Saturday, January 28, 2017

Of Populism and Tribalism

In recent months I believe I have not heard the word "Populist" so much since I was junior in high school studying American history (The Populist Party in the late 19th Century American politics, for those of you for whom, like me, it has been a while).  And it not just here in the U.S.:  the same sorts of language is coming from Europe as well. It is generally (in its current usage) a sort of curse word:  someone is accused of being a "populist" as one might have been accused of being "Catholic" 125 years ago.

A populist, in case you have forgotten, is "a member of a political part claiming to represent the common people" or "a believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtue of the common people."   In the past such a party - The Populist Party"- was largely supported by farmers in the South and Midwest  against the perceived entrenched interests of the industrial elite.  In its present incarnation the term "populist" is put in opposition to "globalist", "a national policy of treating the whole world as the proper sphere of political influence". This has redefined populist as a sort of national minded party only - a party of the people of a particular place.

My contention is that in reality, even most who proclaim themselves globalists are practicing populists.

A populist now defined is a person interested in the rights of a smaller group than the international playing field - typically a state.  Such are accused of benefiting themselves to the expense of the international order.

But oddly enough, we have made a practice and habit of practicing something else, tribalism.

The Interweb really accelerated the process. Once upon a time - a time I can barely remember myself - if one had interests that were often not shared by any of one's friends, one sort of suffered in silence or lived via magazine and mail order. Suddenly, as the world became more "connected", one found that one had companions in one's various interests:  I was not the only one interested in role playing games or 13th Century Ireland or Japanese swords.  I became part of a community - a community that was often not defined by my geographic area but rather my interests.  A group that shared common interests and, over time, a somewhat common way of thinking, at least about sudden things.

I had found a tribe.

Now most people are parts of tribes, even if they do not realize it as such.   They talk within the tribe, they share within the tribe, they defend the tribe from outsiders, they support the tribe.  And this sort of behavior is supported, even blessed, by culture that has come to value this as the true sign of individual freedom. Even those those who are thoroughly internationalist and globalists are, if they at all belong to one or more subgroups and act in this way, tribal.  We can none of us escape it in the modern world.

But now we have a problem:  populists are also a sort of tribe by this definition.   They talk within a group, they share within a group, they defend against outsiders, and they support the group.  It is just that they have a larger group than most.

I do not necessarily have an answer for this (and thank you for sticking with me through this).  It does strike me as odd though that we seek to decry and mock the very sort of thing that we claim to cherish and support.  It is either the sign of a society that is schizophrenic or a sign that we have lost the ability to ask the deep hard questions about what we really believe and what we are truly about.


kymber said...

jeesh TB - when you get insight you really get insight! i read this post by myself twice before reading it to jambaloney - a philosophy major, mind you! we both agree that you are hitting the nail right on the head with this post!

a very enjoyable read! sending much love! your friend,

LindaG said...

Can you imagine anyone today thinking as, say, James Madison or Alexander Hamilton thought as they were creating our country? Or Ben Franklin? People should be in awe at how the Founding Fathers came up with the Declaration of Independence, even as they realized their own hypocrisy regarding the Negro or Colored Man. And then the Bill of Rights.

Can you imagine our *congress people* being able to sit down and discuss and debate the issues like the Founders did?

Haha. I am way out in left field, regarding what you wrote and how I felt drawn to reply. People are not... encouraged to think deeply, or long and hard any more. Do they even still have Debate teams?

Oi. I think I should stop now, because I am sure I am rambling.
Have a Blessed weekend and a Blessed Sunday.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Slavery remains the greatest blot on the founding of this country. In my heart of hearts I would like to believe the Founders could have done better on that issue. But they were men of their times. One issue it does bring up (beyond the dehumanization of a class of individual) is what would have happened if they had done it differently. What if they had ended the institution, even before Britain did? I sorely wish they had.

There is a cautionary tale therein, about the unintended consequences of actions. Imagine if they had been able to look 80 years into the future to the Civil War, or even further to the segregated South? Would they have chosen to act as the did, or would they have concluded that freeing slaves then and there would be the best thing for the future, even if it brought "Pain" (in quotes, because we are talking about the enslavement of others) in the current?

Racism - true racism - is a pox on our country. We did not deal well with it then, and I do not know that we are equipped to think deeply to make it better now - and that is everyone, not just a certain group. It deeply saddens me.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Very high praise indeed. Thank you. If I had a wish, it would be not that I could just frame the questions, but that I could come up with meaningful answers.

Much love! - TB

LindaG said...

Amen. And if I remember, a few slaves were freed, or treated as free men; but not a lot.
A sad time then, and still.

And they must have been able to see the future somewhat. They thought of the Electoral College, right? And our Constitution still stands in spite of socialism trying to abolish it.

I agree, though. A sad time.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

I think they did in many things, Linda. Certainly the Bill of Rights was created to safeguard against a totalitarian government. And as you state, the Electoral College does reinforce the idea of the country as a whole rather than ultimately determining the election by a few states. And I think they foresaw that slavery would be a difficult issue - sadly, they "kicked the can" down the road, hoping perhaps with the best intent that the problem would work itself out in time.

The difficulty is, of course, such things seldom do.

LindaG said...

Very true.