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How To Get There 02/02/20

Written By: - Date published: 7:00 am, February 2nd, 2020 - 19 comments
Categories: Deep stuff - Tags:


This post is a place for positive discussion of the future.

An Open Mike for ideas, solutions and the discussion of the possible.

The Big Picture, rather than a snapshot of the day’s goings on. Topics rather than topical.

We’d like to think it’s success will be measured in the quality of comments rather than the quantity.

So have at it!

Let us know what you think …

19 comments on “How To Get There 02/02/20 ”

  1. Dennis Frank 1

    Amy Chua is Professor of Law at Yale. Her book Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations was published a couple of years ago. Here’s how she starts her intro: “Humans are tribal. We need to belong to groups. We crave bonds… we love clubs, teams… But the tribal instinct is not just an instinct to belong. It is also an instinct to exclude.”

    Bondage doesn’t necessarily need to be imposed on members – it seems to be hard-wired: “once people belong to a group, their identities can become oddly bound with it.” Identity politics thus seems to have a genetic basis. “They will seek to benefit their group mates even when they personally gain nothing. They will penalize outsiders, seemingly gratuitously. They will sacrifice, and even kill and die, for their groups.”

    But not accountants, rotary, or even sports teams. She means ethnic tribes or political groups. Around the world “the group identities that matter the most are the ones that Americans are often barely aware of. They are not national, but ethnic, regional, religious, sectarian, or clan-based. In our foreign policy, for at least half a century, we have been spectacularly blind to the power of tribal politics. We tend to view the world in terms of territorial nation-states engaged in great ideological battles… Blinded by our own ideological prisms, we have repeatedly ignored more primal group identities, which for billions are the most powerful and meaningful, and which drive political upheaval all over the world. This blindness has been the Achille’s heel of U.S. foreign policy.”

    Wrong frame, in other words. Should’ve been replaced when the Cold War ended. Best way to get to the future is via a conceptual frame that fits current circumstances. We need to see that representative democracy is being marginalised by changing times. We need to comprehend groups psychodynamics – how they originate organically and how culture modifies them. Being able to conduct our interpersonal relations in group contexts is a key survival skill.

    Here’s an intellectual’s view of the book: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/have-our-tribes-become-more-important-than-our-country/2018/02/16/2f8ef9b2-083a-11e8-b48c-b07fea957bd5_story.html

    “The single most important intellectual trend of our time is the popular rediscovery of human tribalism. We thought we had it licked. For roughly 200,000 years, humans ran around in small, clannish groups, hunting and mating together while variously raiding or befriending other groups. But in the past couple of centuries, we wised up and replaced tribal social organization with depersonalized, rules-based institutions: markets to organize our economies, elections to organize our politics and science to organize our search for knowledge. To satisfy our hankering for group affinity, we transferred our tribal loyalties from clan and caste to abstractions like the Constitution and the free-enterprise system. The results were spectacular, a step change in human potential. We had figured it out. Or so we thought. Only we couldn’t fool Mother Nature.”

    • Sacha 1.1

      But not accountants, rotary, or even sports teams.

      Why are those any different? We have seen how professions and establishment networks protect their own, and sporting tribes are very strong.

      • Dennis Frank 1.1.1

        I suspect it's due to context. From an ecosystemic perspective, the relation of the group to cultural matrix includes influences that can be collectively determinant of trajectory. Macrocosm/microcosm.

        To sports teams, the game is primary. Society, the matrix, provides rules via tradition. To accountants & rotary, service is primary – for the former serves employers and the latter serves the community. Ethos is often codified in a charter.

        The other factor is how competition gets constrained. The balance with collaboration applies to that, so one must examine the incentive-structures for each group to see how behaviour is rewarded/punished.

    • Molly 1.2

      If you are interested, Dennis – this is a link to Treading Lightly, a book on the cultural practices and stories of the Nhunggabarra people in Australia.

      It gives some alternative food for thought, regarding how tribal groups can interact differently than what Chua has outlined.

