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Our tribal future (a ramble)

The “left” wants somehow to unite us all behind ideas that are inherently divisive. (“My life matters more than your life,” “I belong to more victim classes than you do,” and “If you don’t think exactly what I happen to think today, you’re evil and should die.”)

A growing faction on the “right” (including, apparently, former quasi-pseudo libertarian Peter Thiel), wants to unite us all behind big-government nationalism.

Here’s my bet: neither plan will fly, at least not outside of academia, think tanks, and their devotees.

The only thing that will ever unite millions in the foreseeable future is a Lathe of Heaven solution, which will have legions of problems of its own and be short-lived.

And that’s okay. Disunity has plenty of virtues. We just aren’t feeling them right now because our particular disunity is so new and so chaotic.


In fact, while shared cultural touchstones, coupled with respect for difference, are wholesome, creative, and very much needed, it’s safe to say that too much political unity is a very bad thing.

Political unity is — despite the high-flying and noble rhetoric often attached to it — always the unity by and for the powerful and wealthy. It’s been that way since forever. The U.S. may have been the first country ever consciously created “by and for the people,” but it took only a decade or so for the Hamiltonian elite to begin asserting its true intent. And after recent decades of prosperous passivity we’re witnessing the culmination of Hamiltonian thinking right now. And Marxian thinking, too. Whotta combo. (Hint: In political practice, the two aren’t as different as they sound in theory.)

Our current situation looks like disunity on steroids, but the plain fact is that whichever political faction comes out on top (if any), and whichever illusion of unity emerges from the present chaos, the chief beneficiaries will be the Usual Suspects of power. The beneficiaries are unlikely to be thee and me. Not individual rights. Not reason. And certainly not liberty.


Except those pockets of liberty we create. Around the edges and in the shadows.

The tribalism we’ve talked about before.

I’ve been thinking. And thinking. And thinking. About how future tribalism might work. Or not.

I’ve especially been thinking about the “not” part lately. How many of us thought we’d built pretty solid potential “tribes” we could rely on and contribute to in hard times, only to learn that some of our most presumably solid friends were ready to act as kapos for the state* the moment said state pushed the (time for you to) panic button?

Poof. There went our tribes. Or at least there went our confidence that our tribes would be there when tribe members needed each other. And there went our confidence in our own ability to distinguish real allies from fair-weather friends.

That got me thinking about how tribes actually function.


Somewhat of a digression, but really not: I’m seeing three potential models for our tribal future.

1. Actual tribes. Small groups of people born and raised together, bound and bonded by traditions that go back hundreds or thousands of years, and usually also bonded by shared blood, experiences, beliefs, threats, and survival needs. Frequently highly hierarchical and rule (or taboo)-driven.

2. Monastic establishments. Small groups of people who’ve chosen to live together, bound and bonded by service to a higher-than-human ideal. Nearly always hierarchical. Definitely rule-driven.

3. Communities. Small-to-medium groups of people who only happen to live in proximity to each other, pursuing their own individual and familial good in their own ways, but bound by certain shared interests (e.g. neighborhood protection or a need to keep waterlines open and roads passable). Generally far less hierarchical, and (regardless of whatever laws-on-paper exist) more driven by the Golden Rule and common courtesy than by dictated procedures or tribal taboos.

Any one of these models could serve us, and serve the preservation of liberty, reason, and knowledge in an age that ceases to value them. They’re all similar — and different. For purposes of this ramble, I’m lumping them all under the rubric of “tribes,” though the monastic and community models are more realistic for those not born into real tribal circumstances.


So. Thinking about this, I’m confronted with some maybe-not-so-randomish thoughts about what makes tribes work — and why there are so many obstacles to making our (often far-flung) tribes truly functional.

