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A hopeful approach for the future of international relations.

Redirect teen rebellion towards idealism and self improvement.

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Archives 2002:
Vol. 1, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Hope for the Future
Six Part Series on Science and Religion
First Three Parts of the Series on Leadership
Archives 2003:
Vol. 2, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Series on Leadership continued
Avoiding Dictatorship in a Free Society

Art and Politics
Living the Good Life
Teaching Teens
World Peace in Less Than a Month?
Archives 2004:
Vol. 3, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Seven Part Series on Global Consciousness
Is "Liberal" a Dirty Word?
Can Idealism Solve Problems?
Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All

Archives 2005:
Vol. 4, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Standing up for Humanity
Unity in Diversity

Thought and Imagination
Imagination and Healing
Lessons of Katrina
Intelligent Design or Evolution

Archives 2006:
Vol. 5, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Human Programming and Conflict
Non-Violent Political Change
Sustainable Development
Legalizing Torture
Living Without an Enemy
"Fast Food" is really "Slow Food"


Featured Articles about Responsibility, the Future and Consciousness:

Hope for the Future
Series on Leadership
Series on Global Consciousness
World Peace in Less Than a Month?
Can Idealism Solve Problems?
Conflict, Harmony and Integrity
Human Programming and Conflict
Non-violent Political Change
Living Without an Enemy
Protecting Children: Words and Deeds




August, 2008
7, Number 8

This Month's Article

Tribalism and the 2008 Presidential Election

I have a friend that fits the profile of the typical McCain voter: A lifelong Republican from the Midwest who voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004, a vocabulary that is rich with faith and religion, a patriotic American with a “support the troops” sticker on her car, sons-in-law who did tours in Iraq, a white, middle class suburban life in a new tract home. This life and this culture define her tribe— her cultural identity and values. Her government job, serving people who are struggling for security, and the challenges of family members not finding an easy path to the American dream weigh on her big, compassionate heart.

What psychological factors would cause her to make a huge step away from her traditional behavior, step away from the comfort zone of her past, and vote for Obama for president? Does she fit the image of a voter open to such a dramatic change from the familiar — away from candidate McCain who appeals to her tribal identity? How many voters in America choose candidates based on objective analysis of issues and true self interest, versus those who treat political behavior as an exercise in tribal loyalty?

Tribal feelings are not just vestiges of primitive peoples. They exist even in the major, multi-cultural, industrialized nations — in people far removed from homogenous, pre-agricultural and agricultural societies. The cultural and protective function of a “tribe” is to differentiate between those who belong and those who threaten. So many people face their world through the filters of their insecurities that it seems natural to have tribal groups to sustain one’s own identity and values. Differences of race, religion, language and culture in themselves are not threatening, its just that people are reluctant to take risks and move away from the certainties of the familiar to embrace the unfamiliar.

The game of political power has not changed much from this primitive stage of social development. It is largely based on the manipulation of tribal mentalities. Nationalism, still a major force in world politics, is based on a “big tribe” concept, but in reality nations are made of many tribes. We see the big tribes competing in the Olympic games, with their costumes, flags, national pride and anthems. At the same time, many of these national “tribes” are committing violations of human rights relating to ethnic minorities in their territories.

On the other hand, human civilization is manifesting another tribal consciousness, the global tribe, to which all human beings may belong. This consciousness is evolving due to the common threats to our survival. In this tribe it is one’s common humanity and shared concerns for the common welfare of the planet that is a greater unifier than one’s nationality or ethnicity. The viability of our planet to support life both biologically and socially is at stake.

The 2008 presidential election in the United States is a microcosm of the global crossroads stimulating this shifting consciousness. The campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain symbolize this crossroads in message and in tactics. One path is the path towards working together regardless of nationality or ethnicity to make the social transformations necessary to solve the problems of warfare, injustice, environmental threats, and economic crises. The other path is the one that tries to use fear, stimulate old tribal consciousness, and cling to a self-serving nationalistic past.
If Americans choose Obama, a candidate with a foreign name and a minority race to be their leader, they will have crossed a threshold of consciousness that will demonstrate a break with old tribal identifications. This will in fact and in symbol show a new standard of leadership to the world, which could promote the healing of ethnic and religious causes of injustice and conflict. 

If McCain becomes president, Americans will have reaffirmed the importance of tribal identity. Some have criticized the McCain narrative that Obama is “not one of us,” but perhaps for the current national test it is important to have this message overtly on the table.

