Friday, October 02, 2020

The State of the Discussion of Tribes

This is the second of the old posts brought forward, unedited. From January 2007


Too much information. But I like it.

Several commenters have advocated that I delineate my tribes according to cognitive styles: left-brain, right-brain; pragmatic, synthesizer. There are a couple of other ways that the "How People Think" pie is sliced, with varying degrees of scientific evidence in support. These are valuable, and I will be integrating them in. They are not strictly tribal, as they de-emphasize, even neglect, the idea of cultural transmission within families and communities. But they are very good at capturing snapshots of what is present in the population right now. That wasn't where I started, but I think I'm going there. I think tribes exist and are important, but this grouping by cognitive style may be where we are headed.

The problem is that we have mostly anecdote and impression, not hard data, about how various groups think. We might think that business people will be pragmatists, artsy people right-brained, and so forth, but no one has actually done much work to measure it. This is going to be speculative enough without adding neuroscience mythology to the mix. But some of this will make it into the final product.

Several other commenters have suggested that there is more independence and individuality than my tribal grouping would suggest. That is both statistically and theoretically true.

One of the jumping-off points for this whole adventure is Joel Garreau's book The Nine Nations of North America. Written in 1984, it captures North American regionalism as 9 geographic groups, each with its own capital, culture, economy. It has been invaluable to me in understanding both national and international events. I will do a whole separate post on that this weekend, imposing yet one more dimension on this discussion.

Yes. Yes it will fragment things beyond recognition. I worry about that, but I press on.

I wondered if, as the country became more interconnected and less regional, whether these regional tribes were giving way to cultures shared across distance. We supposedly know that mass media has homogenised America, but the internet allows people with rare interests to find each other and communicate. Political groups accuse each other of existing in echo chambers, and nutcases of all varieties can now reinforce each other's idiocy. I wondered if we were becoming a nation of tribes in that sense, banding together both in person and online. The tribes I observed bore relation to cultures and subgroups I had grown up with, and seemed to derive from them.

Thus, my original, tentative tribes:
Arts & Humanities - my tribe of origin. It needs to include social sciences
God & Country - a large, loose tribe that most Americans used to belong to
Science & Technology - an ascendant tribe
Business - An older tribe which relies on recruitment as well as family and upbringing
Criminal Underclass - thrown in ill-understood, just because they exist
Military - a small but intense tribe, usually temporary but retaining some hold
Government and Unions and

I do not pretend these are exhaustive.

Into this mix is the Pew Research Center method of dividing the pie:
Social Conservatives,
Pro-Govt Republicans
Conservative Democrats
Disadvantaged Democrats

Opening thoughts, while I try to corral all the sheep into the pen:
My Science & Technology and Business tribes look like they have quite an overlap with Pew's Enterprisers, with some in Upbeats as well.

By attitude, everyone but Liberals belongs to the God & Country tribe equally. Therefore, G&C may not turn out to be a useful classification. Liberals, though the largest group at 19% of the population, are outliers on many attitudes and practices.

My A&H tribe is going to overlap strongly with Pew's Liberals, but there are some interesting twists.

There are two interesting male/female splits in tribal allegiance. The numbers would suggest there is a tendency for male Enterprisers to marry female Social Conservatives, and male Disaffecteds have children on but not marry female Disadvantaged Democrats.

Remember, these overlaps and groupings are statistical tendencies, not fully tribal with closed boundaries.


D.E. Cloutier said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
D.E. Cloutier said...

AVI: "The problem is that we have mostly anecdote and impression, not hard data, about how various groups think."

Allen F. Harrison and Robert M. Bramson have done research into thinking styles.

Their books:

1. "The Art of Thinking"

2. "Styles of Thinking: Strategies for Asking Questions, Making Decisions, and Solving Problems"

Jerub-Baal said...


Now let's see if I understand this, I am an Arts & Humanities/God & Country (trained in Theatre arts, working as a painter, member of a 'fundamentalists' church [or cult, depending on whose making the accusation]) raised by a Science & Technology dad and an A&H mom, who is working for himself (Enterpriser), is both Socially Conservative and Disaffected by nature, and who spends way to much time reading blogs (Bystander).

No wonder I'm confused...

Assistant Village Idiot said...

dec, sorry I wasn't clearer. There is plenty on thinking styles, some of it backed up by scientific data. I meant that there isn't anything (that I know of, anyway) that connects them to specific groups.

I think I may be able to hypothesize a few before I'm done, though. Thanks for the titles. I'll run that down.

jerub-baal. Explains a lot, dunnit?

Linda Fox said...

There is a wide difference between corporate business types and entrepreneurs, as well as those in line (direct impact on profits) vs. staff (dead weight, brings in no money, merely sucks it out).

Anonymous said...

There are 3 groups humans can be separated into. The sheep, the dogs and the wolves.

About 90% are sheep, and really just want to be like the other sheep. About 8% are dogs and really enjoy herding sheep for their various reasons. Then there are the wolves. ;)