Tribalism and Purpose
“The diseases of the rational soul are long-standing and hardened vices, such as greed and ambition—they have put the soul in a straitjacket and have begun to be permanent evils inside it. To put it briefly, this sickness is an unrelenting distortion of judgment, so things that are only mildly desirable are vigorously sought after.”– Seneca
An object or person can be described by two qualities at once. Tall and smart, industrious and introvert, or writer and pragmatic. often, the descriptors we use are not in themselves mutually exclusive. That is how language works and helps to emphasize the nuanced make up of people. However, if you look at the latest headlines, labels are becoming cages. Tribalism has fueled great divisions. You are either right or left wing. You are either with this team or against it. Lazy thinking and talking head opinions in place of real news, have only helped to fuel these divisions. Allowing us to take the easy way out and lump people into convenient tribes. Rather than getting to learn the uniqueness of every individual.
We’re all driven, even marginally, to form Tribal relationships and make quick judgments to assign others to one tribe or another. It’s almost part of our DNA by now. We buy all the right clothes or material items in order to value signal what group we are with and what views we align to. This assignment process is not all bad and in some cases is convenient and expedient. The problem lies in how we blindly let ourselves get consumed wholly by this approach. We do not question whether we are subdividing ourselves to factions so lacking in nuance, that all the middle gets eaten away. We leave no room for context and thus everything becomes a Boolean determination.
I earnestly believe that a great deal of us lack a sense of individual or HUMAN collective purpose. Purpose that can thrive if a void every appeared in place of divisive labels. One example of this kind of individual purpose is the concept of “Settled Work” which I talked about in this earlier post on Hobbies and Skills. Society often does not foster an individual drive for meaning that is wholly separate from a religious, political, or national identity group. Where we are not wrapped in one of those banners, we are often left to find belonging in mindless consumerism or synthetic social media relationships. A lifestyle of perpetual unfulfilling pursuits. We keep ourselves “busy” running on a hedonic treadmill of work and consumption, the fragility of which was laid bare for all during the Covid pandemic.
In the larger sense, I don’t believe the world or at least individual nations have worked collectively to achieve a much larger purpose since the space race. Quarantine orders, though absolutely necessary, have only further isolated and deepened distrust between us. Belonging to a larger collective with a bigger vision is what we could use now. Unfortunately, our leaders and the news media talking heads fail to push an agenda that works to unite. This effort most likely has to start at the individual level. If there is one question we could all ask ourselves that could roll neatly into a greater mission is, “is what I am working at, in a purely objective and secular sense, leaving humanity and earth better than I found it?”
I personally try not to value signal as much as I can. I avoid most anything with a logo. I am not registered with any political party. We don’t adorn our car with bumper stickers or club memberships. Where I do signal, I try to make sure that the message calls out something beyond the pale we should be ALL working for a solution to; or it’s something or someone inspiring in their larger pursuits. And occasionally, I will let the flag of a sports team fly from the front porch; something I consider innocent enough with people who get that they are just games. Regardless, moving beyond our tribalist tendencies is important now than ever.
Myself, I’ve never been very Tribal when it comes to a feeling of belong. Probably owing to an upbringing that exposed me to a myriad of cultures, beliefs, and races even before I started school. I been fortunate to be immersed in heavily diverse schools, teams, and communities most of my life. In a Global tribe, we all have an equal duty to protect and uplift each other. In a tribe of one, we are all creators of our own reality. One truth permeates through all of that, Memento Mori. Remember you are mortal, and death comes for everyone.