There is one assumption that underlies everything written on this site. There are certain human “instincts” that have helped survival of our species, and for which we are hardwired: for example, breathing, hunger, thirst, sex. These exist outside our immediate awareness but we have access to them. One can choose to be aware of one’s own breathing, but it goes on, with or without our focusing on it. Compared to these, the hardwired “pack instinct” has not gotten much validation or research attention.
We believe the human social need to affiliate; to belong to, and reckon on one’s standing in “the pack”, most notably in childhood and adolescence, is among our greatest mysteries and most influential evolutionary endowments.
It used to be that the parents, schools, and the extended family together with the surrounding culture would all work together to produce tribal citizens. In turn when these tribal children became adults they would go on to perpetuate the tribe to the exclusion of other non-tribal members. These different tribes would either tolerate or kill each other depending on stuff.
No longer. On a global basis, the world’s peoples are being thrown together in a way that we’ve never seen before. How to navigate for ourselves and for our children?
We are all programmed to be tribal at birth. Wait. What?
There are all kinds of tribes. There are tribes that preach togetherness and those that preach “independence” and “individualism”. We believe that at the end of the day, the universal “ethnocentrism” that permeates all corners of the globe is a sign that tribalism may be expressed differently, but the strengths and limitations it produces in us is a trait common to our species.
The tribal identity pattern follows us even when certain groups are not labelled as a “tribe”. For instance there is the pattern of “political tribalism”.
We all know about ancient and modern African or Native American tribes. Millions in the Middle East have lived and died by tribal loyalties. However, there are some "biologically wired pack and tribe tendencies" in all of us. When someone “acts like a typical Brit” (the English tribe) or “professes a repeated need for more details and clarification of the rules” (the Germanic tribe) they do so in a natural “of course” manner. They are not necessarily aware of the stereotypical nature of their behavior or thoughts. Nor are they aware of their ethnocentric need to see their own “way of living” as naturally superior to all others.
The “Jewish mother” or “Irish mother” result from a tribal process and are different than “the Italian mother” or WASP mother. It may offend the reader’s narcissism, but many of our adult thoughts and behaviors on a group and individual level, are affected by tribal processes.
"Millennials have different work habits than baby boomers". Why? How does that tribe come about and function so predictably?
We believe that the more we understand the “biological-social-tribal process” and the reality of its presence in our lives, the freer and more productive we can become.
What is tribalism all about?
All human groups are self-protective. Tribalism and adherence to group rules is our default setting from birth, unless our “enlightened” selves choose or are encouraged otherwise. More of this later, but understanding the pack-tribal process can be a big aid to effective parenting.
We all know that the societies in the Middle East are often defined by tribal patterns of governance, loyalty and even economics.
They also affect just about every member’s life and even daily interactions in family, business, education and other areas of personal life.
Tribalism, in certain areas of the globe, totally defines the identities of the members. In some other areas it is denied but nevertheless present.
Many don’t know that Islam not only has its own set of tribal religious laws and courts but it also dictates certain financial dealings on a personal and macro level. There are tribal societies all over the globe. Countries in Africa, whose citizens’ growth is dramatically hindered by ancient tribal corruption and enmity, comes immediately to mind.
What’s the story here? What is tribalism all about?
Ironically, one of the most universal of human qualities is "ethnocentrism": An allegiance to and esteem of, one's own societal way of doing things (ways of living that shades all levels of our lives) to the exclusion of all alternatives.
Historically, all the way back, once a group of any type, big or small, defines itself, the tendency is to identify and diminish (or worse) whoever is not group-encased.
Are the Brits convinced of their superiority over the French? You bet. Vice versa? Sure. How does that work? Do the Germans look up to the Greeks? Nope. Vice versa? You bet.
Why would the human species so consistently follow that formula?
I believe that we are biologically wired to do just that. Humans started in “hunter-gatherer-fighting” clans.
We all began in a pack. Evolution selected for survival, those human beings who could function by pack rules. Depending on population size, we can call that a pack or a larger clan; they eventually become a society.
