Man begins with the tribe. The tribe is his earliest civilization. It is enduring because it is based on blood. The ties of blood may hinder its growth, the accretion of tradition holds it to past wisdom while barring the way to learning new things, but it provides its culture with a physical culture.
The modern world embraced post-tribalism, the transcendence of tribe, to produce more complicated, but also more fragile cultures. And then eventually post-tribalism became counter-tribalism.
Our America is tribal, post-tribal and counter-tribal. It is a strange and unstable mix of all these things.
The post-tribal could be summed up by the melting pot, a modernist idea of a cultural empire, the E pluribus unum of a society in which culture could be entirely detached from tribe, manufactured, replicated and imposed in mechanical fashion. The counter-tribal and the tribal however are best summed up by multiculturalism which combines both selectively.
Modernism was post-tribal. It believed that advancement lay with abandoning the tribe. Post-modernism however is counter-tribal. It doesn’t just seek to leave the tribe behind, but to destroy the very notion of one’s own tribe as the source of evil, while welcoming the tribalism of the oppressed.
The post-tribal and counter-tribals both felt that the rejection of one’s own tribe was a cultural victory. But where the modernists thought that tribe itself was the evil, the post-modernists think that it is only their tribe that is the evil. The modernists had no more use for the tribalism of any culture than that of their own. The post-modernists however believe that the tribalism of oppressor cultures is evil, but that of oppressed cultures is good. And so they replace their own tribalism and post-tribalism with a manufactured tribalism of the oppressed consisting of fake African proverbs and “Other” mentors.
Counter-tribalism is obsessed with the “Other”. It regards the interaction with the “Other” as the most socially and spiritually significant activity of a society. Counter-tribalists instinctively understand diversity as a higher good in a way that they cannot express to outsiders. They may cloak it in post-tribal rhetoric, but the emotion underneath is the counter-tribal rejection of one’s own identity in search of a deeper authenticity, of the noble savage within.
For the modernists, tribalism was savage and that was a bad thing. For the post-modernists, the savage was a good thing. The savage was natural and real. He was a part of the world of tribe and blood. A world that they believed that we had lost touch with. It was the civilized man and his modernism that was evil. It was the tribalism of wealth and technology that they fought against.
The modernists believed that culture was mechanical, that it could be taken apart and put back together, that fantastic new things could be added, the boundaries pushed into infinity in the exploration of the human spirit. The post-modernists knew better. Culture was human noise. Boundaries defined culture. When they were broken, there was only the fascinating explosion of anarchy and private language. Communications broke down and elites took over. They stepped outside those boundaries and lost the ability to create culture, instead they went seeking for the roots of human culture, for the tribal and the primitive, hoping to become ignorant savages again.
The modern left has become a curious amalgam of the modern, the post-modern and the savage. There you have a Richard Dawkins knocking Muslims for their lack of Nobel prizes and then side by side is the post-modern sneering at the idea that being celebrated by the Eurocentric culture and its fetishization of technology matters compared to the rich cultural heritage of Islam and the savage on Twitter demanding Dawkins’ head.
The same scenes play out on daily commutes in modern cities, where Bloombergian post-tribal social planners exist side by side with Occupier counter-tribals and violent tribal gangs acting as flash mobs in the interplay of liberalism, the left and the failed societies left behind by the systems of the left.
Muslim immigration is a distinctly counter-tribal project. The European tensions over it among its elites, as opposed to the street protesters who make up groups such as the EDL, is a conflict between the post-tribals who envisioned the European Union and the counter-tribals who view it as a refugee camp that will melt down the last of Europe’s cultures and traditions.
This is the peculiar uncertain place that the left is in. It’s no longer modern, but its ideas were put into place by modernists, its elites share the modern bias for progress, but have grown skeptical of the technology that makes for progress, and their rationalism is tainted by romantic political codes. Its old notions of the inevitable forward march of man sits side by side with the grad student in ethnic studies who believes that the best times were in the past.
The left has shrunk down to a social welfare movement obsessed with perfecting the municipal governments and non-profits that administer cities filled with savages. Its self-image is elitist, but its horizons are hopelessly petty. It reflexively backs absurd identity politics causes because there is nothing else for it to do except embrace its own dissolution.
The counter-tribal seeks its own destruction. Unlike the modernist post-tribal, it has no horizon. It is suffused with ennui, with an awareness of the evils of its own white privilege, its capitalism, the blood that its ancestors spilled and their endless crimes against man and the environment. It measures enlightenment in relation to its suicidal tendencies. The truly aware and educated individual is a member of a culture that believes it has no right to go on existing.
