Sunday, April 06, 2008


Stanley Kurtz at the Weekly Standard has a summary of Philip Salzman's study of tribalism in the Middle East. After decades of neglect occasioned by Edward Said's assertions that everything dysfunctional about the Arab world was rooted in the West, anthropologists are interested in tribal mechanics again.

Salzman argues that a knowledge of tribal society is at least as important in understanding the conflicts of the modern world as a study of Islam. In fact, Islam itself can be seen as a code within which the dynamics of tribal society can be acted out.

The United States finds itself locked in a struggle with fierce jihadi warriors shaped by the pervasively tribal culture of the Islamic Near East. Whether hidden in the mountain sanctuaries of Waziristan or in the fastness of the Iraqi desert, the heart of the jihadi rebellion is tribal. The classic tribal themes of honor and solidarity inspire and draw recruits to the cause--from among lowland peasants and educated urbanites as well. Yet tribalism has been vastly overshadowed by Islam in our attempts to understand the jihadist challenge.

Kurtz understands that the tribal structure, far from being a form of social organization doomed to extinction, provides a flexibility that in many respects exceeds that of the traditional nation-state. He writes, "Muslim tribal society is both fundamentally collectivist and profoundly individualist. In the absence of state power and formal political hierarchies, no man of the tribe can, by right, command another. All males are equal, free to dispose of their persons and property and to speak in councils that determine the fate of the group." This makes it perfect for distributed warfare and institutionalized treachery, characteristics which are not aberrations but actual features of tribal society. In Salzman's view, a complete understanding of the jihad requires not only a reading of Islamic texts but a knowledge of tribal culture. Islam and tribalism are inextricably intertwined, two sides of the same cultural cloth.

The central institution of segmentary tribes is the feud. ... Universal male militarization, surprise attacks on apparent innocents based on a principle of collective guilt, and the careful group monitoring and control of personal behavior are just a few implications of a system that accounts for many aspects of Middle Eastern society without requiring any explanatory recourse to Islam.

One of the questions that Kurtz's article never explictly addresses is whether tribalism has not in fact been given a new lease on life by the forces of globalization and the Internet. The implicit assumption in many studies of the jihad is that societies which are "failed states" must evolve into functional states similar to those found in the West. That in other words, the direction of progress is away from the chaotic tribal millieu toward the orderly nation state. But what if the trend was in the reverse? And there is reason to believe that it might be. Philip Bobbit argued in the Shield of Achilles that the nation state was evolving into a "market state"; and the trend towards the establishment of online "tribes" (sometimes in the guise of social networking communities) suggests that one's neighbors no longer live next door. Even in countries that traditionally emphasized the Melting Pot, like the United States, the process of "coming together" has subtly been redefined in terms of drifting apart. When Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton talk about uniting the nation, they really mean they must divide it first -- the unstated preliminary for admission into the Big Tent is a prior alienation -- into blacks, whites, latinos, women, gays, lesbians and transgendered. No one enters America simply as an American.

Thus segmented subgrouping has advantages; and Kurtz clearly understands that Middle Eastern tribalism provides a form security and freedom within the context of shifting tribal alliances. Tribalism provides a kind of refuge in chaos.

From one perspective, Middle Eastern tribal structures completely contradict Hobbes's notion of what life in stateless societies must be like. Far from being "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short," life outside the state turns out to be collective, cohesive, and safe enough to generate a stable and successful world-conquering civilization. Man as such is not, therefore, inherently individualistic, as Hobbes, the founder of modern liberalism, presumed. ...

Does life in stateless communal tribes represent a radical alternative to anything Hobbes might have imagined possible?

It would be ironic if, in the course of fighting the jihad the world reorganized itself along tribal lines instead of national ones. In a tribal world the peaceniks of Berkeley could no longer claim the protection of their armed neighbors despite their American nationality and left instead to the depradations of the jihad just as unfortunates in former times were left outside the protective circle of the tribal campfire with its swords and guns.

Or maybe the world will remain just sane enough to resist the temptation of tribalism and rediscover its Western roots, in which politics is founded, not upon the kinship group, Collective or political party, but on the individual: the lonely, fluttering heart yearning for the light and truth that speaks to each as his only child.

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Blogger Nomenklatura said...

I believe political correctness corrodes civil society as it has been understood in the West, driving us within our own society directly back towards more tribal forms of interaction and behavior.

When saying what you think about everyday events, relationships and risks becomes professionally and socially hazardous, people speak their true thoughts only to their closest family members (or perhaps anonymously via the internet). This inadequately recognized phenomenon has, in comparison to former generations, dramatically reshaped the life experience of both Americans and Europeans over the past 30 years or so.

This is exactly what Charlton Heston was referring to when he told Harvard students they were "cowards" by the standards of their forefathers.

On the other hand there is nothing new about the way that an attack from outside may be the only trigger capable of welding a Western democracy into a unified entity. There is a reason many British people came to remember the experience of the WWII years, despite many material deprivations, as the best part of their lives.

4/06/2008 06:12:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Tribalism has strengths and weaknesses.

Wretchard one point of tribalism's weakness is resource mobilization. Tribalism results in "big men" monopolizing all the women. Far more than just feuds, it's the violence inherent in a society where most men don't have wives, and those who do are constantly on the lookout for being tumbled like an old lion, from the throne.

This means while tribalist societies can have constant, dangerous raiding parties, for the most part they can build very little in the way of ever increasing lethality weapons. Yes jihadis can eventually nuke Western cities. Eventually, the better resource mobilization of the West will respond in eradicating in that case tribal societies to the last man. The Roman approach. They made it a desert and called it peace.