Therefore, this election explicitly reminds Americans that the difference between candidates is the difference between old tribal identification and a new way of thinking about America and the world. It is a choice between our traditional way of political influence and power, and a new way of solving the problems we face. The results will dramatically demonstrate the current quality of American identity. Whichever way the election goes will provide a clear graphic of American consciousness.

It is significant that McCain’s campaign is appealing to tribal identities of race, religion, education, economic status, regionalism and nationalistic patriotism. He is not just trying to “brand” Obama, but he is calling the American people out, drawing a line in the sand, and daring them to leave the old tribal identity for a new one. In a way McCain is challenging Americans more than Obama, because he is saying that if you vote for Obama you will be rejecting the old values, fears and leadership that made America a strong nation. If Obama does win, the victory will not have been solely that of a single candidate of the Democratic Party, but it will be the victory of a new psychology over an old.

© 2008 Richard V. Sidy

Read Related Articles

Beyond Ideology: Politics of the Future

Beyond the Bush Years

Moving Forward

Series on Leadership

Series on Global Consciousness

Can Idealism Solve Problems?

World Peace in Less Than a Month?


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Archives 2005
Volumn 4
January: "Standing up for Humanity"
February: "The Wake of Disaster" – a poem
March: "Unity in Diversity
April: "Life is Calling"
May: "Entertainment" – a poem
June: "Thought and Imagination" part 1
July: "Thought and Imagination" part 2
August: "Imagination and Healing"
September: "Malice or Neglect? – Lessons of Katrina"
October: "Protecting Children"
November: "Intelligent Design or Evolution?"
December: "Building with one hand, destroying with the other"
Archives 2006
Volumn 5

January: "Conflict, Harmony, and Integrity"
February: "Satyagraha or Soul-force and Political Change"
March: "I Know I'm Not Alone - Wisdom of Michael Franti"
April: "Human Programming and Conflict Part I"
May: "Human Programming and Conflict Part II"
June: "Soccer Diplomacy"
July: "Sustainable Development is Nature's Way
August: "Parallel Universes"
September: "The News is not New"
October: "Legalizing Torture"
November: "Living Without an Enemy"
December: "Fast Food is really Slow Food"

Archives 2007
Volumn 6

January: "State of Fear"
February: Criminal Justice - "The Powerful Over the Weak"
March: "Culture Shock: The Good Life and Survival"
April: "March Madness"
May: "No Child Left Behind" Leaves Many Teachers Behind
June: "Personal Ecology"
July: Criminal Justice - "The Ethic of Custodianship"
August: "Exploring the Mind - part 1"
September: "Exploring the Mind - part 2: The Poetic Mind
October: "How Much Pain Can We Stand?"
November: "When Languages Disappear"
December: "Is it Enough to be Tolerant?"

Archives 2008
Volumn 7

January: "Beyond Ideology: Politics of the Future "
February: "Beyond the Bush Years"
March: "The Imaginary Economy - Part I
April: "The Imaginary Economy - Part II
May: Questions from Prison
June: "iGods and Connectivity"
July: "Energy Independence"
August: "Tribalism and the 2008 Elections
September: "Guilt, Shame and U.S. Justice"
October: "Have We Been Willing Slaves?"
November: "Are We Ready for the Future?"
December: "Are we done learning from pain?"

Archives 2009
Volumn 8

January: "Awakening"
February: "When Sacrifice is no Sacrifice"
March: "The Good New Days"
April: "The Power of Metaphor"
May: "The Conflict of Mythologies"
June: "The Time is Right"
July: "The New Anarchy"
August: "The Art of Living"
September: "Outrage"
October: "Are Women Becoming More Unhappy?

November: "Effect of the manufacturing culture on the American Psyche"
December: Who are the Real Game Changers?

Archives 2010
Volumn 9

January: The Music of Place
February: Earthquakes and Other Awakenings
March: Sense of Place, Sense of Self, Sense of Humanity
April: Why Do People Serve?
May: Decentralizing Food and Energy
June: Beyond Reading and Writing — Ecological literacy
July: Organization or Organism?
August: Fear and Cynicism = “Inter-fear-ance”
September: Are we afraid of our "Better Angels?"
October: Choosing Our Battles
November: Meeting the Need
December: A Living Canvas

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