Individualism versus Tribalism

I was forwarded “Do Americans Know How Weird and Extreme Their Collapse is Getting? Even the Dark Ages Would Laugh at Where We’re Going” by umair haque.

It’s a interesting thesis on the perceived downward spiral of the United States, particularly as it is portrayed the standpoint of dealing with Republican President Trump and fans. It’s a little campy and the research is very cursory and presented oversimplified, but it serves it’s purpose in trying to put this unique approach to society into a historical context. He’s right – there hasn’t been a major group quite like Trump Republicans, ever. And, he’s probably right that facism doesn’t describe them quite accurately. And, he’s probably right that theocratcs doesn’t describe them quite right. And, he’s probably right that not purely authoritarian either.

There’s an underlying concept here though that really stands out for me even though it’s not explicit spoken about throughout the article. It is especially noteworthy though since I’ve pointed out some of these examples as being socially problematic previously. This passage struck a chord an I believe needs further investigation:

” The idea that we should arm teachers, instead of protect kids from school shootings — militant capitalism. The idea that people should have to crowdfund insulin — techno-Darwinism. The idea that people should never be able to retire — neofeudalism. The idea that freedom is just the weak being exploited by the strong — neo-authoritarianism. Those are four more weird, ruinous, baffling ideologies — and just like theofascism, we’d have to go a long, long way back in human history to make sense of them. All these ideas are so strange, self-destructive, and fatally absurd, that they’re off the charts of history”

The author misses a big chance here to point out something very obvious — modern US society is split between those who believe in strict individualism versus that of tribalism, of every person for themselves versus that of a shared destiny. I think the former of those versus are how one creates a groudwork for perceiving everything as us versus them. And the former is also the one of Trump and his “fans” fully embrace, the one of where the Republican party has been moving toward for quite some time anyhow, the one that molds a lot of opinions even when people don’t realize that’s what they are necessarily using to defend their beliefs.

If individuals are solely responsible to and for themselves than any other individual could be perceived as a threat. Small groups of individuals temporarily bond with one another, not for the greater good of society per se, but the greater individual opportunity. It’s why hate groups and other closed ideologies aren’t tribalist – they often turn on themselves after a certain point because ultimately my individual need and belief forces me to see you as a threat. I’ll accepted you because we have some commonality for now and it was to my advantage, but when I’m done with you, I’ll find a difference between us and exploit it.

Individualism is how you end up with the individual need to own a gun to protect yourself because you don’t believe society would protect you. Despite the facts proving society is capable of offering broad protection by working together, individualists cling to the belief that it’s up to the individual to protect themselves. This splits into 1) Those incapable of self-protection are responsible for their own demise. 2) And a paranoid sense that any advocacy for mutual protection is really an attempt at weakening the individual so that they can be overtaken.

Individualism is how you end up having to beg for money to pay for healthcare because you don’t believe society is capable of taking care of you. And, no, crowdfunding is not an example of tribalism in this case. Only those individuals with the resources are able to successfully crowdfund for their health. Everyone is still on their own and it’s their responsibility to create a successful crowdfunding campaign. There’s an underlying premise that those that fail to maintain their health deserve their illness while those that are healthy are better individuals. While it’s proven that maintaining greater health and wellbeing is more efficient when the burden is shared it goes against the mindset of the individualist. They want to chose who they are willing to share what are perceived as finite resources. That’s why they support crowdfunding, if someone is undeserving of the individual’s help they don’t get it, if they are deserving they do. It’s up to the individual to dole out assistance as the individual sees if, because undeserving people shouldn’t be given handouts.

Individualism is how you get hatred for Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and other safety net programs. Again, it goes back to the idea that individuals are solely responsible for themselves. If you really did work hard you would have saved money for when you were jobless or ready to retire and you would be using your own money to support yourself. Tribalists believe there is an inherent social good to everyone helping everyone else out in a time of need so they are willing to pool resources and take out what’s necessary. Individualists are paranoid that they might not get their fare share. Individualists believe that others who the individual perceives as didn’t do as much might get more than their fair share. The individualist believes if you become unemployed it’s your fault and therefor your personal responsibility to rectify the situation. The tribalist understands that lots of things are outside of the individual’s control and makes an effort to share resources in order to overcome those obstacles as a community. Individualists, though, as the cliche on capitalism says, believe they are just temporarily not-rich. And, so they are willing to forgo the idea of collective efforts now so that when they supposedly inevitably become rich they can enjoy those spoils unabated. Tribalists know individualists are stupidly working against their own best interest but cannot change individualists minds because individualists are inherently afraid to share, even if it helps them out to be on the receiving end.