      On the section on trade between tribes:


      It is easy to pass by the two small inconspicuous shallow holes dug into a rocky outcrop. One of the holes is around fifteen centimetres deep and five centimetres wide, the other is smaller. The rocky outcrop is situated on a low ridge just on the old border of Nhunggal country, about 100 metres from the Narran River. The ridge is sufficiently elevated to keep dry during the highest fl oods. This is one of the trading places once used by the Nhunggabarra to exchange goods with their neighbours. The Nhunggabarra selected items from their country that they had a surplus of and brought it to the trading place. There they placed a message stick in one of the holes and left. The neighbouring people passing by would see the message stick and leave items of their choice at the trading place. Both trading parties had to accept all the items, even if they did not need them; to leave anything would have shown disrespect. What they did not need they would in their turn trade with people further away. In this way a vast trading network was maintained across all of Aboriginal Australia. The trade was entirely based on trust and no one would steal the goods left for trade. To do so would be to break the law by showing disrespect and would immediately stop the trade.

      The first Europeans found many paths or tracks in the landscape. The visibility of those tracks suggested that they were frequently used. It took a long time before the Europeans realised that a whole network of trade routes linked all parts of Australia long before the Europeans arrived. In the 1930s the anthropologist McCarthy identified seven different trunk trade routes traversing the whole continent, along which people travelled astounding distances, something they must have done for a considerable time before European contact. The trunk trading func-tioned as sections in a chain: each community was responsible for the trade link over their land. The Aborigines in one section of the chain might not have needed the good themselves; all they knew was that an article came from ‘far away north’ and was going ‘far away south’.

      An interesting book, with artwork and stories from the Nhunggabarra people, and a fascinating indication of why the First Australian civilisation lasted 50,000 years.

    • Dennis Frank 2.1

      "Darwin also made the first suggestion of group selection in The Descent of Man that the evolution of groups could affect the survival of individuals. He wrote, "If one man in a tribe… invented a new snare or weapon, the tribe would increase in number, spread, and supplant other tribes. In a tribe thus rendered more numerous there would always be a rather better chance of the birth of other superior and inventive members." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_selection

      "Professor Wilson and a colleague developed the idea of group selection into "multi-level selection theory". This allows for different —and sometimes opposite — traits to be selected for at the group and individual level simultaneously. Advantage for collaboration exists when groups compete, but at the same time selfish behaviours are selected for at the individual level." [from your link]

      "E. O. Wilson summarized, "In a group, selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals. But, groups of altruistic individuals beat groups of selfish individuals." Wilson ties the multilevel selection theory regarding humans to another theory, gene-culture coevolution, by acknowledging that culture seems to characterize a group-level mechanism for human groups to adapt to environmental changes." [wikipedia]

      Reductionists are fearful of this theory! Seems intuitively correct though. They seem inclined to use their personal inadequacies to con people that humanity can't adapt to climate change.

      “To further test his idea Professor Wilson created environments that rewarded niceness among a group of “at-risk” kids at the local public school. These were students who would almost certainly drop out. They had flunked three or more of their classes the previous year,” he says. Out of 117 at-risk kids who were in grades nine and 10, 56 were randomly chosen to be in the study.”

      “A program was then designed which gave the students short term incentives for cooperation and learning, praised positive performance and empowered them to make decisions about how they would like to learn.”

      “The results were fast and dramatic. Students who participated in the study not only showed more prosocial behaviour, but their marks shot up.” Great news! But it does expose a structural defect in the education system.

      • Incognito 2.1.1

        I like teamwork because I know that in a good team my individual inadequacies and lack of skills and knowledge are more than made up for by others and I can focus on my strengths and positives rather than dwell on my negatives and waste energy & time on overcoming the negatives. All the while, it is a highly dynamic environment where roles, responsibilities, and hierarchies (if any) can change rapidly as and when required. Teams can pull off and accomplish so much more than their individual members. I see the future in terms of ‘collectivism’ but many seem to have a fear of losing control and even identity. My experience with good teams is that this is a paradox and unfounded.

        • Sacha

          People who have only experienced poor groupwork and leadership have justified fears. How do we overcome that?

          • Incognito

            Practice and better managers/management that allow for flexible solutions and creative approaches. Reading about it won’t suffice; people have to experience it themselves, first hand, and then have that lightbulb moment when the penny drops and they realise what and how much they can achieve when pulling together. I believe that many of us have good and bad experiences in this context but we rarely articulate these experiences well, for ourselves and for others. Sports are a good learning ground. We can learn from our bad experiences and get better at creating positive outcomes. The buzz works! But it does wear off as all buzzes do 😉

            • Sacha

              It needs to be there before others can experience it. Growing better leadership skills (collaborative, not heroic) would be a great infrastructure investment for our nation right now.

