A Time Of Tribalism

A Time Of Tribalism, by Rod Dreher.

Last weekend, I read Political Tribes: Group Instinct And The Fate Of Nations, a new book by Yale law professor Amy Chua. …

The book starts by talking about how Americans’ blindness to tribalism as a social and anthropological fact has been disastrous for us overseas. She quotes President Woodrow Wilson saying that “America does not consist of groups” — a statement that was bonkers on its face in a time of legal segregation, among other things. But that was the myth that Wilson wanted us to believe, and that many white Americans wanted to believe. …

That was the American ideal, though not the American reality. Chua doesn’t use that to slam America as hypocritical, though. She says that this sentiment represents America “at both its best and its worst.” That is, America aspires to be a nation where loyalty to ideals and principles trumps group loyalty — that is America at its best — but is also a nation where the better angels of our nature are so comely that cause us to overlook our demons. …

Chua talks extensively about how our very American reluctance to recognize tribalism has caused us to make catastrophic foreign policy mistakes. And not only our reluctance to recognize tribalism, but also the remarkable success we have had as a nation in restraining tribalism. Though far from perfect, we really are exceptional among the nations of the world in this achievement. The problem is, we think of it as universal, or at least universalizable.

Vietnam:

Our ideological blindness caused us to fail to understand that the Vietnam war was not about communism, but about nationalism — and that Vietnamese nationalism also included anti-Chinese hatred. Did you know that the Chinese dominated Vietnam for almost a thousand years? I didn’t. Did you know that ethnic Chinese within Vietnam, though a minority, controlled most of the economy, even into the modern era? I certainly did not. Chua says that the US government totally missed the ethno-nationalist core of the Vietnamese nationalist struggle, preferring to understand it in Cold War ideological terms. …

Venezuela:

When you have an ethnic minority dominating a nation’s market, you have the potential for vicious conflict. In a fascinating chapter on the fate of Venezuela, Chua discusses how that country’s light-skinned elites controlled an extremely disproportionate amount of its economic resources. Hugo Chavez — dark-skinned, kinky-haired — capitalized on this to come to power. We all know what a disaster Chavismo has made of Venezuela’s economy, but it’s very important to understand that Chavez didn’t come from nowhere. Massive inequality in Venezuela — an inequality that broke down among racial and ethnic lines — laid the groundwork for his despotic rule. …

Chavez, by the way, was popularly elected, then twice re-elected. …

Iraq:

Chua points out that we fetishize democracy so much in the West that we miss how democracy can exacerbate tribalism. This is what happened in Iraq, a Shia-majority country that had been ruled by police-state terror by Saddam Hussein, a member of the Sunni minority. When democracy came, naturally the Shia voted for Shia. Once in power, the Shia ruled as tribalists, securing power and privilege for themselves, and pushing the Sunni to the side. Hence, ISIS. Chua cautions that democracy is not to blame for ISIS, strictly speaking, but imposing democracy on a country saturated by religious tribalism was bound to unleash forces that produced ISIS. …

Afghanistan:

The conflict is not best understood as a religious one, but rather as a tribal struggle. The fact that the Taliban are fanatical Muslims obscures to our eyes the more important fact that they are Pashtuns, the tribe that has historically dominated Afghanistan, fighting against Tajiks and other Afghani peoples. …

The beneficiaries refuse to see:

Chua says that she wrote a piece for the New York Times in 2003, talking about how 80 percent of Venezuelans — dark-skinned men and women like Hugo Chavez — are economic outsiders in a nation in which 20 percent of light-skinned Venezuelans control most of the economy. She was not prepared for “the deluge of vicious hate mails” from white Venezuelans, who told her that racism did not exist in Venezuela, and that there were no racial barriers to black and brown progress there. …

We do the same thing. Try to convince liberals of any race that poor and working class whites who voted for Trump, and who feel marginalized, have a point. They will raise hell. Try to point out instances of anti-white discrimination, or anti-Christian discrimination, and they will either deny it or, if they admit that it happens, will say that these whites and/or Christians deserve it anyway. …

She talks about the economic and cultural clash between white coastal elites and whites in the heartland. Get this:

Tribalism in America propelled Donald Trump to the White House. If we want to understand this tribalism, we have to acknowledge the impact of inequality and the wedge it has driven between America’s whites. “Coastal elites” have become a kind of market-dominant minority from the point of view of America’s heartland, and, as we’ve seen all over the developing world, market-dominant minorities invariably end up producing democratic backlash. …

Where the US leads, the West is going:

Chua says that in America today, every group thinks they are discriminated against, and are on the defensive. Depending on which community you’re talking about, you can find evidence for it. For example:

It is simply a fact that the “diversity” policies at the most selective American universities and in some sectors of the economy have had a disparate adverse impact on whites. …

Chua brings this up in her chapter on democracy and political tribalism in America to say that whites aren’t making this stuff up. But she also goes on to point out how American blacks aren’t making it up either when they point to certain facts about their own disadvantageous position. Nor are women. Nor are … you get the point. …

We are at such a dangerous time in the US because no political tribe can dominate. An irony of white domination is that whites not only had the power to impose their will on minorities, they also had the security to loosen up, to be more inclusive and universalist.

Once a society goes tribal, it’s hard to turn back.

hat-tip Stephen Neil