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On Tribalism

What it is, how it works, what it wants.

“The Identity Cult,” Martin Gurri, City Journal, Winter 2022. 

Here is a handy guide to the tribalism so rampant in America today, explaining its purpose, examining its claims, and exposing its vulnerabilities.

Gurri writes, “The cult of identity, properly understood, consists of a series of platitudes and stereotypes invariably leading to gestures of repudiation and calls for the ritual purification of society. By definition, there can be no missionaries of identity. True believers have shown little interest in persuasion: their faith has spread not because of clever arguments but by relegating rival creeds beyond the pale of moral consideration.”

The provenance of this movement, and its modus operandi, are hazy: “Fashionable French philosophers hover in the background, yes, and there’s a dash of vulgar Marxism for seasoning, but the curious inquirer will encounter far more mystery than logic and far more zeal than programmatic thinking.” “The cult of identity, taken neat, appears as a gigantic conflict-generation machine, demanding constant outside intervention and tinkering just to keep the parts from blowing off into the ether.”

We should not underestimate the power of the identity cult movement: “Together, they constitute a small minority of the electorate. Between them, they control the commanding heights of politics and culture, and they may possess the means to intimidate a surly public into silence.”

Tribalism is shot through with contradictions and inconsistencies. But, since reason and logic are not essential tools for the tribalist mindset, these problems can be ignored, or those who raise them can be shamed into silence. 

Gurri doesn't think identity politics will be long-lived, but I'm not as confident as he. It will continue until it is checked because the self-interested heart is the most powerful and dangerous resource of all. Unless the narcissistic heart is confronted and transformed, it will destroy everything in its path, including, ultimately, itself.

The Gospel has the wherewithal to contend with tribalism. The question is, Do we?

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