It is our contention that starting with the young child and adolescent experiences in the pack, TRIBALISM (the larger, wider clan) is the natural, original universal state of all human beings. We define “tribal” (or clannishness) as a state of multi-generational social identity and affiliation and loyalty that is individually displayed and acted upon, mainly outside of immediate awareness.
Adherence to the clan and to the clan's territory (the hunting grounds of the clan, wolf pack, bear family, all predators) once kept the clan members fed and safe.
But this clan wiring is not totally who we are. What then? Explore with me...at parentingandsocieties.com
As a family therapist I quickly learned that ethnocentricity infects us all. Even the most “open minded” and even the best therapists.
To get at individual motivation, to understand "what is going on", you need to include the ever-widening circles of family, pack, tribe, and society in your calculations. Believe it or not.
Many authors have addressed the societal and biological influences in our lives. Francis Fukuyama, Yuval Noah Harari, Jared Diamond, Dan Ariely, Christopher Ryan, Frans Dewaal, and others.
My specialty in helping parents for their children's sake helped me to better grasp the Bowenian “systems” nature of family functioning (please see, www.parentingandsocieties.com).
Unfortunately, I have yet to encounter an attempt to integrate Bowenian Family Systems theory principles distinctly with evolutionary or societal development and influence.
We have yet to see a connect that includes a detailed description of daily functioning in the broader context of biology, economics, politics and societal culture.
How important is “THE PACK”?
We view the pack and the larger, extended pack, the clan and tribe, as crucial to understanding our humanity.
By "our humanity" we mean the personal, social, historical, political and economic aspects of how we lead our lives. We believe they are all intimately interconnected.
We also believe that parenting patterns interact with, and are crucial components in understanding all of them. Simultaneously as therapists, we cannot hope to productively understand any one patient, young or old, without understanding the tribal, societal and family background of that patient.
No doubt there are other factors to grasp, but our goal is to bring these interacting factors enumerated above, into the therapeutic and parenting conversation.
Families » Clans » Tribes: > Society, Society >Tribes » Clans » Families:
United and organized through as yet undiscovered mechanisms.
We were and still are clan rooted predators; not just hunter-gatherers.
Many like to assume that when we left the jungle and created civilizations, that we gained the ability to function as independent and thinking adults; that our identities were created and managed by the cognitive, thinking, intellectually educable, part of our brain. This has obvious validity for our higher functioning, conscious brains and the behaviour they control. This world-view is crucial to western civilization.
The thing is; this part of our neural system at times, only controls certain thoughts and behaviors; and sometimes, not at all.
Our “higher selves” and the related neural processes, do not negate the simultaneous functioning of other mechanisms that are more ancient, reflexive and automatic; these often, non-conscious functions, are determined by pre-historic species biology and evolution.
We believe careful observation will reveal that evolution has burdened all of us with psycho-neurological wiring that enforces pack, predatory, and tribal inclination.
True, this biologically rooted inclination is more obvious in some of us than others; in some societies more than others. What accounts for that?
There is no precise definition of “tribe” or its related mechanisms in any encyclopedia that I have read. Check it out.
“We know it when we see it.”
Why not seek to find the facts and gain understanding, to define tribalism in depth, and lay it all out?
After-all it affects billions of people on our planet.
The purpose and beginnings of every tribe is similar: to define itself, to survive, to care for children, and to prosper.
The purpose is also to define who is not in the tribe.
I do not know of any tribe that has avoided the enumeration of non-members; whether to use these non-members as slaves, to benignly view them as acknowledged inferiors, or actually treat them as competitors and enemies to conquer.
All tribes seek power over non-tribal members.
How a tribe treats its own members; for instance, whether by a rule of law or a rule of the leader’s whim, or somewhere in between, is a dimension that can distinguish one tribe from another.
But the wish for dominance and power over the territory, i.e. non-tribe members, is universal and biologically inbred. The multi-member hunt for meat to eat has been replaced by the hunt for money and commercial advantage. Packs no longer seek to bring down non-members, antelope or deer. Like wolves guarding their territory, we are tribally programmed to unite within and to protect and defend against those without.
