Archives for posts with tag: Tribalism

Now, I don’t know who is reading this: you could be different from me. Presumably you at least speak English, but that may be where our similarities end! For the sake of simplicity, however, I will refer to my reader and myself as an “us”, so strap in, because we’re in this together whether you like it or not.

The people who are different from us are often perceived as threatening. Different means unknown, and fear and the unknown go together like jam on toast. Some people don’t like jam on toast; those people are different and therefore threatening.

I’ve got my eye on you…

The thing is, harm can come from anyone. People who are different may be spookily unknown, but people who are the same as us can be just as, if not more, dangerous. Sexual assault is predominantly perpetrated by someone who is familiar to the victim, and intimate partner violence, which makes up a quarter of reported violent crimes, requires sameness as people who are in relationships often have similar backgrounds and perceptions of the world.

Difference is ultimately irrelevant to someone’s predilection toward causing harm. If I were to assume that the people who are like me are not dangerous, then I have to do some serious self-reflection about whether or not I am fundamentally harmless. If I am, huzzah! But if I am belligerent, mistrustful, aggressive or maybe I just condone violence against those who are different from me, then it is not difference that is the threat, but sameness.

Take a good, long look

It could be argued that fear of the unknown, and aggressiveness against it as a defense mechanism, is basic human nature, and maybe it is. Which means, in fact, that sameness is the problem, since all those scary people who do things differently from us are only a threat if they follow our all-to-human pattern of aggression toward difference. Luckily, we can socialize ourselves away from this mutually-assured destruction. Civilization itself is a means of overcoming human nature, so it is not unprecedented.

Exposure to and the embracing of the different is literally the only way to grow. New ideas, different skill levels, different approaches to a problem: these do not arise under familiar circumstances. If someone has a different way of connecting to their spirituality, or a different way of understanding gender, or any number of different ways of being different, then this is an opportunity to learn. Difference isn’t a threat, it is an opportunity every time.

The threat comes from those who want everybody to be the same.

Those who are less than enthusiastic about sports are often confused by the vehemence with which a true fan can celebrate their team. A team can change the entire roster of its players, can change the coach, the owner, the logo, can change every single facet of itself, and the fan will continue to cheer without question in a complete validation of Theseus’ ship. This is because the fan is connected to the idea of the team rather than any tangible aspect of the team itself. The critic is baffled as to why the fan would bother with something that is so incredibly alien to them. The answer is simple enough, however: the fan sees the team as part of their tribe.

Sports television is very aware of this. Pre-game shows often deliver the stories and travails of the players and teams as a whole. Relationships will be analyzed and champions will be celebrated. It’s all gossip, and gossip is how we navigate tribes. How is Susan doing? Watch out for Bill. Did you hear what happened to Karen? Gossip is what keeps us safe and connected in our communities; it’s a natural human attribute. When we talk in-depth about the stars and heartbreaks of the previous night’s game, we are engaging in communal gossip.

The thing is, your sports team is not your tribe. The stress of a close game and the pride toward a favourite player kindles deep instinctual drives, but modern sports are “entertainment.” You can’t call any of your team for emotional support during a difficult time. The success of the quarterback does not bring food back to your table. A loss has no concrete consequences. Knowing who is a dangerous player will not keep you safe. Fandom is not so much the connection to an idea of a team, but to an idea of a community.

world series tickets

I value baseball over having a life partner! I’m sure I’ll be able to count on the Red Sox in turn to help me cope with the emotional devastation of losing said life partner

There are merits in the celebration of athletic prowess and remarkable skill. An argument could be made that sports facilitate community by acting as a shared interest among friends, and that’s fair. However, sports as an interest is then interchangeable with any other interest, and the accompanying gossip becomes meaningless.  If a group subscribes to the full tribalism of intense fandom, then it is in the same danger as described above. The importance of interdependence and mutual support in a tribe could easily be lost in shallow relationships centred on extrinsic factors.

We are, all of us, literally all of us, living in a time when the necessity of our tribe is morbidly obvious. Communally-deviant behaviours such as hoarding, ignoring physical distancing measures, neglecting essential workers, and spreading disinformation are representative of large swathes of the population feeling disconnected from the real-life human beings that surround them. We’ve been so focused on our false tribes for so long that we’ve forgotten the value of our neighbours.

covid toilet paper

We seem to recognize the destructiveness of wealth hoarding when the wealth is toilet paper. Wouldn’t it be sad if there were far worse forms of wealth hoarding taking place that people go to great lengths to justify? But I digress…

Whose shoulder can we cry on? Who will drop off groceries for us if we’re sick and unable to go out? Who will help us financially if we’re out of work? Who will mourn us as we lay dying, even if from afar? These are the people who matter. These are the people who have always mattered. None of them are on the television hanging in a sports bar. Let us no longer be distracted by idolatrous practices meant to profit off our deepest human instincts.