Nuclear power in tribalist societies require outside, non-tribalist help. There are those who will sell it to them, but once nukes get used on Westerners, taboos will disappear and the West can and will respond in ways tribalist society cannot.

Tribalists cannot produce engineers or technicians. Only guys screaming with AK-47's.

Polygamy is the central weakness of tribalism. Because it prevents the full mobilization of resources.

Nomenklatura is correct, PC is tribalism and the ability to get the "big man" society. It's not as strong however in the West as in tribalism societies.

4/06/2008 07:25:00 PM  
Blogger dla said...

Tribalism exists in the arm-pit, dirt-water, Islamic countries because Islam is frozen in time.

Islam entered it's Dark Age about the time the West exited their's. Islam, particularily the Wahhabbist variant, is about 900yrs behind times. After all, the first crusade in 1095 was Pope Urban's answer to unify the various tribes.

Tribalism is a dismal failure. It hasn't worked in sub-saharan Africa and it's failing the Islamo-nutballs. Those "fierce Jihadists" fight bravely and die very quickly when facing modern forces.

If it weren't for Oil, would anyone care at all about the Arabian pennisula?

4/06/2008 08:01:00 PM  
Blogger Derek Kite said...

If tribes become the defacto organizing principle, someone's going to have to invent a bigger Rolodex.

Large organizations such as the US State Department, get very confused when dealing with large numbers of centers of influence. They can deal with large numbers of clients, but not otherwise. They will as a result force reality to fit into their rolodex. Isn't that what Churchill did almost a century ago, which created the Middle Eastern states and boundaries.

Two thoughts. The US is in the enviable position of having in their employ a large number of people who have a working or playing knowledge of tribal dynamics. I will be watching closely to see if the new gov. next year makes use of these people.

Secondly, mutual self interest creates an attraction that overpowers the tribal instinct. Iraq can be greater than it's parts, if the structures allow for enough autonomy and enough mutual benefit. Tricky, and counter intuitive, especially since the rolodex is so small.


4/06/2008 08:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems to me that the best way to get Foggy Bottom to wrap its head around tribalism is to make Dune required reading for all.

4/06/2008 09:20:00 PM  
Blogger paulanderson27 said...

I think Bill Whittle said it best... Tribes

4/06/2008 09:23:00 PM  
Blogger Aristides said...

A few thoughts, and I apologize if they do not cohere to a point.

When I read Shield of Achilles, I interpreted Bobbitt's subject -- the evolution of epoch -- as much more of a frozen-accident, plateau-finding-random-walk than a dissolution or a atomization. To wit (quoting from Metamagical Themas, about solving the Rubic's Cube:

"Most algorithms begin by getting the top layer--usually the top layer--entirely correct. (In saying the "top layer" rather than top "surface", I mean that the "fringe" has to be right, too: that is, the cubies on top must be correct as seen from the side as well as from above.) This represents the first in a series of "plateau states". Although further progress requires any plateau state's destruction, that state will later be restored and each time this happens, more order will have been introduced. These are the successive plateau states."

As Hofstadter says, "There is no known algorithm that makes visible progress with every turn". If you were to take a snapshot in between plateaus, you might be fooled into thinking that no progress was being made. Each intermediate "condition" would resemble pure noise (i.e., the path between Plateau 3 and 4 is principally indistinguishable from the path between Plateau 1 and 2; both look similarly "scrambled", and yet the trajectory of one is completely distinguishable from that of the other). To apply this to Bobbitt's thesis, what may look to us like a return to tribalism (you have rightly noted that tribalism and not solitude is the natural, lowest energy state of Man the social animal) is, instead, completely distinct from Middle Eastern tribalism you reference. This is because our "condition", insofar as it is a tribalism, is moving toward a higher level of ordered complexity -- i.e, the Market State -- while the Middle Eastern variety (a outside remainder of an earlier epoch) is not. Thus, it is my humble opinion that the latter will go 1) the way of the dinosaurs, or 2) the way of the asteroid which killed them.

Of course, this entire argument depends on our measure -- increasing computational complexity, accruing in an entity posed on the edge of order and chaos -- being the determinant in the evolutionary walk to the fitter adjacent. Luckily, this seems to be exactly what defines fitness, and thus progress.

Of course, one can't be too sanguine about this kind of thing; there is, after all, no sheltering hand to guarantee a smooth arrival to the next plateau. However, I would not be too alarmist, either: we've become exceedingly good at freezing our otherwise undesigned accidents, and though it may not feel like it, the wind is at our back.

4/06/2008 09:34:00 PM  
Blogger jeyi said...

Hey Derek, what's a "rolodex"?

4/06/2008 09:38:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Question I have about the concept of tribalism: what is a sheikh? How is a sheikh selected? Is it an honorary title or does it donote power?

In reports out of Iraq, some of the sheik's American soldiers are working with seem to have true power as well as the intelligence to plan ahead and to formulate strategy. Others appear to be idiots which makes me think the titles must be hereditary and not earned.

I'm hesitant to ask an Arab because if you notice that a sheikh is acting like a fool and ask why that is, that will be taken as a put-down of all Arabs. But I don't believe I've ever seen the concept of a sheik defined, or why I should care about anyone who calls himself that.