In nature, predators are either single hunters like the mountain lion and panther, or tribal hunters, like wolves and African lions. This second group is totally governed by clan structure and rules. That's their biology.
Man has never been a singular, all alone, independent hunter. The pack hunted, albeit with a leader. Wooly mammoths were not brought down by John Wayne-like rugged individualists. Even before speech or written history everyone needed each other to be organized and operational as a united hunting-fighting unit; leader and followers.
However, this hunter-killer neural nature is now, (and in the past) in the twenty first century, dysfunctional. It once protected and fed us; it is still with us but is usually no longer adaptive; warfare and its human necessities being the exception.
Human multi-millennial embattled history bares overwhelming testament to this. Man's biologically rooted, predatory tribal nature, requires direction and control for the good of the semi-retired, “no-longer-hunting” tribes.
Is there “scientific” proof for all these statements? Nope. Personally, I think ''scientific'' is overrated when it comes to understanding human motivation. Freud and Dr Spock were considered scientific. Look where that got us. I'll go with the facts of multi-century history any time.
1. Try to observe a debate between antagonists on a college campus. Any antagonists will do; conservative-liberal, gay-anti-gay, pro Israel-anti-Israel. The apparent debate will sometimes match the real content. That is, the ideas expressed will be listened to, considered, and replied to. This would approximate use of the functioning of the non-wired higher evaluating part of the participants’ brain. More often than not, the apparent debate will not match the reality of the dialogue. This second format will reveal that a key component of tribalism is that conclusions are determined first, before the facts. The facts must be changed, denied or ignored because the tribal position must always, a priori, be right and absolute; no nuance nor contradiction possible. Only If the tribal position changes can we change our opinion.
Early religions, the enlightenment, all the way through modern day "constitutions" have sought to channel and regulate our predatory but tribal nature.
“East is east.
west is west,
And never the twain shall meet.”
Rudyard kipling, 1889, from the poem “The Ballad of East and West”
That's the quote: written - end of the 19th century.
Well folks, the twain is about to meet. Some think the twain has already met; the meeting was not as benign as some had hoped.
Millions from the east have come to the west. More surely, than any eastern warrior invasion in the last 5000 years; there have been many, many invasions in that time. For the first time, this was more or less bloodless.
They have not come to invade (mostly). They have been invited. In fact, they have been most warmly greeted.
1 Why now, unlike any time in the last 5000 years? For the last 5000 years, such a movement of populations would have been met with violence at the borders and the coasts.
2 How about now? Will things change if Kipling was right?
The fact is that many are already here. But many more are expected.
Believe it or not, they started coming about 140 years ago.
Our position is that understanding Kipling’s concerns will be most important if we are to make the most of these global changes. Otherwise instead of global movements, they will become global upheavals, or worse.
The first step is to understand what Kipling’s words meant.
Endless times we hear about “the western way” of this or that. We then hear of “the eastern way” of that or this. Is there any consistency or predictability in how we use these terms? Are there terms, in a meaningful vocabulary, that can distinguish and clarify these differences that most people observe but take for granted?
Is there any agreed-upon “consensually validated” approach to discover more about them?
In order not to answer these questions, the west has developed an approach called ''political correctness''.
Wait! Did I say ''in order not to answer''?
Why would one not wish to answer the questions about what is east or west?
Because as the cinema Marine Colonel said on the witness stand, ''because you can't handle the truth." (the answer!)
The west needs bodies. Not for ditch digging or cannon fodder as in the past.
The west needs bodies to work and pay taxes.
The west is having less children and getting old and retiring.The west expects future economic troubles that will be ameliorated by more tax paying immigrants.
This is factual, it is not in dispute. The larger picture of implications and reverberations are more cloudy.
This is not the first time the west has needed bodies. The industrial revolution that produced an economic tide of growth, needed many more hands and feet than the west could supply in 1880. So, they imported hands and feet from eastern and southern Europe: Italy, Sicily, Russia, Bulgaria, Poland etc. These immigrants were also motivated to leave home and hearth by unending poverty, war, tyrannical persecution. It was a tradeoff. There was little pretense about an idealized wish to help. At least, not at the highest levels of the economy or governance. When this wave reached beyond business, and when our tribal citizens had to live next-door to alien tribal packs from overseas; when the Anarchists from the east started killing the western symbols of authority, the party stopped. After 1922 - no more immigrants from southern or eastern Europe.
