Someday 1,000 years from now, when they unearth this era, archaeologists will surely wonder how a great power called America set out to make the Middle East more like itself – by embracing pluralism and the rule of law – and eventually instead of becoming more like the Middle East – emulating its worst tribal mores and introducing a whole new level of anarchy into its national politics?
Middle Easterners may call their great tribes “Shiites” and “Sunnis” and Americans may call theirs “Democrats” and “Republicans”, but they each seem to operate increasingly with a conformist mindset, us versus. them, although at different intensity levels. Extreme Republican tribalism accelerated dramatically as the GOP tribe became dominated by a base of largely white Christians, who feared their long-standing primacy in America’s power structure would be eroded by rapid change. social norms, the expansion of immigration and globalization, leaving them no longer to feel “at home” in their own country.
To point it out, they clung to Donald Trump, who enthusiastically expressed their darkest fears and raw tribal muscles that escalated the right-wing pursuit of minority rule. Even erstwhile Republicans have mostly followed suit, embracing the basic philosophy that dominates tribal politics in Afghanistan and the Arab world: “the other” is the enemy, not a fellow citizen, and the only two. choices are “reign or die.”
Note that archaeologists will also note that Democrats exhibited their own type of tribal mania, such as the shrill group thinking of progressives in 21st century American universities. In particular, there was evidence that professors, administrators, and students were “canceled” – either silenced or kicked from campus for expressing even mildly unconventional or conservative views on politics, race, gender. or gender identity.
But what sparked the shift from traditional pluralism to fierce tribalism in the United States and many other democracies? My short answer: it has become much more difficult to maintain democracy today, with social networks constantly polarizing people, and with globalization, climate change, the war on terrorism, widening income gaps. and the rapid technological innovations that constantly test them. And then a pandemic.
More than a few democratically elected leaders around the world now find it much easier to gain support with identity-driven tribal appeals than to do the hard work of coalition building and compromise in pluralistic societies in complex times. .
When that happens, everything turns into a marker of tribal identity – wearing a mask during the pandemic, COVID-19 vaccinations, gender pronouns, climate change. Your position on each point doubles as a challenge for the others: are you in my tribe or not? So there is less focus on the common good, and ultimately no common ground on which to pivot to do big, difficult things.
Ironically, there is no institution in American life that has worked harder to vaccinate America against this virus of tribalism, while enriching and exemplifying an ethic of pluralism, than the military – the same people who have. been most intimately exposed to the Middle Eastern variant for over 20 years. It is not that some soldiers did not commit their own excesses in this war or were not traumatized by the excesses of their enemies. Both have arrived. But they didn’t let him change their core identity and the type of army they wanted to be.
Leadership Matters: America’s population is similar in diversity to the U.S. military, but the ethos of pluralism and teamwork demonstrated by many of our men and women in uniform reduces tribal divisions within the forces armies. It’s not perfect, but it’s real. Ethical leadership based on the principles of pluralism is important. That is why our military is our last great vector of pluralism at a time when more and more civilian politicians are opting for cheap tribalism.
What scares me the most is how this virus of tribalism is now infecting some of the world’s most dynamic multisectary democracies – like India and Israel, as well as Brazil, Hungary and Poland.
India is a particularly sad story for me because after 9/11 I presented Indian pluralism as the most important example of why Islam per se was not responsible for motivating people. Al-Qaida terrorists. It all depended, I argued, on the political, social and cultural context in which Islam, or any other religion, was anchored – and where Islam is anchored in a pluralistic and democratic society, it thrives like any other religion. . Although India has a large Hindu majority, it has had Muslim presidents and a Muslim woman on its Supreme Court. Muslims, including women, had been governors of many Indian states, and Muslims were among the country’s most successful entrepreneurs.
Unfortunately, today Indian nationalism based on pluralism is weakened by the Hindu supremacists of the ruling BJP party, who seem determined to convert a secular India into a “Hindu Pakistan”, as the eminent one once said. Indian historian Ramachandra Guha.
That democracies around the world are infected with this virus of tribalism couldn’t come at a worse time – a time when every community, business and country will have to adapt to accelerations of technological change, globalization and climate change.
We must quickly find the antidote to this tribalism, otherwise the future is bleak for democracies around the world.
The New York Times