On the Many Connotations of ‘Tribalism’

By James Fallows

A classic book on tribalism.

A few hours ago I posted an item arguing that today’s GOP leaders, notably Mitch McConnell in the Senate and Paul Ryan in the House, had essentially abdicated their constitutional responsibilities and were behaving in a “tribal” sense. By that I meant: whatever was good for their group, was Good, and whatever was bad for their group, was Bad—to the exclusion of any abstract standards of the good or bad of the polity as a whole.

“Tribalism” in this sense is a word I use frequently, to mean an in-group loyalty that I distinguish from the E pluribus unum American ideal. Every time I use the term, I at least half-think of  wonderful book called Idols of the Tribe, by Harold Isaacs, which was about the power of group identity (and its good and bad ramifications).

A reader in the Southwestern United States write in to complain about my use of the term:

I wanted to talk to you about the use of ‘tribal’ as a term to mean thoughtlessly following the pack.

I am a newly retired school teacher in [the Southwest], where I have taught for many years primarily Native American students, Pueblo, Navajo etc. The use of tribal in the political white sense does not go over very well among Native folks for obvious reasons. It feels like a putdown of one of the last cultural distinctions that exemplifies tribal sovereignty.

I’m sure this is not your intention nor is it President Obama’s intention but I can tell you the vocabulary while hip is not appreciated among many of the hundreds of thousands Native Americans in New Mexico and Arizona and it does not help the young respect their own culture. If you want to secure those votes I would stop using the word …read more

Via:: The Atlantic

      

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