Counter-tribals and post-tribals both measure advancement in relation to the rejection of the tribe. The difference is that post-tribals did so because they believed that another level of civilization lay ahead, while the counter-tribals believed that the tribe was evil.
The modern West is dominated by counter-tribals, with a strong post-tribal influence. But the post-tribals rarely challenge the counter-tribals. When they do, the boot of political correctness, a construct largely used by counter-tribals to suppress post-tribals and the wrong sorts of tribals, comes down on their heads.
The paradox of the counter-tribals is that they too are a tribe. Much as the post-tribals were. The very act of opposing tribalism creates its own tribe. This can be illustrated by an example from Howard Jacobson’s novel, The Finkler Question, in which the ASHamed Jews, who have formed a movement based on their great shame at being identified with Israel, the epitome of Jewish tribalism, find themselves becoming a tribe, bonding over their common distaste for Jewish tribalism.
The paradox is one of human nature. The creation of a group is the birth of an embryonic tribe. The post-tribal is only another form of tribe. The counter-tribals understand this better than the post-tribals do. They just rarely talk about it. They form a defined elite with consistent characteristics whose existence they are constantly apologizing for at someone else’s expense. This too is a common feature of post-tribalism. The individual can subsume his ego within the tribe, but the post-tribal associations are collections of egos, plans for the imposition of collective mandates that none of the individuals imposing them wishes to accept.
The post-tribal apocalypse is military as the clashes between construct empires reached a devastating scope, while the counter-tribal apocalypse is industrial. The counter-tribals reach back to romantic times, their obsession with the evils of technology predates the moderns. The post-tribals may have feared a nuclear war unleashed by mechanical means and mechanical societies too detached from any sense of the group to understand that they were destroying the world, but the counter-tribals are obsessed with industrial pollution destroying the world, they project local pollution on a global scale.
The post-tribal solution to nuclear war was typically more post-tribalism, more transnationalism, more global organizations and international law, eventually leading to a world state; the ultimate post-tribal institution. The counter-tribal solution to a hallucinated environmental catastrophe is to achieve what their feudal spiritual ancestors were unable to, the close regulation of technology.
The post-tribals were obsessed with the new, while the counter-tribals are obsessed with the real and the authentic. Apple is post-tribal, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is counter-tribal while Hip-Hop is tribal. Combined them in one and you have an example of how post-tribal structure makes counter-tribal and tribal ideas expressible and influential.
Modern America runs on post-tribal structures, but the spirit of its liberal politics is the counter-tribalism and reservation tribalism of the left. Counter-tribal and tribal politicians still use post-tribal rhetoric because it is the only form of unity keeping countries together. They know that as soon as the system fully engages in open counter-tribal and tribal rhetoric, the entire thing will collapse.
America still has the gloss of post-tribal technology and ideas, but underneath it is the counter-tribal rot. And that counter-tribalism was paradoxically nurtured by the post-tribal Soviet Union, which reverted from Communist industrial post-tribalism to nationalistic romantic tribalism. Socialism’s embrace of industry had temporarily broken the romantic obsessions of the left, but did not last. The elites always had a weakness for counter-tribalism because it allowed their egos to triumph over any sense of national or tribal origins. And egotism and its accompanying insecurity had their day.
Counter-tribalism perverts post-tribalism and yet it is also the natural outcome of post-tribalism. The expansion of boundaries eventually leads to the collapse of boundaries and the search for boundaries. The certainty that we live in a material universe with no need for taboos or higher powers eventually ends in the manufacture of taboos and apocalypses, a new grammar of post-rational superstitions and fears of the self. The destruction of the tribe and its certainties leads to the construction of new tribes based on that mingled sense of superiority and inferiority that characterizes the modern neurotic.
The counter-tribal is escaping the future and the past by running toward a jumbled amalgam of both, forever seeking a reality and authenticity of experience that he cannot find within his own self. He is driven to expose and destroy, to avert some greater apocalypse that he senses is coming. The post-tribal believed that man would rule the universe, but the counter-tribal is possessed of the certainty that man is a bug on a windshield. The counter-tribal, like the tribal,fears the future.
Tangled in his own sense of unreality, he flees the past for the future and the future for the past, seeking a spirit guide of the Other to guide him out of the urban mazes of New York, San Francisco and London back to the natural realm of the real.
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century. He blogs at Sultan Knish