Last week, one of our readers suggested that I read “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, a long and detailed post by psychiatrist Scott Alexannder on his Slate Star Codex site. You’re encouraged to read the whole thing if you have time — it’s about 10,000 words — but if you don’t I’ll boil out the three critical parts for you in bite-sized portions. They are:
0. Tribal America
1. Never A Coward Where The Muezzin Calls
2. Just A Touch Of Grey
I will also do something that Mr. Alexander does not do, and that is: attempt to pinpoint the reason for our transition from communities to tribes.
Alexander starts by attempting to resolve a curious question: Why doesn’t he know any conversatives? He makes a fascinating analogy to dark matter or anti-matter: it’s all around us, it exists in the same space, but because it vibrates differently we can neither perceive nor experience it.
The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!”, and listening to country music.
The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.
I think these “tribes” will turn out to be even stronger categories than politics. Harvard might skew 80-20 in terms of Democrats vs. Republicans, 90-10 in terms of liberals vs. conservatives, but maybe 99-1 in terms of Blues vs. Reds.
It’s the many, many differences between these tribes that explain the strength of the filter bubble – which have I mentioned segregates people at a strength of 1/10^45? Even in something as seemingly politically uncharged as going to California Pizza Kitchen or Sushi House for dinner, I’m restricting myself to the set of people who like cute artisanal pizzas or sophsticated foreign foods, which are classically Blue Tribe characteristics.
Are these tribes based on geography? Are they based on race, ethnic origin, religion, IQ, what TV channels you watched as a kid? I don’t know.
I have the answer to that, or at least I think I do, but I’ll save that for a minute or two because I want to focus on the insight here regarding “tribes”. The Native Americans formed dozens of tribes, but modern Americans really have just two. Very few people find their beliefs evenly split across Red and Blue. Chances are that you personally hold either majority Blue or majority Red opinions.
The tribes do not associate with each other. Not on the Internet, not on the street, and most definitely not at work. In fact, it’s safe to say that most workspaces are actively hostile towards one or the other of these tribes. I wouldn’t recommend that a full dress-and-makeup “trans woman” report to work at an assembly line in Ohio. I don’t think anybody would attack them but I do think they’d be treated as if they did not exist and I doubt they’d wind up being the plant manager or even a line leader. Meanwhile, the nice people at Google have basically gone insane with their violent distaste towards anyone who holds conservative opinions.
I was working at a plain-Jane Midwestern insurance company during the 2016 election and I was shocked by how many people thought it was appropriate to yell “FUCK TRUMP!” or something similar in the middle of the office during working hours. No action was ever taken against any of the people who exhibited Trump Derangement Syndrome. I wondered at the time what the consequences would be for yelling “FUCK OBAMA!” in response. I do recall a meeting shortly after the election where a senior leader of the company dragged us into a meeting room and railed about Trump being a Nazi for about six minutes before getting down to the business of the day. I think it’s safe to say that most white-collar offices, even in the Midwest, are strongholds of the Blue Tribe.
Never A Coward Where The Muezzin Calls
I think we all understand by now that the Blue Tribe has a strong fondness for Muslims in general and the idea of Muslim immigration to the United States in particular. This has always confounded me because I have a reasonable amount of experience with Muslims both in the United States and overseas. I’ve had the crescent-and-star of Islam on my race car both here and in Asia. I’ve traveled with Muslims and I’ve eaten with their families. By and large, they are what we think of as “Red Tribe” people. They think homosexuality is disgusting. They hold women responsible for promiscuity. They are focused on family units and they rarely have much trust of people to whom they are not related. Most critically, they see no real reason to separate church and state. Even the Muslims I’ve met who drink and smoke weed and watch porn consider their own behavior to be crimes against God, not signs of liberal virtue.
In other words, they really believe in their religion. Islam is real to them. They mean it. And the tenets of Islam stand in direct opposition to Blue Tribe values. What’s up? Mr. Alexander has the answer:
What makes an unexpected in-group? The answer with Germans and Japanese is obvious – a strategic alliance. In fact, the World Wars forged a lot of unexpected temporary pseudo-friendships. A recent article from War Nerd points out that the British, after spending centuries subjugating and despising the Irish and Sikhs, suddenly needed Irish and Sikh soldiers for World Wars I and II respectively. “Crush them beneath our boots” quickly changed to fawning songs about how “there never was a coward where the shamrock grows” and endless paeans to Sikh military prowess.