In no particular order:

  • Every successful model we have is based on physical proximity. Not that proximity itself guarantees either harmony or security (hardly!); but lack of proximity seems to guarantee fragmentation under pressure. It’s not impossible, but it is hard to turn your back on a community of sisters, brothers, or cousins; pretty easy to walk away from an ally on the Internet you’ve never met and probably never will.
  • A tribe can’t merely be based on shared, but untested, ideas. Ideas themselves shift (as the Jacobin left demonstrates nearly every week). Or ideas may be sound and durable, but the people who hold the ideas, not so much.
  • Real tribes require long-term, sometimes lifetime, contact, experience, and testing of both the individuals and the groups themselves.
  • Tribes are excellent at preserving tradition. Tribal elders inculcate the young with received knowledge and skills. It’s thanks to monasteries and monks that modern scholars have so much once-forbidden material to study. Communities are so synonymous with preserving certain aspects of daily life that the words “community standards” are gospel to some.
  • But tribes are rotten at creativity, innovation, thinking outside the box, generating great individual minds (though monastic communities have certainly nurtured a few of those), and adapting to changing circumstances.
  • Tribes collapse utterly under even minimal outside influence or changed environments. Monasteries can be bombed or mobbed to smithereens and monastics driven out and scattered to the winds. Communities can change their character with just a few small alterations to the personnel who inhabit them.
  • Freedom needs not only to be preserved, but to be practiced and grown.

As I say, these are just random thoughts. Preliminary. Fragmentary. But they all point to the need for a couple of things. One is physical proximity. Another is shared real-world interests if we want to build or belong to tribes that will enable us to preserve and pass on freedom (real-world interests meaning not only a commitment to the same philosophy, but either shared fundamental survival needs or a shared transcendent purpose backed by coherent and cohesive actions).

It also appears that the structure that’s best for preserving something is unlikely to be the best for creating something. In fact, creativity in a tribe may be viewed as disruptive (and not in the self-congratulatory Silicon Valley sense), or downright destructive. (I keep saying it: In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is burned as a heretic.) Therefore, tribes are at best a temporary solution, even if temporary means generations or centuries. The ultimate goal of the tribal future we appear to face isn’t to preserve freedom like a fly in amber or a manuscript in a desert cave, but to release freedom into the world again one day, healthy and vigorous.


But for our purposes — we who may need to create the tribes or found the monasteries — the one big thing my rambling mind keeps returning to is the question of testing and being tested.

Real tribes have killer rights of passage. Children have to prove their courage and strengths and value to their fellows. Young men go on vision quests or perform great feats of hunting before being accepted as fully fledged members. Sometimes the rituals are incomprehensibly brutal, like those of the Mandans of North Dakota. Before becoming men, Mandan boys had to endure being suspended above the ground by piercings through their upper bodies while their arms were weighted with buffalo skulls. All to prove their worth as men of the tribe.

Monasteries require brief postulancies, then longer periods spent as novices to test whether wannabe monks and nuns are fit for the life. Even once fully vowed, monastics have to bear the crosses of hard labor and obedience (and obedience, they invariably say, is vastly harder than any vows of poverty or chastity). They have to go on with their commitment, even when they’re not feeling it. Every day is a test.

Even in informal communities, where acceptance or non-acceptance is a lot less structured, newcomers have, sooner or later, to prove themselves to be good neighbors before being accepted. Being there to help build a shed or a fence, sharing garden produce, transporting a sick or elderly neighbor to an appointment, or maybe just earning a reputation for being diligently watchful of others’ safety while also minding your own business about everyday matters — they’re all tests of a sort.

Can you be counted on? Can you count on others? There’s always a test. Always. Many times, multiple tests.

As far-flung as we are now, it’s hard to test the depth and strength of our connections. Or to be tested and found reliable.

Testing is never infallible. But it matters — and matters far more than shared ideas, which loom so large here in the eworld, but may not count for spit when the you-know-what hits the you-know-which.


Credit to KP for reminding me of the very useful term “kapo.”


  1. Val E. Forge
    Val E. Forge August 6, 2020 4:12 pm

    As usual Claire, you’ve given us one hell of a cyber bone to chew on.

