Tribalism, which we also call factionalism, populism, niches, etc., has seemed to gain strength in the last few decades, as the age of interconnectedness has created realities that are not only incomprehensible but that seem dangerous to different groups of humanity. This article will take a quick look at the problem.
The Interconnectedness of 21st Century individuals has been described in previous articles as an emerging communication and extended network ecology between individuals, technology, artificial intelligence, control systems, and other decision making and communication processes that we don’t even know exist. In fact, most of us can’t even recognize some forms of interconnectedness simply because our infrant brains learned to exclude many “meaningless” signals that nowadays actually have meaning, much as most westerners cannot differentiate sounds that have meaning in African languages.
In my last article, I reminded the reader of Walt Disney’s suggestion that it’s fun to do something impossible, and be a child again, discovering this new world of interconnectedness. Which brings us to the concept of tribalism: the gathering of like-minded individuals around an authoritarian leader and shared beliefs. For most of us that grew up believing we were separate and distinct from everyone else, hand held electronics that connect us with individuals across the globe, are only used for contacting people who share our beliefs, or for entertainment so distant conflicts and disasters are looked upon as almost fictional events.
These self-imposed limits on extending ourselves via cognitive linkages (interconectedness) can actually facilitate tribalism, and even bring far-fetched communities together in the pursuit of a shared goal, forming an extended tribe that focuses on specific similarities while pursuing that goal.
In a previous article I explained about using interconnectedness for a purpose, and this is what is occurring regularly within the transition of the Age of Communication to the Age of Interconnectedness: many individuals use the tools of extraordinary communications and connections to develop their own tribes, eschewing (rejecting) all information and communications that are different from their hard held beliefs. Eschewing is a decision, avoiding and keeping away from, and less intense than simple rejection, but it is an action that limits and can even eliminate the interconnectedness that the individual could enjoy.
In many ways, tribalism is easy, similar to a computer program with few instructions and requiring few decisions on the part of the user. Very few inputs result in very few alternative results, and variations are seen as incompatible. Change occurs inevitably, but the tribe barely perceives it as it ignores differences, and so the tribe is easily and predictably controlled and led by its leaders.
Interconnectedness, on the other hand, requires the individual to accept multiple realities and possibilities as valid inputs, and it thrives on diversity of inputs and results that allow for uncontrolled and possibly unpredictable growth. The image that comes to mind here is that of the flash mob, a phenomenon that many marketers and politicians have tried to manipulate, but which defies “top-down” communications that they use. It seems evident that social media is a key for mobilizing people in a flash mob fashion, and further study is probably under way at this very moment as to how it works. My proposal is that during the transition, in which we are training our subconscious and conscious minds to work with information and ideas that were unknown a century ago, we remember that our minds are already full of unconscious programming. These instructions and lessons learned as children can be activated with catch phrases and acted upon without thinking, as long as we are distracted with novelty or emotion. On the other hand, the new way of communicating and connecting that we are learning requires our being aware and thinking about our alternative responses to any stimuli. For example, as adults in NYC, we consciously know that only children respond in game fashion to topple anyone standing on a rise that shouts “I am the King of the Hill” while raising their arms. But, if the call arrives via social media (or a corporate restructuring), we might just respond instinctively to knock down the person simply because that’s part of the game. Of course this is an extension of the concepts presented in the bestselling 1964 book, “The Games People Play” by psychiatrist Eric Berne, but Dr. Berne’s proposals are still valid.
Basically, people in the same tribe know and play the same games, according to their roles. And people who do not play the games are considered outsiders and can be subject to exclusion and even violence. Now, this is changing: in the age of interconnectedness, we can all learn multiple ways of interpreting the same set of data, and so have the ability to disconnect from games at the moment we detect them. But, through interconnectedness individuals also learn to recognize patterns that others do not even know are there, and that extra information can allow for greater success and effectivity in business and other areas of life. This, of course, can generate anger on the part of the tribe that cannot see or understand that extra information. This is actually most visible when city dwellers go to stay at a farm for a period of time, when they are very different from the rural community and are ignorant of the most basic survival skills yet very knowledgeable of world events and technology.
Populist politicians are excellent at creating and using the tribal effect, and they often stimulate grass roots support by creating shared identities around specific, tangible concerns and beliefs. Many of these concerns and beliefs keep on recurring in history, even when they have been proven wrong time and time again. The politician knows the tribe does not care nor does it care to know if the belief is true or not: their belief is proof enough. In this sense, the interconnected politician has a disadvantage, because understanding multiple communities interests and beliefs makes it easy to seem unfocused or unauthentic when speaking to a homogenous group. This disadvantage is clearly only a disadvantage if you are trying to connect to people who have yet to enter the Age of Interconnectedness, but that is one of the inevitable problems of the transition.
If the transition brings with it problems of tribalism, what can we do? In politics, from a global perspective, we can observe that many countries have gone through destailizing tribal events, from different ideologies. I will be looking at this in the future, so please stay alert to my blog.
As for the other changes coming about for humanity, the interconnected individual will perceive and prepare for the economic, personal, industrial upheavals and transformations that are already threatening to upset many nations and regions, and will make the best use of the technological innovations that will change our lifestyles and conditions. Will it be for the better? Or will it be for the worse? Interconnedted individuals will see how we are building the future while tribes and elites will probably complain that we are destroying the past. Of course, I am in the first group, excited to see how we build the future.
Manuel F. Perez, MPA, CAMS