4/06/2008 09:57:00 PM  
Blogger Abu Yussif said...

in other words, islam has preserved and institutionalized tribalism. if that's the case, we're only quibbling over what stimulates the behavior. the real question is: how can the west most effectively play this to it's advantage?

regardless, when dealing with tribalism you can be sure of one thing - there will be blood.

4/06/2008 10:07:00 PM  
Blogger bobal said...

Its usage and meaning is similar to the Latin senex meaning old man, from which the English "senator" is derived. Accordingly, the Arabic term for eg. the US Senate is majlis al-shuyukh, meaning the Senators' Council, but more literally the Council of Elders.

Robert Byrd is a US sheik. :)

4/06/2008 10:30:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Tribalism can be "stable" in that it can persist for a long, long time. Thousands of years or longer. BUT ..

The experience of tribes against ruthless, more forceful opponents able to mobilize greater forces has not been a happy one, to say the least. The American Indians, or Caucasus region tribes did not fare well. Even in the so-called post-modern Russia vs. Chechnya, the superior ability of Putin to mobilize forces trumped tribal musters. It's quite true that tribal levies could impose heavy penalties on Russian forces in Grozny. It's also quite true that leveling Grozny, and a strategy of siege/attrition warfare on the Chechen people worked.

I would not as Kurz does categorize "doves" in the West as a tribe. More a faction, one that argues that any cost is too high, better to simply pay off the tribes. The West or any civilization will always have this faction. It gets worse the easier the civilization has it, the wealthier and more prosperous.

Eventually IMHO the tribes, unlike the American Indians but like that of Chechnya, will hit the US too hard to be ignored. Rolling over the factions at home that restrain the West.

Fundamentally, the West does NOT fight tribally. We do not like nor can we sustain constant warfare since it is too expensive. We mobilize far more money and resources. So we cannot fight "long wars."

What the West (I would include China, Russia, and India in this grouping, culturally and resource-usage/mobilization wise) does very well is mobilize all resources, and decisively crush the enemy. At some point when US losses are in the city column, that is exactly what we will do.

It's tempting to blame Moveon, Code Pink and the like, but the truth is that they only play to the desire of the West to have everything cheap and easy. If your whole life is suburban and safe, you don't understand tribal chiefs like Osama, Saddam, or eve Ahmadinejad. We want "peace" like we want fast food. Cheap, fast, now.

I'll repeat my criticism also of Kurz ignoring the elephant: polygamy. Polygamy creates not an egalitarian structure but one akin to a pride of lions. With younger lions constantly circling to overthrow the old one. Osama like Saddam was, is not immune from this. Nor is Ahmadinejad. In such a way, they cannot afford to ever seem weak. They must always be "strong" to fend off challenges internally (likely to leave them and their tribe dead) as well as externally.

4/06/2008 10:36:00 PM  
Blogger erico said...

On the subject of tribalism, political correctness and identity politics, I just finished reading Immaculee Ilibagiza's memoir of the Rwandan genocide, "Left to Tell". Being a member of the Tutsi tribe, she was targeted for extinction by the Hutu tribe.

I resisted reading the book for some time, fearing I would be confounded by foreign ideas and other people's problems on the other side of the world, but I was surprised reading of Immaculee's loving and idealistic childhood and began to realize that these were not savages living in the jungle, running around in their loincloths with spears and shields. These were Catholics and Protestants, for one thing. They were a missionized people where both tribes lived on the same streets in the same neighborhoods, attending the same private schools and public schools, trying to get ahead, hoping for their future and their children's future. Also interesting to note, both tribes were, in most cases, through years of intermarriage, indistinguishable from one another. I was reminded of an old Star Trek episode in which a race of people has half their face black and the other white, but they are prejudiced against each other based on which side of the face contains which color. All this only served to highlight my identification with their humanity and the similarity of their ideas with ours.

In a way Rwanda harkened back to an earlier time in America, where children would walk for miles to attend school, without fear, without a parent thinking it out of the ordinary. The point being the genocide came out of a society that I could recognize and relate to, but one that deteriorated or was overwhelmed.

I was struck by one detail the author related. Because of their beliefs, her parents never told her what tribe she belonged to, so that when she went to school she was shocked that the teacher took roll by tribe. She didn't even know what it meant. It struck me as having to call out "Juden". Somehow, the Christian belief's of the family freed the family from tribalism. On the other hand, many Hutus were Christian, too, and they were overwhelmed by the call for violence. When the Hutus took power, they instituted 'fairness' in alloting jobs, education and access to resources. A quota system based on the percentages of population of the tribes (about 80 percent Hutu). So the top two students in the local school, Immaculee being one of them, were denied slots in the public school system because they were Tutsi, while Hutu students with lower scores were given the openings. An echo of the famous lawsuit by the white American who sued because he wasn't accepted into law school due to affirmative action.

When a rebel force of Tutsi's attacked Rwanda's government forces, the drum beat began for wiping out all of the Tutsis, as a final solution to the troubled history between the two. Radio propaganda that sounded so stupid and inane that Immaculee could not fathom that anyone could take it seriously called all Tutsis cockroaches that needed to be exterminated.

Then, one day, they were. By their neighbors, who gathered in mobs with machetes. Immaculee overheard conversations among the Hutus grappling with the news of the rebel attacks, who told themselves convenient lies like "Those tutsis walk around with such airs, they think they're better than us." (I do not pretend to understand the history of the two tribes so this has been one-sided.)