  2. Toirdhealbheach Beucail
    Toirdhealbheach Beucail August 6, 2020 4:35 pm

    Claire – I am not overly surprised by the collapse of the tribes in my life. The lack of proximity (read here “InterWeb” and “Social Media” makes it rather easy to become unified around a single idea or interest. It is, as you say, proximity that determines the long term ability of the group to co-exist and succeed. Much like in any actual close friendship or marriage, it takes living with someone or in proximity of someone every day to truly understand them and they you – and to find out what issues you may differ on and still co-exist with.

    I think your three categories are correct, as well as your assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of each. That said, communities are equally prone to dissolution as the ghosts towns and slowly dying rural towns across America would attest to. Perhaps a useful way to think of it as well is in relationship to proximity. Tribes (Clans) work well when they are isolated from non-tribal influences (The Clan structures of the Gaelic Ireland and Scotland or Native Americans worked well as long as they were within their own larger cultural context). Monastic communities, too, often seek to locate themselves away from people in a desire for isolation from temptation or a desire for solitude. Communities can be of somewhat different compositions and live together harmoniously, provided they have an overall similar understanding of certain rules of the road.

    All of that said, I suspect we will all end up being more tribal than what we anticipated. The course of the old social understanding and order is breaking down.

  3. Myself
    Myself August 6, 2020 5:04 pm

    I’m not sure the “right” and the “left” are what you believe they are, but other than that I can’t disagree with anything you’ve said, in a few weeks, the powers that be will appoint “new” “leaders in the U.S., and nothing will change.

  4. William Taylor
    William Taylor August 6, 2020 5:09 pm

    This is why I never give up on you even when you need to take a long break.
    You put into words that which I have had rattling around in my brain for some time now. There’s an evil force working right now. They don’t want to fix, only tear down. Nothing good is coming from all of this.

  5. John Wilder
    John Wilder August 6, 2020 8:23 pm

    Excellent points. A related corollary is the tension between responsibility to the group and individual liberty. There’s a reason Vikings did shield walls and the Greeks used a phalanx – responsibility to the group matters. But liberty matters, too. A lot. A phalanx couldn’t produce what Aristotle did.

    Just spitballing. It’ll probably work its way into a post sooner rather than later.

  6. Daylan
    Daylan August 7, 2020 7:02 am

    Might there be a forth ‘tribe’ – the religious community? (yes, it could be a subset of the community definition). Think Mormon pioneers trekking to and settling Utah. Bound by a higher ideal, but not necessarily small-to-medium, and spread across the inter-mountain west is not exactly proximate.

    Disclosure I live in Utah, was raised Mormon and for 50 years practiced it. Even though now an atheist, I prefer to live among Christians because although I might be damned to hell I’ll have many jello salads and funeral potatoes along the way. By and large Christians believe in universal “thou shalt” to all people, not just tribal members.

    A great majority of atheists (sans your readers) aren’t. Their god is the state, and they will sic the state on you for infractions of state commandments. I do not want to live among this type of atheist (which I believe is just about everybody on the ‘left’).

    I moved to Utah for a job, hate the theocratic state government, but (wishful?) think it is probably a good place to be when SHTF.

  7. Comrade X
    Comrade X August 7, 2020 8:59 am

    First I would like to thank you Claire for being brave enough to say what is in your heart, it just ain’t that easy any more.

    To me freedom and liberty starts and ends with the individual and IMHO the best tribe would be one based on the strength of each individual in it, as Rudyard Kipling once wrote;

    “As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back;
    For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”

    You can’t have one without the other and what binds is mutual self preservation, when it comes down to it, whether someone is left or right or somewhere between isn’t the key as much as what contribution a person can make towards your preservation as an individual.

    Trust can only be as deep as our actions each and every waking moment. It’s not what we say but what we do.

    Liberty is a two way street that again IMHO runs just as much through you as it does away from you.

