When I was little, I wasn’t allowed to wear red. My mom actually seems to have convinced herself red looked/looks bad on me. (Look, I have tan olive skin. No, it doesn’t.) No one in the house could wear red. Or buy anything red. Or pain anything red. Or sew anything red. Or…
Now you’re going to think growing up during the cold war there was a reason for this ban. Uh. You’re going to think it and you’re going to be wrong.
The ban on red had absolutely nothing to do with politics. It had to do with soccer. You see, being from Porto my parents supported Porto, which you can find somewhere under my facebook likes – the colors are blue and white and (sensibly, I thought) the symbol is a dragon. Porto’s Main rivals are the clubs from Lisbon, which are Benfica (red) and Sporting (Green.) This is why I will never ever be friends with Mr. Kratman’s sister in law. Her family supports Benfica. what would the relatives say? (In case you wonder this is, yes, heavily tongue in cheek. I can totally make friends with people who support Benfica. As long as my parents don’t find out, of course.)
Growing up in Portugal, in a time when there was only really one party, I saw people more split over soccer than over politics. Marriages (and other promising relationships) could end because they supported opposite teams.
Yes, of course that wasn’t all it was about. the support of soccer clubs tends to be regional, which bespeaks deeper, tribal rifts. (For a tiny country, Portugal is an ethnically divided one. Though all Portuguese are er… composites, because Portugal is one vast strip by the sea and a lot of different peoples came in throughout history, there is still a somewhat sharp divide between North – Greek, Celtic, Roman, Swabian, a little bit of Arab but not much (as it tended to be mostly an overseer placed there) and a lot of French Crusader and English remmitance man – and the South – Carthaginian, Celtic, Roman, Visigoth, a lot of Arab. Now, this is of course a broad brush as people could and did intermarry… But not as much as you’d expect, because of cultural/tribal barriers.
Do you remember that Far Side cartoon that had the door to squid bathrooms, with the two drawings of squids and underneath “Only they can tell the difference?” I’ve been harassed in Lisbon for being from the North. This might be less so now, with the highway and all, but it used to be the difference was visible, quite sharp and certainly audible.
I always laugh when I’m reading something in the States and it says something about “European styling” or “European fashion” because, well… WHERE in Europe? (It’s like the phrase African-American, where someone REALLY needs a hammer to the side of the head for thinking up that one. Do they want something other than black, and Negro is too close to the bad term? Fine. Make up new words for ALL the races. But using the name of a continent is stupid. What in heaven’s sweet name do Berbers have to do with Zulus? And besides, in the ultimate analysis, didn’t we all come from Africa?) Yes, it’s a point of contention – partly because of the times people tell me “I thought you wouldn’t have problems with nudism. You’re European.” WHAT? (Beyond the fact I’m over forty and pudgy and my last wish in the world is to have strangers see my bod.) As if all of Europe is Sweden? I bet you (though I wouldn’t know) not even all of Sweden is Sweden (Pickled fish, naked people and strong liquor – at least as far as I can determine what people think defines Sweden.)
Then there’s European Styling which for Southern European countries would of course mean “dark wood, heavy carving with religious symbolism and a bit of whitewash on the walls” – right? Yeah.
Europeans are still FAR more tribal than Americans. That Americans can think entire countries or entire continents are a mono-culture means we’ve got very far to overcome the ancient evil of tribalism.
Why do I call it an ancient evil? Didn’t removing it encourage the even worse evil of the nation state? Don’t know. Ask me again in a thousand years. Right now, sure, the nation state has piled the dead as high as tribal warfare, but it has also allowed a freer of way of life and more movement and creativity, which in turn has given us a lifestyle that’s not short, brutish and nasty. (At last for some portion of us.)
Will the good in the long run outweigh the bad? I don’t know. Time will tell. As CACS said in the comments on creativity, we still feel the pull towards tribes. It’s very possible we’ll go back to tribalism. There is the possibility of a future in which we ensconce ourselves in professional tribes, or worse, genetic tribes. And then there’s the possibility that future will be very bad. Or, if we remember we’re all human, it might be the best of both worlds (depending on how much mobility between “tribes” is allowed.)
Europe is tribal to a level Americans can’t imagine. My mom hated the way we looked, since we’re a very “mixed” people, and though at the time the comment annoyed me, I’ve come to believe she didn’t even mean in the RACIAL sense. It’s just that in Portugal you can tell upper class by the way people look. (No, you couldn’t. I probably can’t anymore. Again, it’s bathrooms for squids level.) Losing those markers, for her, was as annoying as when she tried to organize my canned goods, going solely on color and sometimes drawings, since she doesn’t speak
Portuguese English (It is I who barely speak Portuguese anymore 😉 ).
And yet, as tribal as Europe is, it is not that tribal. In the end, they do stand with each other in larger units – countries, areas of the continent, even the continent – as proven by their fatal attraction to the horrible idea of unification. They might not have anything in common but their wish to have something in common, but that’s (almost) enough.
I suspect even Africa nowadays is nowhere as tribal as it was when Europeans first landed. This is not to say it is not tribal, but they can think of people as human, even if some humans are more humans than others (of course. That’s how humans work.)
Yes, of course a lot of the way we’ve managed to overcome tribalism is by finding bigger units of people to fight. “Me and my brother against my cousins, me and my cousins against the tribe, me and the tribe against the stranger” is not just an Arab thing – it’s a human thing.
The best – possibly the only way – to have a united and at peace humanity is to have an alien land tomorrow and start killing and enslaving us.
It is a flaw in the design. We have many. Comes from not being just minds, but also bodies. With all that, and despite the many who died getting here, we haven’t done that badly for ourselves. I mean, we ARE the dominant species, after al, and with very few natural assets to get us here. The moral squeamishness on what we did to get here is human too. It doesn’t mean we’re a bad species. Look… Bad, by whose standards? Despite the books in the seventies calling us uniquely aggressive, most of our worst characteristics are shared with all mammals. We just feel bad about it. It’s a start.
As the overcoming of tribalism, limited and confined as it is makes a start too. It seems to be a better way to run things. Certainly cultures that have overcome it have the advantage over those who don’t.
Will it be an advantage going forward? Time will tell. It depends on what the future is.