Tribal motivations are rational

For some time, I’ve been trying to reclaim the virtues of tribalism for the Church.  To survive and flourish, a group needs the habitual loyalty of its members.  Liberal critics of Catholic loyalty speak as if identifying an opponent’s behavior as “tribal” is equivalent to showing that it is irrational.  In fact, there is nothing irrational about tribalism; it merely supplies another set of concerns to guide our reasoning.  One sign of this is the fact that liberals do not apply the same anti-tribalist critique to the groups and loyalties they really care about.  They certainly do not think that their fellow liberals should seek out and carefully consider criticisms from their professed enemies.  Such critics are dismissed as irrational preachers of hatred, and it is considered important that they have no mainstream platform that might “legitimate” their views.  This is, indeed, a rational strategy for them in pursuit of the critical goal of space-control.  That Leftist beliefs about democracy, race, and sex roles cannot be questioned in the public square is a tremendous advantage to the Left, one that they would be foolish to forfeit.

Catholics are just as rational in summarily dismissing negative claims made about the Church in anti-Catholic outlets like the New York Times and the National Catholic Reporter.  Consuming enemy propaganda is needlessly demoralizing, and there is danger in giving one’s less discerning brethren the impression that these are credible sources of commentary about the Church.

Hostility to foreign ways is rational if one wants to preserve a culture.  To function, a culture must be normative, must be taken-for-granted, within some social space.  Suppose, for argument’s sake, that the effects of alcohol and marijuana are identical.  I may nevertheless reasonably want alcohol to remain legal and pot to remain banned for purely tribal reasons.  Beer and wine have a long history among Western peoples.  It is part of our rituals and festivities, and we have developed some widely-known guidelines to govern its use.  Even its overindulgence is familiar to us, and, within bounds, we have learned to deal with it.  Pot is what the other tribe, the goddamn hippies, use.  It’s come to function as a sort of flag for their “counter”-culture.  I’m perfectly happy to have it illegal just for that reason, as a claim of my tribe’s ownership of the community.  If it’s legal, they’ll sell and perhaps use it in public, imprinting the public square with their foreign ways.  God knows the damned hippies do everything in their power to assert their ownership of the public square and to drive us from it.

I actually don’t particularly care about marijuana.  My point is that a person who doesn’t want it legalized just because he associates it with commie-loving hippies is not necessarily being irrational, acting blindly on emotion, or violating some universal ethical principle.

Liberalism promised there could be a truce, with nobody owning the public communal consensus.  It turns out this is incoherent; the only way to do without consensus is to do without community, and liberal rhetoric turns out to be just one more weapon in the perpetual war for hegemony.

3 Responses

  1. One thing I have learned from you is the fundamental and ineradicable importance of the categories of friend and enemy. This is hard for people who try to be Christians because the easy way to deal with the commandment to “love your enemies” is to prevent that everyone is your friend. This is certainly nonsense, since there are a great many people out there whose wills are bent on harming or destroying something you love; and that is my definition of an enemy. When you see this, you shouldn’t go out and slash their tires or spread lies about them, but you should never fall into the delusion that they are a friend.

    One important example of this is what the internet calls “concern trolling.” It’s an important concept, and one that had no name until a few years ago. It teaches us to look with extreme suspicion on any advice that comes from an enemy. It also teaches us not to hand live ammunition to our enemies. In other words, it teaches us to act as if we actually love the things we say we love.

    Academics are especially susceptible to this error, since we work in a world were all questions are supposed to be open and every point is supposed to be moot. But life is not an academic debate that ends with everyone going out for beer. Life is a war that ends with one tribe reduced to rubble and bones.

  2. It is best to understand “love your enemies” not as a requirement to be nice to your enemies or to gin up good feelings them, but simply to treat them they way you are morally required to treat them.

  3. […] Such have been the main themes of this blog:  the legitimacy of authoritarian motives, of tribalist motives, […]

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