              • Incognito

                It can be and is experienced by and whilst creating it, as it happens, not afterwards although a reflection afterwards to let things sink in helps to engrain it. I agree that past positive experiences help to repeat and spread it, and better it. No one size fits all. The other point I made is that we already have these experiences, undoubtedly, but we may not realise it because we don’t articulate these and/or not in the framework of collective effort and success. For example, a gold medallist might view a win in a very restricted way as a single moment in time or they can view it as the outcome of a concerted long-term effort by a team that culminated into the win. Perception and framing matter.

                • Sacha

                  Recognising leadership and working together as explicit functions of groups is essential before improvement can happen. Too many people believe they just run magically with no focus or effort.

                  I have been part of excellent and mediocre collaborative groups, in community, government, and business.

                  Training about how to run groups together helped heaps in the best ones, and I wish the weak groups had the same opportunities.

  2. Dennis Frank 3

    "Science has shown that tribalism is hard-wired. Experiments and evidence dating back generations, in psychology, sociology and anthropology, have established firmly that human opinions and emotions, loyalties and affiliations, religions and customs, and even perceptions are shaped by our need to belong to a group — and by our proclivity to hate rival groups. Experimental subjects will spontaneously form in-group loyalties and out-group antipathies when assigned to teams randomly. Subjects will deny the evidence of their own eyes to agree with those around them, even if the discrepancy is blatant." https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/have-our-tribes-become-more-important-than-our-country/2018/02/16/2f8ef9b2-083a-11e8-b48c-b07fea957bd5_story.html

    Thus science is now illuminating the basis of political psychology, in respect of group theory and its relation to identity.

    "In Vietnam, Chua argues, the United States misunderstood its adversaries as communist fanatics kowtowing to foreign sponsors, when in reality, the North Vietnamese were motivated more by nationalism and ethnic grievance. Later, in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans imagined that democracy and peace would bloom once everyone could vote. Instead, vicious tribalism erupted. “In many parts of the world, far from neutralizing tribal hatred, democracy catalyzes it,” Chua writes."

    Yet democracy is a paradigm. Paradigms are jealous gods like Yahweh: they permit no dissent. People will shy away from learning the moral lesson! They are literally, physically, unable to learn from political experience. The brain will not allow that.

    "Like Mark Lilla, in his recent book “The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics,” Chua decries American progressives’ shift away from messages that appeal to shared values and toward themes that dwell on ever-narrowing group identities."

    "Chua sees the emergence of something quite different: “A shift in tone, rhetoric, and logic has moved identity politics away from inclusion — which had always been the left’s watchword — toward exclusion and division.” Facebook, she notes, lists more than 50 gender designations, “from genderqueer to intersex to pangender.” Activists compete to be offended if their particularism is not acknowledged. “Gay” becomes LGB, then LGBT, then LGBTQ, then LGBTQQIAAP and other variants — a terminological balkanization".

    "Recent polling finds that a majority of white Americans — including about two-thirds of whites without college degrees and three-fourths of white Republicans — believe there is discrimination against white people in America today. Whites, Christians and other traditionally predominant groups are developing their own narratives of beleaguered solidarity and group victimhood".

    "Tribalism of both right and left endangers progress toward sharing the country. Worse, it endangers the idea that we should share the country. “At different times in the past,” Chua writes, “both the American Left and the American Right have stood for group-transcending values. Neither does today. Moreover, tribalism is a dynamic force, not a static one. It exacerbates itself by making every group feel endangered by the others, inducing all to circle their wagons still more tightly. “Today, no group in America feels comfortably dominant,” Chua writes. “The Left believes that right-wing tribalism — bigotry, racism — is tearing the country apart. The Right believes that left-wing tribalism — identity politics, political correctness — is tearing the country apart. They are both right.” I wish I could disagree."

    So how to find the upside? Well, "with conscious effort, humans can break the tribal spiral, and many are trying. “You’d never know it from cable news or social media,” Chua writes, “but all over the country there are signs of people trying to cross divides and break out of their political tribes.”"