  8. Pat
    Pat August 7, 2020 9:19 am

    Various thoughts:

    How big is a “tribe”, and does size matter for it to work? There is a reason that cities soon break up into geographic factions, competitive or not, as they grow. Even songs recognize the tendency — “the Bronx is up, and the Battery’s down”.

    I was fascinated to learn many years ago that American Indian tribes considered themselves “nations”. They knew the difference and the importance that being different makes. Yet they traded often, and many tribes established peaceable relationships.

    That’s one reason I never supported the concept of EU. People get along better being what they are, not trying to compromise themselves at the expense of their own “personality”. When their essential being-ness (whatever made them what they are) is challenged or diluted, they feel less than whole, less important, and think “others” are trying to eliminate them. America today is trying to hold on to what it fundamentally started out to be.

    In Claire’s Cabal, it was established — at least in my mind — that a planned community would not work. (Sorry, T.L.) I, Pagan, do not now believe we can *maintain* a pre-conceived community. A spontaneous community is more agreeable to trying new ideas than a planned community (especially a “libertarian” one). And growth and development can only come from spontaneity.

    But a spontaneous community is also more apt to fall apart quicker if/when other factors interfere. I truly believe this is not so much because of the interference _per se_, as because some in the community are willing to be led, and others are willing to try new methods — so numbers add up to overrule the original intent of the community, and/or misconstrue it’s concept. But whatever the reason, no community is static, as Claire has stated. That is its weakness and its strength at the same time.

    The Golden Rule is universal; it is not just a Christian tenet. It must have been the first law of human interaction when men began to *consciously* strive to live in harmony rather than in suspicion of one other.

    The other side of that coin is, “Do unto others as they do unto you first.” And this has been the operative concept throughout human history, handed down from pre-hominids. When people do not use their minds (and do not care about “harmonizing”), they will invariably strike first. And the rest of us are left on the defensive.

  9. DH Young
    DH Young August 7, 2020 9:32 am

    Well. I mean…I’m here. Been coming here & reading stuff for years. But I don’t have a tribe other than my family, and that’s definitely not based on, or benefiting from, political or scientific or any other form of agreement.

    Got a few friends. I rarely speak to them. I enjoy it when it happens. They’re not especially significant in my daily life. In past days, when we actually worked/strategized together, sure. But we’ve all moved in separate directions.

    So…I didn’t lose anything, tribe-wise, with the covid panic. Except, maybe, some (of very little) respect for people in general. If they’re this dumb, I’m surprised they can get to the grocery store & back without breaking a leg or dying. (Speaking of that: here in San Antonio, we occasionally get rain and flooding. Often the water is barely moving. Yet people die in it. I don’t actually know how they do that. I’ve wondered about it fairly often. So I’m only exaggerating a little bit about the “going to the store” thing.)

    I think nearly all of people’s behavior is based on tribal identification, posturing, and maneuvering for position. It all bores the hell out of me. Thus I have no influence, and am happy with that.

    I’m not gonna solve any problems for anybody. Not going to be a member of anybody’s tribe in any meaningful sense.

    But I will say this: I’ve nearly always felt a bit more relaxed/refreshed after visiting this site. I don’t always agree with what I read. But I do think there are honest attempts to understand the world in progress. Most of the time.

  10. Joel
    Joel August 7, 2020 1:16 pm

    I’ve often thought about this topic but long experience has proven that I’m the last person anybody should count on to understand how to make a group more coherent. You emphasize testing, yes, but all testing ever seems to accomplish in practice is to scatter people. A community – even an ‘intentional’ community, which seems in practice like a dubious proposition – can thrive in easy times, people can think they’re really building something, but when hard times come they fall apart like all the rest.

    I’m in a fairly good situation for an introvert – some of the people around me would coalesce against bad times/bad people … I think. Some certainly would not. But I have more confidence in the larger religious community not far from us: If anybody’s got a chance of staying alive as a group and more-or-less civilized during a dark time, it’s the rural Mormons. They have useful traditions on their side. Of course ‘civilized’ is relative: I’m fairly sure their organizational structure would last longer than most but they’d probably become a problem for surrounding ‘gentiles’ whenever it suited them.

