they had been clamouring for. But rather than pack up, go home, and return their loyalties to their families, where they belonged, they then decided they needed even more rights. And when those were gained, they had to have yet more rights. And so it continues into our day of ‘microaggressions’ and ‘consensual rape’ and other such absurdities. Similar phenomena can occur with economic classes; ‘workers of the world’ are definitely a false tribe, as I mentioned earlier. Give them their labour unions, and they will demand higher wages. Give them higher wages, and they will demand more political power. And so on, ad infinitum, as long as they remain a tribe in their own collective mind.

The great issue with false tribes is that they undercut the cohesion of genuine tribes. Natural societies contain both sexes for the fairly obvious reason that without both sexes, a society cannot self-perpetuate. For the same reason, natural societies contain all social classes. Workers and capitalists, peasants and aristocrats are all necessary, in their proper role, for a fully functional, organic society. When the French peasant is made to feel that his class solidarity with the Russian peasant is more important than his local, feudal fealty to his French lord, French society breaks down.

In a well-ordered society, there can be no battle of the sexes, no class warfare. By the same token, however, there will always be some degree of hierarchy in place between different groups. Where the prevailing culture does not foster a sense of noblesse oblige, such that, in the words of Macaulay, the great man [helps] the poor and the poor man loves the great, the ground is fertile for the rise of false tribes.

The solution is for every tribe to see itself as the equivalent of an extended family. Within a family there is hierarchy and diversity. Some command and others obey. Yet all recognise that their collective interest inheres in the family. The parents have no legitimate collective interest against the children, the aunts none against the grandparents. But this can only happen when all the necessary parts of a society are represented in the tribes that occupy the people’s psychic space — and when those with power in the tribe recognise that it is to be used for the good of the whole.