    So politics is trending towards a triadic structure: we are adding another tribe to the old binary division. Those intent on being part of the solution are the third force.

    • Incognito 3.1

      Is the solution to be found by creating a third tribe that somehow bridges the two opposite poles, i.e. a centrist approach? This sounds like third-way politics all over again, which was not a synthesis of Left and Right but a hotchpotch of cherry-picked ideas IMO, i.e. they were dreaming – the appeal was undeniable though. Or is it to be found through transcendence and integration into something on a higher novel plane, politically speaking? BTW, many people may be (more?) open to compromise but they may not necessarily want it.

      • Sacha 3.1.1

        Why describe it as a binary in the first place?

      • Dennis Frank 3.1.2

        The only way to transcend the historical binary is via creation of the third element. Originally this was done by traders, mediating between rulers (aristocracy) and ruled. Because they operated between domains (localities, regions, countries) they performed a bridging, linking, or channelling function. A conduit, through which goods, money & info flowed.

        In ancient times, this social archetype was called Hermes (Greeks), Mercury (Romans). Wikipedia: "worshipped in ancient times as "the god of the road between the Under and the Upper world", and this function gradually expanded to encompass roads in general, and from there boundaries, travelers, sailors, and commerce." Crossroads often had a herm (cairn of stones) to mark the cosmic link (`as above, so below').

        So Mercury, which as planet is as often below the horizon at night as above (more fleetingly seen than Venus in that respect, thus quicksilver) acquired a reputation as messenger of the gods, third in the pantheon after Sun & Moon.

        Then the binary Earth/Sky cosmology was displaced by a triadic structure, in which the humans were intermediary between both, living on the surface of Gaia. Thus Tolkein's middle-earth (a medieval notion) realm with deities both above & below it. Shamanic function mediated these realms in a more deliberate way.

        And of course the middle class eventually emerged in the later stage of capitalism, between upper & lower classes, to create a triadic economic superstructure in consequence of the archaic scheme.

        The Greens, when emerging from culture into politics, also deliberately established a third alternative: to the left and right. [See Fritjof Capra's Green Politics.] So the history of the social archetype is immense and failure of politicos to learn from history explains their shallow view of things.

        I've always advocated an integral view, to transcend the binary. Few seem ready for that, even nowadays, but how else can anyone provide for social equity? It's the only way to solve the inequality problem: adopt a different design to social darwinism. Rather than minimise the number of winners, use win/win instead. That's why the Greens sought to create that third option. Unfortunately, so few of them were theoreticians…

  3. Dennis Frank 4

    The Washington Post reviewer of Prof Chua's book (see #1 & #3 above), Jonathan Rauch, is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution [https://www.brookings.edu/experts/jonathan-rauch/]

    "Jonathan Rauch is the author of six books and many articles on public policy, culture, and government. He is a contributing editor of The Atlantic and recipient of the 2005 National Magazine Award, the magazine industry’s equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize."

    Below he explains how he is participating in a novel trend in American politics: depolarization! "Psychological research shows that tribalism can be countered and overcome by teamwork: by projects that join individuals in a common task on an equal footing." https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/have-our-tribes-become-more-important-than-our-country/2018/02/16/2f8ef9b2-083a-11e8-b48c-b07fea957bd5_story.html

    "My involvement with the Better Angels project, a grass-roots depolarization movement that is gaining traction in communities across the country, has convinced me that millions of Americans are hungry for conciliation and willing to work for it. Last summer, at a Better Angels workshop in Virginia, I watched as eight Trump supporters and eight Hillary Clinton supporters participated in a day of structured interactions. Under rules that encouraged listening without challenging or proselytizing, they explained their values and examined their stereotypes. No one’s political opinions changed (or were expected to), but everyone left the room feeling less animus and believing that ordinary people can fight back against polarization."

  4. Dennis Frank 5

    Lateral thinking applied to technology is a proven pathway to a better future. It goes Green when any downside is eliminated via intelligent design.

    This farm machine is a kiwi invention featured in a ONE News story last night. It promises to reduce methane emissions substantially! Seems to be already on the market. Time will tell the average reduction achieved nationwide, but looks like the best news for our dairy farmers for quite a while: http://www.pastoralrobotics.co.nz/spikeyreg.html

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