So many resonances with the political situation today, where the struggle between the approach of a Martin Luther King and a Reverend Wright or a Louis Farrakahn is taking place, and where a political correctness claims to address the injustice of the past. I'm left with a sense that our society could also be overwhelmed.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus has an interesting blog entry up on First Things about MLK, whom he considered a friend, relating what he knew of the man, his motivation, and beliefs, and where he sees us today in race relations. Sorry for the length, I tried to make this as concise as I could.

4/06/2008 10:41:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of the Black Swan recounts how nobody in Lebanon saw the Civil War coming. It was a total surprise. And it was the sheer unpredictability of the catastrophe that struck him the most.

He recalls how Niall Ferguson, in his War of the World, a chronicle of the mega-wars of the 20th century, used bond price records to demonstrate how, up until the very end nobody could see the catastrophe of 1914 coming. It struck Taleb (who thereafter devoted his energies to studying the subject) that history was punctuated by sudden, unforseeable discontinuities. Very often the past, even the most recent past, is no guide to the future. What, for example, would a turkey, who had been fed and cared for all of its life, expect on Thanksgiving week but more of the same? Nothing in the turkey's past would prepare him for the wider context until it hove into view.

Taleb claims that the fewer newspapers one reads the better off on is to face surprises; because then one is freed of the propensity to project the structure of the known into the unknown; to assume the framework of what we know will apply to what we still don't know.

One profession which has had long dealing with the surprise is that of arms. And the fact that every general through history has kept back a reserve is an acknowledgement that no commander, however far seeing, can predict the future -- and knows it. A reserve's existence is testimony to the inevitability that what we least expect is certain to be met.

And when an army's reserves become fully committed it becomes weaker by virtue of the fact that it loses flexibility and becomes hostage to fortune.

Tribalism reduces degrees of freedom. It places limits on what we may join, do, say or think in many subtle ways. Where once was an individual whose mind could range across the possibilities unchecked, there emerges in its place something modified, hyphenated, qualified by identity. You could not change the wording "all men are created equal" in the Declaration without losing something of its vision of liberty.

And that's why enlistment in identity paradoxically diminishes the individual. Your category becomes more than yourself. Today, when a man who has graduated from Columbia Law School and Harvard; who lives in a mansion and earns more than a million dollars a year and is a United States Senator and yet describes himself primarily as a member of a particular ethnic group he has thrown away a great deal of information. It's those blinders that set us up for unanticipated surprises; it's that kind of reductionism that reduces our collective capacity to meet -- and cope with -- the Black Swan.

4/07/2008 12:18:00 AM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Erico that account is a bit simplistic. There is a site that has a better run-down, sorry no link, I think google-fu for "Milles Collines" would pop up it up.

Short and sweet: The Belgians used the Tutsi to lord it over the Hutus, who were slightly more numerous. After independence, the situation was reversed and regularly anti-Tutsi pogroms were instituted, with the usual success. The French used the Hutus (Francophones) to cement their influence in Central Africa, with the usual corrupt bargains. The Tutsi were largely Anglophone, and after Idi Amin was kicked out found refuge in Uganda. Including one Paul Kagame.

Who later formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front and was marching into Kigali when the French intervened militarily to prop up the Hutu Government in the very early 1990s. Kagame learned from his mistake, played an over-the-border guerilla game, the Hutu President made a power-sharing agreement and was shot down (along with the Burundi President on board) as his plane landed in Kigali. Burundi's President and populace were of course Tutsi. The Inerahamwe (literally, "people who kill together") militia then set about to killing Tutsis, and Rwandan Radio (staffed by the French) urged the same.

A few words about Rwanda. What made the killing so bad was the habit of obeying orders. Rwanada is one of the least corrupt African nations and most oderly. The Belgians instituted that trait through some fairly horrible treatment during colonial times. But after independence, the government actually worked. Was honest by African Standards. And had identity cards and lots and lots of records of who was what. The corvee, mass labor levies, usually targeted Tutsis. People hardly fled, they had a habit of obedience. Much of the killing was done by rock or machete. Estimates vary from 600,000 to nearly a million, over about three months, and that compares to the approximately 1 million or so killed the entire time at Auschwitz with modern industrial machinery to murder.

Rwanda is important because it reminds us that even semi-modern states can kill with great efficiency, even using mere hand labor to get it done.

Kagame of course, fought his way into Kigali. Remarkably, like the Holocaust, Hutu Interahamwe militia men sought to kill Tutsis rather than fight the RPF. The stand of the small group of RPF fighters in Kigali is equally as impressive as the Spartans or Alamo, and they survived (well, some of them). Later, the RPF lost patience with Congo and raided through Congo (the home of Hutu Interahamwe militia men and guerillas) and ended up in the complex African War there that involved most sub-Saharan African nations.

Herein lies the lesson of Rwanda: tribes and tribal people kill. They kill all the time. They never stop killing. It goes on and on and on. What they are constrained by is the lack of real resources and efficiency. In the rare instances where they capture a working state (Rwanda, Ottoman Sultanate in Armenia) they kill with renewed vigor and won't stop until crushed by superior forces.

While the West kills hardly at all, until something is intolerable, and the killing starts at amazing level. If you look at the slaughter in WWI and WWII, it dwarfs Rwanda. Because when the West gets really serious about killing, it's not hand labor. It's the full instrument of industrial might applied to the "problem" of killing the most amount of people.

4/07/2008 12:27:00 AM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4/07/2008 06:02:00 AM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

Are criminal gangs not tribal entities without the heredity. Of course the successful criminal gangs develop the hereditary features. Keeping it in the family is a defensive, not just an offensive measure.
Note the highly structured mafia families, and familial aspect of Columbian drug cartels. There are families of people using roofing and siding scams in addition to other criminal activity to support a wide network of relatives.

