Alien Anthropology

Our Tribalism is Endemic but Silly

We should be ashamed of ourselves for our collective failures but in many ways, we are just not clever (or wise) enough to know any better.

How to alienate and enrage 99% of the world? Tell them that almost all of their contemporary cultural practices, beliefs, interests, hobbies and pastimes are shallow, superficial assertions of tribal identity that do little more than provide temporary comfort in an ultimately hostile, selfish and uncaring world. It is not that these cultural practices and assorted belief systems are without value, more that they provide no ultimate values, purposes, meanings or aspirations beyond a thinly-veiled naked fact of their own primary and shameless self-interest.

As organic entities necessarily endowed with core cognitive axioms and behavioural orientations towards continuity of sustainable existence, it is perhaps not surprising that the systems of information and communication we inhabit reflect this complex, adaptive self-interest but there is an implicit and unacknowledged discontinuity here. That is – these complex systems of ritual, behaviour, communication and collective cognition as language, idiomatic evolution and culture are disembodied abstractions and autonomously self-propagating information systems that inhabit us every bit as much as we inhabit them.

Just as these information systems of aggregate artefacts, memes, stored and in-transit acts of communication are the transmission medium through which our own collectively self-reflexive self-definitions commute, we ourselves are the transmission medium by, through and as which these distributed, interdependent abstractions of information pass. This perspective requires not so much that you are prepared to invert notions of self-identity and consider that there might be something vaster and more all-encompassing than your own symbolic world but, rather, that this world that is beyond your self, your control and your complete, unproblematic comprehension is the primary reality and these shallow selves and cultural entities are merely transient, flickering lights on the surface of this deeper, more mysterious integrated system.

Look at something like football. It is quite natural for any of us to attach ourselves to an identity and distributed cultural or tribal presence of these symbolic artefacts. In some ways, this attachment is a consequence of enculturation, experience and inherited behavioural (as much as cognitive or psychological) patterns. In other ways, even the participation in a system of foundationally competitive tribal assertions of self-identity serves the primary purpose of sustaining the continuing adversarialism and ongoing information system of a game and grammar of competitive belligerence itself – the abstract system of game and adversarial differentiation is the true benefactor here. Our personal attachments and commitments to none-too-well-obscured tribal identities provides the threshold level of dissonance and entropy through which those information systems optimally self-propagate.

Similarly, observe political systems of all kinds and ideological flavours. Whether you analyse the variegated fractures and fractal dissonance of tribalism intrinsic to (and as) the interior surface of putative democracies or the screaming neuroses of adversarial authoritarian posturing on the world stage – these are all the recursively self-replicating patterns of difference and tribalism which autonomously seek to self-propagate themselves through the transient transmission mediums of countless individuals swept up and away in their tidal symmetries.

The only consolation here for the reflective world-watcher might have to be that even those historical figures around which political or ideological concepts and tribal behaviours self-gravitate are themselves only the emergent products of distributed information systems that autonomously foreground not any specific individual but those individuals that generate just enough creative entropy as to successfully self-propagate the overall national or international systems of difference and differentiation.

This is a blow to the idea of fruitful self-determination or the self-made man (and yes, for no particular point of benefit or purpose beyond that men tend to be more aggressive and more naturally percolate through such systems of tribal dissonance as we all inhabit – a point that itself is of no particular utility other than that aspirations to decentralise the angry statesmen from the center of this Global system we need a new Global system which is a notion of which no one is particularly fond.)

Consider also that the myth of the Great or Historical figure is really in and of itself little more than the inverse function of belief and cultivation in the substance and significance of the individual; that is to say – we tend towards systems of belief or knowledge in which central figures and other such tribal, psychological and existentially self-reflexive anchors form the abstract template upon which we might construct our own (ultimately futile) boundaries and parameters of self-definition.

Political systems are actually the template case for a system of abstract information self-propagation. We might consider them in many ways to be psychological biases and insecurities writ-large, but we might as easily consider those Global systems to manifest in the individual or tribal belief systems by autonomously cultivating these psychological biases and insecurities as the optimally succinct methods and means of functional self-propagation. We can quite simply overlay human desires and needs upon the core actions and assertions of political tribes and nations because those vast abstractions and group behaviours are the primary method by and through which individual beliefs and actions acquire intelligibility and even the possibility of reality.

There is of course no preferred view here, as to assert (for instance) the pre-eminence of individual or of tribe (or nation state and ideological system) is merely to step over the self-crossing threshold of replicating this Globally self-propagating game of difference, differentiation and usefully-adversarial system self-replicating dissonance. Enjoy your ideologies, your football teams and any and all other tribal identities you value and seek meaning in but be aware that all of this is not yours and in as much as this is a complex communication and information system you inhabit and live through, it equally and inversely inhabits and lives through you.

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