If indeed there are parameters that distinguish the eastern way from the western way in governance, economics, family life, ethics and even interpersonal and intimate expectations and behavior, it behooves business people and economists, government workers, teachers and therapists to explore and elucidate these historical patterns.
(Please see Knowledge & Bigotry)
Understanding them better might make a big difference.
Actually, in the west, the “ ’pc’ – politically correct” approach runs counter to and possibly impedes any meaningful exploration in this area.
Perhaps because the subject doesn’t matter all that much? Not likely.
In our present era of globalized economies, international businesses, global educations and population movements, most writers and theorists would be hard pressed to clearly define what those two descriptive terms (eastern vs. western) actually mean.
So are these differences worth exploring? Making progress towards clarifying a definition of these two ways of living would clearly benefit various areas, including business HR departments, the military and the political fields. Mental health, therapy, anthropology and sociology, as well as related medical-psychiatric approaches, would also benefit. So what’s the problem?
Why can educated and articulate people not productively discuss Rudyard Kipling’s 19th century observation.
Let’s start with our terms to be used here.
The "west", as used here, is northwestern Europe (German speaking countries), and the Anglosphere (English speaking countries.) The “east” is the rest of the globe. It is Billions more people than the west. With rare exceptions it is possible to delineate these two groups of countries by using among others, the following dimensions:
• Gender roles definitions
• Parenting and child rearing patterns
• Family structure and function.
Here is how our approach began;
Our goal of helping children through working with their parents, drew us to looking into certain family pattern differences that, on the surface, divide certain geographies.
Needing to look for new approaches was both a burden and a blessing. Helping adults through understanding their families was a fundamental starting point. More questions were raised than answered as we tried to delve deeper than symptoms and family connections.
We found a consistent pattern of separate areas of life, that come together in certain predictable clusters
Over time we found repetitive family issues not within one family, but across families that had certain types of societal backgrounds. The particular country of origin mattered much less; the larger geographic area mattered more.
We also found certain types of successful solutions would congregate in certain societal groups and ethnicities.
We found a new way of looking at anxiety, not only as a symptom but also as a method of alarm and communication that was neurologically built in to our homosapien wiring. Perhaps more immediately we saw in our work with parents a view of offspring dysfunction that had not been observable in our direct treatment of individual children, adults or even coupled adults.
Proceeding slowly and with one step at a time, we eventually felt called upon to exercise not science, numbers or knowledge. We felt called upon to exercise courage. What was staring us in the face was a predictable pattern of intimate (family) behavior that was systematically related to larger real world and historical phenomena. The zeitgeist of western social science needed to be confronted because the tribe (and its subtle tune) seemed universal and in direct contradiction to western individuality themes. So here is the new music as we hear it.
From way back, we are all tribal. During our developing years, however defined, we all dance to the pack’s tune: that is, we all reckon with the pack in our thoughts, feelings and behavior. Much more than we know. We are social from birth.
Hunting and agrarian village society fit in with that pack wiring.
Industrial society needs and develops different versions of the wired tribalism that has existed for thousands of years.
Because agrarian tribes and their economies are all built around land (even hunters are based on territories of land). The land doesn’t change. The way to make land productive doesn’t drastically change even though it might improve. Under stable conditions the same land gets passed down from one generation to the next.
Industrial and especially post industrial economies are not built around land. The industrial and post-industrial way of living does not emphasize multi-generational stability or remaining in the place and working the same farm, that your grandfather and father worked. Movement and constant change is how paper money gets printed. This in all its multidimensional manifestations, is called western modernity.
Not coincidentally, other aspects of life also differ depending on the kind of economy one is born into.
Northwestern European, North American and British based societies (in other words, the English and German speaking world also known as "the Anglosphere") have historically valued adult male and female emancipation and independence from family. Socially we may call these societies “individualizing.”