Sure, scratch the paeans even a little bit and you find condescension as strong as ever. But eight hundred years of the British committing genocide against the Irish and considering them literally subhuman turned into smiles and songs about shamrocks once the Irish started looking like useful cannon fodder for a larger fight. And the Sikhs, dark-skinned people with turbans and beards who pretty much exemplify the European stereotype of “scary foreigner”, were lauded by everyone from the news media all the way up to Winston Churchill.
In other words, outgroups may be the people who look exactly like you, and scary foreigner types can become the in-group on a moment’s notice when it seems convenient.
Blue Tribe people, as a whole, don’t have a lot of affection for Muslims. But they are willing to ally with them based on a convenient mythology, namely that “Most educated Muslims don’t take Islam any more seriously than we, the Twitterati, take our own Unitarianism or High Church Protestantism.” Once you view it like that, your perspective revolves into religious moderates and agnostics banded together against redneck religious fanatics. They are kidding themselves. Even a story by USA TODAY that is explicitly designed to push a gays-OK-in-Islam narrative has to stumble over the truth: 46 percent of American Muslims think homosexuality “should be discouraged”, and they are the most liberal Muslims in the world, period point blank. The article attempts to contrast the Muslim 46 percent with “higher percentages” among “American evangelicals”, but that’s a ridiculous and deliberately misleading comparison.
Oh well. When the British enlisted the Irish and the Sikhs into World War II, they ended up providing the Irish and the Sikhs with the training and firepower that they would later on turn against the Empire after the alliance of convenience was ended. You may recall the same thing happening with this one fellow that we hired to fight the Soviets. Osama something-or-other. The question is: Once the Blue Tribe completely runs the table and wins the battle against the Red Tribe in America, let’s say in 20-30 years, what will they do with the fifty million or so immigrants in this country who have no trouble throwing gay people off buildings? Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.
Just A Touch Of Grey
The Blue Tribe and the Red Tribe might be the only major tribes in this country, and the conclusion of their battle may be as certain as the sacrifice of Aslan, but I’m willing to bet that many of my readers don’t feel one hundred percent affiliated with the Blue Tribe. You might find the antics of “Trigglypuff” in the above video to be repulsive and disgusting. You might disagree with the notion that Lena Dunham is beautiful or the doctrine of 37 genders or the assertion that the many demonstrated biological differences between different groups of human beings come to a magical halt at the base of the skull. Your response to the #MeToo scandal might be “No shit, men in positions of power are going to have sex with women.” You might even harbor some slight twinges of concern about the idea of a future America with a majority population of Muslim, Mexican, and African immigrants.
If that is the case, then you might be a member of the Grey Tribe, which is described in the Alexander article but which I think is more thoroughly explained by ur-Grey-Tribe member Pax Dickinson:
Greys are a libertarian-minded tribe of live-and-let-livers. They tend to dwell online, often adopting shifting pseudonyms and communicating with each other on forums and anonymous imageboards. Amongst the Grey Tribe one would expect to see higher levels of internet savvy, fondness for tech gadgetry, and disillusionment with traditional politics. They support privacy and anonymity, and oppose the NSA surveillance regime. Edward Snowden is a Grey Tribe hero. They revere open source, strongly support an open internet, and it is by no means exaggeration to describe them as free speech fundamentalists. All three of the tribes have found a home on the internet but the Grey Tribe is born of the net and has never existed outside of it.
Many of the Grey Tribe self-identify as Blue, agreeing with Blues on many social issues while feeling disagreement with the Blues in areas economic and opposing Blue efforts to enforce political correctness. A few self-identify as Red, strongly agreeing with small government and 2nd amendment rights, but usually feeling strong antipathy or at best ambivalence toward Red social issues like opposition to gay marriage and abortion. Other Greys adopt the libertarian mantle, and many Greys disavow politics entirely. Despite their own failure so far to self label as such, the Grey Tribe does exists as its own independent culture, overlapping in areas but remaining distinct from the Red and Blue cultures.
The Grey Tribe has existed as long as the Internet but in the last few decades a generation has grown up on the internet and on its Grey Tribe culture. The numbers of the Grey Tribe have swelled while the cultural and economic power of the Grey Tribe has also risen along with the power and prestige of the tech industry. Grey industries and cultural products have now entered the mainstream and with entry to the mainstream comes conflict with existing power centers.
James Damore is a member of the Grey Tribe. Scott Alexander, to his immense chagrin, admits that he has more in common with the Grey Tribe than with the authentic Blue Tribe. The so-called “alt-right” is the militant wing of the Grey Tribe; the Electronic Frontier Foundation serves as its Jesuit school.