In all of these activities the common element is the "big man". Which makes me cringe thinking of the entourage surrounding NBA and Media elites. Perhaps that is why many find an affinity with Arab Culture.

4/07/2008 06:14:00 AM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

"Out of one, many" is how Al Gore put it.

It used to be our model was the "clockwork universe." Now it's the Internet chat room. When the denizens of the Belmont club start forcing their daughters to marry another chatter's son, I'll worry (or will the model be "marrying out " to Blackfive?)

Applying the "Ruthless Gene Theory" to the problem, I'd say tribalism is about making sure your grandfather's genes make it into the later generations. You have to lay your life on the line, literally, to make sure that happens -- sacrifice your genes to make sure that happens. The old guy should blow himself up: he's lived his life. But n-o-o! He gets some young guy (or gal) to do it. Only after showing sufficient loyalty (which is more important than ability) does the younger member put himself in the position to further his own line.

In such a system loyalty is rewarded above ability and most young men are raised believing they are expendable (as indeed they are). Access to women is strictly controlled. The marriage of cousins makes sense.

Showing the power to wipe out the elders "grandchildren" (all of them) or to protect the greater number will powerfully influence their decision making.

In a Democracy any adult can reproduce and further his or her genes. They will form alliances to help that process along. such individuals will want a stable and prosperous society.

The welfare state allows even poor males to reproduce with multiple partners and little by way of fatherly dues (quantity over quality). Woman, likewise, can choose multiple partners (not put all her eggs in one genetic basket, so to speak). This leads to the appearance of social breakdown. And its reality.

4/07/2008 06:15:00 AM  
Blogger ADE said...

Salzman argues that a knowledge of tribal society is at least as important in understanding the conflicts of the modern world as a study of Islam. In fact, Islam itself can be seen as a code within which the dynamics of tribal society can be acted out.

And so, my constantly (boring) theme: God did not make man, man made God.

And Christianity can be seen as a code within which the dynamics of the most advanced civilisation the planet has seen can be acted out.

Nothing special about me, about you, just born into the most advanced civilisation. It's called Christianity, but there is no Christianity, there's just you and me. Westerners, all.

Pity the fool, the Islamic. An honour culture, humbled. By Pythagoras, Newton, Einstein. Kuffars, worse, Jew.

A tribal culture gave birth to Islam, only to be brought low by its tribalism: me against you against them against...

But what is my tribe for? Shit, man, even head-hacking doesn't do it any more. Can't pull the (Western) chicks with that.


4/07/2008 06:34:00 AM  
Blogger Insufficiently Sensitive said...

In a tribal world the peaceniks of Berkeley could no longer claim the protection of their armed neighbors

...unless those neighbors belonged to the peacenik tribe too, and could point to an anti-tribal enemy (say the Berkeley police or the US Marines) as a focus of mobilization for tribal raids.

These raids have succeeded since the 60s almost entirely due to the support of the MSM, who lavish resources promoting the tribal actions as heroism in the face of 'overwhelming odds'. The police are prevented from acting as a counter-tribe by their innate civilization - though in the beginning they were easily provoked into busting a few heads, to the benefit of the 'peaceniks', who'd emerge from a riot of property destruction to happily yell for the cameras that "THERE'S POLICE BRUTALITY GOING ON IN THERE!!!".

4/07/2008 07:25:00 AM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

God did not make man, man made God.

That in a way is very close to the argument that Benedict was making in his Regensburg address, but going the other way. Benedict argued that God was knowable because He was consistent with truth and beauty and not, as the Islamic theologian debating Paleologus maintained, completely arbitrary.

The idea that God is knowable, albeit imperfectly, is expressed in the idea that Man is made in His image and likeness. There is enough in common between Creator and Creature (whichever you wish to assign as Creator or Creature) for one to understand the other. The objection to the idea that Allah would order religion spread by cruelty and deception is that it would be contrary to the nature of God, at least as the Greeks understood it.

Personally I find the "truth and beauty" test an appealing one. There was truth and beauty before man's ancestors crawled out of the primeval slime and therefore a God with these attributes cannot be merely be a tribal idol. But if all God were was an aribter of fashion, a mandator of veils, or the price of women then he would be too small and sand-flea ridden to span eternity.

4/07/2008 07:32:00 AM  
Blogger Derek Kite said...

I use it to illustrate the incapacity of structured organisations to deal with more than a small number of variables.


4/07/2008 07:51:00 AM  
Blogger David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 04/07/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

4/07/2008 08:07:00 AM  
Blogger dla said...

One more thing, which I think everyone knows, but I'll play Captain Obvious anyhow....

Tribalism exists where rule of law doesn't. Tribalism creates a code of trust based on blood relationships, i.e. people related to each other. When societies graduate to rule of law, blood relationships are no longer needed.

Sooooooo, if you want to destroy tribalism, you simply establish rule of law.

4/07/2008 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger bobal said...

Is Saudia Arabia a lawful society?Was the old American south a lawful society? Just thinking to myself.

4/07/2008 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

I'm not sure what your point is but I would have to say that no, Saudi Arabia is NOT a lawful society. For one thing, unless it's mentioned in the Koran they don't have any way of addressing things legally. For a second thing, any time you can buy your way out of it, or aren't even charged in the first place because of your name, then that is not a lawful society.