Individualism is how you end up with viewpoints where everything is privatized – because the idea is that public works programs benefit people how don’t deserve it but if you are deserving you can afford or can obtain or otherwise can do for yourself everything. You don’t need public schools because you can home school or find a private institution to teach you. If you’re incapable of obtaining entrance to a private institution that’s your own fault and if you lack the basic knowledge to home school that’s your problem to solve too. You don’t need laws providing for clean air, clean water, clean soil, etc. If you cannot keep the water near you clean yourself then you should have to deal with the filth or find an alternative that does provide clean water. It’s not a collective effort by society to maintain clean water, it’s up to entepeneurial individuals to exploit the existence of dirty water in order to determine who is a deserving individual of clean water versus who is not. And, while a bunch of individuals might temporarily work together to create a clean water solution, it’s highly unlikely that their acting tribally, for as soon as one individual decides they are more deserving they will cut the other’s out, rationalizing they’ve done the most important aspect of the work and are therefor deserving of the reward. Since the rest aren’t tribal, rather than throwing the individual out of the collective and continuing to work together they will all decide to split the water and go their own way, each rationalizing the other was the problem.

Even in some so-called collectives like some Churches what you actually find isn’t actually a tribal community but a group of individuals who are all personally responsible for their own saving. So, while they all sit together and pray for being saved as a common goal, the path to being saved is an individual one. I will be saved because I prayed harder, longer, an was more pious and righteous as I did and when good things happen it’s because of my effort in my relationship with “our” god. If you fail at any point it’s because you didn’t pray hard enough, or long enough, or weren’t as pious and rightenous as you could be and it’s up to you, and you alone, to overcome that burden. Individuals judge other individuals and treat them even within the collective based on perception. Not all churches are like this, there are definitely tribal ones where the church community not only works together to help one another out but they are embracing of everyone else outside of the church that might need help as well. It’s everyone’s responsibility to pool resources in order to reach spiritual enlightenment, and everyone gets the reward of being enlightened together. But that’s not how many of the big churches function even if that’s what they try and sell to their parishes…

Individualism is why people insist upon phrases like pull yourself up by your own boot straps. While tribalism realizes not everyone can but everyone deserves an opportunity to still be up. Individualism, which is how the Republican party has been trying to position itself since at least the Goldwater era, is exactly how you have Trump fans that laud Trump’s own supposed successes with individualism while exacting their own version of it. It’s why they old up racist, sexist, xenophobic slogans because the have nots, the thems, the others deserve to be told they don’t belong while they themselves as individuals they are just fine.

Afterall according to these particular individuals — it’s an immigrant’s responsibility to enter the country “legally” even if the reality is they tried and both the laws themselves and the current administrations interpretation of applying the law is inherently convoluted — that a person’ of color’s responsibility to not have an interaction with the police even if the reality is the police were responding to a false alarm, providing convoluted instructions that don’t always follow their own protocols or the law, and hide behind a excuse of ‘fearing for their lives’ that is obviously in many cases steeped in personal bias and bigotry — it’s a woman’s responsibility not to become pregnant so that they don’t have to worry about abortions or breast feeding or being treated illegally by their employer even though men supply the semen and have the stereotype sex drive as well as dick hardening pharmaceuticals that help make pregnancy possible in the first place.

So, while I get what the author was trying to do analyzing this new era of Trump inspired social engineering, they’re too focused on disproving some of the typical language used to describe Trump (facist, theocrat, etc.) that I think they miss an opportunity to dig into that which they glossed over getting to that quoted paragraph.

About thedoormouse

I am I. That’s all that i am. my little mousehole in cyberspace of fiction, recipes, sacrasm, op-ed on music, sports, and other notations both grand and tiny:
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