Dickinson correctly recognizes that the Grey Tribe was born on the Net, but he neglects to mention that the acceleration and radicalization of both Blue and Red tribes could have only taken place in a connected environment. The 24/7 news cycle, the filter-bubble sites like Vox and FreeRepublic, the massive and terrifying lurch of the media into pure Blue Tribe territory — that’s all made possible by a world in which people are confronted by politics every time they look at the screens to which they’ve become enslaved.
I’m always surprised at how apolitical my BMX pals are. There’s a reason for that. They work blue-collar jobs where you don’t look at the Web all day. They might do an hour of screen time a day. In today’s climate, that’s like being raised by wolves. They aren’t being force-fed a continual filter-bubble doctrine. They don’t quality as Red or Blue tribe members. They don’t have settled opinions on gay marriage or assault weapons. It’s not important to them. But they are the minority and their children are creatures of the glowing screen.
By and large nowadays, young people are conscripted into the Blue Tribe during their pre-teen years because the vast majority of available media is Blue. They might go to church one or even twice a week but church can’t compete with the screen. This is by design and it’s considered a major victory by the Blue Tribe.
The problem is that children like to rebel. When I was a kid, I volunteered for the (William Jefferson) Clinton campaign as a way to rebel against my conservative family. But where do you go when your family is Blue and the screens are Blue and the schools are Blue? Chances are that you visit a doubleplusbadthink site like 4Chan or Reddit’s The_Donald. Your rebellion isn’t going to be Red; the Red Tribe is yesterday’s news. They’re hicks and they are poor and they fuck their cousins and although you have no way to verify any of that personally you’ve been told those things your entire life with the same scientific certainty that explained gravity and magnetism and climate change.
Instead, you’re going to turn Grey as your rebellion. Your response to the 37-gender orthodoxy will not be a spirited Biblical defense of traditional sexuality but rather a flat “LOL THATS STUPID OK PEPE TROLOLOLOL”. You are going to look at Trigglypuff with the same contempt that children of the Sixties had for Ozzie and Harriet. You’re going to seek your own truth, and you’re going to do it among the Greys.
Allow me to make a prediction. Christianity and conventional morality in this country, the kind of ethical and moral approach that informed and guided the development of the United States from Jamestown to V-J Day, is dead. Gone. It will not return. The Blue Tribe has won. Mr. Trump’s election is proof of this, not a contradiction. It was the reaction you get when you put somebody in a corner and they fight hardest right before you cut their throat. It might take a while to grind to a conclusion but if you are a Christian right-winger in this country then you lost the war a while ago. “Immigration reform” and the triumph of television culture served as your Midway. What’s going on now is your Iwo Jima. And if there are still people praying to the risen Christ somewhere in Ohio twenty years from now that’s no more relevant than the Japanese holdouts on their islands in 1955.
The Red Tribe had a two-hundred-year run in this country. The Blue Tribe won’t last as long, because they defined themselves in opposition to the Red Tribe and many of their beliefs are eminently risible in a vacuum. The few children that they have are already turning Grey: Heartiste et al call them “Generation Zyklon” because a constant stream of hyperbolic comparisons of Red Tribe beliefs to Nazism has effectively inoculated them against the authentic horrors of the Holocaust. Eventually it will occur to the Grey Tribe members that they would be better off without the old Blue Tribe people around, the same way that that Generation X Blue Tribe members don’t feel any moral obligation to let Red Tribers hold jobs or participate in public discourse.
Of course, there’s a minor problem with all of this. The America of 2075 will be mostly Hispanic and second-generation immigrant. That is by design. The numbers have been done by people who think that Hispanics will be faithful servants of the Blue Tribe in perpetuity, like slaves buried in the pyramid to serve the Pharoah in the afterlife. I’m not so sure.
(Image stolen, shamelessly, from Up In The Valley.)
I have this crazy idea that Hispanic and Muslim immigrants have their own plans for the American future, ones that do not involve being permanent auxiliaries for Trigglypuff’s 37 Gender Parade. I won’t live to see it, but my son will. He will have a chance to see the Grey Tribe win the battle against its parents only to realize that they are now just one among many postmodern American tribes. Mexican, Somali, West African, Chinese, Salvadoran, and many more. All of them believing in things like blood and soil. The narcissism of small differences will be long gone, because all the differences around you will be plain as day.
In other words, the America of 2100 looks like the America of, say, 1600. Open up a history book and see how the arguments were settled back then. Or if this very post is history for you, if you’re absorbing it via a bio-soft implant in the year 2200 or something like that, if the future is a technological wonderland instead of subsistence farming and a daily call to worship, then I suppose that means the Grey Tribe turned out to be just as vicious as their great-great-great-great-grandparents were. Good to know.