To be a lawful society, the laws must be seen to be applicable to everyone equally. I know, I know - we don't have that totally either, but we are MUCH closer to that end-goal that the oil ticks ever thought of being.

BTW, something else the Arabs can't wrap their minds around is that laws can be changed. They've come into the West suing everyone in sight, trying to enforce their backwards Shariah ways, and now we're changing the laws they've been trying to use against us. They're so used to the immutability of the Koran that it never occurred to them that in a democracy majority-rules society, EVERYthing is mutable, including the laws a majority of us will back to deflect their tribal insanity.

4/07/2008 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Insufficiently Sensitive said...

Sooooooo, if you want to destroy tribalism, you simply establish rule of law.

And the reverse - if you want to subvert the rule of law, simply set up a tribalism. The American Left has been a smashing success at this tactic, encouraging the establishment of tribe after tribe of aggrieved soreheads all wanting special dispensations and priveleges to evade, complicate and pervert the rule of the majority.

4/07/2008 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger InternetFred said...

This effusion of ideas cannot be taken more seriously until there is some body of fact and observation to back it up.

All I see here is speculation.

And if tribalism matters this much, then the individual nature of each tribe or family also matters. Yasir Arafat and Osama bin Laden came from very specific families, not tribalism in general.

4/07/2008 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger CAPT Caltrop said...

Tribalism is fine if you don't want to attempt anything complex. If you want to try anything complex there needs to be agreements outside of the tribe. Simply the tribe doesn't have the resources to do anything complex. If every man is "self-sufficient" then that man cannot get very specialized.

If feuds and treachery are the norm, then contracts are without benefit or application.

The tribal system is only getting traction today because of the emense amount of money flowing around the tribes and because tribes can parasitically benefit from work of nontribal entities.

4/07/2008 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger LarryD said...

"And the reverse - if you want to subvert the rule of law, simply set up a tribalism. The American Left has been a smashing success at this tactic, encouraging the establishment of tribe after tribe of aggrieved soreheads all wanting special dispensations and priveleges to evade, complicate and pervert the rule of the majority."

The intra-tribal conflict in the Democratic Party may be bringing that to an end.

Your White Guilt: (note that this is a Hillary website)
"Obama’s ascent rests on White America’s Guilt Ridden identity, a Guilt reaching into all forms of speech and action deemed racist or insulting forming part of a totalitarian race regime mostly enforced against Whites, but to which we are all increasingly hostage. White Guilt is the work of Whites themselves, but its leading exponents are Blacks, while the flames are fanned by a general culture of Victimhood increasingly marketed to to all segments of American society.

In speaking of White Guilt, I am not speaking of “Whites” per se, but of America’s totalitarian race regime, of which, Jamal argues, Mr. Obama is the main beneficiary."

4/07/2008 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger Derek Kite said...

It's not about establishing the rule of law. It's about establishing structures that the 'natural' tribes in any society can buy into.

As mentioned, 'all men are created equal' was revolutionary. Stated otherwise, all men can join in a larger enterprise as equals, if everyone gets out of it what they want.

In the face of turmoil, whatever sense and context you like, there are two reactions. Centralize or empower.

The tribal cultures have self perpetuated by being the only bulwark against a malicious centralizing power. When the center empowers, the tribal urge is lessened, or the urgency of the urge is diminished because it isn't necessary to thrive.


4/07/2008 01:24:00 PM  
Blogger FrankTalk said...


"What, for example, would a turkey, who had been fed and cared for all of its life, expect on Thanksgiving week but more of the same? Nothing in the turkey's past would prepare him for the wider context until it hove into view."

Are you saying it is no use studying history? We can not learn lessons from history? What if this turkey knew a little history and was aware that each November his ancestors were massacred?

4/07/2008 02:32:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Are you saying it is no use studying history? We can not learn lessons from history? What if this turkey knew a little history and was aware that each November his ancestors were massacred?

It's possible to learn from history, but only if you ask the right questions. The clue to what happens next is always obvious in retrospect, but it is often an oddity is prospect. The original form of the turkey story comes from Bertrand Russell.

On a farm, there was a flock of chickens. One chicken started talking with another, remarking "How good our farmer has been to us. I think he is an awfully nice man, because he comes every morning to feed us." The other chicken nodded in agreement, adding "and he has been feeding each and everyone of us here every day like clockwork, every day without fail since we were all just little baby chicks." Indeed, when queried, most of the other chickens clucked in agreement about how benevolent their farmer was.

But there was one chicken, intelligent but eccentric, who countered saying "How do you know he is all that good? I remember, not too long ago, that there were some older chickens who were taken away, and I haven't seen them since. What ever happened to them?"

Some of the chickens may have slept a little uneasy that night, but in the morning the farmer came as usual, this time scattering even more corn around. The chickens ate this with gusto, and this dispelled any remaining doubts about the benevolence of the farmer. "You see, there is nothing to worry about. Our farmer had a little extra food, so he gave it to us because he likes us! He is a good man," remarked one chicken to the others, and they all nodded in agreement, all of them, that is, except one.

The intelligent but eccentric chicken became even more agitated. "He is just fattening us up! We are going to be slaughtered in a weeks time!" he squawked in alarm. But nobody listened. All the other chickens just thought he was a troublemaker.

A week later, all the chickens were placed into cages, loaded onto a truck, and driven to the slaughterhouse.

