Tribalism, bad. Nationalism, good?


“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” [Albert Einstein]
“We need to put tribalism behind us and remember that we’re all Kenyan” [The leader at my church, in the height of the troubles]

It’s funny how allegiances can look very different in different circumstances. In 1918, after the loss of a generation of Europe’s young men, an unquestioning allegiance to one’s country – so praised in the years proceeding – began to look unmodern, dangerous and ignorant.

Following the crisis in Kenya, it is tribalism that is under attack, and nationalism suddenly seems the hero of the day.

In today’s world where rationality rules, any allegiance is an easy target. For a rational allegiance isn’t an allegiance at all – it’s a contract. And yet, who wants their friendships reduced to contracts? I believe I am a richer person for feeling a debt of duty my family, my friends, my university college, my church, my faith, my fellow red-heads, the first firm I ever worked for and – yes – even my country. Preventing conflict by destroying my allegiances feels akin to creating equality by destroying wealth.

Perhaps who we ally with isn’t what matters. Perhaps what matters is how we perceive those outside the allegiance – the ‘others’. In which case, maybe the solution isn’t less allegiances, but more. Until there are no ‘others’.

What do you think?

One Response to “Tribalism, bad. Nationalism, good?”

  1. Toph Says:

    Hmm… I don’t really have a clue what I’m talking about, and I should really be getting back to other things, but–

    In forming more and more allegiances, you may start to run up against Dunbar’s number:'s_number

    And I wonder if allegiance to certain groups functions at all similarly to the way self-interest fuels a capitalist society, a la the “invisible hand” and what not.

    Those who know me would laugh at my once again using Star Wars as an example, but the whole Jedi idea of forbidding attachment also comes to mind. I guess the idea is that it clouds your judgment (which it probably does), and guys with superhuman powers simply can’t afford that. But rejecting any sort of attachment risks becoming uncaring and inhuman. Interesting stuff.

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