2011 – The Year of Rabid Tribalism

The following comes from the ESPN college football website:

“Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn knew the Gators’ locker room wouldn’t be the same as an NFL locker room, because the roster is twice as big — too many people for the same kind of togetherness seen in the NFL. But he wasn’t expecting so much division. ‘The amount of selfishness and separation between different classes was startling. It seemed like we had a fractured bunch at times, for whatever reason,’ said Quinn, who had spent the past 10 years as an assistant coach with four NFL teams. ‘Not a close-knit team.’”

The Florida Gators had another poor season on the college gridiron in 2011. This exceptionally proud football program finished with a six win/six loss season. They had the same record as the lowly Vanderbilt Commodores in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern division. That kind of performance record is simply not acceptable to the voracious GatorNation. So the search for the cause of this cancerous degeneration has begun. And it looks as if the team’s defensive coordinator may have found the answer: “The amount of selfishness and separation between different classes was startling.”

 The more broadly significant question is this: “Does this ‘defeated environment’ apply singularly to the locker room?” Or, does it have more general application? We all know the answer to that question. The Florida football team is just another example of the universal and ongoing challenge faced by humanity. The existence of rabid tribalism can completely obviate all other attempts at human progress, irrespective of scope. When we decide (or are led) to situate ourselves against one another, we always lose. And we all lose.

As we reflect back on 2011, the dominating global theme for the year was an ever-present condition of internecine warfare. Call this “the fight within.” Rather than working towards solving our obvious and deep-seated problems, we just cast blame and then point…at the other guy. Rather than accepting responsibility for our actions, we said, “I would fix this, but that different class won’t let me.” It is a tremendously frustrating and nausea-inducing situation for the populace at-large. It has created our collective 2011 funk.

We watched for the entire year the spectacle called the European Debt Crisis. This was a classic internal battle between the Northern Europeans countries and the South. The “blaming and pointing” was a complete three-ring circus. The Occupy Wall Street movement typified this same rabid tribalism in the US by ostensibly creating a caste system composed of two selfish and separate classes: those who make over $350,000 per year (the one percent), and those who make less. We watched a new version of government-sponsored crony-capitalism unfold with companies as diverse as General Motors and Solyndra. And we got to watch as Attorney General Holder invalidated the South Carolina law requiring a legitimate government-issued ID be presented in order to vote in the state of South Carolina…on the basis of race.

For purposes of this discussion, it makes little difference who was “right” and who was “wrong” in any of these and countless other situations. What is important is that two critically important factors be addressed in order for our country to once again prosper.  The first relates to values. The second relates to definitions and language.

When any human institution, however defined, ends up with a large part of the constituency with a radically alternative view as to the objectives of the institution, it creates all manner of dislocation and angst. When we worship at different shrines, the result is always tragic. Call this the values problem. Alternatively, when we use our language to define the nature of our collective problems in terms of classes and tribes, we not only fail to reach towards any real solutions, we exponentially compound the problems we are already living with.

While I disagree with the Obama administration on most issues of political philosophy, my larger issue with this presidency is the tribalism issue. It is the cultural issue, as opposed to the political issue, that is the most troublesome. When an individual or group of leaders defines every problem in terms of us v. them, the chances of solving for the actual problem goes to just about zero. When the lens through which one views life is completely denominated in terms of self-created definitions of “groups of people” versus just “people,” it always turns out badly.

The silver lining in 2011 is this. In spite of all of Obama’s attempts to get us to either envy or even harbor hatred towards each other, it has not yet squelched the American spirit of liberty and responsibility. If we leave our futures in the hands of the American voter, we have a fighting-chance to once again prosper. If we leave our futures in the hands of those leaders who would demonize by class – and destroy our essential unity – we will not be so fortunate.

What truly unites us in our relentless quest for the creation of better lives for ourselves and our children is much stronger than that which would divide us. We can only care for one another out of a sense of community, and not out of an arbitrary and enflamed sense of group-defined justice. Mutual respect can only be granted. It cannot be enforced.  

My New Years wish is this: Let the messages of collective progress and advancement and community and family be heard anew in 2012. Let these messages of ugly division be rendered silent. Let us once again become a real winning team…a “close-knit team” using the coach’s term.

About the Author

Mr. Nygaard is a Managing Director with Atticus Advisers, a marketing consulting firm in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

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