  11. Just Waiting
    Just Waiting August 8, 2020 9:13 am

    If we stay on this course, if we reach the point where people are bugging out of the population centers, civilization reaches true shtf, tribalization by proximity will be forced on most of us. With no impetus for people to tribalize beforehand, you won’t have the opportunity to discover your neighbors’ true mettle, and any tests of loyalty or grit will be taken literally by and under fire.

    Tribes that come together for mutual survival can not put up with those who don’t carry their weight for very long if they expect to survive. The SWW (Super Wokeness Warriors) will have to be the first to be “expelled” if a tribe is to survive. Known local dopers. tweakers and thieves have already failed the test and will fall out in the next self cleansing that will be necessary. Lazy leaches fall in a cleansing after that.

    In the end it all comes down to the character of your community and its people. Someone once said when push comes to shove I’d rather have a friend with an inch of scar tissue across his knuckles than a friend with a blackbelt that has never been punched in the nose.

  12. Jolly
    Jolly August 8, 2020 9:46 am

    Rural communities are NOT dying as-of a few months ago. People with means are fleeing cities and invading rural America. They’re buying-up houses at ridiculous prices; camping-out and waiting.
    Here in “Cow-Hampshire” – my tiny town of less than 1,000 has seen four houses within sight of me purchased by people with New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut license plates.
    Interestingly, one of those houses sports a BLM and white-guilt sign on its lawn. *sigh*
    With BMWs and Range Rovers, the new owners of 250 year-old houses don’t seem to fit well around here.
    Guns are well-nigh impossible to get since the riots started. Ammunition is even scarcer. Everybody is maneuvering and fearing the worst – and I don’t have a lot of faith in my new neighbors – which goes straight to what Claire talked about.
    Walking a dog around the neighborhood yields immediate embrasure, and allows me to find who I think I can “trust” – I’m just not all that sure how helpful *I* can be at this point.
    Interesting times.

  13. larryarnold
    larryarnold August 9, 2020 2:59 pm

    How big is a “tribe”, and does size matter for it to work?

    Back in the day my church called in a consultant to teach us how to grow membership. (Which pretty much worked, we did.) Among the points she made, I have remembered two.
    1. For a church to grow, you need enough parking for everybody’s cars. “But we have permission to park across the street in their business spaces” only helps existing members willing to walk further. Potential new members encountering a nearly-full parking lot will keep going. (For parking, substitute whatever resource is limiting the group.)
    2. People don’t become members of a large (1,000 members) church. They will become members of a smaller group within the church, like a Sunday School class, choir, activity group, or such, that engages them personally and enables them to actively participate. To grow your church, introduce prospective members to small groups and integrate the groups within the larger church.

    I think size is relative. NYC was a proud and vibrant tribe when it was “the Big Apple,” but now everybody is leaving because the PTB have fouled their own nest, and all the small groups within it are breaking down.

  14. Val E. Forge
    Val E. Forge August 9, 2020 9:45 pm

    Insightful post, Larry.

  15. Noah Body
    Noah Body August 10, 2020 4:01 pm

    Our “tribe” might be growing. Due to Covid and the government restrictions, people are homeschooling their kids, becoming peppers, and looking to natural/alternative/nutritional approaches to health. Unintended consequences . . .

  16. Just Waiting
    Just Waiting August 11, 2020 7:01 am

    We’re seeing a LOT here of what Jolly mentions. We’re out in a very rural place, and seeing more and more out of staters, out of towners showing up. 1 squatter lived on a neighboring property for years, 6 months ago the owners threw them out, and over the last 3 weeks they’ve had family from NM and AZ showing up in their rvs and setting up a family compound. 2 family members are retired local LE, nice enough folks (I’m pretty friendly with their old boss), so its probably good to have them posted up at the end of my driveway.

