Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Why Should They Care?

Americans, and Westerners in general, are so used to the idea that all people have worth that we fail to understand that most of the world doesn't think so.  I include in that list not only most people across great stretches of time, but fairly near ancestors of ours as well.  It is not at all natural to human beings to think that way - not at all accidental that most tribes named themselves "The People" or "The Real People."  We find that almost quaint with native tribes, but that is also the meaning of "Das Volk," and names of some European political parties.

We think that to be willing to kill many people in another tribe must require not only rage, but some unaccountable ability to sustain anger over months or years.  Not at all.  The default position is the contempt of not regarding them as human, punctuated with periods of anger when we need a burst of energy.  In our history, we can see it best with slavery - do we really think that generations of white people woke up every morning with a seething anger at blacks? Of course not.  The attitude was generally to disregard them entirely except as pieces of the environment.  They might even have some affection for many of the individuals.  But regarding them as less than human was the key.

So also with the amazing physical cruelties of invading Mongols, North Sudanese, Indonesians in East Timor, Mayan overlords, Romanian voivodes.  Those others were not real people.  What does it matter if they felt pain?  All that matters is protecting my people.

Well, why should they care?  Run the exercise in your mind - not of the people we encounter in our day, but of any random tribe you might think of on the face of the earth a hundred, a thousand, or ten thousand years ago.  What would be their basis for having the least concern for other tribes, except perhaps as trading partners or useful allies.  Why not burn their crops and steal their women?

How did we ever learn differently?


karrde said...

I think tribalism has changed, at least as Americans understand it.

We live in a prosperous land, and we have learned the lesson embodied in the phrase E Pluribus Unum.

We have not learned it perfectly, but we have internalized the lesson to not judge a person by what group they were born into.

But we have tribes. Tribes are a regular subject of discussion here.

And intertribal trouble has mostly stopped at near-slander, instead of outright violence. (Though some of the events by Occupy DC at a dinner by the Alliance For Prosperity came close to mob violence.)

james said...

We have two sorts of tribes here. I guess we're a kind of double-minded country.
The majority of the successful founders (the Dutch lost out, for example) were English. Different states had different sub-tribes (the Virginians didn't like Vermonters), but against the rest (Indians, French, Spanish) they were like a single tribe. Immigrants were OK in small doses provided they learned to act like everybody else.
So we had a cohesiveness that came from being from more or less a single ethnic tribe and language.

But we also proclaimed ourselves to be an ideological tribe. If you don't believe in democracy, scoot; you king-followers don't belong here.

The more ethnically diverse we became the more we had to rely on ideology, and it turns out there was some ambiguity there... We had a civil war about whether we needed to enforce liberty.

Now we seem to be in a funny condition, where part of the nation is ashamed of the idea of ethnic tribalism and part is unashamedly promoting it (Jesse Jetstream, etc). Our ideological tribes aren't any more united, and parties are working hard to make sure class-based tribes don't feel like they're all in this together.

Texan99 said...

Somebody posted something on Maggie's Farm a few years ago to the effect that the root of interpersonal sin was to treat other people as objects -- everything else flowed from that.

jaed said...

How did we ever learn differently?

One feature of tribes is that they often have some mechanism for enlarging the tribe, for adopting new members who aren't members by right of birth (or whatever mechanism normally brings new people into the tribe.) Judaism, for example, practices conversion. Most Americans are born here - but we have a mechanism for becoming a citizen by naturalization. Both these examples feature tests of the new member's commitment to the tribe's ideals, along with significant rituals.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but it seems that adoption rituals - especially those that are open to all sincere would-be members - lead tribe members to see the rest of the world as composed of potential members of their tribe, therefore by extension as "provisional members of The Real People". And this makes it far, far easier to care about the rights of people far away of whom we have no knowledge.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

There's a thought.

Jes allow conversion, but don't especially encourage it and don't have many. Americans have sought to enlarge the tribe along exactly the grounds you identify - demonstration of acceptance of our values.

I don't think most tribes have that. In Europe, at least, tribe of birth is largely determinative for one's whole lifetime. It takes awhile before people forget where your ancestors came from. this is likely more true along male lines, where a different ethnicity still shows in the surname generations later.