Friday, 3 August 2007

Living Tribal in a Democracy

Dr_ Dahlia Wasfi - Life in Iraq Under U_S_ Occupation, sourced by weamnamou

Born in Baghdad as a minority Christian, I came to America when I was ten. Balancing the act between tribalism and democracy was my major challenge, especially since tribalism is looked down upon.

Think about it. If you were asked to make a list of alternative lifestyles, I doubt tribal would be one of your top, or bottom, choices. I don’t blame you. When I looked up this subject in the library, the books I found taught one how to make bows, arrows and snow goggles. It talked about the dimensions of igloos and wigwams and how to dress if planning to stay a day or two in either. The rest of the books on tribes had on their covers men with feathers sticking out of their hair.

Not very appealing, I agree. And definitely not how I live, although my home can be called tribal since in the dictionary tribal is defined, amongst other things, as a collection of families descending from one ancestor. Or, a group of people sharing an occupation, interest, or habit. In his book Beyond Civilization, Daniel Quinn describes a tribe as a social organization that facilitates making a living. He also writes that the tribal way has worked for millions of years, in contrast to the hierarchal way, which has brought us face to face with extinction after a mere ten thousand years.

Perhaps the biggest difference between modern societies and tribal societies is the importance placed on kin. In most modern societies, kin outside the immediate circle of close relatives such as mother, father, husband, wife, son and daughter rarely play much of a role in each other’s lives and are usually only seen at family gatherings. In tribal societies, it is often the intricate networks of relationships among kin that form the very fabric of tribal societies. Food gathering, political decision making, child rearing, inheritance of wealth, and other considerations are all affected by the kinship relationships among the people involved.

So specifically, what does the tribal way offer? How is it different from a corporation or organization that looks out for the best interest of its employees and members? The latter is void of the children and elders who are as essential to our spiritual growth as food and water is to our body.

Children and elders provide a nurturing and educational day-to-day experience for the rest of us, as one represents the past, while the other will one day represent the future. Both are sensitive yet independent thinkers, loving yet will speak their mind. The wisdom and innocence that they rub off on each other and those around them establishes the sense of compassion and responsibility that leads to a nonviolent society.

As long as there is narrow or old material on tribal living, where members are portrayed as mostly dwellers of the desert or the jungle that dress in layers of clothing or walk around naked as they hunt for food, the rewarding side of this ancient tradition will be wasted. Alain de Benoist, a French philosopher and author, writes that peaceful modern societies which respect the individual evolved from age-old familistic ties. The transition from band-type societies, through clan and tribal organizations, into nation-states was peaceful only when accomplished without disruption of the basic ties which link the individual to the larger society by a sense of a common history, culture and kinship. The sense of "belonging" to a nation by virtue of such shared ties promotes cooperation, altruism and respect for other members.

It’s natural for people to thwart the unfamiliar. But perhaps if you were to imagine a more modern tribal picture – like of members wearing shorts and bikinis, who live beneath a square, not round, shaped roof, who eat Whoppers and put on lipstick while driving their cars, you would look at that lifestyle with a different perspective. And you might just make it one of your own.