Most of the planet's other inhabitants (more than several billion people and their societies including Central Europe, Russia, much of Asia, Africa and South and Central America), do not value a separate adult identity from family and clan. Some see the “merging” of generations and extended kin, as the bedrock of the good life.
As an example of family boundary definitions I quote from an interview by the Financial Times Of London. A CEO of a Russian major media company is being interviewed by the Moscow based FT.com reporter.
" The Kremlin media star on the world according to Russia"
Margarita Simonyan, editor of the Kremlin-funded 24-hour news network RT and a cheerleader for Russia’s propaganda efforts in the west, has come prepared. When I enter Zharko!, the restaurant her family runs on the outskirts of Sochi, she is waiting for me armed with a beer, a tape recorder and her family for support.
“Behind that wall is the house where my mother was born,” Simonyan tells me. “She’s sitting over there.” Her mother and her aunt nod shyly from the next table. At 3pm on a Friday, the restaurant is otherwise empty."
Now imagine a western CEO coming to a politics-related interview with a major international newspaper, accompanied by her mom and a sampling of her extended family. In most of the non-western world, the view of family is drastically different than ours, no matter the social strata.
The unit of concern in these cultures in their economy, politics, intimate and social life is the family or clan; not the individual.
Some in these geographies (Isis, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia) actually punish attempts at separate identities, beliefs or life styles. Socially we may call these societies “tribalizing.” Each of these socio-cultural groups yields certain benefits to its citizens. Each also asks different things from those citizens. More later.
These two societal types also differ in their views of women, gender equality, child rearing, trust of the stranger and other interpersonal and family patterns. Psychologically we may call these attitudes, values and behaviors “individuation favoring” vs. “merging favoring.” Alternatively, they may be called “post-industrial” vs. “pre-industrial-agrarian” family patterns.
These two groups of geographies (partially described in The West and The Rest by Niall Ferguson) also differ significantly in non-family, non-interpersonal societal areas, such as: the rural vs. urban population ratio, industrial vs. agrarian (pre-industrial) economies. Economically we may call these patterns “capitalism” vs. “mercantilism” as well as industrial vs agrarian.
They also differ in educational gender opportunity, governance policies, rule of law, and citizen’s protected rights. Politically, we may call these two styles of government and governance, “democracy” vs. “authoritarianism.” Sociologically; ”modernity” vs “traditional”.
Perhaps most importantly, these two sets of societies differ in the long history of their political and economic experiences. Before 1700, the northwestern countries of Europe were destabilized by civil wars and the repeated barbarian invasions from the Huns, Mongols, Magyars, Turks, Arabs and other intruders and occupiers from the south and east. The battle of Vienna put an end to these repeated destructive, destabilizing external attacks. This allowed certain long lasting stability and order to develop economically, societally, industrially and individually.
By and large after 1725, because the industrial revolution empowered North America and Northwestern Europe, the northwest became what may be called the attacker or imperializer. The south and east were the imperializees. That may be changing as globalization spreads the economic and educational benefits of industrialization.
Please read a description of different attitudes and behavior along these societally defined lines.
On Tues April 19, 2016, the poli-economic journalist, Gideon Rachman, in the Financial Times wrote:
“The way the press treats political leaders marks a crucial dividing line between free and authoritarian countries.” He is addressing an issue affecting globalization and the attendant cultural conflicts of that process. “In an authoritarian state, presidents demand and receive reverential treatment. In democratic countries political leaders know that they will be subject to satire…” He goes on to contrast the European Union as an example of a democratic approach, with “Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China…Hungary …and Asian authoritarianism…” Referring to ever greater clout by these authoritarian countries he concludes: “In the coming years, protecting press freedom is likely to cost Europeans contracts and money…”
If family and individual boundaries are added to the mix, the larger circles of the two systems, east and west economies, governments and laws, are seen to be divided along the same lines as the smaller more personal and intimate circles.
Moreover, these two very different societal types differ in the most important features relevant to the current lives of their citizens: “The west” is more or less rich and industrialized while the “rest” are more or less illiterate, agrarian and often impoverished. Recently, (since World War II and again after Vietnam) the western victors have helped some Asian countries begin industrialization (Japan, South Korea, China) but they are certainly not considered “post-industrial” in the western societal sense.