The key question was when one chicken asked what happened to the older birds. But that kind of question is lost when forming the "consensus". In retrospect, on their way to the slaughterhouse, all the chickens would agree it was the key fact. But before the fatal trip the fact about the older chickens would have been considered a trivial curiosity.

So it's not that you can't learn from history. But it is sometimes the case that the information is contained in the outlier, not the the points which describe the line of best fit. The phenomenon that the exceptional point contains the real rule has been demonstrated time and again in science. It is always the point that don't fit a scientific theory which contain the germ of the large true. The Copernican revolution; Relativity, Quantum Physics, the Declaration of Independence. The world of 1776 was the world of Kings. America was the first republic of modern times. But in today's atmosphere of committee hearings and intellectual herding many of the ideas embodied in the Declaration would have been considered "looney" or "fringe". But that didn't mean they were incorrect.

4/07/2008 03:03:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

And that's why liberty is such a powerful thing. It allows the 'outlier' which may contain the real information to compete in the market for truth. Tribalism and political correctness reduce diversity by creating identity positions. They are relatively more stagnant than societies in which individuals are simply individuals.

4/07/2008 03:09:00 PM  
Blogger dla said...

Nice Wretchard!

The "germs" of ideas are being incubated in Islam, as a result of contact with the west in Iraq.

Good Islam is praised by GWB, and enjoys the fruits of western civilization. Bad Islam is hunted and killed. I'm pretty sure the chickens are paying attention.

I've assumed GWB's goal from the beginning was to put pressure on Islam to deal with the "bad" from within.

4/07/2008 03:17:00 PM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

Whiskey_199 - Tribalists cannot produce engineers or technicians. Only guys screaming with AK-47's.

Not true.
In case you haven't noticed, Muslims constitute a good percentage of the people coming to America to be doctors, nurses, engineers, scientists and do - in Bush's words - the jobs Americans refuse to do.
(Translation from Bush corporate-speak is "do the jobs cheaper than Americans so my Owner Class friends have higher profit margins from cheaper labor).

Muslim engineers work in nuke power plants in Europe and America. The Big Dig was done with drafts and site specs done in Pakistan. Iranians build sophisticated weaponry. There are more Muslim computer engineers than American ones, though not like the Chinese....

As ruefull, outwitted military commanders have found when looking at body bags full of dead American soldiers - they know that part of that is attributable to the fact the Islamist enemy is highly intelligent, very flexible and adaptable and also dedicated...These are not gibbbering morons.

Underestimate the enemy at your peril. And keep in mind with globalization, outsourcing, demand for Muslims to do high tech jobs cheaper than Bush's "unwilling lazy Americans would do the science, computer and engineering and medical jobs they shun we need a million H-1B visas to do" - that the gap is narrowing.

And offshoring means America isn't what it used to be. Only 2 companies now are capable of making armor, down from 16, while the Chinese have 23 firms filling armor plate, composite contracts..Our JDAM and passports depend on chip technology only the Europeans make. And we are no longer capable of building a nuclear reactor - we fired or laid off all those people in the 80s and 90s. Now we have to go to Europe, China, Japan, or Korea to have reactors made if we want to increase our nuclear power generation...

4/07/2008 03:25:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

t takes us a while to get it right but...

Reacting to an effort to pass legislation (expected within days) that would disqualify any political party with ties to a militia from participating in elections, one of the Sadrists’ most prominent MPs in the parliament conceded that Sadr may have no choice but to disband the militia:

"We, the Sadrists, are in a predicament," lawmaker Hassan al-Rubaie said Sunday. "Even the blocs that had in the past supported us are now against us and we cannot stop them from taking action against us in parliament."

Al-Sadr controls 30 of the 275 parliament seats, a substantial figure but not enough to block legislation.

Al-Rubaie said the threat was so serious that a delegation might have to discuss the issue with al-Sadr in person. The young cleric, who has disappeared from the public eye for nearly a year, is believed to be in the Iranian holy city of Qom.

4/07/2008 05:04:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Cedarford you are correct in saying that Muslims take advantage of the global marketplace. Pakistan has nukes, Iran will have them soon, in reaction both Saudi and Turkey will have them to counterbalance Iran, and so on. This takes place with a lot of assistance from China, North Korea, Sweden (a major arms exporter), Russia, Germany, and probably US firms as well.

However, the breadth and depth of Muslim accomplishment is not very much. It's taking them far longer to create true intercontinental ballistic missiles than the Russian USSR did. They can't in a tribal society mobilize as much resources because the path to success and most of all reproductive success is through big-man AK-47 gunmanship, i.e. Saddam or Osama. Engineers are lonely men with no women or hope of women, and end up like Mohammed Atta piloting a plane.

From a purely resource perspective, a guy like Atta is more dangerous designing bombs and such, continually IMPROVING THEM. Rather than doing something that nearly anyone could do: suicide plane piloting.

Not only will Pakistan produce fewer engineers and technicians, the gap they have between the US and themselves will only widen. They can't produce anything like the missile defense system which can promise to shoot down hundreds if not tens of thousands of ICBMs. Neutralizing an important trump card. They can't produce an aerospace force. They can't match the PACE of change.

You are right that Iran produced some effective EFPs, and had some good tactics. But their success came with foreign assistance (Russia and China), and US incompetence: not enough men, too restrictive ROE, not enough flexibility in using better MRAP etc.

Can Iran produce F-22 Raptors? Can they shoot down ICBMs from our own territory or missile submarines? Can they build their own space network? No.

They "might" be able to hit a number of our comm satellites, but can't match our air and ICBM threats. We can probably launch more satellites than they can if it comes to that. While destroying more.