    We’re also seeing a lot of campers and rv ers setting up camp anywhere they can. Most of the state parks are closed, and rv parks are so full they’re renting spaces that used to be the lawn or bocci ball court, so roadside camping is bigger this year then before. People who have to deal with them, shopkeepers, service people, etc. in unison lament “what a bunch of rude, entitled expletive of your choice.”

    So after reading all the stories about people fleeing the cities it leaves me wondering, are these people just vacationing, or have they bugged out early and here is their final destination? They sure aren’t doing much to endear themselves to the local population, thats for sure.

  17. Tahn
    Tahn August 11, 2020 8:07 am


    Don’t be sorry. Your wonderful insight and comments, helped me to further develop my “belief” , that a community of like minded folk can indeed, form a community.

    The common factor for “Rightful Liberty” (Jefferson’s) would be a philosophy that is based on Mises/Rothbard’s concept of “Property Rights” and “Non Aggression”.

    The three parts of property rights (as I see it) are :
    Everyone owns their own body and no one else’s.
    Rightfully acquired “personal property” (your stuff)
    & Real property (Your home and lands).

    These are protected by what I call “The Supreme Principle of Civilization”.:as in “No One Has The Right to Use Force Against Another Person or Their Property”, (The Non Aggression Principle}…

    The hard part is “Trust”. How to establish that with others who supposedly share this same philosophy. There are those who can “talk the talk but cannot make the walk” so to speak.

    Of course this is difficult, even with friends and family whom you know.

    It is also difficult or impossible to establish in today’s legal world, where property rights have been diluted by the state through zoning and other methods and even shunning is prohibited by the 64 civil rights act.

    Still, I “Believe”. There are many whom I feel understand this and would accept such a philosophy as a Community Standard. Many I have met on Claire’s forums and many I have met in real life.

    You are one of those I would trust Pat. Your honesty and integrity shows in many ways through your writings and posts. Of course Claire and many others I would also include in this trust.

    Various communities could have slightly different voluntary agreements but the basis would have to be as above.

    Good luck to you Pagan and to us all who believer in “Freedom” through “Rightful Liberty”, Property Rights and Non Aggression.

    I miss you on the forum, although I don’t get to visit as often as I would like.


    “Rightful Liberty” is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add within the limits of the law because law is often but the tyrants will and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.” Thomas Jefferson ..

  18. larryarnold
    larryarnold August 11, 2020 1:31 pm

    showing up in their rvs and setting up a family compound

    This week we’re running a story about one of our long-term, family owned RV companies. Local gossip was they were getting out of the business because their lot was almost bare.

    “Not so!” they said. “We just can’t get RVs. Winnebago shut down for a week, and they’re still playing catch-up. There’s a huge demand, with 80 percent being first-time buyers, which means they have no trade-in. If you’re thinking about an RV, come now, because we’re selling units that are still being built.”

    Apparently lots of older folks are downsizing, lots of middle-age people are retiring, and lots of young people are finding it’s the only “social distanced” way to vacation.

    So, apparently, whatever is going on, it’s a seller’s market for RVs and guns. Interesting times are ahead.

  19. Pat
    Pat August 12, 2020 5:36 am

    Tahn — Let me clarify something.
    You said, “…a community of like-minded folk can indeed form a community.” — and I do agree that ANY community could be workable with a degree of compromise among its people. But I doubt the community we (you or I or others here) might want would be established on that basis, certainly not to compromise the basic premises on which it was built.

    Also… Trust is indeed the problem, but why should we find it so difficult to trust one aaother? In another community, there may be those who couldn’t be trusted to understand the concept of covering one’s back or maintaining integrity under adverse conditions — but surely not in a free community established under those very principles? It sounds paranoid and self-defeating to distrust the very people you wish to interact with — which may be the reason we’ve never put a Free Community into existence.

    This can’t be thrashed out here. It should go back into the Cabal, and I’m not inclined to spend time talking anymore — I want to live my freedom in my own way, in real time. I will be “disappearing” from the internet fairly soon.

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