Why are these facts important? Interesting perhaps; but why important to parents?
For several reasons: As a western parent you may feel fully integrated into this western modernity culture of ours. If you are a foreign born, or first generation non-western parent, you are probably more aware of generational differences in many areas of family and societal life.
If the above societal and personal boundary distinctions are true they will have significant implications for how your child experiences you and themselves and their world. When interacting with western institutions and individuals the different definitions of what we call “ego-boundaries” in industrial modernity vs. traditional agrarian settings may be confusing to your child as well as to you.
Adolescent/young adult loneliness and alienation, both of which can be experienced without apparent explanation, is a common adaptation manifestation. In younger children “acting out” and other symptom patterns can result.
These sets of parents still face challenges that stem from the lack of articulated societal patterns and influences mentioned above. Their children face contradictions every day when interacting in the family versus larger societal values and expectations.
Please see the “multi-generational transmission process” of emotional and behavioral patterns which proceeds outside our immediate awareness. (see the MENU>SYSTEM link)
These distinctions are psychologically important because the western mental health profession and the developmental psychology and education industry have as a basic tenet that only through separation from mother and family and through “individuation” in adulthood can a person be happy, mature and mentally stable. The majority of the world's non-westernized citizens would not sign on to that.
Please read excerpts from course descriptions of a major and highly respected therapist training institute in Washington DC. Please note we hardily endorse and admire this institute and its faculty. We also agree with every quoted course description. Where we differ is that this approach, outlook and series of assumptions in our opinion do not currently apply everywhere. They work in certain cultures but may even be life or relationship threatening in other cultures. Is everyone in those cultures (Saudi Arabia, areas of Africa, South and Central America, ISIS, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Russia) considered significantly "damaged" ?
“…A Difficult Past: Working with Facts and Defining a (separate) Self ….
…Differentiation of Self: Evidence for Reversibility of the Impact of Family History…
"This presentation will draw upon evidence from the Observations of Change research project and videotaped interviews to illustrate ways that steps toward differentiation of self in family systems psychotherapy bring about changes associated with improved health and functioning in the family. The discussion will focus on ways that changes in physiological reactions and patterns of interaction within the family indicate reversibility of the impact of adversity and epigenetic influences in one’s own lifetime and over generations in a family…"
…"Leadership in a Family" ..."Through a lecture and videotaped interviews, this conference will explore what it means to be a leader in a family. From the viewpoint of Bowen’s idea of differentiation of self, the leader does not have to be the chief executive officer of the family, but be a responsible and thoughtful member of the system. The differences and similarities of leadership in a family and an organization will be described and demonstrated. …”
These dimensions are important for psychotherapy practice since it is individuation and emancipation from family that is the goal of the western “mental health establishment" for growing children and most adult patients.
Globally, (in fact, billions of global citizens and their cultures) the tribal outlook believes just the opposite. Family cohesiveness as adults as well as youngsters is a bedrock value for most of the world. It is, demographically, the industrialized northwest that is the outlier.
Dr. Bowen might describe, a tribal "glob" pattern, as taking several generations to accommodate surrounding western modernity values and patterns. There is thus, often a void in the three-way reciprocal feedback loop of society<->family<->child/adult. As a result, non-acknowledged confusion often reigns, especially in the realms of self-esteem and the definitions of intimacy/love
On another front, the family structures and patterns that facilitate individuation are thought to have a reciprocal and compatible relationship with the economic and political institutions in western societies. The authoritarian and vertical organization in the institutions of a tribalizing society also reach down into creating its "merged-boundary" families.
One of our major goals in this blog is to illustrate the mutually reinforcing mechanisms that interact between the individual in the family, the individuating family in the society, and the individualizing societal structures and institutions. Conversely, we wish to illustrate the tribalizing societal political/economic structures and their effects on the tribal family patterns and structures.
A second major goal, related to the first, is to contrast the details of the “individual focused” from the “tribal focused” economies and governance institutions; they affect the individual, the family, and in turn, the economy and the culture.