Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
In 1988, a Frenchman named Michel Maffesoli wrote, “The Time of the Tribes:
The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society.”
Meffesoli predicted modern culture would decline to the point that
society would look back on ‘the good old days,’ and form ‘tribes.’ These groups would engage in group think, reject
ideas that weren’t consistent with the tribe’s dogma. Maffesoli asserted tolerance for other tribe’s
opinions would decline. He predicted looking
back at the principles from the distant past would guide tribes- individual
thinking would be discouraged- an “Us vs. Them,’ mentality would reign. Welcome to tribal America! Three observations:
First, tribes have no respect for a differing opinion. That is true in the two major political
Parties, in families, churches, civic organizations, or in social situations. The First Amendment guarantees free speech,
but many believe that it only applies to them and not to those who don’t hold
their same views. The First Amendment is
used to justified attacking, insulting, or shouting down those who disagree
with them. Civility and respect for a
counterview is seen as weakness. That
has occurred because of the decline of individualism.
Data from the General Social Survey (GSS), which has been run for a half
century, show Americans in the past were more likely to meet people different
than themselves. That interaction
created the opportunity for dialogue and promoted compromise (a dirty word in
today’s culture). GSS found the number
of people who identify as conservative or liberal has changed little over the
past 50 years. But conservatives have migrated
to the GOP and liberals to the Democrats.
The tribal mentality doesn’t allow for a liberal R or a conservative D.
Second, the general public is weary of the
polarization in politics. Fewer and
fewer citizens engage in political activism.
They cite the nastiness, unkindness and foulness of those who disagree
with them in their own Party. According
to Pew Research, 62% of Republicans view Democrats unfavorably and 54% of
Democrats feel the same way about Republicans.
That is three times more than 30 years ago.
Political scientist Lilliana Mason makes the point that most modern-day
voters pull the lever for a Party, not a candidate. Elections have become about numbers- about growing
the tribe, and not about solving problems.
Third, groupthink and tribalism discourage creativity, individualism and
personal responsibility. Standing alone on
conviction or principle in modern tribes is not tolerated nor respected. Tribes
require complete solidarity. Members who
don’t conform face shunning and possible expulsion. The intolerance of the
The founders of the United States were willing to work together for a
common good. The 56 signers of the
Declaration of Independence were a diverse group from varied backgrounds. They negotiated, compromised and hammered out
founding documents that have served the nation well for nearly 250 years. In 1776, there was only one tribe- all
pulling on the same end of the rope at the same time.
Ed Goeas wrote in his book, A Question of Respect, the political pollster wrote: “We Americans have an urgent decision facing us. We must decide whether to build upon a foundation of mutual respect or live in a fractured society, where division rules the day.” Until Americans actually respect other citizens right to have a different opinion (and be wrong), the country will stagnant.