In a replay of "war of the cities" ala Tehran and Baghdad in the Iran-Iraq war, we will lose some cities to Iranian nukes via shipping container, Iran will cease to exist as a people. They don't see this, they pretend a "ghost dance" ala the Sioux will prevent our massive nuclear arsenal from "working."

You are correct that our industrial infrastructure is eroding. And it's bad. But our eroding structure is not eroding fast enough, nor are the improvements from outside help enough, to give Muslims the advantage. They remain a world ruled by big men like Saddam and Osama, and thus the true potential is kept from utilization.

4/07/2008 05:31:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Whiskey - agree (mostly) with what you say about Arabs not being able to duplicate our rocket prowess, and that therefore we're protected by our oceans.

However, it's gonna be a pisser when they nuke Israel just because it's there and handy, and it's a good proxy for their frustration about not being able to get to us.

If Iran goes after Israel, will that be enough of a reason for us to go after Mecca and Tehran? I'm thinking not.

4/07/2008 06:05:00 PM  
Blogger Mija said...

So, tribalism acts as a limiter to societal achievement - i.e. a "tribal" structure can't develop a modern, high-tech world - sharing intelligence is contra-indicated in a tribal environment.

By the same token, tribalism seems to do well at conserving a certain base status quo, preventing it falling further.



4/07/2008 07:19:00 PM  
Blogger Triton'sPolarTiger said...

Whiskey said:

"In a replay of "war of the cities" ala Tehran and Baghdad in the Iran-Iraq war, we will lose some cities to Iranian nukes via shipping container, Iran will cease to exist as a people. They don't see this, they pretend a "ghost dance" ala the Sioux will prevent our massive nuclear arsenal from "working."

You are correct that our industrial infrastructure is eroding. And it's bad. But our eroding structure is not eroding fast enough, nor are the improvements from outside help enough, to give Muslims the advantage. They remain a world ruled by big men like Saddam and Osama, and thus the true potential is kept from utilization."

Agreed - and, I'll bet, we'll see a return of some of our lost industrial infrastructure in the transaction.

4/07/2008 08:19:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

"What is a Sheik?"

Tribal elder, Wise one, Village leader --- these are useful equivalents, but one source explained that the most important usage is as an honorific for a man who has committed the entire Qur'an to memory.

If someone can confirm or deny this with a citation or reference I would appreciate the correction.

If it is an accurate report of how the term is used, it would go a long way toward explaining how'z cum the Arab Islamic Countries have altogether generated fewer technical or scientific patent applications in the last two decades than has South Korea all by itself.

...or why more books are translated into GREEK every year than Arabic.

...or why so many young Muslim Arabs elect to pursue Qur'anic studies rather than engineering, chemistry, mathematics, whatnot.

Look up the comments of American scientist Farouk El-Baz, born in Egypt, who has some scathing judgments of the Muslim Middle East.

Or check an article by Daniel del Castillio in the March 2004 issue of the Journal of Higher Education titled "The Arab World's Scientific Desert."

That one really paints a horrifying picture, based largely on information drawn from recent United Nations studies of the Arab States.

4/07/2008 08:35:00 PM  
Blogger Insufficiently Sensitive said...

"What is a Sheik?"

The American MSM is currently promoting one B.H. Obama for the position.

4/08/2008 07:09:00 AM  
Blogger FrankTalk said...

"So it's not that you can't learn from history. But it is sometimes the case that the information is contained in the outlier, not the the points which describe the line of best fit."

I guess I have a slightly different take on the value of studying history. I think the real value IS in the best fit line. Mark Twain said that history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes. The lessons of history help us see the big picture and make generalizations. For example, history tells us that man is tribal. When food, energy, and other resources are plentiful, he may live in peace. When these resources become scarce, competition for those resources will likely lead to conflict along tribal lines. Another lesson of history may be that talent varies from person to person. Therefore, so will individual sucess and wealth. If the disparities of wealth become too large, again, there will be gelousy and conflict. So I think the usefulness in studying history is to know the shape of that best fit line so you can learn general principals that will help guide you in making future policy decisions.


4/08/2008 03:01:00 PM  
Blogger Gary Rosen said...

"In case you haven't noticed, Muslims constitute a good percentage of the people coming to America to be doctors, nurses, engineers, scientists and do - in Bush's words - the jobs Americans refuse to do."

No, I haven't noticed. As usual, C-fudd is packed so tightly full of horseshit it's shooting out his ears in jet streams. He does not have a shred of evidence this is true because it isn't. I live and work in Silicon Valley and the overwhelming majority of immigrants in high tech are either East Asian or non-Muslim South Asians.

"The jobs Americans refuse to do"????? Fudd is hopelessly confused - not surprising given his microscopic IQ. He's mistaking Mexican illegals taking manual labor jobs for foreigners on H1-B visas imported so high-tech companies can pay cheaper salaries.

The Islamic world that Fudd drools over has taken *trillions* of dollars from the West for a mineral they couldn't even get out of the ground without Western technology. And they can't defeat a tiny nation that has no oil and that they outnumber 50-to-1, even though according to Fudd they have so much more "heart and courage" than the Israelis. C'mon buddarini, tell us again how you admire the "heart and courage" of Hezbollah savages who use civilians as human shields and brag about the Israeli human body parts they have. We're all waiting to hear it, pal, you're so much more admired here than those Jooos who just go around alienating everyone.

4/09/2008 12:44:00 AM  

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