When we thinking of the word tribalism today we (or should I say I) often think of a less evolved society that is insular and ritural. Cutting themselves off from other ways and progressive ideas. Yet when I look around at my daily life, I wonder if I might benefit from a little tribalism or at least the positive aspects of tribalism.
So what are the positive aspects of tribalism? Community above all else. Living within walking distance of people you know and trust who are either friends or family or both. People you more than often get along with and share similar values with.
We often don’t know our nighbors well enough. We move into communities because we find a house we like or a good school or an apartment within a short distance to our place of work. But we lose a community. We walk down the streets and barely say hi to the person we pass by. If at all. We’re in a sea of people and yet we hardly know any of them and can feel lonely. I’ve heard others say this about living in cities. Surrounded by so many people and yet they are lonely.
As humans, we spent most of our existence in tribes of a few hundred people at most. Some researchers say we can only really get to know about 150 people. Give or take that is. So it only makes sense that we’ve been conditioned as a species to desire and seek out tribes. Yet our modern world does its best to weed that out and push us further and further toward individualism. Is it any wonder that sites like facebook are so popular? On the whole we’ve replaced real life social tribal interaction with virtual tribal interaction. Yet it’s still not the same. There are a lot of fundamental aspects that are missing, like sharing a meal together, growing old with each other and depending on each other, group sports or other physical activies, going places together and discovering new things together. The list can go on.
As kids, teenagers and college students most of us still get experience a form of tribalism. College dorms or housing are one example. But it’s short lived as people can rotate in and out on a yearly basis. So even then you might get some lesson of tribalism in learning to live with other people, but you might not get to know the other people as deeply as you could if you knew you would be together most if not all of your life.
When I was a teenager I had a great group of friends. All of whom I still know today. Pretty good for 20 years later. Back then we were all within 5 minutes walking distance to each other because we all lived in the same neighborhood. We went to the same school, we would hang out after school and on the weekends and we would go places together and discover new things. Sometimes (many times) we would just sit around and talk about anything. We were all interested in making movies so we did that together as well. A good creative outlet and group of people to be creative with. We never had any idea that we would not know each other. We knew that we would grow up and have to get jobs and go to college, but we still didn’t think it would split us up. Nor did it. At least completely.
However as time we got older and people went off to college or got different jobs or got girlfriends and started hanging out with them more, we saw each other less and less. We were still in our early twenties so we were still young enough and uninhibited enough to travel places and go to clubs and meet up together on a fairly regular basis, but you could see things were getting pulled apart. Those greater distances were making it harder and harder to see each other and be as close as we had been.
Distance does matter. In fact I would say it’s the biggest reason people aren’t as close as they could be or used to be. Today in my mid thirties I see my good friends about ever two to four weeks. I love seeing them. Often it’s at a bar or in the summer a beach. But it’s still only for a handful of hours. Our relationships become more catch-up style relationships than build something/do something together style relationships.
The result is, we get together and it’s all about “how have you been, how is work and the kids” and then we dive into a few issues of the moment were we discuss whatever else might be going on in the world. Whereas a build something/do something relationship is what I used to have with my friends when we were in high school. We saw each other all the time, so there wasn’t a need to catch up. Instead we did things together and made things together (i.e. movies) and played together (i.e. volleyball). This second type of relationship is more like tribes of humans used to interact. Personally I belief it builds stronger and deeper relationships that last longer.
My question now is, can we get back to some form of tribalism without uprooting the modern world and the things we enjoy about it? Personally I would like to spend less time on the computer and more time with a group of people I’m close to. Computers are supposed to be tools, yet over the last 14 years it’s become a crutch for me to replace my real world interactions. Which is one of the reasons I blog and join so many messageboards and communities. It’s also one of the big reasons I debate people online. Filling that void of missing social interaction that used to take place in the real world rather than supplementing it. Balance is what is needed.
I also fear getting older. I saw what happened with my parents. They had me when they were 35, so they were already getting a little older and little lazier by the time I could remember things. When I was younger 4-7 I remmeber them seeing their friends a lot more. They would come over and have beers and talk. Before I was around they had done even more with their friends. They used to call go camping together, enough to merit my parents having a motor home. But as I got older they saw their friends less and less and eventually hardly ever. Maybe once a year or so.
When my dad passed away 6 years go my mom only had family. Her two sisters, a couple cousins, my siblings and grandchildren. But even then, everyone lives a distance away. So she didn’t see people every day. In fact it could be days or a week before seeing anyone. Which left her with a lot of alone time to stew in. Had she lived in a community of people she knew most of her life, within short walking distance of each other, there would have been a lot more interaction on a daily basis. My mom has now moved in with my brother and I’m happy about that. He doesn’t have any kids or family of his own, so now they at least have each other and can help each other out.
Even so, I look toward my own future and the future of other people my age. Some of us have kids or a kid. Others have none. Where will we be in the future? I only have one son myself. Even if he grows up a good guy who will help take care of me when I’m older, I don’t want to leave that all on him alone. At least I have three other siblings when my mom had her stroke. So we could rotate in and out. What do the people do that have no children? That’s a fear my girlfriend has. If social security goes bust, we’re going to be in and even worst state than my mom who relies on that to live since she can no longer work post-stroke. Most of us aren’t going to have a suitable enough retirement fund, if any. Not with how the economy has been going. It’s been a struggle just to pay the bills as it is.
So when I look at that perspective future, I’m a little frightened. I’m still young enough that I can forget about it for a while and say to myself “I have plenty of time.” Someone once said of us Americans, that we all think we’re going to be rich and maybe famous, we just haven’t got there yet. It was in relation to not wanting to heavily tax the rich because eventualyl we’ll be rich ourselves. Sadly that’s not true.
Where does this all leave us? I think there is only one real solution that actually stands a chance of working. Communities. I don’t mean white picket fences and nicely mowed lawns. We already have that. Its become one of the tools to help wall ourselves off from each other. What we need is actual community more like tribalism. Communes. Not the the dark religious cult type where everyone follows the leader and drinks the kool-aid of destruction. But real democractic social environments where we live in little houses. Houses that minimize the time we spend in them, by reserving them for being only sleeping and changing quaters with a toilet. Then having a larger common house where everyone gets together to make and share meals, mwatch movies together, play together, talk together and build the common grounds around them together through shared gardens and outdoor space. Where everyone is only footsteps away from each other yet they still have a place to go when they want some alone time.
The idea is that they grow together and rely on each other over time, over the rest of their lives. Creating that support group that humans had when we lived in tribes. That may be something we have to do in order to survive as much as it may help us in being human again as a whole.
Here is a video I found a commune that is similar to what I’ve explained above.